Saturday, August 20, 2011

The New Taiwanese Traveler

The other day we had the pleasure of meeting some Taiwanese travelers here in Cappadocia. We chatted for a bit – they were sitting right outside our room (which was off the swimming pool and terrace lounge) and I asked if they were Korean – don’t jump all over me for that – come to Goreme first and see how many Korean tourists there are. I would say at least 1/3 of the tourists passing through are just that…so it stands to reason that most Asian tourists here would be Korean (and most are – these two just happened not to be).

When we learned they were Taiwanese, I got all excited and broke out my Taiwanese. We found out that they live about ten minutes away from us, in Gongguan (we live in Jingmei), and they were completely shocked that I speak some Taiwanese, that we’ve lived there for five years, and that I also speak Chinese with a Taiwanese accent. The woman’s mouth was practically hanging open.

They had just arrived and were recovering from the flight, but were planning to go hiking the next day – I told them about our long day hike under the fiery Turkish sun through the Rose Valley and Red Valley, and recommended it as well as the local sunset viewing point. I don’t know if they were planning to hike alone or hire a guide – I do hope they decided to try it on their own. We did and we survived!

We also learned that they are quite young: the woman was either about to graduate or had just graduated – she wasn’t quite clear on that point, perhaps between undergrad and graduate school – and the man had graduated and spent a year in Japan working in Logistics. Neither is working currently, which is why they decided to take this trip. Both were well aware that once they started their careers that they’d be working the grueling hours expected of most Taiwanese and didn’t seem too keen to start on that back-breaking path before they had to. I praised them for this: Taiwan needs more people who opt out, albeit temporarily. The only way the work culture will change will be if a majority of workers refuse to take it.

(I know. Good luck with that).

What lightened my heart was learning that they were traveling independently. “A tour group is relaxing,” the man said, to which I replied “Too relaxing! But most Asians seem to prefer taking tours. There’s no adventure!” He laughed…because it’s true. I don’t mean to judge too hard: it’s fine for people who like tours to take tours. I don’t want to prod them off the bus. It’s just not my preference and yes, I do find such tours interminable and lacking in local interaction, adventure and, well, fun. I do realize that my idea of fun isn’t everybody’s though, and your average Taiwanese tourist (or average tourist, period) doesn’t find language snafus, getting lost on a mountain, trying to figure out an insane bus station or taking an endless string of wrong turns that dump one in some crazy part of town that may or may not be awesome to be “fun”.

What this tells me is that maybe, just maybe, there’s another type of Taiwanese traveler emerging in the younger generation. Maybe, just maybe, while their parents sign up for all-Taiwanese bus tours of exotic locations, seeing everything as they sit under glass and listen to a bullhorn, or perhaps follow a little flag and wear hideous caps and t-shirts, that their children will set off on their own. They’ll buy plane tickets, read a guidebook (maybe even post on Thorn Tree?), plan an itinerary, and just go. They won’t freak out about how to communicate. They’ll learn the universal language of charades and maybe improve their English. Maybe they’ll even learn phrases in other local languages. I don’t mean to insult the current crop of thirty and fortysomething Taiwanese travelers here, but it has been my observation through talking to students – who always sign up for tours rather than going independently – that they really are nervous about speaking English abroad and even more nervous about learning phrases in, say, Spanish, Turkish, French or what-have-you.

I would really welcome this – a new generation of Taiwanese travelers who are not afraid of a few risks and a little adventure. Who just go, meet new people who are not Taiwanese and not souvenir shop owners or waiters, who try food at restaurants they are interested in rather than where the tour bus dumps them for a pre-fab meal, and who prefer to watch a sunrise or sunset without the endless nattering of some guide through a megaphone.

A more approachable Asian tourist: the kind locals and other travelers alike can get to know at the local coffee or tea haunt, downmarket restaurant, point of interest or hotel lounge rather than seeing them from a distance in a little color-coordinated group, herded to and from a bus. A tourist who might try hitchhiking, who you can see trying to bargain with a vendor using a phrasebook (or better yet, without one), or who sets off on a whim to see what’s around.

We have noticed this as well among Koreans in Cappadocia – there are a lot of them here, and yes, many of them are in groups, but the younger ones do seem to be traveling independently or in small cliques of two or three rather than this massive horde on a bus. We’ve seen them carting backpacks around Goreme and entering tourist sites on their own. They’re all younger – if this is a trend, it is a generational one.

Maybe that newfound sense of travel adventure will spill into other areas of their lives and we’ll see a new generation of intelligent, risk-taking Taiwanese who aren’t content with working 25 hours a day in an office. Who strike off to do their own thing and tell their IT companies and accounting firms where to stick it.

I realize this is a lot to extrapolate from a single pair of young, independent Taiwanese travelers in Cappadocia. Perhaps I hope too hard.  Wouldn’t it be nice, though, if this was the sign of a trend rather than a one-off meeting with a pair of unusual young kids?

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