Wed, Jul 07, 2010 - Page 8 News List

LETTER

Pride at being Taiwanese

In Taiwan, there is a lingering perception of Westerners as neo-colonialists with gel-induced hair waves instead of powdered wigs. Western men are seen as personifying a veni, vidi, vici mentality. That’s a bad way to think, not because it stereotypes white people — Come on, whites deserve some stereotypes — but because it depicts foreigners as Julius Caesars (minus the tunic but still rocking the sandals), thus rendering Taiwanese a conquered people. Taiwanese shouldn’t see themselves that way and we don’t deserve that august comparison.

But while we’re pretty ordinary plebs, we’re not on a mission of Falstaffs come to evangelize, engage in lechery, booze and sacrifice goals on the shrine of carpe diem.

Nonetheless, there seems to be growing dissatisfaction from both young and old, though perhaps for different reasons, about foreigners dating local girls. Even MC Hot Dog, of I Love TaiMei renown, has felt the need to vent his frustrations in a song called TU about how sick it makes him to see foreigners, specifically black ones, picking up Taiwanese girls and also ranting that all foreigners in Taiwan are teachers — 90 percent is still not “all”!

Foreigners do come here to teach, and yes, it is easy money. As a result, there’s some reasonable resentment towards this Asia-specific phenomenon, especially when the foreigner is arrogant about his no-skills-needed high salary — but in future when everyone in the US is paying big bucks to study Chinese, I’m sure we’ll see lots of flip-flop-clad Taiwanese turning karaoke Thursday into “Thursday: The Only Karaoke-Free Night.”

In the end, this sort of thinking boils down to a lack of self-confidence amongst Taiwanese, a misconception of who these foreigners are and a dearth of knowledge about the place and culture whence they came.

Taiwanese need to be more confident and shouldn’t let self-respect ride on the vicissitudes of politics and history. Who cares about past occupation by Japan? France was occupied by Germany during the same period and they are still the most arrogant people in the world because they define themselves in terms of culture, not toughness. People and nations shouldn’t use might to measure their worth. Maybe “toughness” is equated with “coolness,” but that’s a huge mistake.

Taiwan’s greatest virtue is that it fosters a culture of temperance, politeness and dignified passivity — attested to by the fact that when you go to a club or bar, no one fights over spilled beer, murders someone over a seat in the subway, or refuses to budge out of pride on the sidewalk.

An unhealthy tendency is taking hold however. After a Taiwanese guy comes back from the US, he has more of a “tough” attitude, because that’s how some Americans feel they need to act to get respect. That’s not strength, it comes from US insecurity and a fear that unless we act like John McClane, we have no identity. We have no history or common culture to cling to and so it makes us insecure.

Taiwan doesn’t have this problem. Its people come from something old and great — which is nice when you need something to connect the past with the present and have an existential compass, but they also have enough pride to take their future where they want, be the people and country they want to be and so shouldn’t waste any time announcing their identity. There’s black pride, gay pride, feminine pride, Japanese pride, Vietnamese pride, Chinese pride — how about a little more Taiwanese pride … in its identity, not the food!

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