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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NORTH POINT, HONG KONG: Diary of a Mad Expat, pt. 5

3 April – 5 April, pt. 1: City Garden Hotel, North Point, Hong Kong

The next few days sealed the deal for me and Hong Kong. We explored so many places, but we didn’t buy much. I did buy my wife a new camera, and we bought some small items to send to friends back home. For me, it was all about the atmosphere of the place, the food, and the people.

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The Atmosphere

All of Central Hong Kong is very cosmopolitan, but in different ways. Downtown, in the business district, everything looks rich. The clothing, the buildings, the cars, the stores; it looks like Rodeo Drive with skyscrapers. North Point is different. North Point looks middle class, with the possible exception of the cars. The clothes are middle class; they’re not shabbily dressed; their clothes just didn’t cost $2000. Almost every building is for housing. The bottom floor might still contain a shop or two, but above that, it’s all apartments. Those 25-story buildings make up the majority of Hong Kong’s skyline. I did the math on it; based on the apartment buildings I could see within one block of our hotel, I estimated that there were at least 7000-10,000 people living within one block of us. And yet, it didn’t feel overcrowded anywhere we went. It was shocking paradox. It should have felt like a crazy tumultuous zoo, with everyone going everywhere in some form of organized chaos. But instead, it felt like a sanctuary. It made you feel small, in a good way, as if the city around you would swallow you whole and keep you someplace warm and inviting. You can lose yourself in its streets, its beeping crosswalks, its taxis and buses, its hustle and bustle, and its rhythmic cacophony of sound. Sometimes, I literally did get lost, but I always found my way back (thank you, sense of direction). You would have thought that someone who had spent the majority of their adult life in a metropolitan area of 250,000 would be overwhelmed by all this. But to me, it was paradise on concrete!

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The Food

Apart from the overrated, overpriced food at the hotel, and McDonald’s and KFC, the food here is wonderful. We probably could’ve been more experimental and brave with our choices, but did try some new things. To start with, you can even find good food or snacks at the Circle K’s and 7-11’s here, something you can’t say about convenience stores in America. But the big one for me was roast suckling pig! We just picked a restaurant in the area that had it and took a taxi there, which was about $3. It was sooooo worth it! I know this was one of the best places for suckling pig in North Point, but certainly not the best rated suckling pig in Hong Kong.

BLISS!
BLISS!

Nevertheless…absolute bliss! Mischa took one of the few pictures of me in existence of me looking truly content. There was nothing special about this restaurant: it looked like any number of Chinese restaurants or diners you might find in America. But the food was so much better. It was like that for most places in Hong Kong. It’s hard to make a mistake with where to go to eat, once you get outside your hotel. Simply walk down the street until you find a place that looks good and go in. A good clue is if people are lined up outside, waiting to go in, which we saw quite often.

Fried pork skin and chicken fried rice
Fried pork skin and chicken fried rice

Another thing: coffee. It’s black. Very black. They do have creamer there, but it’s just like half and half. No flavored creamers there. You can add sugar, but that’s it for non-artificial sweeteners. Second thing – learn to like tea. If you can, you’re golden here. There’s no shortage of teas here, and once you acquire a taste for it, you’ll find that they’re all quite good. All in all, it’s hard to go wrong with food here.

The People

Now this one is tricky, as we discovered in hindsight from our driver that took us back to the airport. There are, for the most part, two distinct groups of people who live in Hong Kong: Native Hong Kongers (for lack of a better term), and Chinese, meaning mainland Chinese. Now the descriptions I’m going to give for both of these groups is a paraphrasing of our driver’s comments, but they are comments which, after careful reflection, I agree with. People who are from Hong Kong are generally quiet, shy, and just want to live their lives in this beautiful city. They can be hard to get to know, but they are still generally polite. What really starts to open them up are attempts to speak to them in Chinese, preferably Cantonese, but Mandarin coming from a white guy works too. For example, the lady at the Circle K saw me every day, usually buying cigarettes, but sometimes other things as well. At some point, I remembered my Chinese lessons from the movie, Rush Hour, and after paying for my purchases said, in my best Mandarin, “Xie, xie.” It wasn’t Cantonese, the primary language in Hong Kong, but still, you should’ve seen her face light up! Being able to have that effect on someone, with just two words, made my day, probably my entire week. Later on, I learned that I was saying thank you in Mandarin, and that the proper way to say it in Cantonese is, “m’goi”. Nevertheless, every time I said, “Xie, xie” to anyone in Hong Kong, it made them so happy, just that I was trying. THAT is how Hong Kong people are.

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On the other hand, the Chinese, especially from the perspective of Hong Kongers, are rude, ill mannered, generally superficial parasites. Their exploding middle class comes to Hong Kong to buy up properties, which drives housing costs up. They come there to buy up everything they cannot get in China, or better quality versions of what they can get in China. They treat Hong Kong like a giant Costco, buying everything in bulk, then going home. They are demanding, and while few Hong Kongers spit or litter, the Chinese do it anytime they can get away with it (Hong Kong has laws against littering and spitting in most public places…were those laws there before or after the Chinese started coming in droves?). Most people from Hong Kong find them disgusting, and would gladly welcome British influence back over their being a Semi-Autonomous Region of communist China. Hell, one of their parks still has a statue honoring King George VI!!! Maybe there is a different view of the Chinese, but those that I spoke with from Hong Kong, DO NOT like them.

One last observation about the people of Hong Kong. They do have one thing in common with the Chinese: Neither of them like the Japanese…at all. One day, my wife was wearing a vintage looking Star Wars movie poster shirt, that was in Japanese. Everyone was staring and glaring at her. I don’t think she’s worn it since.

So that lovely little combination of Hong Kong culture, food, and people, combined to make this little vacation of ours such a happy one. I never thought I could live in a city this size, but after just 2 or 3 days, I would’ve fucked someone to stay there permanently. And we still hadn’t really seen anything yet! But we’d squeeze in some sightseeing soon.
– For images of our trip, please visit my wife’s Facebook page: Mischa Elaine Johnston