Miles from Home

China Commentary– Youthful Musings on the Environment, Culture & Development

(Non) Acceptance of Normative Behavior

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For months, I have tried to think of the best way to portray Taiwan to my friends and family, those of you reading this, with a bit of its unique day-to-day flavor. I was in the process of compiling one of those trendy “Only in…” lists. This type of list is laughs, always a happy reminder when one looks back on matching observations or memories. This just is not what I am going for, here.

In this case, this alternative list serves as a compass through my own dealings with cross-cultural identification and acceptance. Honestly, even if I were to stay here for ten years would I ever consider myself Taiwanese? The answer, undoubtedly, is no. Taiwan will, however, leave a lasting impact on me right down to the most minute details of my experience here.

I will start with some of the more prominent, let’s call them not-so-great cultural observations (I will write many more positive ones later, and they will appear on top!). These aren’t criticisms, just oberservations. Just as the US has it’s po-dunk Southerner and its neo-liberal hippies (Boulder!) and its Hummer-driving suburbanites, so too does Taiwan own many genres of people– some brilliant, some frightening, and some repulsing!!! Without further ado…


1. THE ROLE OF WOMEN. This is an issue I will expand upon countless times. The primary obstacle of the discourse on women in Taiwan is the requirement to write great lengths for clarity. For the sake of brevity, I am basing this upon my own experiences– nine months of observations, discussions with female and male Taiwanese friends, my own experiences dating Taiwanese women, etc. My coarse abbreviation of history only illustrates the depth of misunderstanding between myself, from the culture I was raised in, and that of “traditional” Asian societies.

This concept of “traditional” and what I call more modern sexual relations is in flux at this moment in Taiwan. Many of Taiwan’s younger generation of women are fighting an uphill battle to break free from traditional constraints on their independence, sexuality, and importance in society. What most people call “traditional” here means: women are expected to do all household work, even if the woman is the breadwinner in the home; women are meant to be quiet, not to speak unless spoken to, and when they speak they are to have very soft, babyish (weak) voices; women should be pale-skinned and lack sexually identifiable features like breasts or hips; women shall live with their family until they are taken by a husband, and then shall live with his; women should be married and producing male children before the age of 25…. etc, etc…

Like I mentioned, most of this is in jeopardy at the current time. Women are becoming much more visible in society and much more aware of their sensuality. However, confronting the implicit psychology of this tradition will be a major undertaking. I believe there is a lot of change to come. There must be for Taiwan to keep pace with the rest of the world.

Again, I have to give props to what Michael Turton wrote about this issue. Well written and on-point, check out what he has to say here.

2. THE TEETH. Taiwanese people seem to believe that the treatment of baby teeth has no impact on the dental hygiene of a person into adulthood. Therefore, most of my students have these heads full of rotting, decaying, black and brown and yellow teeth. Uhhhh . It may have something to do with how unorganized the medical world seems here. Good doctors work in the hospitals. All the other knuckleheads start up their own practices anywhere they so choose. Any main road will have well over a dozen clinics, dentists, and traditional medicine specialists spilling out bogus prescriptions for thousands upon thousands of pills. This is medicine here. In a country with universal health care, it just means taking a universe worth of pills in lieu of actual medical treatment.

3. LACK OF SPORTS. Taiwanese people are generally afraid of anything to do with nature or the outdoors. For an island people surrounded by water, most all of them cannot swim. Well over half of my students have never been to the beach. When anyone does go to a Taiwanese beach, lifeguards buoy off the water at an ankle-deep depth. Pass that line, and you are bound to get a sharp whistle blow and a lot of insuing panic on the beach! For a sub-tropical island people, they are petrified of the sun. Women carry around umbrellas on most days to help maintain a pale complexion. For a sub-tropical island people, they are terrified of the rain. Rain here will rot your hair out, people say. This one I do sort of buy into, since Taipei’s pollution is awful and the rain sometimes feels acidic.

The shame, to me, lies in the absence of sports. Sun is bad. Thus, sports are bad. I recently noticed that all of the bigger, stronger, more coordinated boys in my kindergarten classes are ballerinas. Was I ever proud! These are the jocks! These would be the boys in Pop Warner football and little league baseball. These would be the goofy little dudes chasing around a soccer ball all day. But this is all they have. At least they are going for it! There is just not an opportunity for boys to play sports here, let alone girls.

This is the tip of the iceberg. Write me if you want to hear some good one-liners.


Written by Miles

October 3, 2006 at 3:41 pm

One Response

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  1. reminds me a good friend of ours who grew up in a country club and cannot swim…


    October 6, 2006 at 4:32 pm

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