Monday, January 5, 2009

Expat Culture in Taiwan: Alienation and the authentic experience

Another favorite form of alienation for those seeking an authentic foreign experience is that many of the symbols of western capitalism - MacDonalds, Starbucks and TGI Fridays - that they reject are worshipped here. It twists the mind and leads to the very wrong conclusion: the locals have given up their culture.

"Jesus Christ, I am in Subway," said Eric, who had called me up for dinner and to complain about his day. "I didn’t fly ten thousand miles to eat a goddamn sandwich."

"Hmm. Keep an open mind." I replied. It was true that these tacky symbols of western capitalist imperialism that Eric always complained about were everywhere. The average block had a McDonalds, a Starbucks and at least four 7/11s - not a mention a Mango and a Topshop; however, that was ignoring the fact that the other 80% of the block was made up of restaurants where the animals were just breathing their last breaths, shops selling large orange buddhas, Chinese tea and medicine, red temples with daoist gods, and shops selling Chinese tea.

Eric wasn’t the only one like it: the hostel was filled with guys moaning about western restaurant chains - Apart from Pizza Hut, Pizza Hut was the exception; by the number of empty pizza boxing littering the hostel living room, it seemed they were excused in the boycott of the crass and philistine.

Eric continued: "I am disappointed, man. They want to practice their English all the time, and drink coffee and ask me about America. It is too modern here."

"I know what you mean – It is much better if we had to crap in a bucket. Throw cold water over our heads to wash. Walk everywhere. Read books by candlelight. Die when we got the slightest illness."

"You know what I mean - have their own take on modernity. Not follow us. Since when were fast food chains the aspiration of the middle classes?"

"I see: the square wheel, the flushing sit down toilet with perhaps a hole coming out the side, a round car, the computer with no keyboard...What other things should Asians fix that aren’t broken?"

"Come on, the MacDonalds thing. There are thousands in this city."

"Yeah MacDonalds bothers me. I mean, as you say there are thousands of them in this city - "

"So you agree with me?" he interrupted.

"I agree it is a travesty when Burger King is much better and there are only two of them here...And Kentucky...There are not enough."

I continued, "Only joking me old cocker. Just don’t eat there…And bear in mind all the things you accuse these people of you were guilty of with regard to us. You know: America playing catch up to the English."

"But that is different, man...We improved on it."

"Haven’t they improved on it? Aren’t you always saying it is more capitalist here than back home? Discos, bars and restaurants open all night - The convenience stores...Life is twenty-four seven."

"Alright, man. I have to go and teach. We’ll talk another time," answered Eric like he could win that argument if he had time.

"I know," I smirked.

Then i saw him looking out the window scanning the buildings, about to use all the English signs as ammunition. "And before you say anything, of course there isn’t Chinese characters all over the west - It ain’t the world’s second language, matey."

No comments: