A Mainlander’s view of Taiwan: How Taiwanese people do it

Originally titled 在台湾找中国味儿, this article was published in the Guangdong New Weekly Magazine 廣東新周刊雜誌社. Somewhere along the path of being circulated in Chinese language forums, a new version of it somehow appeared, and below is the said new version. After surfing the forum for a little bit, we have come to the conclusion that this article can only represent the author’s and those like-minded’s point of view, but not every other Mainlanders’. Read original version in Chinese.

How Taiwanese people do it 台灣人這麼說這麼做

By Xiao Feng / Guangzhou.New Weekly writer

On the journey of finding China in Taiwan, you experience this gentle and subtle warmth, which seems to be lost ages ago, but still expected. We seem to already know them, yet they are so unfamiliar to us.

Many Mainland tourists often experience some sort of psychological letdown when they first arrive in Taiwan. How is it that Taiwan doesn’t even have an impressive airport? You cannot understand Taiwan by its cover. Taiwan has to be experienced slowly, in detail, like you would with a woman.

The China we live in and understand is only half of what it is. The other half is in Taiwan. This half, though much smaller in size, condenses the cultural essences of Chinese people. They are identical to us, yet they are different – much, much different.

In writing Chinese characters, they write “love” with a heart; their “closeness” involves meeting one another; their “morality” is based on me the human being; and their “temple” has many people coming to pray (Note 1). These characters are our pass codes to interact with great minds of the past. Secure safekeeping, ensures that we get to pass them on to future generations.

Their bookstores insist on being located at the best commercial location possible. To go to the bookstore is a kind of enjoyment, while to read is a kind of attitude. A nation that does not read can only produce a low-intelligence society.

They name their streets and roads after loyalty, filial piety, humanity, and justice. Street names in Taiwan are very Chinese, street names in Hong Kong are very colonial, while street names in Mainland China are very revolutionary. Roads don’t just travel in four directions, they also travel through ages. Morality, virtues, and fortunes are all just on the street signs (Note 2).

During the renovation of their airports, every step requires a public apology for the inconvenience. Civility and humility are, after all, the virtues of Chinese people, let alone the public authority. The faces you see are the best scenic view of a city. The faces you see in Taiwan are calm, composed, graceful, and modest.

They are earnest in pointing directions for strangers. The younger generation will even pull out their smartphones, patiently google your destination, and explain the maps for you. Chinese people gain pleasure from helping other people, this virtue is very much alive in Taiwan.

Normally they won’t decline to lend you their phones; if you are lost the police don’t think it is a bother to drive you to where you need to be; they won’t scold you for not buying anything in the shop, instead they say, “thank you and come again.” Before departing for Taiwan, we were told that bargaining at half price, as you would in Mainland China, does not work in Taiwan, and is usually looked down upon. Usually, they don’t agree to price haggling, and will outright reject attempt at buying things at half price. Honest trading, no matter who the customer is, has long been a Chinese business tradition.

They still consider “miss” to be a polite form of addressing someone, while “teacher” is to be respected (Note 3).

They promote charity causes and encourage people to donate their receipts. The monthly receipt number lottery not only monitor taxpaying from businesses, but at the same time help those in need.

In their hotels, holy books of Buddha, Christ, and Allah can be found sitting harmoniously together. What is a harmoniously society? One where different religions could coexist together.

Their food stands often have decades of history, and do not disappear nor die out due to urban planning and law enforcement. They form an attractive chain of delicacies in every city.

“Friendly”, is the keyword for Taiwanese people. You cannot put up signs for it, and it is impossible to fake. It is much more than what is on the outside, it comes from deep within.

They still maintain the system of village and neighborhood heads. While conflicts among residents arise, traditional methods of settling come first. Friendliness in Chinese societies starts from the local soil, before expanding to people in the outer world.

What would you most recommend about Taiwan? Its people (humanity) and cultures, answers the tour guide, right on the money. Precisely, it is these two things Mainland China lacks. I asked again, is the income disparity between the rich and the poor a serious problem in Taiwan? He says, it is quite serious, but you cannot really tell. Another Mainland tourist says to him, Taiwan is such a dump, not many Mercedes-Benzes, with tiny and broken buildings; can you please recommend somewhere else prettier?

Cultures and humanity are not written on the buildings, but on the faces of the people.

*****

Translator Notes:

1. There are two forms of written Chinese, tradition 繁體中文 (used in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau) and simplified 簡體中文 (used in PRC, Malaysia, and Singapore). Simplified Chinese, as its name suggests, is the simplified version of traditional Chinese, created to increase literacy rate in PRC. For example, the word for “east” is written as “東” in traditional, but “东” in simplified; the word for “hair” is written as “髮” in traditional, but “发” in simplified. The author here addresses the more obvious case of simplifying a character does not really make sense consider the meaning of the word. The word “love” is written as “爱” in simplified, which lacks the “心 (“heart”)” part from “愛” in traditional. The word “closeness” is “亲” in simplified, which lacks the “見 (“to see; to meet”)” part from the “親” in traditional. The word “morality” is “义” in simplified, which doesn’t resemble the “義” in traditional, which has a “我 (“I; me”)” in the bottom part.  The word “temple” is “庙” in simplified, which doesn’t resemble the “廟” in traditional, which has a “朝 (“to visit and pray”)” in the middle. For more on the two forms of written Chinese, read The Basics – Part I.

2. The original Chinese text lists many examples of street names involving virtues and morality, which would not make much sense in English. But to provide some example, you can find 仁一路 (literally “humanity one road”)、信二路 (literally “trust two road”)、義三路 (“literally “moral three road”)、愛四路 (literally “love four road”) in Taiwan, among many other similar examples.

3. In certain places in Mainland China, to call for a “miss 小姐” may refer to calling for someone who sells her body and youth for money.

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