When I got the job offer to come here, I had an extensive 20-minute blog search to discover where it was and what it’s like here. Mainly I wanted to see what the people are like, so I did a google search for “blog ‘Taiwanese people are'” and watched the results…
Nomadic Matt calls the Taiwanese “a warm, hospitable group of people who never fail to be courteous and helpful.”
Happier Abroad says Taiwanese are “empty shells, with no soul, personality or passion.”
Adventures in Living Abroad says “Taiwanese are loud in groups.”
Language Boat is probably the most accurate description that I’ve heard so far, saying “Taiwanese people are generally exceptionally polite and courteous, especially to foreigners.”
I figured okay, yeah… Everything with a grain of salt. I noticed no matter where you are, from the barely inhabited Aleutian Islands, downtown in the shady West Side of Seattle, the streets of Las Vegas… People are just kind of people. New Yorkers are supposed to be rude, but you’ll still get asked if you need help if you open a map. San Franciscans were described as warm and gentle, yet I’m ran off the road by a bicyclist shouting slurs. Portland is hip, cultural and unique, but there are tons of dolled up girls on the MAX train taking selfies. Taiwan must be no different.
It is different.
It’s very different.
My first week here I was wandering my neighborhood. I stopped in a FamilyMart (7-11 equivalent) and grabbed a box of rice noodles. Total cost: $30 NT (just short of a dollar.) When prompted for payment, I was told that my card doesn’t work at this store. I shook my pocket without response from jingling change. I tried my Easycard, but it was low on funds. The woman behind me stepped up, put money on the counter and gave me a friendly smile.
Wow. That sure was nice of her. But it doesn’t stop here.
I walk out and she chases me down, “ni-hao”-ing after me. She had seen that I couldn’t buy noodles and did a little shopping herself. In her outstretched hands were 2 pineapple cakes and a big package of these flavored crackers. “Eat, eat!” she motioned at me, babbling something in Chinese.
Maybe I looked homeless.
I started walking, thanking her “shay shay… shay shay…” as I go. Beaming, with my newly acquired free food, I wander down the sunny sidewalk. Her scooter buzzes by and pulls over 50 feet in front of me.
Oh crap, oh crap. Look busy, look busy. Fondle with the phone… Look at that interesting building…
“Ni-hao!” she yells at me, twisting in her seat. I trod up, thanking her again. She pulls out her wallet, takes out $200 NT (a little under $7 US) and shoves it in my hand. This was too much, but hell, I’m poor. I smile again, thank her, she gives me a little hug and says more Chinese while giving a cranking motion with her hand that could describe either dialing a rotary phone or eating noodles.
I’ve told this story before and had skeptics tell me probably this woman was just really nice. This doesn’t mean everyone is so outgoing. But they are. Debates form on the subway over people trying to give their seats to each other. Extra food brought out if I complete the quest of eating the entire plate. Even the police get embarrassed about their English proficiency and will let you go with a warning just to prevent themselves from continuing the conversation and accidentally insulting you.
And they are genuine too. English popularly will smile and say “hello” for just walking by them, but deep in their soul, distaste and hatred still exist. Here, giving to others is ingrained in minds from birth. I have a 6-year-old student, Ivy, who daily gives me some food from her lunchbox, so to not be rude (and because I’m usually starving when her class ends) I’ll sit and eat with her. I have a stack of notes from students thanking me for being their teacher. Giving gifts and going out of your way to be helpful is as tied to culture as beef noodle soup.
Well folks, this is why I have a “1” next to the title. Because a few weeks later, it was Tuesday. Tuesday is awesome because me and my live-in translator Ali both have the day off, and we like to take the train into the mountains to go hiking and were greeted with vistas, cows, and the most demonstrative people I have ever encountered, which I will talk about in Asian Hospitality 2.