My hotel room’s out to get me (and other stories from my first 24 hours in Taiwan)

My hotel room gouged skin from my back and trapped me on the bidet. But things got better when I saw a robot hawking snacks at the supermarket…

Exterior view of the National Immigration Agency’s Taipei Service Centre building.
Not the hotel. This is the National Immigration Agency’s Taipei Service Centre. Photo: Zhen-Kang.

My flight to Taiwan was uneventful. I got through half a season of Star Trek Discovery, half a season of Ghosts, and most of The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (so-so; 6/10). I also had in-flight Wi-Fi for the first time, which right now feels like tech from the future.

Literally five minutes before landing, I noticed myself feeling nervous—for the first time—about this whole Taiwan endeavor. I don’t know where those thoughts came from, but as soon as I was through customs and on the hotel shuttle, my feelings changed to a stirring sense of being where I belong. A feeling I can’t wholly describe, but which has only grown stronger in these first 24 hours.

My hotel room, however, hasn’t endeared itself in the same way.

The bathroom doors part in the middle. Last night, after my shower, I lazily/sleepily left one closed while squeezing through the doorway. Misjuding the space by millimeters, a sharp metal edge gouged a 20cm-long cut across my right shoulderblade.

Close-up of a wooden door with a sharply-edged metal insert.
The offending metal edge.

Blood dripping down my back and without a first aid kit, I took a cold shower until the bleeding stopped, then applied antiseptic cream which I hadn’t intended to bring but had earlier noticed in one of my bags. And then slept on my side, so the bed didn’t look like a murder scene by morning.

But when I woke up, the hotel room had another go at taking me out.

I was excited to use the Japanese-style toilet with inbuilt seat warmer, fan, bidet, and other features I couldn’t decipher. But unfortunately once the bidet started, the lights on the wall-mounted remote went dark, and the seat warmer and bidet feature suddenly wouldn’t stop.

The toilet seat, which I’d set for maximium warmth, was getting hotter and hotter. And I was getting wetter and wetter.

I slammed the STOP button again and again, but nothing happened. The comfort and hygiene features remained intrusively active.

A toilet next to a wall-mounted remote control panel.
The offending toilet and wall-mounted remote.

Minutes passed. I worried less about getting burnt and more about electrocution. Or drowning from behind.

I kept cycling through every button to get a response, but the remote was properly dead.

I couldn’t stand, because the bidet—which was ass-numbingly powerful—would’ve sprayed all over the room. Or ripped open the 20cm gash on my right shoulderblade.

It’s hard to concentrate atop an intrusive toilet. But somehow, while scrambling for a solution, I slid the remote off its wall mount and saw it was battery-powered.

Despite overheating thighs and a drowning rear, I managed to remove the AAA batteries and re-insert them in a different order. I turned the remote over, pressed STOP, and suddenly the drama was over.

What a way to start the day.

Plastic stools at the National Immigration Agency

Feeling alive after surviving the night, I caught a taxi into Taipei to collect my Alien Residence Card. (I would’ve walked to the MRT, which is excellent, but it was raining heavily and I’d already been wet enough an hour earlier.)

I expected the ARC process to be bureaucratic and time-consuming, but I was in and out in under two minutes.

I received my card while sitting on a low plastic stool by the counter. When the person at the door had directed me there, I’d thought the stool was for children so stood next to it, until I was told to sit down.

A short, red plastic stool.
Something like this.

I remembered seeing these kind of stools at night markets, but it was unexpected and charming to see them used in a government office. It wasn’t uncomfortable or difficult; just a gentle reminder that I’m in a different country now.

A robot hawking snacks

The rain eased a little, so I walked to the MRT station, then took a couple of trains to Taipei 101. This time I was there to shop, so didn’t consider heading up to the observation deck (which was obscured by cloud).

I went to the Apple Store to buy local power adapters. An aggrieved man was shouting in Chinese at the other end of the store. Two police officers dragged him away while he fought against them. Meanwhile, at my end of the store, a dedicated Apple employee was hosting an iPad training session, repeatedly pausing mid-sentence when the shouting got too loud.

I paid for the adapters and wandered through the mall to a Mia C’bon supermarket—the first supermarket I’ve visited in Taiwan.

The fruit section was incredible. I look forward to eating my way through many fruit sections as time goes on.

Then, as I was unsuccessfully looking for batteries (coincidentally and not because of the morning’s events), I heard someone call to me from behind. I turned around and was face-to-cartoon-face with a robot, roaming through the store hawking snacks:


Hawking snacks.

The robot spoke better Chinese than me so I’m not sure what it said, but I assume it asked me to move. Or offered me cookies.

I circled back so I could catch it on video. I sent the clip to a Korean-Kiwi friend who replied “You are surprised by an Asian technology?”

He made a good point. I shouldn’t have been surprised.

I look forward to encountering more Asian technology.