Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Expat Culture in Taiwan: Canadian English Teachers Show II

On this particular episode of the Canadian English teachers show one of the ‘stars’ is talking about how he plans to get out of teaching and set up a business. He has some outlandish idea of something he thinks is lacking from the market – and buoyed up by his superiority complex, too many years without being challenged by his peers, he is determined to get an investor for his idea.
It is hard to not go through this stage - Remember the locals think we foreigners are all creative and so we begin to believe in our stereotype. You forget that an idea is worth shit without a plan to make it work, but, depending on how deeply you have fallen, it takes a while to remember.
Next the star of the show was on the phone to one of his student’s fathers pitching him his business idea; he didn’t have a business plan, a power point, or an intention to invest any money himself, just a reasonably well thought through idea about something that might work.
He then announces to the camera that he is pretty psyched because the father has invited him to lunch on Sunday to discuss things - Also secretly happy because he avoided having to take the guy to an expensive dinner to talk about the idea.
“What an asshole,” shouted Josh. “He makes me ashamed to be a Canadian.”
“What’s up?” said Pierre. “Seems like a good way.”
“Are you going to tell him, man? He listens to you,” said Josh to John.
John spoke: “Pierre you know I don’t like to call you a daft cunt, but…”
We all knew instinctively that you have to invite the other person if you want to be taken seriously. Don’t beg. Go with an agenda. If, after twenty minutes, you are talking about the differences between France and Taiwan and where to go on vacation in France, get up and walk out. We had all been through that stupidity when we started teaching: we didn’t know what we were doing so we talked to students for hours hoping they would sign up. This was no different: in business, if all you have is an idea, and not the belief to make it work, then you spend a lot of time clutching at straws.
Pierre still hadn’t given up. “Guys, you have been here a few years but you still don’t understand the Taiwanese.  It is good for him to go to his house. Do you know why? Because he will be more relaxed, he will play with his kids and show him he can trust him, he can’t say ‘no’ to him in front of his wife, kids and probably his grandmother. He will lose face…I would do it that way.”
Twenty minutes later and the show was playing out a rather awkward scene at the house. Unfortunately, the guy’s plan of inviting our Canadian star back saying ‘No’ in front of his family, hopefully so he wouldn’t get too angry was backfiring.
“The lying bastard…wasting my time,” says our Canadian star giving his opinion to the camera.
Then it was the narrator’s turn to say about the perils of trying to set up a business in Taiwan. Pity he didn’t say about the real perils: letting your commonsense go out the window when your ego is massaged by well meaning foreigners.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Sorry for not posting this week

Sorry to any regular readers but i am super busy this week and next. I will get back to posting the week after.

For any new readers please enjoy the hundreds of posts already up. As this blog gives insights in living in Taiwan there is plenty of valuable stories and knowledge to get you ahead in Taiwan.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Been in Taiwan too long: More

On the way out to a restaurant, Pierre was riding his scooter on the pavement and beeping his horn at women and children to get out the way.
“What are you doing?” I said.
“It is the way it is done!”
I had been influenced by the culture a lot: I went through reds lights, tried to look for somewhere to put my feet up whenever I sat down, keep my coat on in doors, didn’t pick my feet up when I walked and stood on the straps on the back of my scandals; I had given up looking where I was going when I walked, thought the best part of the meat was next to the bone, didn’t make eye contact when people were talking to me, and wandered off when they were midway through a sentence without asking to be excused. However, I still hadn’t managed to get my head around the idea it was okay to push pedestrians to move out the way on the pavement.

Expat Culture in Taiwan: The Canadian English teachers show

There was a popular Canadian TV show called ‘English Teachers in Taiwan’. It was an awful show trying to make drama out of a pretty undramatic situation: in Taiwan you are treated like Gods, there is plenty of work, and the major cause of you messing up is usually yourself. Still, as the human being has a tendency to like to blame others it was easy to make up stories. In one or two episodes the camera followed our intrepid teachers as they tried to get an apartment, and the following huge drama unfolded.
Said English teachers find an apartment they like, but there are other people who want the apartment so the landlord asks them to put down a deposit on the deposit as a show of commitment. They have one week to get the rest of the deposit together or they will lose the ‘commitment payment’. Over the next week they all sit around squabbling and bickering about who is to blame for the fact that none of them has the rest of the money, while the narrator paints a picture of peril in the dodgy renting industry in Taiwan. The narrator tries to make it seem that they are somehow victims in this process, which is nonsense: they shouldn’t have given over the money if they didn’t know where the rest was coming from. They were stupid.
In the end, after the deadline passes and they don’t have the money, the narrator tells us about the terrible lesson the poor English teachers have learnt – only for the landlord to reduce the deposit and let them pay it off slowly. She was kind and generous.
As I say in Taiwan you are usually your own biggest enemy…

