Managing the ins and outs of life in a foreign country has its challenges, and in Taiwan, expatriates have long turned to online communities and Web sites to ask and answer questions, exchange tips and information, or simply vent their frustrations.
A fair number of Web sites cater to English-speaking foreigners in Taiwan. The best-known include Forumosa.com, an established Internet forum full of lively discussions on every facet of life in Taiwan, from the practical to the mundane; Tealit.com is another popular site for finding English-teaching jobs and buying and selling used items; Taiwanfun.com and Taiwannights.com focus on leisure and recreation.
And now a new Web site, run by two Taipei expats, aims to cover all of the above.
Taiwanease.com was launched in September last year by Eric Schmitt and Anthony van Dyck, who are hoping their Web site’s features will make it the new go-to resource for foreigners and visitors to Taiwan.
Van Dyck, a 45-year-old Canadian who has lived in Taiwan since 1989, was one of the co-founders of Forumosa.com, but decided it was time to move onto a new venture.
He and Schmitt, a 27-year-old American software engineer and marine ecology graduate student, saw an opportunity to provide a resource more organized than discussion forums such as Forumosa or Taiwan Ho!, where foreigners post information on everything from the process of opening a bank account to which restaurant serves the best pizza.
“You could search the forums but you would get an answer that might be 10 years old,” said Schmitt. “Or hidden in 10 pages of static,” added Van Dyck.
As Van Dyck sees it, foreigners “have to now go to 10 different Web sites” to get information. “That doesn’t make sense.”
The longest-running online forum for expatriates and anyone interested in discussing life in Taiwan
A popular site listing English teaching jobs and selling and buying used items
Another expat run Web site that provides English-language classifieds. It has a nice, easy-to-navigate design
Online discussion board for long-term expats
The US-based company Craigslist has relatively few users in Taiwan, but the Web site’s sparse design and ease-of-use make it a good choice for personal ads and selling and buying used items. Beware of scammers, though
An online directory of businesses that cater to English teachers in Taiwan
This Web site from the nonprofit Community Services Center provides counseling services and news pertaining to Taiwan’s international community
So the pair set out to make Taiwanease a one-stop “community-sourced resource” with information that is organized, easily searchable and up-to-date.
Part of their solution lies in an online directory with a dozen categories that include hotels, trade offices and embassies and restaurants. Each place has its own dedicated page with address and contact information listed, and space for Web site users to write reviews.
Van Dyck and Schmitt are particularly excited about one feature of their directory, Taxi Cards, which is designed to help travelers or people who don’t speak Mandarin.
For example, a user who searches the site might find Zoca Pizza on Linjiang Street (臨江街) in Taipei and decide to go there. He or she can then click on “print taxi card,” which opens a new page with a map linked directly from Google Maps and simple instructions written in Chinese to show to taxi drivers. The Taxi Card pages are formatted for printing, and are also easy to read when opened on a smartphone’s Web browser.
Although for many people Google is a de facto online directory of sorts, Van Dyck and Schmitt say Taiwanease is different because their information is curated, updated and accurate. The site is run by a small staff that collects and edits data for the directory. They verify the addresses of all places listed in English and Chinese, and collect GPS data to make it searchable using a smartphone or Google Maps. And students of Mandarin will appreciate that all addresses are listed both in Chinese characters and Hanyu Pinyin with tone marks.
The online community is also important to Taiwanease, says Van Dyck. He says users are encouraged to submit information on their favorite restaurants or whichever places are suited to the site’s given categories. (It’s not apparent on the Web site, though. Users have to scroll to the bottom and click on “submit a venue”).