Living here is like living away from home while being home. I know that statement seems like a confused mess trying to sound somewhat insightful, but that is the best way for me to describe my experience of living here.
I have never been fanatical about all things Taiwanese — unless I am reading something by the Global Times — and I am also never too critical of Taiwan either.
For a while, I have seen two extremes within the expat/foreign/naturalized community in Taiwan. There are people who suggest Taiwanese culture, society and its economy is nothing short of an MRT train wreck. There are others who will respond to almost any criticism with a simple “you don’t like it, get out” response or remind everyone they have citizenship.
I guess a lot of these people have different ‘expatations’ for what they want out of life in Taiwan. Some adore and idolize life here, possibly ignoring underlying issues because they are wearing orientalist beer goggles. Others tend to see nothing but a disastrous country that requires the insights of a knowledgeable outsider looking in with the burden of having all the answers, but not having people smart enough to listen to them. And there are people who pretty much degrade any kind of conversation and I can never tell if they are being serious, though I am curious as to how a Liberal Faggot DPP Supporting Fascist works as an ideology.
Although I do take part in a lot of the forums on Facebook, I tend to quit replying once conversations and discussions turn nasty and end up being a test of stamina about who can reply the longest. I can’t say I am proud of the fact I have stuck it out with strangers on these forums a few times, but I can proudly say I have also not given in to the temptation of people baiting me to start an argument.
These people aren’t trolls either. The word ‘troll’ is so overused that anyone that doesn’t agree with someone else is automatically a ‘troll’, a ‘Trump supporter’, a ‘liberal’ or a ‘cuck’, labels that frankly mean very little to me.
Jilted and jaded expats
There is a clear grouping of people that think there is nothing redeemable about Taiwan but still decide to reside here. It is a bit of a contradiction. Don’t get me wrong, I have issues about Taiwan that bug me, but I don’t think of them as being anything better or worse than most other places that aren’t in the middle of war or are run by a totalitarian government.
I usually think of these expats as being the jaded kind. They tend to be people who have stayed in Taiwan — or anywhere else for that matter — for a considerable amount of time and can’t leave because their skill set isn’t something that they can make a comfortable living on if they return to their country of origin.
You see it all the time in some dive bars around Taiwan and on public forums. There are disgruntled people who tend to think of Taiwan like a prison that has conjugal visits and better food than on the outside.
What gets me about a lot of people who tend to be disgruntled about living in Taiwan is that they do not have good Mandarin skills despite being in Taiwan for so long. I think you should be able to speak the language of the country you live in. There are many expats in Taiwan who live with a double standard of being annoyed with locals who don’t speak good English when interacting with them in Taiwan or at home, yet they can’t speak the local language of Mandarin or Taiwanese.
Not only are many of these people not expected to speak the local language, but they are paid better than locals; though still probably just earn above or below minimum wage in their own country depending on where they are from.
One thing I can say for sure, is that forums on China tend to have far more jaded expats than Taiwanese ones. That might be because there are far more expats there and despite having Facebook, Google, Twitter, YouTube and Pornhub censored, they are still very vocal about their displeasure of living in China.
I am not sure what the expectations of these people are. It would seem that no matter what happens in Taiwan — in terms of society, amendments and opportunities – – these people will always complain.
Their expectations rely on ‘fixing’ things. They want to fix Taiwan for the betterment of their life. They would rather change the environment, than change themselves slightly. They use very universalist arguments of how Taiwan is unruly and needs to avoid its own idiosyncratic particularistic quirks.
There are many of us in Taiwan that complain, but those complaints are genuine complaints. We still enjoy living in Taiwan, we interact and have a life outside of an early morning ‘nihao’ and ‘zhege’ to a street vendor who makes you a danbing in the morning.
Complaining is a natural part of life and whether you are in Taiwan or Bratislava, you will always have issues in your life you do not have control over that you want to vent some displeasure about.
The point I am making is that jaded folks in Taiwan have a complex. Everything in Taiwan is othered and wrong. They don’t do things the way ‘we’ do them. It is a defense mechanism against a feeling of insecurity. I would know, I went through it when I first went to Beijing.
My Own Jaded Time in Beijing
It isn’t the proudest time in my life, living in Beijing. It was pretty tough living in a city that had the population of my country 5 times over. It was easy to feel small and isolated. I turned to taking my own insecurity out on where it was I was living. I still kept things civil, but I was constantly comparing my home country to China. I kept telling myself I was making these comments because it is right.
What is right and wrong is subjective, but what is fair is always easy to see when you aren’t wearing orientalist goggles and having a jaded attitude. You shouldn’t compare one place to another ‘all the time’. That degrades the people you decided to live with in their country.
