Monday, July 19, 2010

More Stupid Expats: Moaning about Asians being dishonest

“Man, I was fucked over by a company. They offered me a job and then when I went to start there was no job, no apology, just silence,” said x-expat. “These Chinese are dishonest in the way they do business. It wouldn’t happen like that back home. Never again, I am going to teach English in future.”
It was another night in the bar and another self-confessed intelligent, internationally-minded foreigner who didn’t draw stereotypes was giving his theory on the Taiwan race based on one encounter. Over the years it had actually happened to me once: i was offered a job and then silence, but generally speaking the companies i have worked for have been above board, clear and paid me on time.
Most of the time i wasn’t interested in indulging the conversation, but something inspired me that night. “Some are.” I replied. “But there are a number of issues at play here. Size of company…Cultural differences….”
“Nah,” he interrupted me. “They are all up to it.” This foreigner guy knew because he had also been in the internet forums of the ‘Life in Taiwan’ websites. Some of these were informative but then someone would start one a topic like: ‘Hey man, I was fired from a job, what is up with these Chinese?’ and suddenly there would be pages and pages of comments from self-confessed objective-minded Taiwan old-hands who seemed to spend unhealthily long periods on these sites, telling you that Asians were inherently dishonest - but still never leaving.
“It happens to all of us. It is more fluid, personality driven, so there are more ups and downs,” I continued.
“Sorry, I don’t want to offend you man, but smell the coffee - it is an honesty thing. If you were back home, they would give you an employment letter and then it would be official. You could sue. We have learnt the value of honesty in our business relations.”
“Like the investment banks that deliberately talk up stocks, the whole present world economic crisis - and the millions of other companies who announce to their employees there will not be any job cuts one week and then fire 10,000 the next.”
I was getting tired now so decided to pose the killer question: “Did you lie on your resume?”
“What has that got to do with anything?” he said.
“Did you lie?”
“Yes, man,” he replied. “But, they don’t know. They couldn’t have found out.”
John then spoke. “I don’t think that is the point, dick. You lied to get the job; they lie about whether you have one. Who is more dishonest?
“Anyway, I think you have bored us long enough. Time to go.”

John was in a bad mood because he had already had a dose of stupid expat earlier:
He had bumped into an old colleague. John had asked him how things were going because he had spent a lot of time teaching him how to teach – and still apparently he got fired.
“Yeah. I am doing okay now, no thanks to anyone here – yourself not included. These schools are bullshit… I mean the management is crap…they should offer training. You know what I mean, man, they say they want people with work experience, everyone knows that is just a bullshit game, so you lie, your crap, maybe they fire you, maybe they don’t if they are really too crap to work out how crap you are. You know…if they had any sense, they would cut the experience bull, and spend a little time training. No foresight! No professionalism!”
John replied, “But then that is the catch 22 – No professional school in their right mind would employ a moron like you.”

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Asian culture: The definition of family-orientated in Taiwan

The definition of family in Taiwan is an interesting cultural difference. Taiwan officially has the lowest birthrate per capita in the world, and the most number of single women in their thirties – not sure if that is the exact definition but it something related to basically people not getting married. And, of course, it has a divorce rate similar to the west. Not really signs of a family orientated culture but, as any western expat knows, we have heard a million times how they think they are a traditional family based culture.
Stop me, and don't take it too seriously if it doesn't represent your opinions, but one of the reasons we like the place and especially the women, is the idea that they are more traditional – Despite protestations of coolness and indifference, in the end we are all like the idea that our wives are not going to leave us easily and are going to create a great family atmosphere, just like those movies tell us is possible. We throw ourselves into life here and then when it turns out not to be exactly the case we start to get frustrated. But, it is our fault, because we didn't get their definition of traditional – or we didn't listen.
This, roughly and with some flexibility was my idea of a traditional family.
  1. Have a lot of children – At least two and probably three.
  2. Wife – And this may be controversial for some, probably take at least five years out of work when the children are young. This again, very flexible as she could work part-time. I am really just hoping for her not to pop them out and then back to a 60 hour week a month later.
  3. Spend lots of time together as a family including going places at the weekends etc.
  4. Make work compromises that put family first.
Then there is the reality of the definition of family in Taiwan. It is not just the things listed above, but also the fact that:
  1. Taiwan has one of the highest rates of abortion in the world, and while, some of it is desperate young people, an awful lot is middle-class people who simply would rather have a new car than another child. Test it at work. For us PC liberal wimps who get suckered into the poor Asian thing, you should get to the bottom of when X-colleague tells you they had to have an abortion. They usually say something about Taiwan being expensive, and it is so hard to bring up a child, and they say it in this way that really makes you believe it was the only possible choice. You feel bad and then twenty minutes later, they get out their new HD video camera and ask you if you want to go to a really expensive seafood restaurant later.
  2. Children Quantity - You usually have to fight your Taiwanese wife up to two children, and unless you are a millionaire forget the third.
  3. Work – In general they are planning to have a cesarean so that they work up to the last day before the birth, and then they have already found mother-in-law/babysitter and don't plan to turn their computers off because they expect to be back in front of it very soon. We are all aware of the phenomenon of grandparents looking after children during the week.
  4. Quality time – Have you ever had this when you go to look at new apartment complexes? The sales assistant will see you are a foreigner, and immediately say: 'I'll take you to have a look at the children's play area. I know you westerners are into that kind of thing.”
  5. Again quality time – Have a couple of friends who experienced this and I have known countless Taiwanese who just do it naturally. They were with a girl long term and had decided to go back to their country. In order to make things smooth they got married. Once they got married the girl would start to back track on going with them citing she wouldn't be able to get a very good job. And, perhaps, they could live apart for a couple of years and see how it worked out. Understandably, their response was: I didn't marry you to live apart. If you can't make compromises why did you want to get married?
By the way, for any readers who think I am being cynical or a moaning westerner. I am going to stand by this one. Taiwanese children's charities regularly publish surveys with a clear message: Taiwan children are unhappy. Reason: don't see enough of their parents.
So that comes back to the definition of family in Taiwan and indeed many parts of Asia, especially the East Asian countries. Over the years Taiwanese insist they are traditional, you argue with them, you forget about it, you fall into a status quo of thinking you are hearing bullshit but can't be bothered to do anything about it. The argument raises its head every so often and the last time it did I had my epiphany.
Some how or another I had got onto the subject with a male colleague. He said, of course, the Taiwanese were family orientated and I posed him a few questions: Why don't you want kids then? Why do you farm them out before you even know what they look like? Why don't you spend time to play with them?
He answered: “Yes, I know that it your foreigner idea of family. So it is cultural thing. What we are talking about is taking care of our parents. We look after them.”
And that was it. He further went on to explain that that was the crux, the core, the crucial element; with the amount of cash you can stump up to look after them as the key. In his case, he explained that he was pretty good at sales and therefore had always been able to earn good cash, whereas his brother was hard working but not so clever. In order to fulfill his part of the bargain, he gave his brother his house on the strict understanding that the brother would be there at dinner, sit through crap soaps, and attend family gathering, something he had no interest in doing. Additionally, his brother would make an effort to have a son, while he preferred to stay single and shag around. His parents had no problem because he was doing his number one duty: making sure they could afford expensive aircon bills.
So there was my answer: you could stay single, have green hair, gay, lesbian, work in another country, never see your parents, as long as you stumped up the cash.
Important conclusion – It served me right for being an arrogant twat; getting stressed because their behavior didn't suit my western definition of traditional family. Nobody is right or wrong. Just make sure you understand before you commit.