Sunday, December 2, 2012

And Now For Something Completely Different: Cafe Dalida Drag Show and Charity Fundraiser (and thoughts on charity in Taiwan)

This is totally the photo I will use from now on to reply to offensive things people say on the Internet.

Before I get into my post - here's my dilemma. I'm out of photo space on this blog, but I don't want to pay and I don't want to change addresses, and I don't want to never again post photos. Any ideas on what I should do? Is there a way out of this?

Anyway, so last night we went to a drag show and charity fundraiser at Cafe Dalida, one of the bars behind Red House in Ximending. I love going to that area - Red House is one of my favorite Taipei buildings, and itself houses a lovely cafe and gift shop. Behind it is a strip of gay bars with hilarious names like G2-Paradise and Bear Bar (you get used to the hilarious names when you live in DC as I did - we had a place called The Fireplace) which, all together, make up the best area for outdoor seating in, well, in all of urban Taipei (Maokong excluded). You can usually get good deals on drinks, although don't ask for anything that needs to be done really well (like mojitos - details like muddled mint are skipped and lemon is substituted for lime), and you can always get a seat to enjoy Taipei's rare good weather. 

Also, no dodgy guys hitting on you! Well, maybe if you're a guy. Brendan claims it's never happened, but he's totally cute, so I figure it's because when we go we always go together. 

Isn't he totally adorable?

The weather last night was crap - but the table umbrellas came out and kept us basically dry. Well-known drag queen Gina (above) put on a drag show for her birthday, which doubled as a fundraiser for  Harmony Home Taiwan, a very worthy organization that cares for people with and children affected by HIV and AIDS.

It could have been a function of where in China I lived (the rural southwest), and the time I lived there (ten years ago - wow) - but one thing I've noticed that sets Taiwan apart from China is the prevalence of charity organizations and willingness to donate to them. I know such organizations exist in China, but my observation was that donating to charity wasn't a *thing*. You might give to a beggar - the most common being kids in tatty school uniforms claiming they couldn't afford their school fees - but a local where I lived wouldn't generally donate a chunk of change or the proceeds of an event to a charity. I'm sure there's more of that in the cities, but even with that in mind I see a greater charitable impulse in Taiwan than I do in China.

Here are some stats.

An interesting paper but only compares a few countries

A study done in the US showing low-income people tend to give more (in the USA that's mostly due to donations to churches).

Charitable giving by country - now we're getting somewhere - this photo shows Taiwan ("province of China" - ICK!!! Do I have to write and complain now?) at about twice the amount of China.

Here it is on Wikipedia - with a quote from Ma Ying-jiu calling the results "unfair" ("President Ma Ying-jeou described the result of a poll ranking Taiwan 72nd among 153 countries for charitable behavior as "unfair, " saying it has transformed itself "from an importer of love into an exporter of love") I can see where that's coming from - if results don't include charity donated abroad - such as sponsorship of impoverished children in other countries - and if it is true that the Taiwanese have done a great deal of that, to the point where it'd affect their ranking, then it is a fair point.

And yet Taiwan also beats out Japan and, in fact much of East Asia. It's beaten out by Mongolia (barely) and Hong Kong (by a lot - I'd say "British influence" but that'd imply a sort of Western supremacist racism that I do not wish to imply - just that Britain ranks far higher, and Hong Kong culture is obviously strongly influenced by the British. Make of that what you will, I won't make anything more of it for fear of it being misinterpreted). seems I'm right. Taiwan is a far more charitably giving country than China, which ranks really horribly low. Unconscionably low for a country that openly aspires to become a world - no, the world, superpower. So my powers of observation are pretty dead on in comparing Taiwan and China in this way, although I would not have guessed that we ranked below Mongolia (or Tajikistan etc.).

Small as it is, it's something to be proud of. I'm not just spouting crap when I say that I feel people in Taiwan are kinder, more socially aware and more giving than what I noticed in China. Taiwanese will often say "我們比大陸有人情味“ or something along those lines (I don't think they'd quite say it that way, seeing as I'm a stilted non-native speaker!). I know other bloggers have said the Taiwanese are not as friendly as they think they are - which is not the same as being "giving", but the two are kind of related, are they not? I disagree. The Chinese do not "run ruder on the surface and friendlier below" - there are rude and friendly Chinese, just as in any country, but on average run ruder...and below, will sometimes be nice to you, but will always keep a greater distance from you than your Taiwanese friends, who will treat you like a true friend, not a "foreign friend". I find the Taiwanese to definitely be kinder than the Japanese, who are polite up front, to a fault, but distant down below. I don't have enough experience in Korea to really talk about life there, but my husband has said I certainly would not get along with Korean men as well as I get along with Taiwanese men, due to a more deeply ingrained sexist streak and a cultural inability to laugh at oneself. The only Asian country I've been to where I've felt as comfortable and able to make true local friends is India.

