Monday, June 20, 2011

Reason #21 to Love Taiwan (well, Taipei)

Sometimes, every once in awhile, I can forget I’m a foreigner.
That’s not to say that I never get stared at, or never get a kid on the MRT who’s all “媽媽媽媽,看那個外國人!”

(The last time that happened, I responded with: 外國人不是外星人呵!阿兜仔的鼻子跟台灣人的聞一樣味道喔!- which thoroughly horrified him. “對啊!我們會講國語因為從飛碟聽你們的話喔!” I continued, to his mother’s great amusement).

But what I mean is – it’s hardly uncommon for me to get into a taxi and be asked immediately in Chinese where I am going, for me to respond in Chinese, and have the driver think absolutely nothing of it. Yes, I also occasionally get the “妳會講中文得好好喔!” but I just as commonly…don’t get that. I just get normal, local treatment.

The same in stores. I’ll pop in, ask for things, ask for help, ask for directions, chat with the cashier – and get a friendly service worker who doesn’t seem to think it’s odd that I’m yammering away in Chinese.

Or the random folks who I chat with in the course of any given day – which is a lot, because I am a chatty person – who don’t show any sign of noticing that actually, I look totally different from them.

Sure, I have my days where I get this:

Or I say “你好” and get “OH MY GOD YOU SPEAK CHINESE!” in reply, and I am sure some of those chatty people are only chatty with me because I’m a foreigner – and they’d ignore me if I were local. I wonder if I were local if I’d have such friendly acquaintanceships with my neighbors and the doormen at the various offices where I work.

But, you know, generally I find the special treatment happening less and less often, and if people notice that I am a foreigner – which they must, because how could they not? – I am noticing that fewer and fewer are letting it show. I see a lot of new people every day due to the nature of my work, so it’s not just the regular folks who always see me around. I’ve noticed it as a broader trend.

So yes, on some days I can go through an entire day and not be reminded even once that I look very foreign indeed. I like that – I don’t mind when people visibly react to the fact that I’m a big, tall whitey, but it’s nice to not have it in my face constantly.

Granted, this is only in Taipei. Venture out into the rest of the country and I get way more comments - I only get them on my speaking ability, and not my total foreignness, in Xinzhu where there are tons of foreigners passing through on business to the science park and almost none of them speak Chinese. In Kaohsiung every fifth kid was all "LOOK MOM! FOREIGNER!". Donggang folks don't seem to care - their whole attitude seems to be whatevs, pass the Kaoliang and I appreciate that (I kinda wanna live there). I once had an entire busload of Hakka grandmothers staring at me and gossiping about me in Miaoli (I don't speak Hakka but grandmothers gossiping about you is understandable in any language).

I have to wonder – is it Taipei that’s changing as more foreigners wash up on her shores to teach or study, or is it me and some nonverbal cues that I’m emitting, or do I just no longer notice the fact that people do notice if they don’t come out and say so?


Anonymous said...

Please translate the first three paragraphs for the loyal readers who are monolingual.


Jenna said...

"Mom, mom, look at the foreigner!"
"Hey, foreigners are not aliens" (funnier in Chinese as the two words sound similar) "folks with big noses smell the same things as Taiwanese noses."
(kid looks at me, terrified)
"Oh yeah! We can speak Chinese because we listen to you from our spaceship!"

Brendan said...

In Seoul, I hardly ever walked past a group of kids without one of them saying "Hello" or telling his friends to check out the white guy. It's much, much rarer in Taipei. I don't know why. You see obvious foreigners about as often in both cities.

Ich heiβe Fruitfly said...

As a Taiwanese grew up in Taipei, I would it's because we've getting used to see foreigners more and more. And we realize that foreigners are keen in learning Chinese, so it's not so uncommon to find them speaking good mandarin. But didn't you encounter some pple would response to you in English even you start the conversation in Mandarin??

Jenna said...

Sometimes...if someone wants to practice their English no matter what and are determined to do so, but usually not. Usually they're happy to just chat in Chinese.