Saturday, June 1, 2013

A Reason Not To Love Taiwan :-(

Sadly, this whole Philippines/fisherman clusterfuck (which became so in no small part due to the incompetence of Ma Ying-jiu and his inability to solve even the tiniest diplomatic crisis) has made me more aware of a few general tendencies in Taiwanese discussion and rhetoric that I don't find particularly appealing.

Without really meaning to I ended up in a discussion about this with my neighbors - ordinarily nice, well-educated people - last night. I wasn't pleased with what I heard. I know it's not uncommon to hear these things, but they go so against what any local friend of mine would say that it's still shocking to hear.

Of course, these things happen everywhere - Taiwan doesn't have a monopoly on racism, groupthink, defensiveness and narrowmindedness. Far from it - I generally say, and truly feel, that Taiwan is one of the more tolerant, openminded countries in Asia, if not the most tolerant and openminded in Asia. I do see these sorts of responses to "sensitive" issues (although for the life of me I don't see why it's so sensitive) in the USA and other countries. It's just that they all tend to take on the same tone and use the same rhetoric in Taiwan, distinguishing it from the tone and rhetoric of the USA or elsewhere. For example, you may hear "American exceptionalism" or some bullshit derivation or elongation ("We're the best country in the world!") of that phrase, but you won't hear "Taiwanese exceptionalism". 

I just happen to live here, so I'm applying this observation to here. I don't mean to imply that it only happens here or that everyone here does it - neither are true (I'll get ugly comments anyway. Oh well).

Mooooommm! He hit me first!

Apparently it's fine for the Taiwanese government to be acting like a petulant child, because they shot our guy, and then their government did some yadda-yadda-yadda so our government is justified in doing yadda-yadda-yadda+1 and anyway they didn't really mean their apology. Sigh. Yeah, that's a great way to solve international diplomatic snafus. It worked in the backseat of your parents' station wagon, why not here? Oh, except it didn't really work and you still hold a grudge against your brother for throwing your toy out the window that one time and not really apologizing.

We're not racist - we're so friendly! We're so nice to you.

Yeah, you're nice to me because I'm white. That's also racist, in case you didn't know, because at times you can be nicer to me than to other Taiwanese people (not all the time, but it happens). You - maybe not you specifically but a lot of people - aren't as nice to Southeast Asians. They're not white. That's racist.

We're not racist - those Southeast Asian people come from undeveloped countries so they are a threat to our economy.

That's even more racist. It's also not true. Perhaps study more Economics?

We're not racist - the Philippines is a more dangerous place, so if Filipinos come here, it will be more dangerous here. But we don't mind that they are here. We're not racist. 


Shakes head.

Well, anyway, assuming that any given Filipino or group of Filipinos (or other Southeast Asians) are automatically making Taiwan "more dangerous" is a.) not related to the fisherman issue; and b.) ALSO FUCKING RACIST. If I said "I'm not racist, it's just that minorities commit more crimes, so I have to be more careful around them", I'd be a racist person because assuming someone will do something (good or bad, but in this case bad) based on their race is racist.

Also it sounds like you do mind that they are here, but do realize that that's racist and won't say it.

Nobody's threatening Filipinos or blaming Filipinos in Taiwan.

Yes they are. Read the news.

We're not racist - those guys who beat up some Filipinos don't represent us. They're just some low-class guys. Racism isn't a problem in Taiwan.

I believe you in that those guys who beat up some Filipinos don't represent you. You wouldn't do that, and you are probably perfectly nice to Filipinos you meet in your daily life. But just because you don't do that, and nobody you know would do that doesn't mean it doesn't happen, and that it's not a problem. Also, my pointing it out doesn't mean I'm implying that you're such a person.

I mean, I'm a New Yorker. I would loooooooove to say that the bigoted beliefs and ignorant statements I hear trumpeted by other Americans, too numerous to even get into here, don't "represent America", because they don't represent me. It's true that they don't represent me, but they are a part of American public discourse and therefore do in some way represent a part of America. I'd love to pretend that America is an accepting, women-minority-non-Christian-and-LGBT-friendly country, but I can't just ignore the other side because I don't like it.

And you can't just ignore this as the actions of a few low-class people. They are Taiwanese too. This is a problem in your country.

OK, some people are racist, but people are racist everywhere. China's more racist.

Both technically true, but it sure sounds like you're hiding behind an excuse there, tryin' to save a little face. I don't blame you, but just because racism exists elsewhere and is worse in other places is also not an excuse to ignore it in your own country.

Ma Ying-jiu handled this badly, true, but he's a nice guy, not corrupt like Chen Shui-bian.

Yes he is. Whole damn KMT's fucked up.

But their government is worse than our government!

It is true that the government in the Philippines is racked with problems. But again, that is not a reason to excuse your government. It's just not a good defense.

In fact, because Taiwan can legitimately claim to be a First World country, you'd think there'd be more pressure for the government to put on their Grown-Up Pants and act like freakin' adults. Instead, your government is acting in exactly the sort of undignified way that it most seeks to avoid with all this posturing.

It's not a good idea to discuss these issues, because someone might feel bad or lose face. Don't make waves.

Oh just fuck right off*. Crazy white lady be crazy, and Crazy white lady intends to not only have her freedom of speech, but use it. You're free to walk away. Not making waves is big here, but I'm not from here and I like waves. 

*I did not actually say this. I just thought it. I can't help getting into political discussions - perhaps I should move to southern Taiwan where that's more accepted - but I'm not that rude.

I hate the whole country, oh, but I don't hate the regular people, but I HATE THE WHOLE COUNTRY.

Uh, that doesn't even make sense. You can't hate the whole country if you don't hate everyone in it, and you can't hate everyone in it, because you haven't met them (you could think you do, I suppose, if you were racist, but you insist you're not).

Also a problem when talking about Korea. It's like everyone "hates Korea", but not the people, and not the ones they know, and some singers, dramas or food is OK, really it's just some sports teams/athletes and a few large corporations like Samsung. "OK so I don't really hate Korea. But I hate Korea!"

Americans certainly do this too - many tend to make blanket statements like that about Americans from another area (does everybody hate everybody), Muslims, people of other religions (or for some of the angrier atheists, people with any religion at all), certain subgroups of women...I'm noting it in Taiwan because I live here, but it's not unique to here.

But we are Chinese, this is our culture, or something.

Oh whatever. Can we stop with the blaming of negative tendencies on "culture" and start seeing it as something that can be changed? Because it can be changed. Plenty of your compatriots realize that. 

So you think Taiwan is acting badly in this? YOU MUST HATE TAIWAN!

I don't hate Taiwan. In fact, I love it here. I wouldn't criticize it if I didn't love it, I'd just leave. The fact that I've been here for seven years shows how much I love it. It's possible to love something and criticize it at the same time. It's possible to point to some people acting badly and note that that's a problem for the country without accusing everyone of acting badly. You see,

"The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function."

- F. Scott Fitzgerald

...try it sometime.

Love ya.

No, seriously Taiwan. Love ya.

But come on. You can do better.

1 comment:

pacof said...

Thank you so much for writing this post. It opened my eyes to a darker side of Taiwan that isn't talked about in the usual "Taiwan is AWESOME! Everything is AWESOME!" blogposts I usually come across when I search for things to read about the country on the internet. It helped me develop a more balanced view of the country.