Tuesday, August 16, 2016

China Airlines' New Business Class

On a recent trip back to the US east coast I ended up needing to buy a one way ticket from Taiwan, and was looking at prices well over 1,000 USD (30,000 NTD). After exhausting all the options I wound up booking an award ticket on China Airlines for a direct flight from Taipei (TPE) to New York's JFK airport. There weren't a ton of reviews about the 777 business class product, and I was reluctant to fly with China Airlines (CI) because of things I'd head as a teacher to former employees, online reviews, and their poor safety record up to 2003. Yet the improvements on the ground and in the air were incredible obvious and I will gladly fly with CI again.

After a comment from a reader, just wanted to say the experience was great, and while there is some room for improvement, I was satisfied with my choice to fly CI!

Check in:

Check in was a bit of a mess in Terminal 2 with a single row of counters handling several international flights worth of passengers. I arrived about the time check in opened and was shocked to find the counter area swamped with people. The economy class and business class lines were over 20 people deep, the baggage drop line was nearly out of sight, yet the economy comfort and CI VIP-specific check in were literally empty. Everything went smoothly and staff were proactive and helpful about where to line up, but it still took nearly an hour to check in, despite being in a supposedly faster lane for premium tickets. The issue was lack of staff to handle the volume of passengers headed on North American flights which some passengers said is a common issue.

Overall grade: B.
Can improve: Get more staff into terminal 2 for the rush for flights to North America.

Security and Immigration:

Is run by the airport, and considering the volume of people is very smooth. There are some new added security measures which bring things up to a standard roughly equal to China, Japan, the US, Canada, etc., and there are more passengers going through Taiwan now than ever before. The security team had every lane open and was firing people through as fast as they could while still doing their job. The line seemed incredibly long but it didn't stop much and felt more like an obnoxious walk in tight circles than anything else.

Immigration has really stepped up their game in the last decade or so, and the results are obvious. The big winner is letting people with ARC cards use the E-gate machines. Agents are also much better at communicating in English than before and tend to be rather friendly.

Overall grade : A.

Lounge:

Being on a premium ticket and the sort of flyer who finds themselves getting free lounge passes to help kill long layovers, I was curious how the Taoyuan lounges would stack up against the competition. I'd read that the terminal 2 lounge was in desperate need of an update, so I took the ten minute walk to terminal 1 - the airport is a giant square with open access to both terminals past security - and went to the new lounge there.
Main hallway into the lounge. Bathrooms, VIP area, and seeping zones branch off here.


Couches in the main lounge. You can't read the books though.


The lounge features upright chairs and proper tables as well.


It was hands down the nicest lounge I've ever been to. That includes lounges in Korea, Japan, the US, Europe, and Canada. Delta had been advertising their terminal 4 lounge when it opened as being super modern and spacious, and it isn't even in the same league as what China Airlines put together in Taoyuan.
My poorly designed dinner, plate 1/3 + huge cognac.

Here's the highlights:
Modern interior designed around dark stone and wood colors gets you out of the glare of terminal lighting while still offering enough light to read comfortably.
Full complimentary hot buffet of entirely local Taiwanese dishes. Enough range that even a picky non-local traveler could find something to enjoy. 
Fully stocked canned drink shelves, cheese bar, salad bar, lu wei station, coffee and tea station.
Bar included cognac, an aged Dewars (anyone else as grossed out as I was?), white and red wines, Bailey's, and I think one clear liquor.
Incredibly comfortable couches and enough seating that despite being busy I still had privacy.
Showers, clean bathrooms, huge selection of poly-lingual reading materials, a sleeping room, and an extra VIP lounge.
Self-service buffet, left side.

I ate as much food as I could after spending the day packing and getting myself to the airport. I put down three full plates of food, a cheese and lu wei plate, a full glass of each of the boozy drinks - including a taste of the Dewars (still gross) - two coffees, a sports drink, two waters, and a cola. The utensils, glassware, appliances for coffee and tea were all great. The bathrooms were clean, the staff had friendly smiles, and the food was fresh.
Island buffet area with hot entrees.

