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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…

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 …

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…

Culture Shock - From Honeymoon to Mastery (Part I)

One of the most amazing and at the same time challenging experiences in a foreign country is the surprise, the shock and distress you feel when encountering unexpected traits of the host culture. The way people act, their speech, their body language - to name only a few - are unfamiliar and may prompt in you reactions that range from curiosity to amusement, from disappointment to anger.
First impressions, I think, are unlikely to stir strong emotions. But if you choose to go deeper into the culture and the life of a place, you start a long and often hard journey, a process of learning and - as  it is often called - "broadening your horizon". I met quite a few foreigners in Taiwan who have very different attitudes towards the country. Some are enthusiastic. Others feel interested in things they consider strange and unusual and try to know more about them. Others, on the contrary, are completely indifferent, or even contemptuous. 
In the first part of this post I will briefly…

How it feels to be a foreigner in Taiwan

Before going to Asia, a few friends of mine told me about their experience in China. A German guy said that in China he felt for the first time what it means to be a foreigner. He is blond and has blue eyes, so it was easy for him to be spotted among the crowds of Chinese.

People looked, even stared at him, sometimes for minutes. Someone asked to take a picture with him, as though he were a tourist attraction, children pointed at him on the streets. He didn't seem to be very happy about receiving so much attention from passers-by. Neither would I have been.
I am not blond, so at least I am not as conspicuous as he is. However, it's still easy for Asians to notice me, of course. And I was afraid of being stared at on the streets or in public places, which makes me feel quite nervous.
When I arrived in Taiwan, I was positively surprised. I never saw anyone staring or pointing at me. Strangely enough, I felt here even more relaxed than in Germany. When I was in Berlin I often fel…

An Introduction to the History of Taiwan

When I told my mother that I was going to Taiwan, she asked me: "Where is Taiwan?" I was surprised by her question, but on second thought I should have expected it. Many people in the West don't know much about Taiwan, some of them even think that Taiwan is Thailand. So I think that if I write a blog about my life in Taiwan I should at least give you some background information about this place. 
First of all, a state called Taiwan doesn't exist. In fact, the official name of Taiwan is Republic of China. Taiwan is just a geographical term that defines the island of Taiwan. That the official name of a country is not the same as its colloquial name, is nothing unusual. We know that Germany's official name is "Federal Republic of Germany", but we never say: Hey, I'm going to fly to the Federal Republic of Germany tomorrow. We just call it Germany. The same with the United States of America. We usually say US, America, or the States. What is unusual abou…