Friday, September 4, 2009

Been in Taiwan too long: Older western people

Most foreigners in Taiwan were male and young. It was very rare to see an older western person.
I was walking down the street with Josh one day when a mid-fifties white woman walked by.
"Stop staring," i said.
“Wow, you didn’t find that a little freaky?” said Josh.
“No,” I said lying.
“I mean that was a middle aged white woman in the flesh, I haven’t seen one of those for...Jesus...A couple of years. I mean old white people are rare here, but old white women…I found myself fascinated by her white wrinkly skin, staring at her like she was the exotic one.”
“You’re a funny one!” I said, But I got the point – we had all been here too long.

Expat culture in Taiwan: Paranoid forum rambling

There were numerous forums set up to help people in Taiwan. These sites, set up by people who generously gave up their time to contribute back; were unfortunately, hijacked by moaning stupid foreigners.
A quick look through showed page after page filled with comments about how there was actually no need to follow this tradition. That it could be done another way because it was in Hong Kong.
Ironically, it was always the same monikers in these forums and not so close inspection would reveal their rants the previous week about how they hated Hong Kong because it was an uncultured hellish modernity.
It proved to them that the Taiwanese didn’t care as much their about fellow man and the environment as we did back home, that it told us something was inherently bad about the Taiwanese character, and if only they let foreigners run the government…but they don’t because they are racists…and that was another story…And don’t get them started on that because they didn’t want to waste anymore time on the subject after having to give their advice on it yesterday in the discussion thread entitled, ‘What is your favourite Taiwanese food?’
Eric was strange – he was either giving you detailed information on the history of Taiwan that suggested he would be the first to the battlefield or complaining about the place. He liked to trawl these forums for support for his ideas.
“I am not the only one who is prepared to say some things are wrong here. Look!” said Eric.
Eric had printed out one of forums about burning paper money and how it is bad for the environment, like he had found the smoking gun.
Eric continued, “It is so clear man, back home we wouldn’t allow some tradition to go on if it wrecked the environment.”
“What about Christmas dumb ass. We chop down enough trees to crowd a couple of small minorities and a bunch of endangered species out of their share of the oxygen supply; then we string lights everywhere burning electricity and causing safety hazards…” said Pierre.
“The wrapping paper as well…trees and incineration,” said John.
“Yes. American, looks like you fucked up again!” For the 14,314 time he promised not to open his big mouth. He was serious this time.
We wondered how it was both possible to be so interested in, love and know so much about a country; and complain about it all the time. But that was the answer – He felt done enough to be accepted as a Taiwanese and he couldn’t accept they wouldn’t call him thus.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Taipei famous places: Shih-Da University

Shih-Da University was of course famous for being one of Taiwan's best universities and also, if you wanted to study Chinese, somewhere you might end up going.
As the years went on the sports track became more famous for us than the university itself. In Taiwan all public university tracks were completely free to use by everyone in the evening so if you needed a jog just head down there.
The sports field was an amazing slice of Taiwanese life and attitudes to sport:
1) Old people briskly walking bare feet while continually stretching and shaking out limbs and pulling their grandchildren behind.
2) Young couples on a date in their Sunday Best clothes having a romantic walk.
3) Young women in fresh new tracksuits on their first jog because they went over 50Kg, who never came back because starving themselves was so much easier
4) And members of the Shih Da University sports club who never actually did anything but stretch and contemplate, trying to remember the exact moves they had studied the day before.
Otherwise, on the center and outer areas of the track young and old competed for space to dance.
Every 10 meters there was a different group of teenage girls and boys with their portable CD players, rigorously drilling their hip-hop and R’n’B moves so that might have a career which didn’t require any scholarly skills. The old people, who pioneered taking up public space in parks, were practicing dancing or Tai chi, and no doubt regretting going on those marches for democracy – All that sacrifice just to watch their grandchildren shaking their thighs to hip-hop.
The old people weren't going to easily lose their dominance of the great outdoors sports hall - Every night a group of about a 100 or so swayed their hips to Oh What an Atmosphere by Russ Abbott and Ache Breakie Heart among others; gently pushing back the young people to the outer corners of the field.
But I am not poking fun – it was an amazing atmosphere, made possible because all the parks and sport’s grounds weren’t the preserve of drug dealers after dark, and Taiwanese ability to relax and do their thing, fifty in a telephone box – because the more of them there were the more outgoing and confident they became.