I’m coming up on 10 years in Taipei. Taiwanese react politely with mock oohs and ahs about the milestone. But among expats a decade can mean still waiting in the airport for your luggage. You easily meet foreigners who have lived here 20 or 30 years with no plans to leave. I know one who has exceeded 50 years. Foreigners handily last that long in Asia's more cosmopolitan cities such as Hong Kong and Singapore. But so what already? How local you are hinges more on habit-hardened, location-specific lifestyles than actual years.

Here’s how you can tell someone’s really a type-A Taipei dweller:

Tens of thousands express strident views on China-Taiwan ties at this Taipei presidential campaign rally in January, 2016.

1. You wear a facemask in public, just because. Facemasks are Taiwanese people’s official signal of caution to the outside world. The cloth and disposable masks are unlikely to stop much disease, but they say ‘hey, I’m sick so watch out’ or ‘hey, I know a lot of others are sick so I’m watching out.’ Or hey it’s cold, or hey I’m ugly. Any case, everyone’s doing it.

2. Most of your conversations are on LINE. The smartphone app connects colleagues, groups of professionals, elementary school parents, volunteer groups and just about everyone you know to yourself. LINE is also a verb, as in “I’ll LINE you the directions in a minute.” It has replaced texting, which long ago erased a lot of face-to-face contact. (Groups of friends meeting in cafes may just use their smartphones over a drink instead of talking with one another.)


3. Commerce revolves around 7-Eleven. When you moved to Taiwan you thought “7-Eleven is a cheesy American throwback brand synonymous with junk food.” Now you use the chain with a 24-hour store on almost every city block to buy a boxed lunch (see No. 4 below), get train tickets, change big bills, pay tuition, recharge stored value cards and restock on facemasks (see No. 1 above). You can still find rack after rack of junk food too.

4. Lunch tastes good from a roadside and a disposable box. Your colleagues go in every day on a bulk order of boxed lunches for a couple U.S. dollars each. The box gets chucked along with the paper soup bowl and chopsticks. Food may be lukewarm, perhaps heated largely by the mid-day sun that beams down on vats of take-out prepared along Taiwan’s streets. But it’s a balanced meal. It’s easy to get. No one around you gets sick. Taiwan boasts about recycling so you figure it’s true. You become a boxed lunch addict.

5. You have proud one-sided views on local politics. At first as a foreigner you took a hands-off, anthropological view of Taiwan’s divided politics. Then the China issue ate a hole in your neutrality. Should Taiwan cave to all-powerful Beijing’s demand and unify with China or sustain decades of self-rule at the risk of isolation or worse? Everyone else, local or otherwise, has a virulent, hardly hidden opinion and within a few years (tops) so did you – even if your company wants you to keep out of politics to avoid irking clients.