As a foreigner arriving to Taipei for the first time, you are sure to notice three things:
- The lack of public garbage cans.
- Musical garbage trucks.
- It’s the safest big city you’ve ever been to.
This post addresses #3.
In what other big city can you ride the subway with your new iPhone and several thousand NT dollars in your back pocket during rush hour and expect it to still be there when you get off?
You might presume to find safety threats lurking in dark alleys in other big cities, but not in Taipei.
My best guess as to why this is the case has to do with Taiwanese culture and customs.
Taiwanese people are usually timid in public. They do not make eye contact with strangers. Body contact is reserved for one’s most intimate relationships, so even on a crowded bus or train you won’t be groped or subjected to someone pressing their body onto you.
Taiwanese people also do not typically misuse or abuse public property. My guess is that this is a byproduct of a collective, group-oriented culture. For example, the MRT is immaculate, there is not graffiti or defacing of any kind.
Taipei is chock full of security cameras. It’s like a crime-fighting version of the paparazzi has installed itself all over the city, keeping a watchful eye in case of any mischief. But it makes me chuckle. I imagine someone watching hours and hours of video surveillance footage of people being courteous and respectful of each other and public property.
Despite all of this, Taiwanese people seem to be extremely worried and fearful of their safety. There is a deep seated mistrust of anyone that is not familiar. For example, it’s rare for Taiwanese people to invite acquaintances into their homes.
In fact, nearly every Taiwanese person that I have told about Couchsurfing has asked, shocked, “But is that safe!?”
And when I’ve asked my Taiwanese friends why there are so many security cameras they tell me, “For safety.”
In all fairness, crime does exist in Taipei. But it’s rarely the classic, violent type. Usually crimes consist of businesses getting ripped off after hours, or some scam that tricks you into parting with your money. But mundane thievery like muggings and pickpockets are uncommon, as is personal violence.
The sad irony is, Taiwanese people in Taipei are living in one of the safest big cities in the world, and yet they feel unsafe. To me, I feel extremely carefree and lucky to be living in such a safe haven!
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