Unlike other lounges I've been in the staff made boarding announcements for each flight over the intercom and there wasn't a ton of information about flights unless you went to the desk and asked. The staff miscued my flight information a bit, which is my only place for complaint. Approached the lounge staff a bit before my boarding time to confirm things since everything was leaving late due to some runway construction. Online flight info doesn't update regularly, so you can't rely on Google. I got told to go sit down and relax, only to be told about 15 minutes later that the flight was boarding on time and I might miss it. I quick-walked to the gate, arriving in about 7 minutes, only to find that the flight wasn't going to start boarding for another 20 minutes. Despite the mix up, the lounge was well, well worth the moment of despondence when I got to the gate way too early.

Final Grade: A (despite the mess up about the flight time...it was just that nice).

Onboard:

First class was about a quarter full for this flight, so boarding was super simple. The airline offers water or orange juice as you settle in, but apparently you can just request whatever you want and they'll give it to you. It was only after I'd gotten my OJ that someone nearby ordered a beer. I figured I'd had enough in the lounge anyway so I didn't order more, and I was more than happy I didnt when we got delayed on taxi for half an hour. Key takeaway though is no champagne welcome for China Airlines premium cabin.

View of the first few seats. It looked this empty all flight long.

Faux wood paneling and warm colors everywhere.

The staff was incredibly adequate. They weren't robotic and plastered on smiles like some of the crews I've seen with EVA, but they weren't loose and relaxed like American crews. It was pretty obvious they were going through everything they'd been trained and little more, even with the Taiwanese folks on board. I tested the waters early by asking a question about the menu choices for breakfast and was met with a very friendly, and neutral response. The biggest moment of real interaction was when I got some water mid flight and caught the staff point blank talking about me and the right way to tell me they were going to refill my bottle in Mandarin. The moments after when they realized I'd switched to Chinese was they only time the staff went off script.

Breakfast

People like to complain about airline food, but for me even a US carrier's food is passable. Only time I've not eaten something served as a meal on an airplane was actually in a US carrier's transpacific first class cabin. Toe to toe with my experiences in American business class China Airlines' meals were better. Steak was done right, the sides and appetizers showed hints of culinary creativity, and the portions were great. Desert included a small portion of ice cream and fruit. The plates were inspired by the National Palace Museum collection and the soup bowl was a panorama of a lake. The napkin had a stitched in button hole, which you don't see too often anymore in restaurants.

Starter.

Salad course.

Soup with a lake that dries up.

Steak dinner. It was so good I forgot to photo before starting...

A round of deserts.

The drinks get their own section here because of how many choices business class cabins will give you. Unfortunately I didn't like the choices on China Airlines, and I tried them all. The champagne didn't go with any of the food - even just considering flavors of the dishes I didn't order it failed that test - and wasn't offered until meal time. Would've been a decent welcome drink, but even there it was a bit too tart for my liking. Johnny Walker blue and Kavalan Solist aren't exactly inspiring whiskey choices for flavor, but they do impress with name recognition. Considering how bold the champagne choice was, the whiskey collection was too weak. The red wines were completely standard, and while I went through them just to try them out, nothing inspired. The biggest winner was the port, served in a very undersized port glass, which was boldly strong, a bit sweet, and I swear I must have drank half a bottle of it. Bottom line for my palate was that everything was a bit off balance - including the super strong port - and I actually stopped trying new drinks because the experience was souring my mood. Apparently wines taste different on the ground and in mid flight, and one wonders how many airlines actually do taste them in the air like they claim.

Mid-cabin lounge is a let down compared to what you get on other airlines with similar services. The staff stand in the galley and one half has been set up to look like a bar. Alcohol is obviously not self serve, but does come out of the big bottles. You can choose from a range of cookies on both sides of the "bar" and there is an impressive collection of teas. I took one of each style for the road so I could try them, and as far as packaged teas go are all quite high quality. They serve terrible coffee onboard unless you ask for a Nespresso, of which they have four strength and flavor choices. Cupped right, served right, and didn't disappoint.

