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Showing posts from 2012

Love or Bread? (愛情還是麵包?) - Family Planning, Concepts of Happiness and "Materialism" in Asia

What would you choose? Love or Bread?” This is the question which parents in East Asia often ask their children when trying to convince them to marry the “right person”. It is a question that reveals some key elements of East Asian culture and mentality.
It is well known to Western observers of East Asian matters that in the countries of the Orient family planning plays a much more important role than in the West. When I was in Europe I seldom met people who began thinking about marriage when they were in their early twenties, let alone before they had found a suitable partner. In Asia, the way people think about their future is completely different, and I believe that if we really want to have a deep cultural exchange, we need understand these peculiarities.
As I have already explained in one of my earlier posts, in order to talk about and understand a culture, it is necessary to observe it. Observations are based on subjective experiences and therefore limited to particular cases,…

Visiting Beijing Without Visa - New 72-hour Visa-free Transit Policy

If you step over at Beijing Capital Airport and you have to wait long for your next flight, you might be wondering if you can leave the airport and take a walk around the city. This is the same question I asked myself a few days ago. I arrived in Beijing from Taipei at 4:00 p.m., and my next flight was at 1:30 p.m. of the following day. I really disliked the idea of idling around at the airport for so many hours, so I decided to try and find out if it was possible to go out without having a visa.
The answer is yes. And it is extremely easy. We often hear in the news that China has severe human rights issues, and we imagine that there must be strict control of personal freedom, police everywhere etc. I do not doubt that when you challenge the authorities you will sooner or later get into trouble. And, of course, websites such as Facebook, Twitter and Blogger are blocked (but, strangely enough, newspapers like Time or Der Spiegel can be accessed without any problem). But except for that,…

To Beijing

And so I am going back to Europe after a long year spent in Taiwan. Hopefully I'll come back to Asia as soon as possible.

I will fly to Beijing and then to Rome. I have a long stepover in Beijing. Hopefully I can leave the airport and take a walk around. It would be great if I could, though I'm not sure if this 24-hours visa exempt permit really works.


One Year Ago

I was at Taoyuan International Airport. My ex-girlfriend called me. I was surprised. We hadn't been talking with each other for a week. She'd refused to reply to my sms, to pick up the phone when I called her. Then, one day before my departure, she suddenly wrote me a long e-mail, at about 3 a.m.

I was happy that she'd called me, although she hadn't come to the airport to see me off. I was so silly. I'd gone to Taiwan for her, and even if she wasn't with me at the moment of my departure, I was still grateful that she was talking to me.

"We can be friends," she said.

"Why do you call me when I'm leaving to tell me that you just want to be friends with me?" I said. "Yesterday night I was tossing and turning in my bed until I received your e-mail, and then I was so happy, because I thought that we could solve our problems."

"We can be friends. This time I mean it."

"You always make one step forward and then one step…

Trip to Tainan

Last weekend I made a one day trip to the Southern Taiwanese city of Tainan (Chinese: 臺南, pinyin: Táinán), the former capital and one of the most important centres of culture, history and architecture of the island.

This blog post is also intended as a special thanks to Grace, a Taiwanese friend who was so kind to show me around, and very patient, too. Since Tainan doesn't have an extensive public transport net, Grace picked me up at the train station with her motorcycle, a vehicle that, along with cars, is regarded by locals as indispensable for living comfortably in Tainan. To my great embarrassment, though, I had to admit that I cannot ride a motorcycle. That's why we had to take buses to move around. It was the first time she ever took a bus in Tainan. And now I know why: buses come more or less every half an hour, and service stops early in the evening. No wonder Tainanese snob public transport. Grace had no idea about the routes and about where the bus stop was. We went t…

Social Mask and Face in Asia

In 1894, the American missionary Arthur Henderson Smith (1845-1932) published Chinese Characteristics, a book which was to become very influential, for it was not only one of the most popular works about China written by a Western author, but it also inspired the father of contemporary Chinese literature, Lu Xun. 

Smith, who spent 54 years in China, shaped the way Western audiences perceived the Middle Kingdom in the late 18th century and the first half of the 19th century. Today he is probably best remembered for his book China in Convulsion (1901), one of the most interesting contemporary sources on the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, which Smith survived miraculously. [note]
In Chinese Characteristics, Smith introduced to Western audiences the peculiar meaning that the word "face" has in Chinese society: 
In a great range of cases constantly occurring in Chinese social relations, " face" is not synonymous with honour, much less with reputation, but it is a technical expre…

Living with a Taiwanese Host Family

I remember watching a documentary on German TV about exchange students in China a few years ago. It was funny to see how those young Germans tried to cope with an entirely new cultural environment.
German students lived with Chinese host families and went to school with Chinese teenagers. As it often happens in Western media, the world of the East was represented according to stereotypes: the Chinese families appeared authoritarian, while schoolchildren, who early in the morning had to go out on a huge courtyard to sing together the national anthem, were depicted as if they were but a brainwashed mass. 
The relationship between the German students and their host families was particularly tense. The European guests could not understand why they were asked to do things that they thought were restricting their privacy and freedom. For example, why couldn't they go out whenever they wanted? Why did they have to follow certain strange rules that appeared to them invasive? They seemed …

Making Friends in Taiwan

If you're not just a backpacker or on a business trip, but you plan to stay in Taiwan for a long time, one of the questions that you'll inevitable ask yourself is: how can I make friends? 
I guess almost every expat blog has at least one post about this subject, so perhaps the world doesn't need another guy to discuss the issue. But since I lived here for a year and have my own personal experience and thoughts, why not share them with others who live here, or are about to come, or are just curious? 
First of all, the obvious thing is that, as a foreigner, you are different from the rest of the people here. Which means that your way of socializing cannot possibly be the same as local people's. That I believe to be the reason why my experiences with friendship have had many highs and lows.
How Do Locals Make Friends?
Huge topic. Sure, I am a foreigner and definitely don't have enough knowledge to answer such a complex question. But I'll just make a simplistic su…

Culture Shock - From Honeymoon to Mastery (Part II)

Concepts of Politeness
A few years ago I went to a bookstore in Italy to buy a book for a lecture at my university, in Trieste, a city close to Venice. The shop had two counters, one for normal books, which was to the right of the entrance, and the other only for university books, which was at the end of the store, opposite the main door. As usual, there were many people in the queue. We were all students except for a man who looked very old (Trieste is known for having one of the oldest population in Italy). He was very tall, haggard and hunchbacked, and he wore a dark-green suit. For some reason, he kept on smiling all the time.
The man told the shop assistant - a young, bold guy who looked like an emaciated version of Mike Stipe - what book he was looking for. The shop assistant shot at him a furious glance, "You are in the wrong section," he said angrily, "this counter is only for students. Don't you see?" and he pointed at the big sign that said "Uni…