Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Taipei - you touched my heart! - people and culture

I always have been curious about Taiwan, ever since I started school education.  Growing up in Shanghai I was taught that Taiwan is part of China, Nationalists are bad people, they did not care for people and did not fight against the Japanese, only Communists saved China, etc. Gradually our country opened its door in the 1980s.  We started meeting people from overseas, and heard different voices.  My perception of Taiwan changed a little bit, as I learned that people have real voting rights and meaningful political campaigns for elected office there.  Finally, in my early twenties, I made my conclusion, Taiwan is probably the most democratic country in Asia.

However the Taiwanese people I met in Shanghai were not so nice.  We usually associated them with farmers, (yes, they are!  They sold their land in Taiwan to the government and got the money and come to China to invest), and those men usually have one wife in Taiwan, several concubines in China (and yes, it is modern China, in 1980s and 1990s). 

So you see, I have mixed feelings about Taiwan.  I admired that country's economic development and social progress, but I didn't like the Taiwanese people I met in Shanghai. 

My husband Steve went to Taipei in early 1990s to study Mandarin. I always teased him he has a sissy boy Taiwanese Chinese accent.  After this trip, I eventually understand why and how he gets that accent, and I will tell you later. 

Once I arrived in Taipei, there are several events really changed my perception towards people in Taiwan.  They are civilized, nice, polite and soft spoken (yes, this is where Steve got his accent) and quiet.  I was so surprised, oh, there is a society of nice Chinese people.  There is a place in the world where Chinese people use Mandarin to say Please, Thank you, Excuse me!

1. On the train  we had a lot luggage, without paying too much attention, we entered the business class cart. A train attendant helped us move our luggage from cart to cart, throughout the whole way, she did not stop saying "bu hao yi si, ma fan le", excuse us, sorry)

2. in Starbucks

I want to order some iced tea.  However I forgot in Asian countries, unlike Texas, nobody buys iced tea.  So the shop boy told me, "Sorry, we don't have iced tea, how about hot tea and I will give you some ice, let's put the ice in a mug, and the tea in a paper cup.  Remember to soak the tea longer and it will taste better and please feel free to refill the hot water!"  OMG, everything was said in Mandarin, nice and soft! Even in America I don't receive service like that. 

3. On the subway, nobody eats or makes noise.  Everybody waits in line.  Shanghai is not orderly like that, and neither is New York.

4.  We went to Eslite Bookstore (an amazing place) and while I was there I saw a talk by two actors promoting an independent theater production.  These guys were actually talk about their feelings and emotions, in public!  When most people think of Chinese theater, they think of Beijing Opera, or emperor shows, that are either very stylized or very distant from the modern or the here-and-now.  There's really no such thing as independent theater in China, so this was really something special to me.

5. Reading the hotel brochure, I saw tons of Chinese cultural events, like how Chinese characters evolved over the last 5000 years - things I have never seen in mainland China.

6. We visited the National Palace Museum which was amazing.  I am not saying the museum has the best collection, because I don't know.  That said, they certainly have a world class exhibition and management system.  It seemed like they manage Chinese art like the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

The most touching thing to me was the fact that, everywhere we went, people were polite, warm and friendly, whether they were taxi drivers, hotel staff, restaurant staff or strangers we need to ask directions from.  I never felt like I needed to worry if I was over paying, or getting screwed on a deal.

This is a totally different than I get in China.  In China, I always have to worry about whether someone is cheating, or try to steal money from me, or that I might get my pocket picked.  (Yes, that happened to me on a visit home a few years ago.)  People there are noisy, loud, don't have good sanitary habits and they still spit.

I was shocked!  These people in Taiwan have the same looks as we do - black eyes, yellow skin, black hair - and we speak the same language, and yet there seems to be a huge cultural difference

At the Eslite Bookstore mentioned above, I found a huge variety of books that I would not imagine to see in China. 

What a free country!  They have real people, you can just sense the freedom, openness and atmosphere of simplicity and sincerity. 

To my Chinese readers, I encourage you to pay a visit to Taiwan.  You will find, as a Chinese person, you can experience a Western level of cultural development and civilization, while still fully Chinese, in your native language.

To my Western readers, if you want to visit China, I encourage you to put Taiwan on your list as well.  Taiwan is certainly not a hot destination in the same way that Beijing, Shanghai, or even Hong Kong or Singapore are...and it probably never will be.  The media ignores it these unless there is political tension between Taiwan and China.  Because of the political situation, or at least until something changes, Taiwan won't be hosting an Olympics or similar event that would thrust it on the world stage.  But what Taiwan does offer like nowhere else I know, is a modern, developed Chinese society where people are warm and sincere.  And Taiwan has plenty going for it in terms of natural beauty, from hot springs to scenic national parks and beaches

Thank you Taiwan for showing me a real society, a free civilized Chinese society I never experienced or imagined.

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