Seat from the top. Note the missing antimacassar.

The seats and foot cubbies are fine for people who are 6'3 (my height) or so and below. Television was huge, tons of in flight entertainment, an in flight chat system which no one seemed to be using, a small digital library, and an intuitive user interface. I found the fixed pillow on the seat to be an obnoxious feature as the flight went on and it's the only thing that I'd redesign about the seat itself. The seat isn't a pure 180 degree lie flat in the sense that you'll feel like you're going slightly downhill, and its not as seamless when deployed. Otherwise it's on par with the industry's best, including Delta who leads the pack for US airlines as far as I'm concerned. Storage space was beyond ample, there were compartments everywhere and plenty of knee room to both sides while in full sleep mode. They offer a turn down service, which I don't think anyone took, and I doubt includes better blankets or pillows. The pillow was a strange cheap velvety texture, incredibly hard, and I gave up on using it thanks to the fixed headrest issue. The blankets resembled that beat up, gaudy, plaid micro fleece blanket you use when you strap things to the top of your car.

Grade: A
Room for improvement: No fixed pillows in the seat, bedding.

At destination:

Most of the services in JFK are handled by Delta Airlines and Customs staff of terminal 4, so there isn't much to say here, other than China Airlines staff were doing a great job of making sure everyone who had tight connections was getting hustled off to their next flights. The impressive part was how well the staff handled of the volume of connections at other terminals and with partners besides Delta, including Jet Blue.

Grade: A.

Final take away:

A lot of people, myself included, have stayed away from China Airlines after bad experiences or because of a previously suspicious safety record. If you're looking for a premium business class experience across the Pacific, I would strongly encourage you to give this new product a try. It easily launches CI towards the top of the pack to join companies which have long held a reputation for having premium products. Short of international first, you'd struggle to find something better. Great food, comfortable seats, huge television, great service on board with a good crew supporting you on the ground. Award tickets are cheap, and if you pay cash your money is definitely going to have been well spent.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Taipei Day Trip: BaYan 八煙, its wild hot springs, and low key tourist trap

For as long as I can remember people who come to Taiwan have asked about "those wild hot springs in Yangmingshan".  Somehow the idea of soaking in volcanic water in the untamed wilderness appeals to nearly everyone, and there are a ton of blogs written about the experience at Bayan. Perhaps it's the clever name that gets people involved - wild hot springs do sound fun! - but the name tells little of the truth. A better name is "Bayan technically illegal agrichemical waste water often over crowded and full of bathing soaps wading pools", but who would want to waste a whole day going there?



Agrichemicals sounds like they make for an uninviting swim, but where do the pollutants come from you ask? Just uphill of the springs - and an area you'll need to pass through if you descend to the springs - is a giant farm which also features a man made reflective pool with a rock garden. As you descend from the road you'll snake your way through the fairly extensive farm which undoubtedly drains off downhill and into the very waters you seek to enjoy. The farm isn't even the only one around, but it's certainly the most obvious. The owners' website suggests they are environmentally friendly, but being ethically minded doesn't mean totally natural farming.




The area is relatively quite built up, and doesn't have the pleasant isolation most people associate with the word "wild". The weekend sees huge groups of people swarming the area, either to soak in the springs or else tiptoeing around the outside of the concrete-made "lake" at the farm while taking photos of the surrounding mountains and the picturesque pool. It's such a popular draw the owners have a professionally done website dedicated to the area, and charge everyone 30NT per person to get access to the lake. The charge seems conveniently left off their website last time I looked, however.




A final note on the lake. There are a ton of spots in Yangmingshan that look similar to this, and they're free, so I strongly suggest you save your money. Frankly, it's a tourist trap. You show up to the lake, an hour plus ride away from Taipei - more if you take the bus - and then are unexpectedly prompted to pay money to see what is essentially a fallow rice paddy.




