This weekend, I paid a visit to the majestic Chiang Kai Shek memorial hall. This was the first time that I really felt that I was in China. The day I visited, it was a massive and imposing image, set against swirling, stormy skies. In front of the memorial, there are the National Theater and National Concert Hall, also impressive. I was lucky enough to see a military parade and concert happening that day.
Inside, there are two guards who stand absolutely still for the entire day. (Well, they rotate duties, but still.) I decided to add that to my list of world’s shittiest jobs.
And inside the memorial, there was a traditional pipa concert. It seems like it takes so much skill to play—the melodies are often so quick and complicated. The strumming method for “fluttering” the note is impressive. Take a look at this video:
After taking this impressive stop into traditional Chinese culture, it was back to the rest of the westernized country. I stopped in at McDonalds and had me a burger.
This article is pretty ridiculous, and true.
The English learning situation in this part of the world is pretty dire. Many schools in China simply require teachers to have a white (or at least foreign) face; they pay less attention to actual teaching credentials. Parents just want to see that their kids are being taught by a Westerner. This leads to a huge range of quality. The bad teachers are essentially “unfireable” because the demand for teachers is much higher than the supply.
I wouldn’t say I’m one of these teachers exactly, but I can appreciate the sad fact that to a large extent, no one cares how the foreign teachers do their jobs. The schools certainly don’t care, as long as the parents are still paying. And the parents often don’t care or at least don’t have their priorities straight. I know I’ve been judged based on superfluous things, like how well my classroom is decorated, or how much I schmooze with the parents. I recently had a parent ask to switch to the other teacher’s class (fyi, this other teacher just gives the kids worksheets everyday and then plays on her phone for the whole lesson). The reason for the switch was that I didn’t stop and chat with her in the hallways often enough, so she thought I wasn’t friendly enough. So, sometimes, I can’t say that I blame those teachers who just don’t give a flying f***.
The other day, as I was walking through an alley between a cemetery and a rundown factory at 2 am, by myself, in my club outfit, I was thankful that I don’t have to have any fears of being sexually assaulted in Taiwan. That’s partly because of a low crime rate, and partly because I’m an “unattractive” dark-skinned American girl who’s taller/weighs more than most of the men here.
That got me thinking about some of the compromises one makes to live in a particular country. Every place has its pros and cons, of course. I’ve noticed a pattern in the places I’ve stayed; it’s often been a choice between safety and romantic excitement.
In Taiwan and Thailand, for example, I don’t find many people attractive, and I don’t receive a lot of interest, either. I feel about as attractive as a burlap sack sometimes, no matter how I try to remind myself that I’m experiencing the subjective opinions of a small slice of the world’s people. But on the bright side, I can do whatever I want, whenever, wherever, and with whomever, without feeling even a twinge of danger approaching.
In places like Turkey/Brazil, where the men are much more aggressive and exude a lot more masculinity, it was almost like a buffet of attractive men. And I also (for the most part) enjoyed the endless attention that I got there. But on the dark side of that, I experienced a lot of apprehension about my personal safety in situations where the attention became unwanted and did, in fact, experience attempted assaults in both countries.
This may just be my personal battle, since I’m attracted to very tall, large, and macho men. But it’s something I found interesting to think about, and it got me wondering what country the “gentle giants” reside in.
One of the nice things about Taipei is that there are so many things of interest right outside the city. One of those things is Tamsui, a riverside town right at the edge of the MRT. There are a few somewhat picturesque spots, like the fisherman wharf:
But the majority of the interest here lies in its street food. Tamsui is known for its variety of unique foods. One of these is called iron eggs, which are eggs that are repeatedly boiled in a tea mixture and then air-dried. The result is dark, chewy eggs that have shrunken to about 1/3 of their original size:
They are extremely flavorful compared to regular boiled eggs.
Another popular food in Tamsui is fish ball soup. The broth is extremely fishy and takes some getting used to. But the fish balls themselves are quite tasty. There are many different kinds: plain, fish paste mixed with garlic, and what seems to be a pork and fish paste mixture. The soup contains one of each type of ball, so, jackpot.
Then, I found my new favorite Taiwanese food. They are similar to crab rangoon, except the filling is based more on scallions and a semisweet sauce. I don’t know if crab rangoon is a real Chinese food… it doesn’t seem like it would be, based on the limited amount of dairy products around here. Crab rangoon was my favorite Chinese food before, but I feel inauthentic after learning the truth… I guess I’ll make these my new favorite food.
These round, red balls are everywhere. I couldn’t figure out what they were. They’re tomatoes, coated in a thick, red syrup candy. It’s much better than it sounds!
My final stop in food land was this ice cream stall. They pile up ice cream about 12 inches high! Though, most of it melts before you get the chance to eat it. I got the green tea/mango swirl.
After all of this adventure in a new city, I rode the MRT just 40 minutes back to my apartment. Safe and sound in Taipei.
