I’m writing this as a response to “Why I Love Taiwan (Taboo Truths)”. Regardless of the disclaimer preceding the article, I was provoked by it enough to want to respond. Not because I disagree with Jed Alexander’s sentiments of self-betterment and holding oneself up to a reasonable standard, but because it rang of classist, misogynist, and western-centric platitudes.
First of all, “Why I Love Taiwan” was very much trying to be like “6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You a Better Person” – a popular and pretty well written list published by Cracked.com. Unfortunately, Mr. Alexander’s article, while at times funny, misses the sardonically motivational tone he is trying to emulate.
You see, I don’t really wanna read an article in the voice of Steve Jobs or Gordon Gekko. Steve Jobs was a visionary, but a rather cold and calculating one, and that’s being nice. Gordon Gekko is pretty widely accepted as a huge dick. Why would English teachers and foreign students want to take a lot of advice from that crowd? I don’t want to “make money and win,” I want to act like the kind of human being who doesn’t say things like “make money and win” and mean it seriously.
Another underlying problem I have with “Why I Love Taiwan”, as one commentator explained, is the fact that it’s dripping with white privilege and assumes that “foreigner” means “white person”. I am also white, but I know living in Taiwan isn’t so easy for, say, black students from Nigeria, nor is finding work so simple for Hispanic or black Americans. What about the cultural confusion and double-standards faced by ABCs? Sadly, our white skin is beneficial at some less than stellar organizations, but that is hardly a “truth” we should relish in, nor does it reflect the reality for a large portion of the foreign population.
According to his article, Taiwanese people seem to be tripping over themselves to hand us white folk a bunch of money, respect, and deference simply for our European pedigrees.
This hasn’t been my experience. Taiwanese people are respectful and kind, yes. However, earning genuine professional respect is something that took me years of effort to achieve. The Taiwanese are some of the hardest working people I have ever seen, and sadly, we expat English teachers are some of the most self-absorbed and entitled. Our Taiwanese friends certainly see that, and it has become an unhappy, if sometimes true stereotype that follows all of us. And this sense of entitlement and self-absorption is only fueled by spreading the myth that Taiwanese people just respect us because we’re white and seem to demand it.
Finally, the characterizations of many foreigners as “knuckle-dragging” and “boozehounds” is unfair. I mean, yeah, there are some people who are less than well-behaved, but as a community we need to not regard each other so poorly. Most of those “boozehounds” we see out and about are probably people having a one-night episode of boozehoundishness and likely deserve more benefit of the doubt than our passing judgement affords them. At the very least, we ought not feed into clearly negative stereotypes.
So, with all that said, I would like to encourage the rest of our demographic to consider a few things. First, we should think of and respect Taiwanese people like we do the people back home, and if you don’t think much of people back home then think better of Taiwanese people. Yes Taiwanese culture is very different, but all of your problems with the Taiwanese are rooted in cultural misunderstanding, not because they don’t do things as well as us. At the end of the day, we are much more alike than we are different, and just like people back where you come from, you are going to get more respect if you earn more respect.
Next, can we acknowledge that, as foreigners, we are all in this together? We should remember that we are a diverse and global subset of the population, and we need to be mindful and respectful of each other. We should say “hi” to each other when we pass on the street and we need to try to conduct ourselves in a way that isn’t going to make Taiwanese people or anyone else think poorly of us.
Finally, read something about Taiwan or Asia. Try to understand the history, culture, and mindset of the people who have developed this tremendous place in which we live. So many foreigners hunker down in small-minded expat communities, and these insular and closed-off circles only breed misunderstanding. Taiwanese society and culture has a lot to offer and coming at it from an angle of “make money and win” is only going to ensure that you miss out.
This article was prepared by the author in his personal capacity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Taipei Trends and those associated.