Back to the hot spring discussion. You'll need to either walk across a set of rocks and sandbags which traverse a scaling hot river from the uphill entrance, or you'll need to wade across the cooler waters of the downhill entrance with Teevas or your shoes off. From uphill, you use the sandbags to skirt a fence - designed to keep people out - and from downhill you'll pass a sign, and a fence, threatening you with a 15,000NT fine for being inside. There are a lot more reports of people being fined for being at the spring than there used to be.

On my last trip to the spring there were about 60 scooters and 15 cars parked at the Bayan bus stop. The spring was swamped, to say the least, and it wasn't peaceful at all. Weekdays are definitely the right time to go for crowd control, but unless you have a scooter, I'd suggest you use the time you would spend taking bus 1717 from Taipei to Bayan to instead head out to better wild hot springs than this one which you can also find online. Also, you won't get fined for being at the other springs.

Fun trees are all over this area!


The basic feeling about the true experience at these "wild" springs is something like this. Only without the syringes.

A final rant. Considering how pretty some of the hot springs are in Taiwan - I dare say more beautiful than this "wild' one - and with public pools for less than 100NT, I can't see why you'd want to go to the one forbidden spring in Taipei except to coddle an obsessive need for going "off the beaten path". Except this spring is now so ON the beaten path they're enforcing the no entry rules. If you're in search of the untouched, it exists in Taiwan, just not at Bayan.

The logistics. If you're really dedicated to hitting these springs despite my trying to warn you off, you'll find your way there as follows. Take Bus 1717 from Taipei and get off at the Bayan Hot Spring Hotel 八煙會館 stop. You'll then follow a road slightly downhill to where a big red sign saying "do not enter" starts the trail. If you drive, you'll turn off at 2甲 marker 5.1, with the same road and signage. You'll walk along a river, slowly winding uphill towards a big plume of mist. Be prepared to slog through the river at times since the bridge which used to span it was destroyed to keep people out. Finally, bring some food and some water, nose plugs if you hate sulfur smells, and a towel. Good luck!

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Renting a scooter in Taiwan

This is an adjusted response I wrote to a question that showed up on the Taiwan subreddit. The usual question for visitors is if they can rent scooters with an international drivers license.


While bringing the license from home does give you the legal right to drive as a visitor in Taiwan for up to 3 months, you'll have a hard time renting a scooter anywhere in Taiwan with it. With limited exceptions, local renters only take local licenses. 

Only in Kenting or Hualian will you find someone willing to rent you a scooter without a local permit, and it's usually a matter of walking to every store in town until one says yes. If you go with a local friend, all things will go super smoothly because they have a local ID. If you go alone, or with another group of foreign tourists you'll end up paying modestly boosted prices and likely get a trashier machine. The fact that you have an IDL in your hands will mean nothing to anyone. Expect to pay between 400 and 500 NTD a day. A few stores will say you can only do 200km a day or something similar without paying more. Unless you plan to drive around the whole country you won't go over the limit.

The only time your IDL is going to help you is when talking to the police in the event you get pulled over or into an accident. The way the law and procedure tend to work you'll likely get treated as an unlicensed driver in the follow up to the accident anyway, so an IDL only serves to save you from the driving without a license ticket.

A notable exception to the "no one takes IDLs" thing is car rental agencies. There are a few of the major car rental chains are around in Taiwan, but they only trade in cars. A car can be a great way to travel around Taiwan however, it's just a terrible choice for city driving. If you're looking to do a trip where you travel between cities, east and west coast and into the high mountains a car is an amazingly smart choice.

In Taipei you won't need a scooter thanks to the MRT system, buses, and bike share programs. Most of the winter months are quite rainy anyway, and it can be quite chilly riding on a scooter, so you're not really missing much there. The roads are quite slick in places - anything with paint on it, for example - and if you're not used to the driving style you're more likely to get into an accident, held liable for damages, etc., even if you have the proper paper work.