Anyway, those are "on average" observations and not meant to reflect on individuals, so please don't take them that way...and it's on a tangent from "charitable giving". I included it here because I do believe the two things are related. How kind and friendly you are often translates into how charitable, generous and giving you are - and despite some expats claiming the opposite, I find the Taiwanese, on average, to be all of those things in a way that the Chinese, on average, are not.

But back to the drag show.

Woo-woos (sweet, not very strong pink cocktails that include apple, cranberry and rum) were sold, with a portion of the proceeds to Harmony Home, and the queens and staff came through with donation boxes while we were treated to the show. The bar itself was booked out, but we were able to get a small table after some time waiting in the seated area outside the main drag (see what I did there?), and could see just fine by standing. It was not super packed, but it was full.

The show did run a bit short, starting at 10:30 and ending around maybe midnight with a lengthy break. I was hoping for more all-night action, like what you'd get in DC, but hey. This is the first time I've even heard about a drag show in Taiwan, let alone been to one (obviously they exist, I had just never heard about them). And the queens looked great.

Another thing I noted was the diversity of the crowd. Expats and locals mingled much more freely than I usually see on nights out in Taiwan. I have more Taiwanese friends than foreign friends (although I have a lot of both), and I find that when I go out with either group, generally it's a place where most people are either foreigners with some Taiwanese  or Taiwanese with a smattering of foreigners, but not a huge mix of both (or if there are, it's white guys and Taiwanese women, which is fine unless it's a meat market, in which case, OK, have fun, I'm outta here). And when I do go to gatherings that are mostly foreign, I am often one of the only women there unless I organize it!

Here I can't say who was in the majority - the queens themselves were both local and foreign, as was the audience, in a pretty even mix of male, female, Taiwanese and local. That's great - we need more of that. We might have less misunderstanding and cultural posturing between foreign and Taiwanese men, and move away from the old expat-local cliches if we had more mixing.


blobOfNeurons said...

You can have your photos hosted on a different site and link them here. ( is a popular choice.)

David said...

You could use flickr to host the photos. You will need to cut and paste the HTML code from flickr into your blog, but otherwise it is a good solution. Even if you have a free flickr account the photos will be visible on your blog even if you have uploaded more than the limit allowed on your photostream.

Michael Turton said...

I use Flickr, although I pay $47 every two years for a Pro account (I like looking at my old photos). I highly recommend Flickr. It never gives trouble.

Transferring them to your blog is easy, just cut and pace, Flickr gives you the HTML.


Jenna Cody said...

thanks all! That's very helpful!

Anonymous said...

may I ask where did you live in China and for how long? There's nothing special in using that index to prove Taiwan is more generous than China, given that it also beats out Japan or South Korea. Besides the fact China's GDP per capita is very much lower than Taiwan, it's also got less NGOs and a weaker civil society.


Jenna Cody said...

Guizhou, but I got the same impression (and expat friends have confirmed) that even along the wealther east coast, people are not very generous in terms of charity. Individuals vary, of course, but on average I do notice less kindness and generosity towards others in China.

The fact that there are fewer NGOs and a weaker civil society are exactly my point. You can't disassociate charitable giving with those two things - they are exactly the things that help make a society more charitable. China lacks them, and so China, culturally, is a less charitable country.

As for people having less money on average, Mongolia is more charitable than Taiwan, China or Japan and they have even less money! Even African and Central Asian countries beat out China, Taiwan, Japan...while wealthier countries dominate. A study was done in the US on income vis-a-vis charitable giving, and found that people of lower incomes gave more on average, not less.

So, basically, "China has a lower GDP" means nothing, absolutely nothing.

I mean, those are the two countries I chose to compare, and Taiwan clearly comes out on top. If you want to quibble with my decision to compare them, that's your problem, sorry.

