Thursday, July 25, 2013

Expat Culture in Taiwan: Definition of Independence

The Taiwanese are not independent is a recurring expat discussion in Taiwan - along with, and because of it, the frustration why we are not catapulted to instant success.

It comes from their family relationships. You will here a 40-year old man say he has to ask his parents if he can go on holiday and you will explode at his immaturity.

Over the years you will then witness the contradictions to this: Same 40-year old man will mortgage his home, teach himself English, set up a business from scratch, gamble everything and succeed. Inspite of this you will still insist he is not independent and you will get even more frustrated because you haven't made your fortune.

Before the argument below I also suffered from my ingrained definition of independence...Until that is i had my eyes opened...

One afternoon, a couple of months after being in Taipei, I was sat in the hostel with Mike, a Canadian, Chris, an Australian, and John, an Englishman (who would later become a good friend). I didn't know much about these guys other than that John was supposedly ex-army and in Taiwan to try and stay out of trouble.

"Listen to that John,” said Mike pointing at his girlfriend next to him. “Christine wanted to go and study in Canada last year. She had saved her money. Arranged her course, and her father said no. She is twenty-five. You tell her in the West we are more independent. We would do it anyway. You know, I have told her if she wants to survive in the modern world she has to make up her own mind - be independent.”

“Hmm,” said John turning to Christine. "How do you put up with listening to this daily crap about your country? I doubt his dick is really that big."

John could say these kind of things because he was six-two, about fifteen stone - and basically looked you straight in the eye making it clear he would do more than just blow hot air.

“What, man?” asked Chris then turning to his girlfriend Roxy. “They lack independence these people - they are afraid to make decisions. You tell him Roxy.”

Roxy had a wry, earnest smile. She had had this conversation before; she knew what the foreigners liked to hear. “You know my brother lives in the house with my parents. He have the girlfriend before that he really love. Hmm, they together six years, but my parents say no, don’t let them marry.”

Chris was now pumped up.“What sort of fucking limp-dick doesn’t stand up to his parents, and marry the girl he loves?”

"Why didn't he marry her?" asked John.

Roxy answered,“You know that is a funny story. My father tell my brother, he have the good friend who is looking for the husband for his daughter. If my brother marry her, he can the high position in that company. Company is part of the Yuan He group. It is a very good opportunity .”

“Obviously a limp-dick who is selfish and cold-hearted, not lacking independence,” replied John.

“Nonsense mate," said Chris before turning to Roxy and suddenly changing the subject. "Hey, did you phone the police station about my visa? I only have a couple of days left and I have to leave?"

"There you go," said John. "You fucking moaners - Your girlfriends double as personal secretaries: ordering pizza, making calls, solving your visa or money transfer problems, writing Chinese on little pieces of paper so you can get around town in taxis, advising on schools to work at and places to go. When they are not available you sit around like a couple of spare tools...Not true, you always sit around like a couple of spare tools. You are more dependent on their girlfriends to function in Taiwan than an unborn baby is to its umbilical cord. Now who lacks independence, pricks?!”

Chris and Mike looked at each other scoffing at the ridiculously of what they had just heard.

Chris replied, “How can you compare the two? I ask my girly to order a pizza and that makes me as bad as the person who lives at home until they are thirty?”

“Yes, moaner. The definition of independence isn’t the ability to tell your parents and authority to fuck off.”

It was a revelation and the answer. People are complicated and capable of all sorts of weird and wonderful things. The 40-year old Taiwanese guy who set up his business from nothing will, if his mother requests, run down the high street wearing a pink frock, high heels and wig, screaming i love hairy bottoms. Get used to it. It is a different culture. Things are done differently here.

Years later John defined his ability not to fall for most of the stereotypical misjudgements as thus: "I am not a poncey college boy that covers my lack of social confidence by rejecting family, relationships and all things emotional. I didn't sit and watch 'Neighbours' every lunch time just to laugh in a condescending way."

2 comments:

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