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Thursday, July 2, 2009

Golly gee whiz, Taiwan sure is a swell place!

I am sometimes told that I complain too much about being in Taiwan, and in all honesty, there is no doubt a lot of truth to that. I'm sure if I had come here just after college, when I was in my early to mid twenties, I would've probably fallen in love with the country. Instead, the circumstances that brought me here (and have kept me here, despite a couple of attempts to break away) were less than favorable, and thus color my perceptions. There are many things I, in fact, like about Taiwan, such as the mountains (hiking in Dakeng 大坑 has probably done more than anything else, with the possible exception of my wife, to keep me sane here), historical places such as Tainan 台南 and Tamsui 淡水 and, of course, the relics from the Japanese colonial past. I know I should try to focus more on the positive, but...

For one thing, I don't want my blog to end up being one of those Proustian descriptions of all things mundane and ordinary. Here is a picture of a road, this is a shot of a bridge, I often go to this convenience store, you can see the town from the hilltop, this is me eating (and enjoying!) something "strange" from a local market etc. etc. There are roads, bridges, convenience stores, hills with views and even unusual dishes back in the homeland, but somehow it all seems so much more interesting when you are writing about "Taiwanese" roads, bridges, convenience stores, hills with views and dishes. I admit there was a time when going to a Japanese bank to withdraw some money was an exciting adventure in an exotic land, but back then blogs didn't exist to record such experiences (am I that old?).

For another, I wouldn't want to always write about how "friendly" or "nice" everyone is to the foreigner. I have met some great and wonderful Taiwanese people (I even married one of them!), but at the same time, some of the biggest, boorish jerks I've had the misfortune of encountering have carried ROC citizenship (and I don't just mean car drivers and scooter riders), the point being the good, the bad and the ugly are in rough balance with each other. To hear some bloggers tell it, however, you would think the Taiwanese in the collective sense are the nicest, most friendliest bunch of warm-heated folks on the planet. To which I reply: is there anywhere on earth where people are not friendly to visitors? Pick up any Lonely Planet guide to virtually any destination, and the locals will probably be described as "friendly", or some variation of the word thereof. An example of the wondrous complexity of human beings is that we exhibit both xenophobia and warm hospitality to those from other places. Taiwan is a very human place, just like everywhere else (the cynic inside would probably say all that friendliness is just a subtle reminder that one will always be a 外國人).

So my blog entries will probably still exhibit a tendency to lean towards what some will call (with probable cause, I know) "whinging" or "whining" (though I might prefer "keen observation"!). Why? A Canadian colleague in Japan once said it was just more fun to complain than compliment. The truth is there are many things here that I don't agree with, or that I can't understand the reasons why they are done (or not done), and I don't always feel like being the good, little waiguoren. So forgive me, please, if (IMHO) I think the beer is bland, the food from the street stalls and small restaurants is oilier than anything McDonald's or KFC sells, or that if you placed Jolin Tsai 蔡依林 in the heart of the Dōtombori 道頓堀 area of Ōsaka 大阪, you wouldn't even notice her. I will try, however, to focus more on those things that make Taiwan so uniquely all the Japanese you see on signage.

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