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Monday, October 26, 2015

Let them eat cake


Fall foliage in Falls Church. Apparently only the privileged few get to see colors like these

Many Western residents of Taiwan don't appear to have gotten out much before they traveled to Formosa and carved out new lives for themselves. How else to explain the numerous Facebook posts hailing Taiwan as the greatest place on Earth and the Taiwanese people as its greatest citizens because someone returned the poster's lost wallet with contents intact? It makes me envious that I didn't get to experience that side of Taiwan much while I was living there, what with having expensive items of clothing stolen from my motorbike, or being the victim of an attempted shakedown by a woman who tried to take me to court after SHE ran a red light at an intersection and collided with me, or having to live next door to a violent gangster on a street filled with shoddy tenements (mine included) in semi-rural Shengang. Probably a lot had to to do with the fact that Taiwan wasn't my first East Asian country to call home. I'm also the first to admit my skin could be thicker; what many Westerners characterize as "amazing kindness" shown by the Taiwanese to foreigners, I've always taken as a not-too-subtle reminder that I was always going to be an outsider in Taiwanese society, the perpetual guest who could never possibly understand the nuances of the culture despite marrying a local and starting a family there. In other words, I was already a jaded curmudgeon by the time circumstances derailed my train and had me come to rest in Taiwan, which is why I find the "Golly, gee whiz, Taiwan sure is the greatest place on earth" observations to be amusingly ridiculous at best, annoyingly irritating at worst. 

My daughter previews her Halloween costume during Chinese class this afternoon. Halloween, of course, is the domain of the privileged.

Today there was a naively cute post in my Facebook feed. Someone put up a video of a snake slithering across a road and wrote that Taiwan was a "paradise" because they could see "...snakes, praying mantises, lizards, eagles, huge spiders..." I didn't grow up in the middle of a large city, but at the same time, I wasn't raised out in the boondocks either. I have seen snakes, praying mantises, lizards, eagles and huge spiders, not to mention various other critters. True, I have come across snakes out in the forests and in fields, but I have also seen them slithering across roads in a city as densely populated as Tōkyō 東京. And even the most urban of city dwellers must have seen a few praying mantises or spiders in their lives prior to moving to the paradise that is Taiwan. And so I briefly remarked on how I found the post to be ridiculous, without naming any names or providing a link to the original video. I suppose I should take a friend's advice and stop being so cynical, but it's too late for that.

Amber shows off her patented "Hello Kitty" move during yesterday's Pumpkin Classic Go tournament. Go, of course, is a game of the privileged class.

And that was that, I thought, until this evening, when I learned I was a child of privilege, who doesn't understand that many of those from Western lands who have found happiness in Taiwan come from "lower to lower middle class backgrounds". Apparently, praying mantises and spiders are unknown in the gritty inner cities of the West, and their existence is a revelation to some, proving that paradise on Earth exists in the form of the island of Taiwan. I should have found this line of reasoning to be amusing, but instead I replied with a few choice profanities. An over-reaction, of course, but a not unreasonable one. What irked me was the presumption made of my social class and background by someone who has only known me since after I moved to Fengyuan back in...a few years back. I don't recall ever regaling this person with stories of my life growing up in opulence affluence...somewhere, let alone the economic situation of my family. So when said people take it upon themselves to assume things they don't know anything about, it gets to be more than a little irksome.

Winning a pumpkin at the tournament was a privilege.

The other factor that set me off was that in all the years I spent overseas in both Japan and Taiwan, I never met a fellow Westerner who appeared to be anything other than a child of the middle class (and many whose backgrounds made me look like a trailer park kid in comparison, which is even more the case in my present occupation). It takes money to move overseas and start a new life, and it takes a university education to secure the proper working visas for doing so. To paint my jaded observations of the naive young and enthusiastic as being unfairly dismissive is to an extent justified (though I have my reasons). To do so with accusations of the privileged passing judgment on the lower classes is not only ridiculous, but extremely presumptuous and more than a little bit offensive, especially when the accuser knows so little about me. And, I suspect, more than a little hypocritical.

Red leaves. Being privileged, I feel threatened by the socialist color

As long as my Facebook feed is filled with inane observations of what it is like to live in Taiwan (or in Japan, or China or anywhere else where I've had some experience), I will continue to respond per how I feel. Having worked my ass off for too long at too many dead-end kindergarten jobs while trying to support a family living in the less-than-fashionable area that was (and still is) Shengang, I've earned the right to be a little snarky now and then. I've paid my dues...

UPDATE: It's been a few days now, and I've long since calmed down. Now that I have the advantage of hindsight, I realize that I overreacted and regret the choice of some of my words in my exchange with the provocateur on Facebook. However, it still upsets me that someone best described as a casual acquaintance whom I've only met in person on a few occasions was not only presumptuous enough to assume something about my background (I've never posted anything on my life before Asia, but plenty on what it was like trying to get by while living in the Fengyuan/Shengang area), but that they were either arrogant enough to insist they knew more about myself than I did or too dense to realize that their poor choice of words had crossed a line and therefore should've been retracted. As in quickly making a sincere apology as soon as you realize that you've made a mistake, which is what I would've done in such a situation. I'm leaning toward the latter (i.e. "clueless") interpretation. I'm also still waiting for an apology, but I won't be holding my breath. What is pathetic in this case is that the person could've easily made their point about foreign residents who had grown up in urban areas experiencing wildlife for the first time in Taiwan (and getting giddy about it) without the ridiculous and unsupported connection to their financial backgrounds and social classes (plenty of well-to-do people never leave their urban comfort zones, while the great outdoors is populated by many who struggle to get by financially). After all, working class heroes generally do not have the financial means to first earn a four-year university degree in their home countries, then fly halfway around the world in order to set up themselves up to live and work as English teachers in East Asia. Kudos to those who have, but I've yet to encounter any in my travels, and at the risk of being presumptuous, that includes the above-mentioned person who was so sure they had me figured out.

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