Taiwan Explorer 1, in response to a post on Foreign Sanctuary entitled You Know You’ve Lived in Taiwan a Long Time When…, called out “taiwanreporter, Love, Dadaocheng, Taiwanvore, The Stinky Tofu, Synapticism, Lao Ren Cha, and any other Taiwan blog to compile a post with the same title, and make a list of good and bad.”
So far, two intrepid bloggers have taken up his dare:
taiwanreporter: My 13 points: “You know you’ve lived in Taiwan a long time when…”
Lao Ren Cha (老人茶): You Know You’ve Lived in Taiwan Too Long When…
The latter struck me a surprising twist on the title, given that I’ve been reading Lao Ren Cha for a couple years now and she’s vehemently pro-Taiwan, has permanent residency, and seems intent on staying in Taiwan a lot longer. This post isn’t directly about her blog post, although I do kind of wish she’d change the title. To be fair, taiwanreporter also refers to his as one of a “popular genre of ‘You know you’ve lived in Taiwan too long if…’ lists”
It seems that the genre they’re both referencing includes “classic” (in internet terms) lists from the 90s with the same title, ones which are largely incredibly condescending to and negative about Taiwanese local life. I won’t link to them, you can google them yourself.
The 90s lists represent everything I dislike about bad examples of expat culture, most of all the sense that the standards of ones’ home nation are the standards that one’s new location are failing to live up to. “Too long” suggests that it’s time to move on, that the new habits one has developed amount to little more than lowering one’s standards.
One can, and should, criticize things that are wrong with society, culture, and politics, especially in a place that one loves and cares about the future welfare of. Especially if you love it. In contrast, it is cultural imperialism to assume that the way things are in one’s home country are the way things should be everywhere.
Lao Ren Cha, title notwithstanding, avoids this pitfall, I think. But I seriously wonder what taiwanreporter meant by #4. I see nothing wrong with the building in his picture. You’re welcome to point out what I’m missing. And #6, without any backstory and accompanied by a photo of a staged aboriginal dance (see the audience on background risers) 2;, strikes me as offensive to the native people’s of Taiwan, who are once again portrayed as the dancing, drinking, uncivilized people that the government and media have lazily painted them as for centuries.3
I won’t be making one of these lists. Many of the things I took to be normal and unobjectionable about life in Taiwan had to be pointed out to me as odd by my American partner when we lived there together from 2012-2013. I’m from there, I’m not usually in the habit of looking at it from outside.
So lists like these irk me, rather than amuse me.
Does that mean that I’m not the right audience for them? I’m at first tempted to say yes because I don’t really see their humor value. But honestly, the fact that they make me uncomfortable doesn’t mean I should ignore them. It means I need to think more clearly about what I find objectionable or off putting.
Because neither should I claim that the habits of daily life, that normality that I grew up with in Taiwan, are the standard by which the rest of the world should be measured. I don’t need to jump to Taiwan’s defense at the first sign of criticism because what I need to do first is think about if it’s a valid point about a fault in the place I love.
Yes, I lived in Taiwan for a long time. Yes, sometimes that blinds me to its faults, which I need to be more conscious of thinking through.
And yet I know firmly that no matter how much time I may yet be given to live in Taiwan, it will never be enough for me.
1 For about 20 seconds after I hit post, I incorrectly identified the source of this challenge. The error was corrected as soon as possible, but to my email subscribers, I apologize for the error in the text you received.
2 My snap judgement about the origin of this photo was wrong, as Klaus (taiwanreporter) has kindly pointed out in a comment below.
3 This is not to suggest that Klaus believes such things about aborigines or intended to reinforce them in his post, but it’s an unfortunate side effect of this genre of list. I think the rhetorical style of a list in the second person, such as all of these are, makes personal experiences sound as if they are experiences that a wider group of people also had happen and can agree with. I get into my critique of this list style in much greater detail in a comment below.