A couple of months ago I published a post about all the things I like about Taiwan.

Well, where there’s love there’s also hate, and it wouldn’t be fair to only show the positives.

So here are the top ten things I can’t stand about Taiwan:

10. Pedestrians

People walk at the pace of crippled snails and pay no attention to where they’re going. None. They don’t pay attention instead they mindlessly get in the way of faster walkers.   If you go left to pass, they’ll be sure to veer left at the last moment and block your path. Go right and magically, there they are again. There’s no walking in a straight line here or sticking to one side of the sidewalk. Because. Well. That would be too damned obvious.

The magic doesn’t stop happening here either.

When it comes to oncoming foot traffic Taiwanese women are the worst. You know how its instinctive to veer out of the way of on-coming people? Where you veer six inches away from the person and they veer six inches away from you and you pass each other peacefully without a collision? Basic human instinct, right? Turns out that’s a learned behavior. One that isn’t being learned in Taiwan.  Oh no. Instead you veer the prescribed six inches to your right, and they just plow right into you.  Who cares about little things like full bodily contact?

What I don’t get is who do these girls think they’re messing with?  Girl, your 5’0 ninety pound body isn’t going to push me out of the way of anything.  They try to shoulder check me and go flying.  I laugh to myself because they totally deserved it.

9. Fascination with White Skin

Idolizing or idealizing white skin is a centuries-old cultural phenomena  that has negative psychological and physical side effects. In Taiwan you will see rows and rows of  skin care products designed to whiten skin. You will see women walking around in 90+ (32+) degree weather with jeans, slacks, tights and long-sleeved hoodies and jackets. All designed to prevent darkness.  Most absurd of all, you see both men and women with permanent umbrellas attached to their hands.  Like the rainiest day, the brightest day too requires heavy and consistent umbrella usage .

Considering the equally unhealthy Western obsession with tanning products and tanned skin this is just laughable.

Hey. I have a suggestion. Maybe, just maybe, we should all stop hating ourselves and each other for the colors of our skin. I know, right? Totally revolutionary.

8. Passive-Aggressive Behavior

Being non-confrontational is part of the culture. I understand that even though it is difficult to live with. So yeah. They’ll smile at you  through their anger, never let on what’s bothering them and then knife you in the back when you least expect it.  It is in all fairness, something that happens in every culture, and I’ve always thought it a strong indicator of a person’s maturity. From an outsider’s perspective though, it can be tough to deal with when you’re up against a cultural trait that you don’t understand, and have no tools or training to deal with.

7. Treating Foreigners like Monkeys at the Zoo

I’m sorry, but could you stare and point a little more?  You’re not making me feel alien enough yet.  For crying out loud, welcome to the 21st century. There are people out there who aren’t Asian! Yes. My skin is white, my eyes are green. I have double creased eyelids and my nose is “tall” or “high.”  That doesn’t mean my purpose in life is to satisfy your every curiosity about Westerners. You want a cultural exchange that will educate you and enrich your life? Awesome. So do I. But don’t sit there and watch me like I’m some monkey in a cage there solely so you can satisfy your prurient curiosity. Is it really any of your business what I’m doing in Taiwan, how long I’ve been here, or what I think about anything? Should you really make comments about my “tall” nose, my white skin, or try to touch my “golden” hair? Can you stop staring at me and treat me like a normal person? I am that, you know. A normal person. Just like you.

6. Noise Pollution

I’ve bitched about it before and I’m bitching about it again. The level of noise in Taipei is ridiculous. From vendors hawking their wares over the loudspeaker, abnormally loud conversations (everywhere), and scooters, to ear piercing street announcements and advertisements over loud-speaker or massive flat screens, noise is inescapable in Taipei.  There is no respect for the peace and tranquility of silence.   It’s absurd to run into people on mountain trails with their little attachable radios blasting away. God forbid you have to listen in silence to your own thoughts even for one moment. Who knows what horrors you might uncover if you actually unplugged from the world?

5. Pests

Hideously large spiders, cockroaches, and rats.  My first week in Taipei I saw an enormous rat squeeze its fat body down a rain drain hole into the sewer.  I was not thrilled.   Large spiders the size of your hand can be found in the woods, mountains and caves where they like to hang out and scare the crap out of you. Cockroaches are the worst though. They fly. Your apartment can be the cleanest, nicest, newest one in Taipei but it will still have cockroaches and you’re kidding yourself if you think it doesn’t.  I’ve been pretty lucky so far and only seen a handful in my place all year. But yesterday I had the extremely unpleasant experience of having one crawl across my foot. In the dark. while I sat writing on my laptop. It was HUGE. Then I had to chase after it and beat it to death with my favorite flip flop while it frantically scuttled around the floor.

