I BOUGHT MY PLANE TICKET YESTERDAY!!! I am offically leaving NYC on December 10 to arrive in Taipei on December 11!!
Phew, now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, I can talk a bit more about what drew me to Taiwan in the first place: the generosity of its people.
One of the books that I bought for my Taiwan research is Why Taiwan Matters: Small Island, Global Powerhouse by Shelley Rigger.
I did not find the book very interesting, at first, because I was already reading an in depth text about Taiwan’s history, Taiwan: A New History. Rigger’s take on the island’s history felt redundant + also biased, with a few oddly flippant summaries of complicated events in Taiwan’s history. (This is something that I will explore further for myself, as it is hard to find any text about Taiwan’s history that is not biased in some way, shape or form. It is possible that my main text is biased in other ways.)
However, as the focus shifted to what has been happening in Taiwan in the last several years, I started to become far more interested in + appreciative of the information being shared. I especially enjoyed the chapter called “America Is Boring at Night,” which describes many cultural aspects of Taiwan. She kicks off the chapter by describing the generosity of Taiwan’s people in a way that immediately resonated with me, as this is exactly what I experienced in my short 5-day stay in 2010.
What makes life in Taiwan so exciting are the nonstop social interactions centered on close personal ties. Most Western descriptions of Chinese culture emphasize the importance of guanxi, the Chinese word for relationship. With its emphasis on mutual obligation and reciprocity, guanxi can easily shade into an unsavory you-scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours form of interaction. But equating guanxi with corruption is unfair: it is much more than a simple quid pro quo. In Taiwan, most guanxi relationships are rooted in real emotion. Friends exchange gifts, they help each other when needed, but the friendship comes first. They don’t call themselves friends because they exchange things; they exchange things because they are friends.
A U.S. diplomat who has served on both sides of the Taiwan Straight explained the subtle difference in “human feeling” (renqing wei) as it is understood in Taiwan and the mainland. “In the mainland, ‘human feeling’ is more like guanxi–it’s very practical, and it implies some kind of exchange. In Taiwan, ‘human feeling’ is about relationships. It extends to friends and relatives, but it can extend further, too.” In Taiwan, he says, compassion extends to strangers. From the Ciji Buddhist charities to no-kill shelters for stray animals, Taiwanese society shows concern for those who suffer. “Even Chinese visitors to Taiwan are impressed by how civil, how polite the people are. And everyone who’s ever worked at AIT [America’s de facto embassy in Taipei] wishes they could go back to Taiwan.” p 96
When I visited Taiwan in 2010, I was surrounded by such contatgious kindness that I immediately felt like the best version of myself. This is something that I wish to explore more + is a large part of why I’ve decided to go back to Taipei to live for 10 months. I am already aware of things that I do a little bit differently since coming back, like sending cards to friends + little gifts from time to time. I do this not because I expect anything in return (except karmically!) but because I like the feeling I get from giving little, thoughtful things to the people I care about.
I know that I will learn a lot more about generosity while in Taiwan + I look forward to sharing the less superficial positive changes that I incorporate into the way I live my life.
I heard this song this morning + couldn’t resist posting it here.