Taiwan could also be compared in this way to Hong Kong, Singapore, S. Korea and Japan - smaller Asian industrialized countries/cities - but so many people in China like to claim that Chinese and Taiwanese culture is the same (some in Taiwan claim that, too), and this is one of many examples showing that this is really not the case. So saying "why compare them, look at these other countries" is kind of ridiculous - of course China and Taiwan merit some cultural comparison!

So, I'm sorry you don't like these otherwise mostly accepted statistics, but that's not my problem. I don't coddle China apologizers.

Anonymous said...

China apologizer? I didn't think you would be into namecalling. Should I call you a Taiwan apologizer then?

The reason I made this comment about China was because you made a comparison with China in the middle of this post. You are the one who mentioned China, not me.

Actually as China has a weaker civil society and a more competitive society, this difference doesn't come down to cultural differences, rather than societal. As parts of China continue to modernize, people's behaviors and attitudes change as well. For example, take a bunch of university students from Taipei and a bunch of similar students from Beijing or Nanjing, I'm sure you would not be able to tell the difference.

Regarding the GDP argument, yes, poorer countries like Mongolia rank higher than Taiwan and China. But like you, I was specifically comparing Taiwan and China, not China and Mongolia or Taiwan and Mongolia.
If I wanted to mention Mongolia or other poor countries regarding the GDP argument, then indeed yes, Taiwan and Japan come out much worse.


Jenna Cody said...

That wasn't name-calling. You're apologizing for China. That makes you a China apologizer. I can be a Taiwan apologizer at times, I admit it, but Taiwan has a lot less to criticize (and for others to explain away) than China, in my observation.

I can't prove that if I got a bunch of college students from Taipei and some from Beijing together that I'd be able to tell the difference (accent aside - that alone would mark a difference) but, you know what, I bet I could. The Taiwanese students when asked about various foreign affairs - not just the Taiwan issue, but including it - would likely give very different opinions answers (assuming they cared at all, and these are relatively hardworking students). In terms of being friendly and kind they'd be similar, but my experience in China is that adults are generally ruder/not as friendly/not as kind. Not always - that was an overall impression. There are exceptions on both sides.

So no, I am not sure at all - but you can't prove that I wouldn't be able to tell the difference just as I can't prove that I would, so that entire argument is moot (and tangential, anyway - on its way to becoming a straw man).

But it doesn't matter what the differences come down to. Cultural, societal - aren't they so close to the same thing that there's no point in splitting them in this debate?

And anyway, for whatever reason, China as a society is less giving. So giving reasons why people in China are not as charitably generous doesn't tear that down, it only shows the reasons why it is true. far you've proven no point at all. Because it's true: China is not as giving in terms of charity as Taiwan.

Jenna Cody said...

BTW, I have been to the wealthier parts of China (Beijing, Guangzhou - will be in Shanghai early next week for a short visit). I did, in fact, find the behavior of the locals to be far different, and not as becoming, as the behavior of people in Taiwan. Being more developed/modernized than Guizhou didn't seem to have changed behavior much at all.

Anonymous said...

Actually, accents aside, the point is you probably wouldn't be able to tell them apart just based on behavior.
Then again, if you asked about foreign affairs, I'm sure the differences would be more noticeable. The mainland students would likely be the ones who at least know what's going on about the world outside them. Highly ironic given there're the ones who live in an authoritarian society with censored media.

Strange, you're complaining about and criticizing China, yet you're highlighting the fact you'll be going to Shanghai and have been to the "wealthier parts" of China.

I've been to both rich and poor parts of China (Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Shaanxi, Henan) and I found the behavior of some locals to be just as nice as people in Taiwan or anywhere.

We have differences in opinions, that's ok. I thought it'd be good to discuss them.
But I don't know, maybe you'll probably accuse me of being an apologist again just for offering different viewpoints.

I don't mind you sticking up for Taiwan, but I wouldn't label you a Taiwan apologist just like that.
If you feel the need to do that based on a response to your blog post, then that is sad.
In a previous post, you were staunchly defending the masculinity of Taiwanese men; so does that make you a Taiwanese male apologist?


Jenna Cody said...

Again, you can't prove that I wouldn't be able to tell them apart. So what's your point other than to set up a straw man? I don't think you're correct (I also did not find university students in China to know much at all about foreign affairs, or at least know much at all that was accurate - they seem to think they know a lot while spouting very little truth) but really, it doesn't matter because neither of us have any data to back that up...and "you say I say" isn't gonna win a debate.

Did you read my earlier comment? I would guess not, seeing as you seem to think I've only been to the wealthier parts of China.

