It was an unseasonably hot and sticky night when I arrived in Taipei. As I lugged my suitcases up the stairs out of the cool of the metro straight into the bustling streets, I remember questioning if this environment could ever feel natural to me. It was a world apart from the hill country of the Wairarapa that I had just left; seven million people alone live in the Taipei-Keelung area. However, skip forward just a few days and I was already beginning to feel at home.
I'll admit I knew very little about Taiwan before going there. I think it flies under the radar of many New Zealanders because it’s not a well known tourist destination, and partly because of the ‘One China’ politics at play, which means our government fails to recognize it as a separate state. But what I learnt over the months I spent there made me develop a connection to this diverse and exciting country.
The small size of the office (with only four staff and two interns) meant Mac got to know his colleagues well and learn about different aspects of the business
I was attracted to Taiwan because of the opportunity on offer. The chance to combine my commerce degree and my background in agriculture with an internship at ANZCO foods, one of New Zealand’s largest exporters, was almost too good to be true. That it was in Taiwan just added to the value proposition!
My role as intern at ANZCO Taiwan centered mostly around supply chain management, with some marketing experience as well. Day to day my role was to process and update sales confirmations, track the shipping progress on some of the many containers in transit at any one point, and assist in any other areas where I was needed. At other times I’d go along to client visits or to make deliveries around Taipei.
Fourty-four percent of New Zealand’s lamb exports by volume is now to China. Our office services China, Hong Kong/ Macau and Taiwan, and with only four full-time staff and two interns this makes for a highly exciting working day.
The phones were constantly buzzing, and some days I'd be processing single orders in excess of NZ$3 million.
Having seen the first step in the production process of our beef and sheep meat back home, it was interesting being able to see the steps that go into the final stages in the supply chain.
Not knowing any Mandarin and having never lived in such a populated city before, I was slightly nervous coming to Taipei. However, I quickly discovered it is a very welcoming city.
Many of the locals speak fluent English and are always friendly and quick to help should you need it. For instance, one evening I was ordering food in a very small back-street restaurant and was struggling to make myself understood by the owner. As I spluttered away with my few words of Mandarin, a fellow patron jumped up to act as translator for us and made sure I ended up with the pork rather than the shark I was pointing at!
Taiwan has an abundance of natural spaces and when you want to escape the city life, walking trails are often only a short metro trip away, whether it’s climbing the popular elephant mountain for panoramic city views, or other more remote trails.
In the weekend, it’s easy to go further afield - down to small coastal towns, out to mountain ranges and gorges, or via the high speed rail to some of the other east coast cities. I even managed to squeeze in a quick weekend trip to Vietnam as well.
In weekends Mac would explore remoter areas only a short distance from Taipei
Living in a different culture away from friends and family definitely had it’s challenges, and at times I felt disconnected from what’s happening at home. However, there was so much to see, and so many people to meet that those feelings never lasted long.
I returned to New Zealand with new knowledge about the realities of doing business in Taiwan and greater China, which is information I’m sure will be useful for the rest of my career.
I’ve also gained massive respect for the Taiwanese people and their culture. For anyone considering a similar opportunity, go for it, what you learn can never be taught or acquired anywhere else.