Taiwan: The people, the language, and child abuse – Diary of a Mad Expat, pt. 21

19 July, 2015 – Taichung, Taiwan

There is a yellow one that won’t accept the black one
That won’t accept the red one that won’t accept the white one
And different strokes for different folks
And so on and so on and scooby dooby dooby

“Everyday People”, by Sly and the Family Stone

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Well, it’s that time again. I’m sitting here, on our bed, writing out another blog, and it’s finally, blissfully raining outside. Our little friend, Lost Samurai the gecko, is around here, somewhere, napping before he goes out hunting tonight. So, it’s on to our next subject.

The People: The Language

I’m going to break this down between genders, and deal separately with the children, whom I have more experience interacting with, as a result of my teaching job. But first, let me deal with the language. Everyone here speaks Chinese, specifically Mandarin Chinese, not to be confused with the aforementioned Hong Kongers, who predominantly speak Cantonese. Mandarin is the most widely spoken language in China, and the world, with nearly a billion people calling Mandarin their native tongue; that’s over 14% of the world population. To put that into perspective, Spanish is the 2nd most widely spoken language on Earth, and twice as many people speak Mandarin on this planet. Mandarin is, like most Asian languages, very difficult for westerners to get a grasp of. I basically know “hello” and “thank you”, but retaining any more than the most rudimentary parts of this language, for me, requires more time and effort than have at the present moment. Fortunately, about half of the people I’ve met here randomly, know some basic English. Unfortunately, you’d expect them to know more, considering that Taiwan has been a hotbed for foreign teachers for 20 years. I guess like most of us, who took a foreign language in high school, they learned it, stopped using it, then forgot most of it. And if you think about it from the point of view of a Taiwanese person, English may be just as hard to learn as Chinese is for us, if not more so. So, I have patience with them, and from what I’ve seen, they have patience with me. They love it when I speak even a word or two of their language, probably akin to seeing a talking monkey, but hopefully with more endearment behind it.

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It can be a beautiful language to hear, but it can also be like nails on a chalkboard, depending on the tone. If it’s whiny, as is often the case amongst the youth, you either want to kill yourself or the person who is speaking like that. When it’s angry, it can be either scary, like when a man does it, or hilarious, when a woman is shouting at her husband for something. You’re not sure exactly what she’s saying, but you can certainly infer from her tone! Sometimes, if you hear it in our stairwell, but you can’t see them, but it’s in conversational tone, it can almost sound like a conversation in English. It’s a remarkable, ancient language, thousands of years older than any form of English spoken today, and I’m quite certain I’ll never be able to completely learn it or understand it. Moving on…

The Men

Men here are generally polite and non-threatening towards myself, and even my wife, which kind of makes sense, considering that most of them are shorter than either of us. Some can be quite tall, well over 6-feet, which makes their fascination with basketball more culturally feasible. They are not lazy, like Vietnamese men tend to be in much greater numbers, though you will constantly see the older men in the park, which are meant for all people here, not just children. Just as often, you’ll see them at the community temple next to the park, smoking or playing Mahjong. Other than that, however, Taiwanese men (and women) seem to have a work ethic similar to that of people from Hong Kong or Japan. Whereas I want to work to live, they live to work.

Taiwanese men are not very aggressive towards women, from what I’ve seen, though as parents they can be, which I will get to. However, for the most part, I’ve found them to be polite and courteous, if not friendly, which often they are.

The Women

By most American male standards, the women here are not as beautiful as Vietnamese women are, which is to say they don’t all look like exotic, unattainable supermodels.

It, like totally rocks to be unattainably beautiful!
It, like totally rocks to be unattainably beautiful!

They come in all shapes, sizes, skin tones, and assorted varieties here, which personally for me, I like. I prefer girls that have, shall we say, more curves on them, so long as I only LOOK, right honey? They can have a sweet and shy charm, with glances that would make most western men think that they want something else, but that’s often not the case. They are genuinely shy, from what I have seen, and much slower to move further in the relationship process than American or western European women. But that’s okay…I think most American women move too fast as it is. Though the women here can come across as quiet and shy, which may be perceived by some as stuck-up, I have heard some be more boisterous (by Taiwanese standards), and can even be friendly and out-going, once you’ve said more than a few words to them. But in any relationship here, platonic or otherwise, it’s best to be patient.

The Children

The children in this country can be very whiny when they don’t get what they want. As a result, the younger generations are much more materialistic than the older ones, which makes this place seem much more like the United States, but with more Chinese people. However, as in most Asian countries, most of the children are adorable looking. They are easily the loudest, and most unruly, segment of the population, but coupled with the duality of how beautiful and charming they can be, it’s hard to stay angry or frustrated with them for very long, even in the classroom setting. Depending on which social strata their family is a part of, however, you can sometimes see scars on them, and with good reason: corporal punishment of children is very common here, which I find disturbing. I’ve had children in my class tell me that they are beaten, often with sticks, when they misbehave at home. I often hear violent tales of child abuse on the news, as that is an issue which still is not being addressed here. Domestic violence isn’t as bad between men and women, because just as often, the women give it right back. However, with children, they cannot, and the level of violence towards SOME of them has even led to death.

Because, of course, when you look into this adorable little face, your first thought is to find a belt.
Because, of course, when you look into this adorable little face, your first thought is to find a belt.

Between their regular school, and the private English language schools that most of them attend, they are up by 6am, in school by 8am, at their school, depending on age, until 2 and as late as 6pm, then to their language schools until 9pm by the time they’re 11 or 12 years old. From my point of view, their childhood is essentially taken away at about the age of six or seven, and they spend their rest of their formative years preparing for work, being tested every day, with little or no breaks during the day, being pushed constantly to excel. Not much time to play, which may explain why they sometimes try to take advantage of the “round eye” teaching English to them. Their young lives have very little respite, nor do they seem to have much of it when they get older. So once they learn to talk, they have about 4 or 5 years to play, imagine, and dream, before that’s taken away from them.

I'd rather sleep at school then go home for my nightly beating.
I’d rather sleep at school then go home for my nightly beating.

The people here are nice, that’s very true. In my first two weeks here, I was trying to order a taxi on this touchscreen at the 7-11, to get home, but it wasn’t working properly. So, one of the guys behind the counter offered to drive me home on his scooter. We’d never met before, but he was nice enough to help. That’s one aspect of a much bigger picture here. They are also workaholics, and push their children in that direction at a very young age. The fear of failure among the children of this country must lead to massive amounts of anxiety, ulcers, and thoughts of suicide here. While the people in this community are very nice indeed, even though I’m a stranger here, with all the bureaucracy I have to deal with to stay here long-term, I’d much rather be an American here than a Taiwanese child.

On that uplifting note, I’ll see you all next time when I cover food and drink, so bring your Imodium!

– For images of our journey, please visit my wife’s Facebook page: Mischa Elaine Johnston

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