I *lived* in Guizhou for a year. Lived. It's not like I only go or have been to the wealthier parts of China. I've also been to Yunnan, Sichuan, Xinjiang and Shaanxi among other places. You could hardly say I am not well-traveled in China.

I've also lived in India, and not in a major city. You can hardly say I shy away from living in less developed places, either. India was fantastic. I actually liked it quite a bit more than China - to me, it was on par in terms of friendliness and generosity with Taiwan.

I did find the minority areas of Guizhou very friendly (the Miao were quite hospitable, as were the areas with many people of Dong descent) but in Guiyang and Zunyi, I felt people didn't act all that differently. Incomes are lower, to be sure, as is standard of living, but I can't say I found people in those areas to be any more or less jealous than their wealthier, on average, Beijing or Guangzhou brethren.

And I'm going to Shanghai because I have a layover there, duh. Not because I only want to visit "wealthy" parts of China.

My point was that I've lived and visited the less developed parts, and visited the wealthier parts, and I couldn't tell much difference in the attitude of people, and yet I see a whole heap of difference between them and the Taiwanese.

But anyway my point still stands: people in China are less giving in terms of charity, on average, than people in Taiwan. There *is* data for that, I even linked to it - and if you don't like that data, that's not my problem. Everything you've said to counter it merely proves it.

It's OK to have different opinions (you think people in China are generally very friendly, I found that some people were friendly but on average it was a country where people were ruder and more distant than those in Taiwan - whatever, who cares, we can both think what we want) but if you want to argue data, then find some *data* to make your point, don't just throw up weird examples that are only tangentially related. And definitely don't throw out reasons that merely bolster the data you disagree with in the first place.

I mean, you say China has a weaker civil society - yes, and that's one reason why they are less generous. You say NGOs are fewer and weaker - yes, yet again, another reason why the data is correct. You mention GDP, but that means nothing when GDP is all over the map in terms of who gives more to charity.

Jenna Cody said...

BTW, the word "accuse" makes it sound like you're offended by my pointing out that you are apologizing for China (I guess you could say 'defending' China). But that *is* what you're doing. It's not meant to be an accusation, it's meant to point out what you are doing. If you're offended by that, perhaps you ought to look at why you're doing it.

Jenna Cody said...

By the way, the reason why I think I would be able to tell the two groups apart by general behavior?

I find the general behavior of people in Taiwan, be they young, old, individuals or groups, is both far more influenced by the West (the culture having been open to 20th century Western culture well before China) and by Japanese behavior. I would more than likely be able to pick out certain social cues that would mark them as Taiwanese because those cues would be influenced by one of those two foreign cultures in a way that a group of Chinese students would not be.

In fact, it surprises me how Japan-influenced Taiwan really is, and that is one of the main things that, to me, differentiates its culture a great deal from China (there are others, including aboriginal influences and not suffering through the Cultural Revolution, but that's a major one).

And, you know, if I were to leave my wallet or iPhone on a bench or in a cafe on a college campus in China vs. one in Taiwan, while any given Chinese college student would probably not steal my stuff, I would certainly expect to never see it again, because *someone* likely would. In Taiwan I also might never see it again, but there'd be a far better chance that I would recover it. I once left a purse full of money and my passport in a taxi in Taiwan, and didn't even remember the driver's name. Had I done that in China, I could have kissed that purse goodbye. In Taiwan, I got it back the next day, with all the money still there and my passport safe. In Japan I also would have likely gotten it back. That is a major difference.

Anonymous said...

First, as you say, it's ok to have differences. No problem with me.

I do respect the fact you lived in China and have been around. That said, it doesn't make you an expert, and it seems that you spent a lot of time in one place and then traveled around a bit. Or did you also spend time living in other places? And how many Chinese did you interact or talk to, in those other places, to make such broad assumptions? I'm no expert either- I've visited China a lot but never lived there.

You are mistaken when you keep claiming I'm trying to counter the data that mainland Chinese are less giving.After all, I brought up the weaker civil society and less NGOs factor, which you agree with. I don't and never did disagree that mainland Chinese are less giving than Taiwan.

It's also very contradictory that you talk about having diffrent opinions and then label someone just for doing that.
I brought up opposing viewpoints on mainland Chinese and you accused me of "apologizing" for Chinese. That's silly. If I want to play your game, I could say that you're glorifying Taiwan or that you were apologizing for Taiwanese men like in one of your posts.