Every day, I suffer from an issue called wet hands syndrome. Paper towels, dryers, and other methods of hand drying are widely unavailable in public restrooms. People generally just shake-dry their hands. And they’re not careful about it, either. They shake those bad boys everywhere, the way dogs always seem to come up and shake themselves dry right next to you. Everyone in the splash zone gets some. As you wait in line for the bathroom, you get little flecks of water on your face a couple of times as people walk out and splash their water everywhere. Imagine what the floor looks like.
I have solved my own problem of wet hands syndrome by carrying around the pink “playboy” hand towel that one of my students gave me as a gift. I’d suggest that everyone else devise a similar solution.
Taiwanese are adamantly against being labeled as “Chinese”; they adamantly want to be seen as a separate nation with its own culture. While Taiwan and China are technically still part of the same country, and share a lot of history, there are some differences. The people here are definitely more laid back than mainlanders. They also consider themselves more “polite” and less rough around the edges. It’s said that you can spot a mainlander in the crowd, because they don’t follow many of the cultural norms of more “civilized” places. First of all, mainlanders will yell at people across a room or store. They don’t like to queue and will try to cut to the front of the line. They will sometimes sit in odd places, like on the floor of a crowded mall walkway. Whenever someone does something rude in public, the Taiwanese that I’m with will inevitably say, “must be from mainland China.” I don’t have enough experience to vouch for these stereotypes myself, but I definitely have seen some odd things done by “mainland” Chinese, to the horror of the locals. (FYI, the same type of complaints happen in Hong Kong, too.)
Not only is Taiwan rejecting its ties to the past, but it is also making a big push forward to be more like the countries it aspires to be. For one, there is a big Japan craze, with Japanese chain stores all around. In the markets, you can get “Japanese street food” which, honestly, seems like Taiwanese food marketed as Japanese (do they even have street food in Japan?) Any food labeled as “Japanese” can be priced about 3 times higher than local fare. Similar with Korean things.
Another culture that is being heavily imported is American. As I mentioned before, Taiwanese are crazy about foreigners and will often stop you on the streets to chat and then not leave you alone. I’ve never felt so at home in an Asian country; there is so much stuff here imported from the US or copied off of American infrastructure, food, and culture. I don’t believe it’s because of pressure to Westernize; Taipei is one of the least visited places in the region, and has one of the lowest numbers of expats. Instead, all of the change and modeling seems to be from an identity crisis, or a desire to become something different and better than China.
But for now, we’re all in the same republic. So let’s just get along and embrace the vast history and diversity of a country that has spanned centuries. It’s kind of like a person with questionable parentage (of which I am one)… there may be some things you don’t like about where you came from, but it’s still a good idea to respect that history and the ways it shaped you. And to remember some of the good things that it brought you. So, I wouldn’t be so quick to shun the motherland.
Oh, how different it was teaching in Thailand. To think that there, I was invited to a dinner party where all of the teachers and the principal were getting wasted together (in front of several students, whose parents were staff members). And that classes were regularly cancelled in order to have celebrations or fun assemblies. It’s such a different culture compared to here, where there is a video camera in my classroom, and every move I make is written down by a secretary who is watching my class from some lonely office on the other side of the school.
Parents and schools are so darn worried about the kids “getting ahead”. Taiwanese kids generally will attend “cram schools” after school until 10 pm daily in order to get ahead in their educations. But then, how do they have time to develop in other ways? Emotional development, social skills, personal interests, rest and enjoyment… does nothing matter besides school? All I can think sometimes is that I’m glad I was provided the opportunity to become well-rounded. I try not to judge any culture, but I would be interested in hearing from someone who could explain why this is the right life to give a child. This post really devolved into something more serious than I thought it would be, but I’m glad I had the opportunity to get these concerns off my chest.
Let me tell you about a brilliant piece of government strategy: the receipt lottery.
The government wanted to make sure that all businesses, even small ones, reported all of their earnings for tax purposes. So they devised the receipt lottery. Every receipt has a lottery number printed on it, and every 2 months there are new winning numbers. Prices are up to about 10 million NT, or 3 million dollars. Everyone plays, and people are crazy about holding onto their receipts. Even I have a big bag where I collect all of my receipts. And as far as strategy goes, people will demand a receipt for every single purchase. The additional tax revenue generated from keeping all transactions “above board” is more than enough to pay for the winning prize.
Texting in Chinese is a pain in the butt. Have you ever thought about it? There are so many characters, so it seems to take forever to type out a decent message. There are a few ways to type characters:
1. Each character belongs to a “category”, so you can type the category symbol and then scroll through to find the character you’re looking for
2. You can use a touch pad to actually draw the character with your finger. Then the phone will search for the character in its database and suggest the correct character.
Holy moly. Imagine those poor teenagers trying to talk to a cute boy after school, and having to spend their whole evening typing out a frickin message in addition to thinking of what to say. That would kill the mood pretty fast. Yeah. Even more respect for those whose native language is Chinese.
I went to Yehliu Geopark one weekend. I don’t have too much to say about it, but I think the pictures need to be seen. I didn’t know something like this existed, especially in Taiwan.