Writer's Block

The USA is the place I was born. Canada is the place I was raised. Taiwan is the place in my heart.

Wednesday, April 17, 2002

Why is it that the Taiwanese people have a way of being so warm and endearing, yet tread closely between the boundaries of helpful advice and insult? Ok, so my Western perception of social etiquette has made me a little touchy on this topic. But I’ve encountered these situations at least twice with complete strangers and it still gets to me each time it happens. Let me explain… Once I had a young man, who I had never met before, strike up a conversation with me, then he proceeded to say something to the effect of, “I hope I’m not being too forward in saying this or that you don’t mind if I ask you about that rash you have on your neck?” He asked what happened, how I got it, said that he had a relative with a similar affliction and that she was able to get rid of her rash, so if I didn’t mind he could ask her how she had it treated. Well, I was just speechless, I didn’t know how to react, I certainly didn’t feel like I should be thanking him for making me feel like a freak with a huge flaming rash. I just muttered a half hearted thanks but I couldn’t help but feel slightly offended and intruded upon. I mean if you know that what you are going to say could offend something, why even bother going there?

The other day, I was on my way to buy some groceries at the Mega Department store/Warner Village in Kaohsiung but I stopped short of entering the building because from a distance I saw clouds and clouds of dense smoke. It looked as though the building could have been on fire. Upon closer inspection, I saw that there was some kind of outdoor demonstration with fire being conducted. Another young woman stood nearby observing this scene, so I struck up a conversation with her. I struggled to ask her in Taiwanese what was going on. I guess I’m kind of an anomaly in Taiwan since I can only really converse in Taiwanese, not Mandarin. Most young people my age speak Mandarin first. After years of rule and education by the Kuo Ming Tang Nationalist government, there has been an almost complete reversal in Taiwan- the majority population now speaks Mandarin Chinese over Taiwanese, whereas the reverse was true prior to the arrival of the KMT party in Taiwan.

We struck up a friendly conversation and I asked her to speak in Taiwanese with me of course. I think it’s something about this standard exchange I do when speaking to people “Excuse me, I only speak/understand Taiwanese, please speak Taiwanese with me” that makes me the target for unwanted advice. People immediately become very curious as to why I can only speak Taiwanese. Where are you from? Why can’t you speak Mandarin? Do you live here? What are you doing here? they ask, and then the advice follows. In this particular case the woman proceeded to say, “I hope you don’t mind me asking, but did you drink a lot of water the night before?” I couldn’t quite understand completely all of the advice she was dispensing (which in hindsight, probably wasn’t a bad thing), but I do know that she was implying I was retaining water and that she knew of some remedy for this. Then she proceeded to ask me about my darkly tanned skin and some scarring that I had, offering more helpful advice. Again, I tried not to feel offended or insulted because I’m sure or at least I hope that she didn’t intend to elicit such a reaction. She probably thought she was being helpful, but I just don’t feel comfortable with unsolicited advice. It’s not that I don’t take criticism well, but it simply didn’t sit well because it was coming from a stranger and it was unwanted. I couldn’t escape it, I had to just stand there and listen.

How is it and why is it that strangers so easily dispense unsolicited advice? I’m not sure if people are being curious, helpful or superficial... Or if it’s something about the self deprecating personality or psyche of the Taiwanese that’s developed after so many years of occupation and authoritarian rule by various invading regimes. I don’t think I’ll ever become accustomed to this directness. Taiwanese routinely ask people how old they are, if they’ve gained weight, how much money one makes, and sometimes, in my opinion they get too personal too soon.

** See my follow up comments on this on May 7**

What else plagues me lately?! It’s that constant refrain that’s in the back of my mind, that I go through every now and then… should I stay or should I go? That is to say, should I stay in Kaohsiung or go to Taipei.

That is the essential question. I love big cities, with their conveniences and energy. But I moved to Taiwan to get away from New York and that whole lifestyle. Taipei is a vibrant, convenient, increasingly international city. There are so many people in Taipei with backgrounds similar to myself- born in North America or raised there, whose first language is English and whose parents are Taiwanese and/or Chinese. The social network was there before I even arrived. It’s easy for me to fit in there. I miss the ease and familiarity that I feel when I’m in Taipei.

Taipei and Kaohsiung have been two completely opposite experiences for me.

In Kaohsiung my life runs at a different pace. I’m focused on my teaching and language study, but at times it’s trying when I loose my motivation. My life in Kaohsiung is much more routine and relaxing. My social network is smaller, but it is growing slowly but surely.

The things that have been keeping me here seem to be becoming unleashed lately… I think that’s contributed to my uncertainty about whether I should stay or go.

At the beginning of this week, I was in a funk, stuck in a self-defeating cycle and then, to make matters worse I realized that something that I’ve been working on writing and planning for has already been done… quite well I might add. The book I was preparing to write would help me secure a full-time job at the college where I’m currently teaching part-time. I was ready to concede defeat… Why recreate the wheel if you don’t have to?

So, yesterday I began investigating possible job opportunities in both Kaohsiung and Taipei; I felt that I had lost my direction and reasons to be in Kaohsiung and I wanted to know what my options are. I haven’t turned up anything particularly promising yet. It’s a struggle to find job opportunities in this economy, especially in Kaohsiung… I’ll give some thoughts on that another day…

One day later, and several conversations later, I realize the book that’s already been written will help me to better organize what I need to do, save me time, stimulate more ideas and enable me find my own angle for what I’m working on. I’m going to continue with the plans for my book.

I can’t get too complacent… I need to investigate and to exhaust all possible job opportunities… I must look into possibilities in both Kaohsiung and Taipei while doing the best that I can to further my current situation, in other words, continue writing my book. The answers won’t come easily, I’ll just have to do some serious job searching to get myself in a good position whether I decide stay in Kaohsiung or go to Taipei.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home