Regarding your last point, I'll answer with your own quote: "neither of us have any data to back that up...and "you say I say" isn't gonna win a debate."
Of course, after a longer period of time the differences might become apparent as you say. But these differences, rather than a giant cultural gap, seems to me more like societal differences. Using this same criteria you mention, I could easily say the same for Hawaiians and urban New Yorkers and rural West Virginians.

Anyways no worries, I think in general you have a lot of interesting and good opinions. But obviously we differ in some, and I'm ok with that.


Jenna Cody said...

Well, when I moved to Guizhou there was only one other foreigner around (at the same school) and there were never more than 3 foreigners around, so I would say I interacted with Chinese quite a lot.

Am I an expert? No, but neither are you. And this is a blog - I'm not required to have lived my entire life in China and have a PhD in Asian Studies to have an opinion or make an observation.

You seem to place a lot of weight on my use of the word "apologizer" - you can use "defender" if you want, but that was what you were doing. It's not even mean to to be especially negative: obviously I don't really care for China that much (hate the gov't, felt that society was on average ruder, but individuals were no better or worse than anyone else in the world) but it wasn't meant to be as negative as you seem to be taking it.

Of course I glorify Taiwan - I LOVE the place. It deserves glorification, in my view. It's vastly underrated and underpromoted (and gov't attempts at promoting Taiwan have mostly been ham-handed).

As for "societal differences" vs. "cultural gap", I'm not sure it matters. Really. Either way, people are, on average, less generous. Whether you believe that's a societal issue or cultural one, I feel, is honestly semantics. Culture changes as society does, and both culture AND society are so different between Taiwan and China that they're impossible to separate. (No, I do not believe that China and Taiwan share the same culture, even if they do share similar cultural roots. Too much has happened and the two countries have evolved into different cultures to say they're the same, any more than Britain and the USA have the "same" culture).

And yes, you are absolutely right that different parts of the US have different cultures. But this is one constant I noted across all of China, with the possible exception of Xinjiang (wasn't there long enough to reach a conclusion based on observation).

Will Chinese society change and improve in this area?

Maybe. I'm not holding my breath, but maybe.

Anonymous said...

No, neither of us are experts on China, a fact which I already admitted in my last post. I did expect that because you were in a small town there'd be few foreigners and you'd interact mostly with Chinese. What I was asking is whether you interacted with a lot of Chinese in all those other places eg Beijing, Sichuan, in order to make broad assumptions about those places.

You may not have meant to be especially negative by using "apologizer," but saying something like "I don't coddle China apologizers" sounded quite negative, just like it would if I said "I don't coddle Taiwan glorifiers." or "I don't coddle Taiwan apologizers". Maybe my first post came off as somewhat rude, if so I didn't mean that.

Yes, I am quite supportive of China. I mean, I'm very fascinated by the history, the cities, the places, and unlike others, I like the people too. I've met a lot of them and have known some as, again unlike many people here, as neighbors, friends, classmates, relatives. I am aware of the many problems it has and there are many aspects it lags behind Taiwan. I've already repeatedly said it has a weak civil society, for one. I am however, much more optimistic about it, and its people, than you but as I said above, it's ok.

Definitely China is a huge diverse country with regional and provincial differences. Maybe not as colorful or noticeable as say, India, but when it comes to food or language or traits, there is a good variety.
Guangdong province, for example, probably one of China's least interesting provinces culturally*, has at least five languages widely spoken and that's not including English. Attitudewise and characterwise, I'd say there are general substantial differences, which do not apply to everyone but is noticeable, between people in the North and South, between Shanghainese and Beijingers, between Cantonese and Fujianese.
But what all these places share are a common history, use of characters, literature, religions (in a broad sense of the word), and values. You're right Taiwan has some Japanese influence, and was exposed to 20th century Western culture earlier, but much more of Taiwan's culture is based on and shared with mainland China's.

Why I brought up the US was to show that the differences between Taiwan and the mainland that you emphasize seem to me more like the differences amongst different
parts of the US, as opposed to a giant chasm.

*Cantonese food is famous, so is Cantonese language of course, but Guangdong itself doesn't draw much attention.

Thanks for the discussion. These last few posts have been good.


Anna Miranda said...

I started reading your discussion in the comments but have got to get out of the house so skimmed through, Im currently staying with my brother Duncan who is studying in Taipei and I love your blog and I agree that the Taiwanese are extremely friendly! Im so pleased to be here!