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Showing posts from February, 2013

Why Chinese People Take A Shower in The Evening

Yesterday I had once again a conversation about the alleged habit of Westerners to take a shower in the morning.

I was surprised when, a few years ago, a Chinese friend asked me for the first time the question: "Do Western people really take a shower in the morning?" I had never thought about this before. But apparently, a lot of Chinese/ Taiwanese notice (and disapprove of) this habit.

When you live with a Chinese family (which could for example be your girlfriend's/boyfriend's family) you might have noticed that they are not very happy with your going to bed without taking a shower or bath first. It seems as though they considered it disgusting, and they wish you had brought your own bed sheets. 

First of all, I don't think every Westerner takes a shower in the morning. I guess it depends on the person and the mood. I, for example, usually take a shower in the morning, but when it's hot outside, I prefer to take a shower immediately after coming back home in t…

How Cyclists Behave in Taipei

A couple of days ago I was walking in the direction of National Taiwan University. Then I decided to go back and get something to eat, so I turned around. Suddenly, I heard a shrill cry and saw a woman falling down to my left side. She had been riding a bicycle and I assume she was trying to overtake me. But because there were many people on the street and there wasn't much room for such a bold maneuver she had come too close, and when I turned around she tried to avoid me and fell. The crazy thing is that she looked at me angrily, as though I had been the cause of the accident. "您好嗎?" (are you okay?), I asked. She didn't reply, but simply got up and left muttering to herself.
After this episode I decided to make a video to show you how cyclists in Taipei regularly ride their bikes in the middle of the street, even if there are plenty of people. They overtake, sometimes they ride pretty fast. I think this is a dangerous behaviour, especially because in the middle of a…

"I Want To Be A Millionaire!" - Chinese New Year and The God of Wealth

In Taiwan the 14th of February - one of the first days of the new year of the lunar calendar - is considered the most propitious day to worship Caishen (財神 ), the God of Wealth.

This is one of those customs which to people like me who were raised in a Christian environment may appear extremely alienating. I could even begin to sound like one of those early Christians of the Roman Empire who inveighed against the "pagans". No, of course I won't inveigh against anybody. I will rather try as much as I can to immerse in the atmosphere of the religious rituals.
Thousands, if not millions of Taiwanese from North to South gathered this Thursday in temples all over the country to pray. Defying the huge crowds, people did their utmost to be among the first to welcome Caishen in the new year. 
As Apple Daily reported, even children shouted: "I want to be a millionare!"

How Zhao Gongming Became The God of Wealth

Like many Chinese deities, the God of Wealth is a semi-historical…

East Meets West: Myths About Collectivism and Individualism

The view that Western countries are more individualistic while Eastern countries are more collectivist is still one of the most popular ways people interpret the cultural difference between East and West. 
Academic works seemed to confirm this myth. For instance, studies from the 1970's, 80's and 90's found that Chinese, Japanese and Chinese-Americans tend to perform better in groups than when alone, while the opposite was the case for Westerners (see Leung / Au 2012, p. 500). 
But is this really true?
First of all, we should clarify what we mean when we say individualistic and collectivist. In fact, these words are very ambiguous. 
The Oxford English dictionary gives two definitions of collectivism. The first one is "the practice or principle of giving the group priority over each individual in it"; the second is "the ownership of land and the means of production by the people or the state". We see that this word can be applied to both the social and the e…

"Tainglish": Taiwan's Bad English Ads

A few weeks ago I made a one day trip to Tainan. I took the High Speed Rail (HRS), the fastest way to get there. While I was sitting on the train I leafed through the official HRS magazine and found the following ad.

Now, what does this exactly mean? "Inspire the fascinate dream of travelers".
All right, no one is perfect. I know how difficult it is for someone who is not a native speaker to write in English (since I belong to this group). I don't blame people who make mistakes and I don't mind making mistakes myself. But that's different for a company which is paying to have its ad published on a magazine. 
There are two possibilities: either did the owner/s ask a relative to translate the sentence into English in order to save money; or they hired a translator who lied about his or her English skills, or who got hired only thanks to 'guanxi' and was totally unqualified for the job. 
An even more striking example - inside Taipei main station there is a huge …

Living in Taiwan: Seven Reasons Why It's Good to Be Here

Chinese New Year can be a pretty boring time for a foreigner. All of my friends were celebrating with their families, and since I have no family here, nor have I a girlfriend whose family I could join, I had nothing special to do. Shops and cafes were closed - apart from big chains like McDonald's or Starbucks, which were overcrowded anyway. So I had a lot of time to think.
On Saturday evening I went out to buy my dinner. While I was walking around, I heard the voices of the people inside their homes, the sounds of their New Year celebrations. Then I suddenly asked myself: "What on earth are you doing here? Why are you still in Taiwan?" 
Before I came to Taiwan, some Taiwanese friends of mine had recommended me their country, highly prasing it and going so far as to say that Taiwan is a "paradise for foreigners" (bear in mind that when I say foreigners I mean 'Westerners'). 
"It's easy for foreigners to find a job," they argued. "Taiwane…

Shilin Official Residence (士林官邸): Chiang Kai-shek's Taipei Villa

Two days ago I went with a friend of mine to "Shilin Official Residence" (Chinese: 士林官邸; pinyin: shìlín guāndǐ). From 1950 to 1970 the nice villa, which is surrounded by a beautiful park, was late Republic of China President Chiang Kai-shek's residence (note). It is located on Zhongshan North Road, in Shilin District of Taipei City (see map).
We met at Shilin MRT Station, and from there we walked to the residence. It took us only about 10 minutes.
During the Japanese Colonial Era, the Horticultural Experimental Station was located in the villa. When China's Nationalist government was defeated by the Communists and Chiang Kai-shek retreated to Taiwan (see my introduction to the history of Taiwan), he chose the blue greyish villa as his new residence. The secluded location of the building and the 1,300 square meter park befitted Chiang Kai-shek's and his wife Song Mei-ling's quiet lifestyle.

For many years after Chiang Kai-shek's death, only the park was acces…

Family In Chinese Culture - Hierarchy, Harmony, Communication

The Role of the Family in Chinese Culture
It is fundamental for Western people to understand the importance that family has in Chinese society. The family was for centuries the pillar of the Chinese state, and we can still observe its centrality in shaping the economic, social and  moral horizon of the Chinese people. However, we should be very careful not to interpret or judge Chinese society assuming that language can be a guidance. Instead, language is more likely to confuse us.
Communication is a process that requires a positioning of the parties involved, both toward each other and toward the cultural narratives that implicitly and unconsciously influence their thinking (see Yin / Hall 2002, p. 199). Only to mention one example: the word 'marriage' can be understood by different speakers in different ways, depending on their own cultural background and personal opinions, which are often not openly explained in conversation. The simple word 'marriage' does not reveal…