It’s a Claw Thing?

Hello from the heat of Taipei! Yes, it is still so hot and humid here that the school’s field day in October (October!) took place in 90F and high humidity – it was a hot one. I was melting just from watching the kids run around. This heat is no joke; which is why I had my hair chopped off last week – let’s just file this one as “the aches and pains expats go through while trying to adapt to new cultures and climates.” Also, getting haircuts while not speaking the local language always carry that little bit of extra nervous fun! (Just kidding, it’s a good cut!)

We’ve had lots of excitement in the past few weeks. There was another typhoon that canceled school and work, we all started learning Chinese a bit more intensely (ugh, my brain and tongue hurt), movers unloaded a gazillion million boxes in our apartment (not an underestimate), and oh yeah, I killed the beautiful orchid I bought just a few weeks ago. Turns out I still have a black thumb. I guess we all kind of knew that.   

And we’ve been exploring more of our new home. There have been trips to the Maritime Museum (for the young “all things navy” lover), seafood markets (the best king crab I have ever eaten), and flower markets (mainly to admire people who don’t kill plants; apparently they do exist).

 And as we’ve been zooming around Taipei, we couldn’t help but notice one of the island’s oddities: Taiwan’s fascination with claw machines.

Yes, you read that correctly – claw machines. You know, the ones you see at arcades and then actively discourage your kids from wasting their money on them even if they, really, really want that stuffed animal inside the machine? 

Yes, those claw machines.

They are EVERYWHERE in Taipei. Moreover, there’s never just one – there are ALWAYS multiples as in a gazillion (maybe a slight overestimate) in places I lovingly call “clawcades” which are exactly what is sounds like: rows and rows and rows of claw machines.

And, they don’t just allow paying customers to attempt their luck at clawing a stuffed friend, oh no, there are hundreds of things you could spend your time and hard-earned money on: t-shirts, electronic supplies, and toys to no end (I am sure you could find “adult” themed machines if you were looking in the right places). 

With this abundance of claw machines, I simply had to look more into this phenomenon. 

And it’s a phenomenon alright – so much in fact that “Taiwan’s Central Bank announced last December that it has increased its 2019 budget to issue more NT$10 (US$0.32) coins to cope with the massive claw machine craze that has gripped the country in recent years.” (Don’t believe me? Read it for yourself here!). Because you know how much each round of driving the claw costs? Yes, that would be a handy, dandy little NT$10 coin! It’s a good thing the Central Bank is stocking up on them.

According to the article, this craze started in 2017 and has grown exponentially with “more than 10,000 claw crane arcades […] which is more than all the 7-Eleven and other convenience store chains combined in the country.”

For reference, convenience stores are AT LEAST at every corner and actually super convenient as you can charge your public transport cards there, pay your phone/internet bill (and speeding tickets not that I would know that yet since our car is still taking the slow bamboo raft to this part of the world), eat a quick meal (fancy a Taiwan tea egg?), grab that milk you forgot earlier, or get train and airline tickets, along with a bunch of other things that I am still figuring out.  

And apparently these claw machines are quite profitable (read more here) even though some statistics are a bit disturbing suggesting that some families spend about half of their food budget on these games.

So yes, this trend still feels like a mystery, for sure. I guess we’ll file this under “country-specific oddities” like Canada’s fascination with pull-along wagons to transport kids or Austria’s smoking rooms inside hospitals.

That’s all for now from our parts of the world. If you need me, I’ll be testing my luck and Chinese skills at the “clawcade” around the corner (someone has to stock up on toilet paper, right?) – until next time when I write from hopefully less humid temperatures.

In the meantime, could someone please remind me to water my bamboo? I’ve been told they are easier to keep alive…. (May that orchid rest in peace).

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