August marked the third year that I’ve been in Taipei. When I came, I told myself 3-5 years would be the maximum I would stay and as I’ve just passed the minimum period, my mind has been filled with thoughts on the next step. On the surface, it’d seem an easy choice to want to stay here longer. I have a decent job at a good company, I still need to improve my Mandarin, and the health system and public transportation are world-class. Yet there are certain drawbacks, some which might have come into being specifically because of how convenient life is here. One drawback concerns public decorum, which generally is very good. It sometimes feels like there’s a certain decline in manners and subtle and not-so-subtle nastiness that’s beyond mere pettiness or immaturity. I’ve definitely experienced a few instances where the usual Taiwan friendliness and politeness was absent. Why is this? Unlike England or the US, there aren’t any real racial or social tensions nor has the economy been in the dumps. Maybe it’s a result of subtle resentment against the growing bonds with mainland China, which now see mainland tourists and students being able to freely (albeit high restrictions apply to their numbers) mix in society. Maybe it’s a consequence of a prosperous and stable society, in which individualist behavior, selfishness and a lowering of moral standards increase as personal responsibility decreases. Either way, it’s not a good thing. One of the great things about here is the politeness of the locals. If it is diluted, then they won’t have much.
As an aside, I had negative experiences at the airport recently when I took a short trip to China. On both occasions at the Taoyuan Int’l Airport (the island’s main airport), when I was set to depart and after I had arrived back, I experienced negative encounters with locals. Nothing really major, but just enough to leave a bad taste in my mouth. Keep in mind this is separate from the inept airport bus driver which I wrote about in one of my last posts.
Negative experience number one occurred after I had checked in, passed through immigration exit control, and was browsing duty-free stores in the departure gate area. I went into one store, passed the purses, perfumes, and clothes, and headed to one corner where the foodstuff items like chocolate and biscuits were. As soon I got there, a male staff walked up near me and stood there. No other customer was there and the staff member did not ask me if I needed help, instead he just stood there to watch over me. Now I understand the concept of watching over customers when they shop in case of potential shoplifting, but the guy didn’t even bother to not make it obvious. After I stared back at him, I decided to browse for a little longer than I wanted to and walked out. I then went to another store to again browse some foodstuffs and would you know it, a female staff came up to me. She asked me if I needed help, then after my polite refusal, she stood near me for a short while. Interestingly enough, a few years ago when I came to Taiwan for a holiday during my summer break from university, I was waiting for a flight to Japan when a similar thing happened, except much worse. As I was browsing in a store, a staff member came and asked me if I needed help, but when I politely declined, she stood by me and proceeded to describe the things I was looking at. I don’t mean softly giving a short overview of each thing or politely making some pertinent remarks or questions. I meant she stayed at my side, loudly and condescendingly telling me about each thing I picked up. I felt irritated and left, which I think was her intention. At that time, I couldn’t speak Mandarin so I couldn’t say, look lady, I’m just here to browse so leave me alone.
The second experience occurred when I returned from China and was passing through immigrations. When my turn came, I walked up to the clerk, giving her my Taiwan ID booklet and my passport. She looked at them and then asked me for my flight number, addressing me by my name. She didn’t simply say Mr. Yip, like how airport staff usually do, but Yeh Chiping Xiansan or Mr. Yip Chiping (my Chinese name). This would be like if your name was Mark Jones and you get asked, “what’s your flight number, Mr. Mark Jones?” Weird, and probably a little rude.