You can do nearly everything famous in Tainan on foot if you plan things correctly and make sparse use of taxis, but there is a new bus system there and you can find pedal bikes available for rent for far cheaper than scooters. Taichung is more comfortable by car than anything else, but public transit can be combined with taxis if you budget your time right and stay int he city. Kaohsiung has an MRT system that works reasonably well, but driving is generally far faster and preferred by the locals.

The only place you'll genuinely want to rent a scooter is on the east coast or down in Kenting. Traffic in these areas is also much much lighter, and if you're not used to driving in Taiwan it's a good idea not to get in over your head. I wrote an article for on-road safety for bikers but its equally applicable for scooters in almost every sense.

Here's my best practical advice for renting a scooter during your time in Taiwan.
Get a local license when you get here and skip the IDL all together. There is a written test, in English, at the DMV for a 50cc scooter, and a simple driving test - if you know how to drive a scooter - to get up to 150cc. Now you can rent scooters without an issue anywhere and you're covered by the minimal insurance policy it has!
If you skip having any license, including an IDL, and drive you're breaking the law and you're going to have to deal with the consequences should they arise. Just to repeat that driving without a license is super illegal even if a store does rent a bike to you. What you need to consider is for the time you'll be on a scooter - a day, or two? - the hazy legality of IDLs in post-accident insurance/legal proceedings, it's main benefit being no ticket for no license, is it worth the hassle of getting a motorcycle stamp back home. The next thing to consider is it worth renting the scooter at all? 

Best wishes for a fun ride, and remember to wear your helmet and bring a rain coat in the trunk of your bike. If you're going to rent in Kenting, as stupid as it sounds, bring a super light long sleeve shirt and gloves to keep yourself covered. Mega sunburn really, really sucks.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Paozilun and Daqiling trails in Shenkeng

This blog has a few reviews of hikes to go on for a day trip if you head down to Shenkeng old street of Shiding. Both towns are great to see if you're ready to spend a day touring around the mountains south of Taipei. The two trails featured here are within easy walking distance from the river and old street in Shenkeng, and are actually part of the same set of (partially) linked hiking paths. If you're really in the mood you can walk up and over the mountains here and get to Maokong Station on the gondola which runs behind the Taipei zoo.

To save 99% of readers time, the final conclusion of this entire article is you should avoid these hikes unless you've a) done all the hikes in Taipei already, or b) are doing it in winter and are a genuinely avid hiker with a good understanding of how to use your phone's GPS. These hikes are not suitable for casual walks on a date, or for people just looking to stretch their legs.



I set out to do this hike on the first of those hot humid spring days where the sun is out drying up a week full of rain. The trails were slippery and wet, at times bordering on a giant mud puddle, and the air was humid and close. It wasn't ideal hiking weather to say the least, but I went prepared with water and light, breathable hiking clothes that would keep the season's mosquitoes away. It's always a good idea to cover up when you hike in Taipei, but especially so on this hike.





The trails were all incredibly narrow, at times hardly visible through the underbrush, but hiking groups had hung their trail marking flags periodically so you knew where to go. Insects and spiders were everywhere, and I found more than a few bugs clinging to my pants when I got back to the road. If you don't like swatting your way through cobweb lined trails, beating away snakes and insects, you probably won't like the rustic hikes south and west of Shenkeng.



The Daqiling trail starts just off the road from the Formosa gas station, tucked behind a shed on your right. Eventually the road gets called Arouyang Industry Road, and if you follow the daqiling trail you'll end up at the top of the peak which leads to Maokong. The hike is rather steep, and while there are old worn out steps they are quite slippery and not super useful, so expect to do this hike on the bare dirt and mud. The trail is marked regularly, but the maps you find on the trail are not super useful. Just stay left at the forks in the road, and you'll make it up to the top.



