What I can't wait to leave behind in Taipei

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Today was the first time I sat in Dante's and wanted out. I've sat all over the two-leveled café over the course of the past month, and I've encountered all sorts of people. But this mom and son pair have been coming in every day this past week and they've gotten increasingly disrespectful of the public space they've been inhabiting. Today, the mom brought friends, and the women practiced singing some songs together ... and not well. This went on for about ten minutes, and I was beginning to think about leaving (not even Junie, my iPod, could have masked the cacophony that was their singing) when they suddenly stopped and resumed chatting very loudly.

Anyway, I've been thinking about what I can't wait to leave behind when I board the plane at Taoyuan International Airport, headed for John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City. Ah, those words bring such fuzzy feelings to my soul.

Conservativeness and judgment
Now that it's summer time and it would be beyond reason to wear anything but shorts and short-sleeved t-shirts and tank tops, I'm definitely feeling another cultural difference. I don't know if it's just me and I'm imagining things, but I get the distinct impression that the elderly set here in Taipei are not so fond of shorts, or tank tops, or anything that might be considered remotely revealing. Which is funny, because even at my most revealing, I think I'm relatively conservative in my style of dress back home. Years of riding the subway has taught me that skirts are pretty much out of the question, and sandals and shorts should be worn with caution (beware the gropers).

Sexism and traditionalism
This is a topic I think I take the most issue with, and one I've mentioned at least a few times in the past here. Sexism is extremely widespread here, even if it's sort of indirect. Women are expected to marry by the age of 30, and men are definitely seen as the head of the household. Husbands expect wives to take care of all household chores, including the menial -- (this might be an extreme case, but one I see happen every day) such as turn on the fan and point it in his direction. A certain family member of mine thinks that he can direct not only the women of the household but anyone younger than he around the house as he pleases, because he is the moneymaker. He has many times told me to look after someone else's children when their parents were present ... this is a two-fold problem, both in his dictatorial delivery and his assumption that just because I'm a female, I should be the one looking after children. Among other problems, actually, so make that many-fold.

The family I stay with here is somewhat traditional. Well, my uncle is, and everyone else is not so much. However, my uncle deems himself the head of the household, so his word is above everyone else's. But even so, family is extremely revered here, and the older you are, the more weight your word is "supposed" to have. I've definitely seen my share of elders bossing younger people around here, even if they aren't related or have never met each other before. While I do believe that elders should be respected, I don't like that they feel that they know what's best for the younger generation, or that they feel they can tell a younger person what to do and expect their advice to be followed. The way of life has changed so much in the past 20 years, never mind the past 50 years, that I think any bit of advice given by someone even a generation older should be taken with a grain of salt! I'm so, so thankful my parents don't follow this line of philosophy.

Standard of beauty
I think I meant to go into this a while ago, but I never really did. A huge amount of time and effort is spent on beauty here, especially makeup. I'm sure you've heard of Asia's obsession with keeping their skin white and other things, like having a double eyelid crease, bigger eyes, etc. People in Taiwan/Korea/Japan also are known to take pretty drastic measures to perfect themselves ... even if it involves plastic surgery and injections. Even the maids around this area get anti-aging injections during their days off.

Although most young people I know and see on a regular basis don't seem to go that far, they certainly spend a lot of their money and time trying not to tan. There are so many products out there that either exfoliate dead skin to "brighten" the complexion, or contain lemon to organically bleach the skin, or products that probably actually contain bleach to whiten the skin. On a sunny day, seeing someone walking on the street without an umbrella is like seeing any pedestrians on sidewalks in Los Angeles -- practically nonexistent. On top of this, most young women cover up so they don't tan, which adds to the oddness that is Maxine the American, without umbrella, slightly tanned, and wearing a tank top and shorts.

1:30pm in the afternoon ... feels like 119*F

I thought summers were bad in Taipei (which they are), but turns out every season is bad in Taipei. Why people continue to live here is beyond me. Fall is rainy, winter is damp and rainy, spring is rainy, summer is typhoony/boiling hot. Hey, at least it's hardly ever cold here!

I've complained a fair share about the bugs here. For some reason, mosquitoes swarm the apartment I live in during the winter and spring months, and then they disappear. And then the ants, roaches and other bugs (which I've yet to identify) inhabit the apartment during summer and fall. There is no end to this insect zoo!

Standard of sanitation and other things
Oh, the bathrooms. I'm sure there are countries which are far worse (China, I hear, actually has parts where the bathroom stalls are mere boxes on a road with an open pipe, where bodily fluids flow together and into some sort of catchment). Outside of Taipei, it is extremely common to find that you are up against little more than a hole in the ground. In Taipei, in hole-in-the-wall restaurants, this is also still common. I have finally gotten over my 25-years-in-the-making fear of these toilets, but still. I'd rather not.

Elevators. I was so, so pleased to arrive in Australia and find that oh yes, in many countries, you only have to press the button once per elevator bank to summon an elevator. Not so in Taipei ... there is a separate button per elevator. So let's say you work in a not-so-newfangled office building where there are 10 elevators per bank, all going to floors 1 through 16. You must press 10 separate buttons, unless you feel like waiting on one specific elevator.

Last but not least. Well, it is least. The desserts here are just awful. Things that should be sweet are not sweet enough and things that should not be sweet are sweet. Cake frosting is of the greasy, oily variety, like Cool Whip. So many things can be said about the sweet here, but let's just say that for a person with a sweet tooth, I've lost most of my sweet tooth while here. And no one should be surprised that I've lost weight.

I'll be sure to follow up if I think of any more, and I'll also be "fair and balanced" and share the things I will miss about Taipei.

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  1. Stumbled across your blog as I was researching aka 'googling' on taiwan for an upcoming trip.
    You have a wonderful blog. Great insights on the taiwanese culture.
    And I see that you've been to Sydney. Hope you like your trip down under.



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