I learned my lesson though and I soon came to enjoy the time I had in Beijing. In Taiwan, however, I have tried to avoid the pitfalls I had in Beijing. I keep an open mind to this place and I made sure to get involved in activities and try my best to take part in local events.
It can be easy to make the place you live a symbol of your own inadequacy. It is even easier to dehumanize people to make life feel easier. It is easier to fall into that trap when you can’t speak the local language. Thankfully I have a good enough handle on Mandarin and that was not an issue for me here.
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Lessons and Closing Thoughts
Perhaps the best insight I had for living in Taiwan was reading two books. 1) Orientalism by Edward Said, and 2) Occidentalism: A Short History of Anti-Westernism by Ian Buruma and Avishai Margalit. Both books gave me in insight into the many facets of othering and fetishizing whole peoples and cultures, while at the same, becoming disgusted by it for not being what you imagined it to be, much like the play M. Butterfly by David Henry Hwang.
These two books and play opened me up to a different way of viewing Asia and made me realize my own Western-centric bias, whilst also realizing the anti-Western bias from the side of many in Asia who feel threatened by foreigners from Europe and America.
All in all, I have learned to have respectable expectation that I would normally have in my own country, and not expatations.
I have also decided to put some video at the end of my blogs. I have a lot of interest in Taiwanese bands and Chinese ones too and I want to share some of that with you when I can.
18 thoughts on “The Expatations of Taiwan: Jaded, Jilted Expats”
Just wanna say hi and thank you for these inspiring insights! Life is not easy anywhere even in their home country. It’s good to be open-minded and try to adopt different lifestyles as an expat in foreign countries. That doesn’t guarantee life will be easier, but at least happier? :)
Btw the song you posted is from the band that my childhood friend belongs to! Glad to find somebody like their music as well!
I’ve been here more than two decades now and have probably been through some measure of both extremes you describe. Have a few really embarrassing memories of those days – particularly in China. After all these years, I still find myself falling into stereotypes when annoyed – particularly when driving. I’ve even had the weird, cognitively dissonant experience of getting ready to roll my eyes at a “Taiwanese driver”… only to find out it was a Caucasian driver and suddenly switching to “individual judgement” mode! Anyway these days with all the nutty crap that’s going on in America – and particularly because I recently discovered I have a chronic cancer – I find myself increasingly happy to have ended up here.
But…are we expats or immigrants and are these terms applied fairly, or are they based on country of origin, color of skin etc? Join the discussion on my latest post. I look forward to reading your thoughts!
You benefit from a global system that rewards compliance and passivity.
Those who are not so compliant have a harder time.
Let me clue you in.
You’re in a prison too.
Great post, it’s such a love-hate thing living in China, and I met so many people who absolutely hated it (myself included at times), but still didn’t leave. I’ve been back home for almost two years now and find myself missing the country on such a regular basis, it’s such a confusing feeling! I tried to put it into words in my blog here: http://lizziesrestlessfeet.com/2017/11/18/china-my-aberystwyth/
Check it out if you get a chance! :)
Very informative post. I was thinking of moving to Taiwan next year It’s the same situation in Korea where I live right now with the jaded/jilted expats vs the smiling idiot types vs the “get out/stop bitching” types.
I like to thinking I’m in that sweet spot. Having Chinese helps a lot. I think life in Taiwan is really good.
There does seem to be a lack of balance, especially with online commenters. Any time I made a mild criticism of something, I was reprimanded for hating Taiwan or not understanding. Yet, I also praised quite a few things about life there. Hell, I got downvoted on Reddit a ton for saying that I had difficulty with the Taiwanese accent because I learned Putonghua in China.
Of course, it’s not just about expats in Taiwan. And the nastiness of online forums and comments in Taiwan is still way ahead of anything I used to see in China or heard in bars in Tokyo.
People living in their country of citizenship aren’t expats though. :)
enjoyed your article
I appreciate this post. I also spent a few years in beijing and am now in Taiwan as a master’s student too. Thanks for trying your best to write objectively, and definietly glad to know that there’s someone else out there trying to understand and work through this too. Keep writing good stuff 👍
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Cheers for the comment! The difference between Taipei and Beijing is drastically different. I feel much more at ease and less on edge here thankfully. Still, I learned my lesson and still keep on my toes to avoid being jaded.
And what are you? The omniscient expat? The kind of immigrant that won’t call himself an economic migrant even after years of living in another country because white people are always expats?
I’m a master’s student.
and a pretentious twat
Hard to reply to someone who doesn’t use their name.