Once you reach the top you'll turn right and uphill on the road, go around a hairpin turn and then turn right down a very old concrete looking road. It runs slightly downhill and eventually turns into a trail which lets out near Maokong station. This is a good way to go if you want to see Shenkeng for lunch and then do a sunset view over the city from Maokong somewhere.

Paozilun has a trail which leads up to the top of an adjacent mountain to the Daqiling trail, and also features a waterfall of the same name. Again the trail is very overgrown at the lower levels, and is at times poorly marked.




Despite what appears to be a continuing series of trails on the maps found at Daqiling, the Paozilun trail is accessed from a nearby road which passes behind a driving range and golf shop. Follow the main road uphill and you'll soon come along a very picturesque river. As you follow the river uphill you will eventually come to a fork in the main road. Heading to the right takes you to the Paozilun trail, and left goes up a steep road which eventually ends at a trail which leads to the waterfall.

Confusing, right?

I didn't even make it to the waterfall on this trip. I was too hot, too tired, and too unhappy at the horribly marked, narrow, bug filled trails. Photos on the internet seem to say it's pretty though. The Paozilun trail was largely unremarkable, and while there was apparently a view from the top, it was clouded over on the day I went so I didn't see a single thing. You can follow the road from the top of the hill back down to the main road which eventually leads up to the Taipei Zoo after a lengthy walk.

Get to the base of these hikes by walking from Shenkeng, which is gotten to by bus from Muzha station, by taking a short bike ride from the U bike station across from the same MRT stop, or drive a car or scooter. You can make it to Maokong or the Taipei Zoo, but unless you've got plenty of time to get lost - plus plenty of water - it's suggested you just skip these hikes all together.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Teaching in Taiwan: should you or should you not?

A recent post about the cost of living in Taiwan got me to thinking if I would still recommend English teaching in Taiwan as a thing for people just out of college to do. There have been a lot of Facebook friend-of-friend messages asking me about it, with questions that are now answered in question and answer format below.

For those looking for a simple answer, I went ahead and polled everyone I knew in the English teaching game, and the overwhelming majority of people, when pressed for a simple "yes" or "no" answer said you shouldn't move to Taiwan to teach English.

Let's look at why you shouldn't come, and for whom Taiwan is actually a good fit.

Can I make and save money teaching English in Taiwan?

Yes, you will be able to make and save money while you are working in Taiwan. If you work the minimum 14 hours for an Alien Resident Card (ARC) at the minimum industry pay of 500NT, your total income is 28,000 NT a month, or 336,000 NT a year. If you're government certified you can become a public or private school teacher for an average starting salary of 75,000 NT a month, usually tax free, paid for a full year, plus two paid months off for summer if you want it. 

28,000 NT a month is really, really bad pay, but you can save money while you work here. On average I'd say an after school teacher is currently making only 35,000 a month. You won't be living the high life and can probably get more money by staying home or going elsewhere.

If you just want to make money go to China. Highest pay and lowest cost of living in East Asia. Use a reputable recruiter to avoid scams and you can save a lot more than other places. Korea and Japan also pay better and provide better benefits than in Taiwan, even to first time teachers who aren't certified.

Will teaching in Taiwan get me experience for a job back home?

This is especially important for Canadians or people from US states like New York. If you're getting real classroom hours at a proper school, complete with an English speaking reference, yes you will be getting teaching experience you can use towards applying for education jobs back home. If you're doing the after school program / buxiban thing, your experience is likely going to be of little use outside of getting a new teaching job in Taiwan. So if you are licensed to teach but can't get a job at home, Taiwan isn't a bad place to get some experience. For the record, Korean, China, and Japan all pay better than Taiwan and generally carry more weight experience wise back home.

Can I learn Chinese while I teach in Taiwan?

Yes, you could technically learn Chinese while you teach in Taiwan. If you will not be staying for at least two years, the language learning experience will likely be frustrating, incomplete, and in the end a total waste of your time and money. At upwards of 20,000NT for classes covering basic dialogue that slot in around your work it'd take you about three years to cover enough to even approach using Mandarin for anything outside of talking about family and your hobbies.

