Two months

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Coming up in 3 days, I'll have been in Taiwan for 2 months. It's unbelievable that it's only been 2 months, and even more unbelievable when I think about how dear my new friends here are to me, and how it is that I could have only known them for a little over a month! Since the one-month mark, I've noticed a few new things about Taipei and Taiwan ... things aren't quite as rosy as they were for me in my first month, but I'm still much happier than I was.

My room faces an alley where there is a popular restaurant and late at night, I hear parties of people leaving, laughing and chatting. For some reason, I still automatically assume they're speaking English unless I stop to think about it. At times, the parties are actually English-speaking, but most of the time they're not. This doesn't happen to me at home ... when I hear Mandarin or Cantonese spoken outside my window in New York City, I automatically register the difference(s) in tone and recognize that they're not speaking English. Maybe in time the default won't be English, though that idea scares me a little ...

Anyway, first and foremost is the rampant sexism here. It's not outwardly evident, but it's alive and kicking. Some of my close relatives are very close-minded about the role of women in society, and my teacher has told us multiple stories of how common it once was for guys in Taiwan to take revenge on their ex-girlfriends (murders, acid attacks) because they felt their girlfriends were their possessions. Despite my teacher being as forward-thinking as she is, I think a lot of the things she tries to drive into us are heavily influenced by the sexist undertones of how the current and previous generations have been brought up. My teacher, who is in her late 30s, stresses how important it is for girls to take care of their outward appearances and preserve their looks and that it isn't as important for men to do the same. She also believes (though she is still unmarried) that girls should really marry so their parents no longer have to worry about them.

I'm willing to bet the attitude of the general population has something to do with the average age of the population. The elderly (and even the not-so-elderly) here are still very traditional in their views of what men and women should and shouldn't do, and since Taiwan's average age is about 63, well, you can guess where I'm going with this.

On a similar note, we discussed homosexual relationships briefly in class once, and I don't know if my teacher was just being careful with her words in order not to offend, but she basically said that "actually, they're not so bad ... they're not so different from us, they're nice people" which, depending on how you interpret it, could be cautiously complimentary or cautiously yielding. While I do see quite a few people who seem to subscribe to "alternative lifestyles" (I mean this in the general sense, not as a euphemism for the LGBT), I think for any society that continues to view women (no matter how privately) as significantly subordinate would have trouble accepting people who choose to lead their lives outside what is considered "normal."

I may have been a little harsh in what I've written, as I don't interact too much with Taiwanese guys here. Just my uncle, my cousin (who has not exhibited any signs of sexism, as far as I can tell), my uncle's side of the family and a handful of friends' friends with whom I am not friendly enough with to say much about.

Other things I've noticed in the past month ... also connected to male-female relationships, marriage (and kids soon after) seems to be the be-all, end-all for most women. And so much pressure is put on women, even by men in their lives, to find a good man who can take care of her. Yes, I've already gotten this talk. And I was even told to ease up on academia and spend more time finding a guy who could take care of me. I was also told that I shouldn't worry too much about money or my career, presumably because this "good man" will take care of all those things for me. But all this "advice" came from one person; I don't want to give the impression that all guys here think the way he does.

While I don't think this still happens in Taiwan, I was told that in Indonesia a dower is still presented to the groom's family, as a token. Ack! I am so thankful I grew up in the U.S. As much pressure as I feel American society puts on girls to get married, have boyfriends, have babies, etc, it's nothing compared to the pressures felt here ... and I'm not even Taiwanese! My teacher says a lot of people commit suicide during holidays here in Taiwan because of the pressure of being interrogated about one's love life, etc. I think that's incredibly sad and I've generally found that the Taiwanese (and perhaps the Chinese and other Asian cultures) put a lot of value on traditions and superstitions rather than individual growth and personality. Oftentimes, there's one way of doing something and only one way of doing it. Obviously I don't agree with that and I think that traditions are nice to an extent, but the world is changing and I think we need to change with it.

My mom laughs every time I complain about any of the above to her. She says this is a delayed culture shock I'm experiencing. I asked her if she would ever move back to Taiwan, and she said she can balance both American and Taiwanese cultures and it'd be the physical things about each country she'd need to take into consideration. But there's a reason she left Taiwan so many years ago ... her mother never valued education and thought she should have stopped going to school after the sixth grade and gone to work. In the past month, I've become very thankful for my parents and their "progressiveness," which is doubly impressive because they are much older than the sexist men I have come in contact with here. They must've been abnormally progressive back in the day!

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