Tag Archive: living in taiwan


This year marks the third year I’ll be spending the holidays abroad.

My first year, I got to spend it with my sister, her “other”, my other sister, and her family (I actually think of them as part of  “my” family too, but we’ll keep that as our little secret). That was a fun time until we all started getting on each other’s nerves. The -14 degree weather didn’t help. Still, although I wasn’t at home (home is where mom is after all) I felt like I was, and I think we all had a good time.

I had looked forward to spending Christmas on my own. 2012 would be the first time, ever, that I had nothing special to do. No family, no boyfriends, nothing. I was curious to see what it would be like. Not that I don’t enjoy spending time with my family. I do. I wish we could spend that family time at other times of the year too, with no tension, no fights, no expectations, no sense that we are more religious or happier than we actually are, and instead, spend it enjoying each other’s company, as we so often (don’t) have a chance to.

Christmas is my absolutely least favorite holiday of the year.

That’s right. I said it. I HATE it. Every year is marred by random family tension, fights about bullshit,  lack of money, pressure to buy expensive gifts (I’m a cheap bastard at heart, I hate Christmas shopping), and a general feeling that its built up so much every year that the only way to go is down. Christmas, for me, is a depressing time of year. I can’t remember the last time I truly looked forward to Christmas. I don’t know if it’s all the sappy commercialism in the States, the expectations of good times and good cheer, the overly idealized movies that play on TV, the random family members that try to ram their religion down my throat or what.

The happiest Christmas, as an adult, I remember having was in 2002. For the first time in years, my entire family was present.  We were all younger (a whole 10 years younger, in fact), I was still in college, I had a new boyfriend, and I was very much in love. Although that year had marked a couple of tragedies, to me the world was still bright, shiny, and new. We even had our cousins up for the week, which was the one and only time they ever came. It was awesome. I remember chicken wings at Bdubs, hanging out with everyone at the same time. Huge family dinners with more people than ever before, mom’s delicious Polish traditional cooking, hanging out after, and, if memory serves me right, that was also the year we actually had an unexpected visitor knocking at our door.  All kinds of memories.  It was so special that year.

So, yeah. In my own, vaguely melancholy, I’m missing-my-family kind of way, I had looked forward to spending 2012  on my own. In a sort of free from presents, from good cheer, and pretending we are all so much happier-than-we-actually-are sort of way.

Last year, I spent it with some ex-pat friends. We boozed it up at a house party and then hit the Taiwan Brewery to get drunk some more. It was fun, but for me there was an element of wistfulness. For one thing, two people puked (not me). I was surrounded by people I had known, at best, for three or four months, and somehow boozing it up just didn’t seem like the holidays. Let’s face it, I can booze it up anytime I want, and I sometimes do, so how could that be special? It was the coldest day of the year in Taiwan last Christmas Eve, and although it was in the forties, and people in the North were envious, let me just tell you…it was cold. Damn cold. I was wearing two pairs of socks and had to borrow some ski socks on top of it because I couldn’t get warm. We sat around, and I pretended to learn how to play mahjong while sucking down beer and shots.

I did not learn how to play mahjong that night.

This year…well. I don’t know.

Of course, the requisite parties will all have to be hit, beginning with tomorrow, and one or two more next weekend, but Christmas falls on a Tuesday this year, and I will be spending it at work. Because I live in Taiwan after all, and though I could probably ask for it off, there just doesn’t seem to be a good reason to.

I will say this about Christmas in Taiwan: if you’re not christian, this is definitely the place to be. This is only the second year I’ve ever lived somewhere where Christmas wasn’t a big deal.  I think I like it.

Trust me. I don’t miss the canned twenty-year-old Christmas songs that start playing on November first ever year (except for Feliz Navidad, how can you not love that song?)  And I don’t miss…oh damn. Wait. I just realized I like a few other Christmas songs too. Shit.

Ok well. That doesn’t matter.

…As I was saying, screw Christmas. That’s the message I’m trying to send here.

I’ll update you on the rest of the Christmas cheer next week.

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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.

The Beautiful Blogger Award

Just a quick update: I’ve now been nominated for this award twice! So thank you Russell,  and Anni for reading my blog. And for liking it. Since this second nomination comes on the heels of my first one, I’m not going to bore you all blogging about it all over again.

 

 

Well wow.

I’ve been nominated for a Beautiful Blogger award(twice!).  I don’t really know what that means, but I’m gonna roll with it.

My first blog nomination ever! Thank you to GlobalAnni for nominating me for the Beautiful Blogger Award.

I started this blog last year as a way to share my life with my family and friends and to create a personal account of my life abroad.

As it turned out many of the people I expected to read it, don’t, yet I am continually amazed by how much (some) of my family enjoys it, and I am humbled by how many complete strangers stop by and check out my stuff.  I didn’t expect that, but much to my surprise, in the past eight months my readership has been slowly but steadily growing.  I appreciate everyone who takes the time to swing by my blog and even more so, I appreciate those that leave a comment or two.

Living in Taiwan has opened my life to many challenges and new opportunities, including taking my first steps into the wild and woolly world of blogging.  I don’t think I would have ever started a blog if I hadn’t moved here.  Taking that first step has encouraged me to re-open the doors I closed a long time ago on childhood dreams of writing.

This award comes with some rules…

1. Thank the person who nominated you and link to that person.

2. Post the award on your blog.

3. Nominate 7 (or less) blogs and link to them.

I’m relatively new to the blogging world, but these next blogs deserve an honorable mention.  I enjoy them and I think they are worth checking out.

My nominations are:

 http://kennethauthor.com/  For keeping me up to date on OKC dating exploits and one bachelor’s life in the US.

http://ivanterzic.wordpress.com/ Pretty sweet photography blog.

http://bananascoop.com/  Banana Scoop for keeping me up to date about pop culture and TV.

http://seeingredinchina.com/  Seeing Red in China, for writing thoughtful and intriguing commentary about life in China.

http://storiesbywilliams.com/ Stories by William for interesting commentary on science fiction.

http://loveaddictnyc.com/ Confessions of a Love Addict for truly talented writing.

http://gsprom.wordpress.com/ Scuba Tips for continuing my education on scuba diving.

There are about twenty or thirty other blogs out there that I follow that deserve to be mentioned too, but, hey, I can’t nominate everybody.

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