If you want to learn Chinese, don't come to Taiwan to work. 

Your best bet is to go to China, specifically a class 2 or 3 city, and take language courses and maybe teach if you've got the time. Everyone in Taiwan speaks English outside of very rural areas where they speak Taiwanese, not Mandarin. In China you'll be pushed to actually use Mandarin to do everything while you could live in Taiwan for years and never speak a word. If you insist on coming to Taiwan you should apply for a scholarship from the government and sign up for an intensive language course. It should run at least half a day, five days a week, in a genuine classroom setting with homework and tests you can actually fail. Reports are the program at National Taiwan University gets people to fluency in about two years.

Do teachers have a bad reputation?

Generally, yes. Few people will say it to your face but teachers are basically seen as being failures in their own country who come to Taiwan to make easy money for doing nothing at work. Given the way most teachers behave, their level of understanding of the English language, and their entitled approach to what is an entirely isolated foreigner bubble universe, the local folks are right.

If you work at a real school, you're a bit older, not married, can't speak Chinese, etc., most people will start to think you're just not qualified to get a job back at home. Because let's be honest, if you become a lifer and don't engage your environment, you probably aren't qualified for a good job back home.

Will I make contacts or be able to find non-teaching jobs once I'm in Taiwan?

No. People will generally treat you as a good companion for partying or going out, but won't trust you enough to bring you into a business thing. That's even true for other foreign people living here. If you do get an offer, you'll need a master's degree or two years of verifiable, post-university experience in your job's field to qualify to get a visa. If you have an APRC and no experience, you'll get paid 30,000NT a month to do entry level work, 40 to 60 hours a week. If you make the minimum for foreigners of 50,000NT a month, you'll be working such long hours it'll still be about 200NT an hour.

You're better off trying to make your living from scanning beaches with a metal detector than you are trying to find a good office job in Taiwan. It can be done, but rarely happens.

Should I find a job before I arrive or set one up once I'm already there?

Using a third-party recruiter is the generally accepted method for teachers to get to Taiwan. Only advice is make sure they're reputable, don't agree to ever pay them any money out of your own paycheck, and read everything before you sign it. Getting 600 NT an hour for at least 20 hours a week is pretty standard. After your first year you can try to change schools if you want.

If you've got no experience teaching English in Taiwan, don't try to get a job on your own. The average posting gets over 200 responses, all of them qualified native speakers, and the selection is basically random. There are far, far more "English teachers" than there are positions. If you don't have at least three years of experience in Taiwan, and don't know how to network with a school's manager, you'll find it VERY difficult to work with a good school. FYI, most schools which post wanted ads outside of January or August are not good places to work, which is why they need a new teacher. 

What is the standard hourly pay for teaching?

Pay generally hovers around 600NT an hour, although some schools will push you as low as 500. Schools which have exacting standards, managerial competence and oversight, and no tolerance for lazy, arrogant, or incompetent teachers will pay as high as 850 an hour. Taking a teaching job on contract outside of a genuine school is likely a bad idea. Work is generally the main focus of life here, so signing a blank check for monthly hours and salary to your boss is a bad, bad call. You will likely end up making just over 200NT an hour, or less.

Unless you're a public school teacher, it's normal to get deductions for tax and health insurance. Taxes can be withheld at a flat 18% every month if your school is lazy with their accounting, or as little as 0% which means you'll have to pay out of pocket eventually. Average actual tax is about 5% to 10%, but public school teachers get paid TAX FREE! You are eligible for tax returns which can be filed in May of the following calendar year, or should be filed before you exit the country if you leave your job in the middle of the year.

What happens if I quit my job before my contract expires?

If you quit before your contract expires you'll have to file a termination agreement with the government, extend or cancel your ARC, and eventually leave Taiwan. This depends a lot on what country you are from and what the current rules are for Taiwanese immigration. It's best to call the foreigner help line or contact your local immigration office.

