A sense of adventure

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 April, 2012, 12:00am


When Canadian lawyer Marcus Clinch arrived in Taipei in 2000 on his first overseas assignment, he found the city to be vibrant and lively, but suffering from growing pains.

The Chinese enclave off the mainland coast was in the throes of transitioning from a community village to a cosmopolitan city, and the infrastructure and society in general were struggling to keep pace.

Now, it is a very different Taiwan. Clinch credits its sense of perpetual motion. 'Taipei has an energy about it where one is left feeling that the city and life here continues to improve.'

Today, Clinch is more local than expat. A foreign legal consultant at Eiger Law, he also has roles on the British and European chambers of commerce in Taipei and, with fellow lawyer John Eastwood, co-authored a paper for new arrivals on tips for doing business in Taiwan.

They did it as a community service - although there are several guides published locally on living and doing business in Taiwan.

Theirs is mainly for foreigners interested in setting up a small and medium-sized enterprise, and in Taiwan there are plenty.

Recent government-led efforts have helped the island greatly improve its global rankings for business environment, competitiveness and trade liberalisation, attracting increasing numbers of foreigners.

In 2009, close to 500,000 expatriates were permanently residing in Taiwan, staking their claim to the powerful China story.

So how do they rate the expat experience?

Clinch appreciates the friendly people (Taiwanese and foreigners), the culture, the ease and cost of living, 'and the fact that you not just feel but you actually see its transformation almost every day into a modern, cosmopolitan city'.

'Taipei also continues to improve environmentally with air pollution being reduced to the point that you can see more than a couple of stars in the sky, most nights,' he says. 'It is also a good place to do business and continues to improve overall on that front. It is an easy and comfortable city to live in or visit today - my parents came to visit last autumn and managed to independently explore the city without much difficulty.'

Clinch feels comfortable living there. 'The level of English spoken has improved significantly, and access to and cost of medical care exceeds that in Canada and the UK - the two other countries in which I have lived.'

Taipei is a very safe city with good public transport, including an 'excellent MRT [mass rapid transit system] that is cheap, runs on time, and continues to expand'.

Quality medical care is also a top priority for Eastwood, an American, who has young children born there.

'Taiwan has a huge number of internationally-educated doctors, dentists and specialists, including OBs [obstetricians/gynaecologists]. The quality of hospital care is very good,' he says.

Like Clinch, he finds Taipei an extremely safe city and an interesting destination for families. Abundant greenery, a city-wide network of parks and biking trails and variety of recreational facilities enhance the lifestyle.

Taiwan topped a survey by the European Business Organisations for offering the best overall living environment for foreigners.

Mark Ford, an American filmmaker living in Taipei, interviewed a number of expatriates for a local TV documentary series he produced with his Taiwanese wife, Hu Mei-fang.

Episodes featured a range of nationalities and professions, including a chef from Pakistan, a tour guide from France, a music festival director and an airline pilot (both from the United States), and a student from Africa. Consistently, they spoke of the comfortable lifestyle enjoyed in Taiwan, and the freedom they feel there.

Ford, who relocated from Indiana seven years ago, feels the same.

'Taiwan is not just one thing - it has a lot of different environments,' he says. 'You can live in the mountains, on an island, or in the cities. The stereotype has expats as teachers, but there is so much more enterprise going on here. The feeling, the people, the pace of life - you can choose your own adventure in Taiwan.'