4. The Weather in Taipei

Since we’re talking about the environment let me also say that the weather in Taipei sucks giant monkey balls.  I specify Taipei because due to a unique formation in the geography it rains constantly in the northern part of the island. Last winter it started raining in late November and didn’t stop until April. It rains all the time, even now, though at least the sun does come out from time to time. And now that it’s nearly July the heat and humidity are becoming insufferable. Summer’s here and with it comes 90+ degree weather and outrageous humidity.

3. Shopping Assistants and Customer Service

This can go both ways. Sometimes the service is truly excellent and I’m grateful for it. On the other hand, in all shops except for supermarkets and major department stores, I get followed around like the store assistants assume I’m a body snatcher.  And if that doesn’t happen then I’m followed around by someone trying to sell me something so hard it’s an instant turn off. Both are intolerable and have led me to avoid small shops completely unless I’m with a Taiwanese friend. I’m not Asian. That doesn’t instantly make me a thief so stop shadowing my every step like I’m on the top ten most wanted.  I hate getting pressured to buy. I have walked out of so many stores because I’m not left alone to browse in peace.  If you want my money this isn’t the way to get it.

2. Buxibans and the System of Education

The system of education in Taiwan is based on a rigorous process of elimination.  It is based on the idea that only the best survive.  Everything is designed to break students. It starts in preschool, intensifies in grade school and gets worse from middle school and beyond.  I don’t know what the suicide rates, depression rates, and rates of nervous breakdowns are for the students of Taiwan but I’m willing to bet it’s obscenely high.

These poor kids have no life whatsoever. They are robbed of their childhoods. Instead they are little learning machines. They go to school during the day, then they go to cram school every day for a variety of subjects. They are in school from eight a.m. and some of them don’t get home till after nine or ten at night. Every single day. Weekends? What weekends? They’re lucky if they get a Sunday off for fun and relaxation.

Even the kids that don’t have tons of classes are stuffed into cram school where they ghost the halls rain or shine in sickness and health for their entire childhoods.  I come to school in the morning and teach my kids. They’ve already been there all morning. When I’m leaving at nine at night, they’re still there, waiting to home.

They don’t get the time and attention they need from their parents and as a result we teachers see a lot of behavioral and self-esteem problems.

To make matters worse, the methods of teaching endorsed in schools consists of browbeating children into submission. They are not encouraged to question anything, they must simply process, and learn by rote reams and reams of material, some of it utterly useless.  They are often screamed at and punished for the most minor of transgressions.

In the areas of math and science, and indeed, in all subjects, they excel. They excel and are so far beyond the standards of a typical American student that there is no comparison. What they don’t excel at is imagination, questioning the status quo, innovation and thinking things through for themselves. This is not encouraged. In fact it is stifled brutally under the vicious tongues of their teachers. Where physical punishment may now be outlawed, it can still occur, and even where it doesn’t, kids are often demeaned and terrorized psychologically.

No wonder they are so meek and submissive. No wonder they have no self-esteem.

It is painful to watch. It is painful to be a part of this system.

1. The Work Culture

People in Taiwan are literally working themselves to death or they are forced to work themselves to death. Their rights are ignored or trampled, and that is only when they have any perceived rights at all.  The situation in Taiwan is beyond obscene. You only have to punch in the words overwork and Taiwan to come up with thousands of articles highlighting the problem. Here are a couple for your edification: http://affleap.com/overwork-culture-in-taiwan-leads-workers-at-their-late-twentys-to-fortys-to-their-untimely-death/http://rollrollrun.com/2012/05/01/literally-working-to-death-in-taiwan-33-2/http://ozsoapbox.com/taiwan/culture/taiwan-cant-seem-to-make-up-its-mind-on-overwork/.

As a culture, the Taiwanese are taught not to complain, to work hard, not to question their elders or their superiors, and it has disastrous results.

I don’t know much about civil rights but I do know that there have been no rights granted by anyone anywhere that have not been fought for by the oppressed.  It is the responsibility of the people to go out and rip from the hands of those in power their rights to their time, their health, their freedom, and their lives. Everything that we have in America, we have had to fight for. Someday, I hope to see the Taiwanese do the same.

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