Can my boss really take my money if I quit early?

Generally, so long as they follow procedure, yes. Labor law in Taiwan does not seem straightforward to most foreigners, and there is a lot of room for interpretation and compromise. Nearly every employment contract in Taiwan, be it for teaching or otherwise, has a clause in it that requires you to pay money to your employer if you leave. Office gigs call it a training and administration fee, running upwards of a few months pay. In teaching it's most likely going to be one month's pay or a 20,000NT flat fee. 

Once you sign your contract, whatever punishment was there is usually enforceable. So yes, you can sign the majority of your labor rights away so long as it doesn't pose physical danger, etc. The only time you can try to get out the punishment stuff is if the conditions outlined for repayment weren't met. Generally this means the training you're compensating them for wasn't provided to you, or the company broke the terms of your contract first. It is illegal for a company to withhold your pay, but that's the most likely the company will get your money. 

If you get into trouble or reach a serious impasse with your boss you need to file a mediation or pay a lawyer for a lawsuit. Any dispute over your contract or payment is best handled in out of court third party mediation that is legally binding, does not require a lawyer, is done entirely in Mandarin, is face to face with your boss, and for most people is incredibly stressful.

Definitely consult one of the government's free lawyers if you have questions. Translators are always available!

Is it easy to party and travel around Asia while teaching English in Taiwan?

Travel:

Yes, but it depends on your boss. Not all schools provide for full holidays during long government weekends. For example, during the four day tomb sweeping holiday, three day dragon boat festival, etc., many teachers will need to work at least one of the weekend mornings. It's also when everyone in Taiwan takes their family for quick trips around the region, so you're paying more for tickets, packing into full airplanes with unhappy families, and generally putting yourself in the way of peak season travel. Chinese New Year is a mess, and there are sometime weekend hours there as well.

If you work together with your boss and arrange a random weekend where someone can fill in for you and there are cheap airline tickets, it's easy to make your own long weekend! If you're at a real school it'll cut into your vacation days, and if you do after school programs it just eats those hours off your pay. It's totally worth it to travel to Thailand or somewhere for 1300NT in airfare round trip though, right?

Party:

Taiwan's party scene has started to mature and change in a lot of ways after a fire in Taichung, a stabbing in Taipei, and a lot of arrests island wide in the last few years. Don't believe everything you've read online about the club, party or pick up scene in Taiwan.

If you're at a public or private school with real hours and expectations you'll likely only be able to stomach the energy to get out and party on Saturday nights. Hooray for hung over Sundays before heading back to work for 7am Monday!

If you're an after school teacher your schedule likely starts after lunch time. Enough time to sober up, get that hangover fixed up, and head to work. There is at least some form of party 7 days a week - although some mid-week clubs are anti-foreigner -  where you can go and drink yourself silly and bring shame to foreign people island wide.

Here's a quick thought for the bros: If you're coming to Taiwan to be a sociopathic sex predator, you should NOT believe that all Taiwanese girls are easy, and the strong consensus about foreign guys is they're dirty, dangerous, and just looking for one nighters. Try somewhere in Southeast Asia if you're trying to pick up on the regular.

For anyone looking to party: Truth be told, all the people who are down for good times head to Australia on working holidays, get it out of their system, and come back to find a job and get hitched. If you're trying to pick up Taiwanese people or just be where Asian 20 somethings are looking for awesome times, Australia is still probably the best place to do it right now. You probably qualify for a working holiday visa yourself, and the pay is often double - or higher - what it is in Taiwan.

Conclusion:

Taiwan is good if you're looking to make below industry average money to teach English and have no real hope at a meaningful career. The best candidates for this are actually people joining family here. Otherwise, it's a good place for you to have a balanced life between work and play while figuring stuff out after college. Do one year in Taiwan and then move on to a new country in the region. Definitely travel around here as much as you can, learn as much about the local lifestyle as you can, and don't be a drunken mess who makes everyone feel worse about themselves.