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.

Sunday, June 02, 2002

As I think about the many, many impressions and opinions that I have about Taiwan that I want to write about (and there are a lot!)- I realize that many of my opinions of Taiwan may come off sounding quite critical.

Perhaps it’s because as a Taiwanese American, I have many expectations for the development of Taiwan. I see many paradoxes in Taiwan’s society and moral standards. Before deciding to make the move to Taiwan I researched and spoke to many different people about their experiences living and working in Taiwan. Most people had very positive learning experiences. I’ve heard about the good, bad and ugly sides of being in Taiwan. I was prepared for the reverse racism which is prevalent in the English teaching trade. Being an ABT (American Born Taiwanese), I was warned that although I am every bit as “American” (i.e. born and raised in the U.S. with perfect English), as any of my Caucasian American counterparts, that schools might try to pay me a less competitive salary or would not be interested in hiring me based on my “unforeign” looking appearance. And I have indeed experienced all of the above!

When I decided to relocate to Taiwan I did it for many reasons. I was enchanted by the idea of discovering or rediscovering the homeland of my parents and ancestors, encouraged by the possibilities offered by a dynamic, changing society that tends to be favorable to entrepreneurs and small businesses, needed a change in pace, and looked forward to the flexible lifestyle that I knew I’d have. It often seems like there are many ABT/ABC’s who have come to Taiwan to study a language, to “figure out life”, to try something new, to launch a new business, for a change of pace, etc., etc. … and that Taiwan is a place for “lost souls.” I see my time here as a journey and learning experience, but couldn’t have prepared myself for what my own experience of living here would be like. Interestingly, none of the people from whom I sought advice from about living and working in Taiwan were not Taiwanese American. So wonder if they more easily accepted or overlooked the illogical, inconsistent aspects of Taiwan; maybe it’s more that they didn’t personalize these things or think about them, the way I do.

Taiwan is a society that is about bending the rules. Just look at the way people drive around… People who drive turn left by easing themselves directly into opposite lane of oncoming traffic, forcing the oncoming traffic to stop so the driver can make a left turn. People drive through tight spots and around obstacles. One of my friends compared driving in Taiwan to principle of Zen… like water flowing around a rock in a stream. You must keep all eyes and ears open for anything. The name of the game is that anything goes, as long as there are no collisions. Driving in Taiwan is very defensive; it is a non contact sport. Cars frequently drive through the narrow alleys of Taiwan and navigate effortlessly around the masses of autobai. And buses seem very close to colliding with the scooters as they approach bus stops.

Taiwan may seem like a chaotic society to some. And in many ways it’s true. I don’t think that it’s a completely lawless country with everyone trying to rob or take advantage of others. But sometimes I do wonder about the ethics of this society. The other day I got into a taxi with suspiciously young looking man. In fact, he looked like he was fresh out of high school! Indeed, he seemed rather clueless- not knowing exactly where or how to get to the streets that I needed to go to. I also happened to be in the taxi with someone else who remarked how young the driver looked and asked how old he was. It turns out that the boy was 18 years old. “And what is the legal age that permits you to drive a taxi?” she asked. “Around 20 years old,” he replied. Well, this conversation went on, but what was interesting was that the driver didn’t bother to deny that he was illegally driving a taxi, but simply rationalized that the economy has been so bad lately that we do what we must to “bring home the bacon.” I’m not sure what’s worse- someone lying in your face or telling the truth yet knowing what they are doing is illegal? Taiwan is a place of such paradoxes. There is no rule of law because the law has not been consistently or strictly enforced. What law there has been- people have always been able to bend it.


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