As I mentioned once briefly, an important part of the Taiwanese way of life is Saving Face. This is of course a common expression in English: when you do something which you know your peers will find morally repulsive, or you do something to become embarrassed, you try to ‘save face’ perhaps by back-tracking, apologizing, or trying to fix your mistake. In my 22.25 years of life experience, I’ve found that one of the worst feelings that sticks with you is when realize you unintentionally humiliated someone weaker than you, who you perceive as not having ‘deserved’ it. “Weaker” is of course relative to your perception.
There are a few ways in which I find I relate to Asians better than most people in my North American homeland. I will never be Taiwanese no matter what I do (and I have no plans to spend my youth trying in vain), but I think you can draw similarities between those from Northern Europe and those in East Asia, particularly the Chinese (and Taiwanese, Koreans, and Japanese (who evolved independently from the rest of Asia, much like certain indigenous American tribes or the Ashkenazim). The most basic and simple one, as I’ve mentioned, is a kind of shyness which I suspect informs how people are expected to treat one another. In American high schools and colleges, one very simple way to distinguish alpha males from the herd is taking note of who uses an upturn nod, and who uses a downturn nod to acknowledge other men. Asians usually favor the ‘downturn nod’ style of greeting.
The thing about teaching kids is that their thought crimes haven’t yet spent enough time under the choke-hold of education and entertainment to be suppressed. When such a suppression takes hold, the observations stay hidden in the mind, but the person making them keeps their realization on a subconscious level as their conscious minds learn a whole language (always designed by someone else) meant to One way I visualize this is thinking of a child seeing a light switch come on for the first time, at the exact moment that someone flicks the switch. Before long the child will understand the cause/effect relationship between the switch and the light, even if the details of electricity remain a mystery. The relationship between the action and the result is self-evident.
One of the kids I teach was talking to a friend the other day (in Chinese), not in the classroom, and naturally I didn’t understand any of it. She rubbed my arm with her finger, and I wanted to know why. Someone else translated for me, saying that she noticed my skin was paler than another teacher, saying the other teacher is “black.” Ever-so-slightly tan maybe, but the kids notice skin-tones in a way I usually don’t. Another cultural difference is the preference for keeping one’s skin fair, which is a contrast to many Western women getting tans. I’m not taking a side here…
If you want to market a product in Taiwan, it looks to me like you need at least one of three things: 1) Cartoon characters, 2) Scantily-clad women 3) Pictures of white people. None of these things have anything to do with the product being sold. Thinking about buying a videogame? Here’s a sexy girl who’s going to come up to you and talk to you about it. Want to buy some clothes? Here’s someone of a different phenotype wearing them. Using our free text app on your phone? Spend money so you can use more cartoon-emoticons when texting your friends! I will never suggest that other parts of the world are full of rational consumers whose businesses usually merit their profits, but those things stood out to me, and when I’m in a place like this where I don’t speak the language or understand the religion, modernity hovers over the city until I begin to make my way through as a participant instead of an observer.
So stereotypes occur because people simply make observations and then generalize. Most stereotypes are true. If a given stereotype is false, it’s more likely that it’s been misapplied than invented out of some vague evil that people have for preferring their own kind. Arguing by exception means telling the child that since some light switches are faulty, we can never really predict when lights will come on, no matter what we do. Likewise, the Taiwanese know (through post-judice rather than pre-judice) that foreigners are more likely to get drunk and cause problems than the locals. Filipinos often face discrimination, mostly out of cognitive elitism. Taiwan isn’t the second-safest country in the world for no reason. A blood-born illness warrants immediate deportation. You need a ticket out of the country to enter with a temporary visa. And so on. But foreigners can also be the targets of propaganda-like attention for committing some misdemeanor that locals do in equal numbers, or at least I’m told so by biased foreigners.
So how can we generalize the kinds of non-Asians who come to Taiwan and stay here for a long time? Maybe they’re mostly men who could be the attractive novelty to women here who had no game in their native USA/Canada/UK/New Zealand. I’m finding out that the ‘yellow fever’ phenomenon (preference by men for Asian women) is usually fiction, invented by men to label their relative sexual success in Asia a preference and not a sentence cruelly assigned by nature. What kinds of men deliberately discover elements of the East and apply them to their own experience? I think back to Monet’s Japanese garden, and the Japanese who I saw in the garden and at Van Gogh motifs in France. Possibly my biggest influence with respect to religion and politics (to be named later!) also spent a lot of time in Asia allowing the different cultures and geographies to tell him something about the European soul.
Taiwanese people are nice and helpful. This isn’t a stereotype I’d internalized before coming here, probably because everyone says that about every foreign country they go to. “People here are so friendly!” has lost all meaning once you’ve applied it everywhere. But people here really are. The conceptualization of ‘the foreigner’ is not something I understand yet because it’s a mixture of different attitudes. Like it or not, I’m a representative of the West, and anything I do becomes a window into “how foreigners are.” So to all my fellow non-Taiwanese: sorry! You’ll have to live with me as your ambassador. Regardless, people help each other out more here. People insist on buying things for other people. No one demeans anyone else, except in rare instances.
Is this because the Taiwanese are caretakers of some mystical power for politeness and altruistic charm? Are they the chosen ones? Are they the sultans of sympathy, the pharaohs of friendliness? Their Traditions recognize their animal natures and propel them toward a civilizing end. Fallen though we all are, these little gestures are symptomatic of a people and culture who hold on to something through the globalist pestilence. Cartoon characters, fetishism of the other, and sex-sells mentality notwithstanding, I believe this aspect of Chinese character is not going away. And while I’m here for this short time, the unassuming nature of the people around me enables me to breathe deeper, and I feel more relaxed even in the hectic jungle that is the city.