Thursday, July 01, 2010

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About the young people of Taiwan

7/01/2010 Taiwan Explorer
Read the same post in Chinese (中文): 我如何看台灣的年輕人>>

I have written about how I see Koreans and another post about Korean women, but I've never took the time to write about the Taiwanese, the people who became so close to me. There can be so much said and written about them, that I think I could write several posts, but I'll try to write down the most important things here and focus only on those who are this country's hope for the future: Let's talk about the young people of Taiwan.

Oh, Taiwan: The funny thing about Taiwan is, that it is an independent state and at the same time it is not an independent state. It has its own government, own military, own history, own currency, own culture... basically everything that an independent state should have. However, Taiwan (officially Republic of China) is not internationally recognized as a sovereign state and communist China claims that Taiwan was merely its province and constantly threatens with war, should Taiwan proclaim itself as a fully independent state. And that puts Taiwan and its people in a kind of a precarious situation: Everything is unclear, everything is contradictory, but people still find a way to live and survive in this surreal political situation.

The past: Taiwanese don't only suffer from the long lasting political conflict between Taipei and Beijing. Inside their own country they are a greatly divided nation, especially the north with Taipei, which is said to be more pro China and the south with Kaohsiung, which is said to be more pro independence. You have to know that Taiwan used to be part of Qing's China in the past, then part of Japan for 50 years, and after World War II, under a military rule of the Chinese nationalists. In 1949 some 2 million nationalists from mainland China, who retreated from the Communists while fighting for the power over whole China (read more about Chinese civil war), came to Taiwan to establish what was initially meant to be a temporary state. Their leader generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek was determined to one day return to Beijing and become the president of whole China. But that did never happen. He merely remained the president of Taiwan and its outlying islands, which he saw as the continuation of the in 1911 established Republic of China. He died in 1975 and a temporary solution became a fully functioning state with its own identity. You have to know that most Taiwanese suffered under Chiang Kai-shek and his nearly 40 years long lasting martial law that limited people's freedoms (read more) and forced them to speak Mandarin instead of their native dialect Taiwanese. Taiwan turned into a democracy in the late 1980s and transformed quickly to a modern bustling economy and a high-tech nation.

So here you have a nation, that went through so many changes in the past 100 years and all these factors are important to understand the young Taiwanese people of today.

Modern Taipei: Xinyi at night.

The present Taiwanese: The young Taiwanese of today were born during the democratic era, which makes them very different from those older folks who experienced a lot of hard times in the past. Taiwan today is a successful modern country and its young people are seeing things with different eyes than their parents. Most young and educated Taiwanese speak Mandarin, while the older generation or people from the rural areas usually speak Taiwanese. Politically the young people are much more pro-Taiwan and less pro-China than the highly divided older generation.

Young Taiwanese want to be seen as Taiwanese first, but they know that they also belong to the Chinese culture, which one of the biggest and oldest cultures in the world. However, the way of life in Taiwan is closer to that of South Korea and Japan rather than to China. While not having Japanese blood, many Taiwanese would proudly say that they admire Japan, it seems that the past atrocities of the former colonial superpower have not left a lasting mark on Taiwanese people.

Sexy promoters in Taipei working hard. Taken in Xinyi.

Taiwanese are hardworking. It seems that work and family are the two pillars of their society. Respecting the elders is a must and working all day, even over time is expected. I think the latter might be a problem, because life shouldn't be only about pleasing the boss and pleasing the family. In recent years many young Taiwanese go their own way, do crazy things like one blogger, who went to Paris to kiss 100 strangers and blogged about it. Things like that stir are still controversial in Taiwan, while in Europe we merely chuckle about them. But that's because Taiwan is still in a transition. The top-down society is loosening up, being individual is slowly becoming acceptable. It's not always and everywhere, but it's not a taboo anymore.

There are thousands of albums of Taiwanese girls on Wretch (source).

Speaking of blogging, young Taiwanese love to blog or share their photos on websites such as Wretch, Pixnet and Roodo, which are massively popular. It seems that, if you don't have a Wretch account, you're not cool or up to date. And young Taiwanese take blogging very seriously. Unlike me and some of you, who sometimes write random nonsense (no offence :-P), Taiwanese bloggers mostly write very well-elaborated posts about make up products, fashion, travel and food. Many of them get paid for the reviews they write and some of them are so popular, their blogs get millions of visitors and can enjoy a good life merely from blogging. They become celebrities, who advertise products for a lot of money, travel to places for free and write about their fabulous lives... and most of their readers admire them.

Some of those famous bloggers are: IllyQueen, Cwwany, Bajenny, Onion_club, Amaryilliss, Milktea, Off60, Christabelle and many more. However, the two most popular blogs are PlayPcesor and and are owned by guys, who write about computers and software. Check a list of the most popular Taiwanese bloggers here.

Lily's Murmur, my favorite Taiwanese blog
My favorite Taiwanese blogger is Lily Chen.

Interests and hobbies. Usually the young guys are into computers and photography, while most girls are into fashion and make up (no surprises here, right?). And all young Taiwanese are crazy about food. Food in Taiwan is like a holy thing: It's everywhere, it's worshiped and it's highly enjoyed. Young Taiwanese love to recommend restaurants, night markets and hawkers. When it comes to food, everyone's a food critic, people distinguish between poor and excellent food and usually demand the best quality.

Of course young people love to party, too. There are many awesome clubs in Taipei. If you want to see some amazing photos of Taiwan's night scene, check Steven Vigar's clubbing in Taiwan. But unlike in the West or Korea, young people usually don't get drunk, which is very pleasant. And Taiwanese are a nation of singers. They love to go to Karaoke bars (KTV) or even take part in several singing competitions on TV, that are similar to American Idol. Taiwan is full of young talented singers. Do you remember Lin Yu Chun? Just few months ago he became famous with this stunning performance.

Girls and guys like them are common in Xinyi, Taipei.

Back to fashion: Fashion is huge in Taiwan, but I should rather say Taipei. When you go to big cities like Taichung or Kaohsiung, fashion is still important in some parts, but Taipei is something else. And many young people, who come from all parts of Taiwan to work in Taipei start to dress up well, girls use more make up and dress more womanly. Taipei is not only the administrative capital, it's also the fashion capital. Although Taiwan is a fairly small country, it's very diverse when it comes to fashion and styles.

A Taiwanese couple in Xinyi. Taken in Feb 2010.

Teenagers in Ximending (Taipei) are famous for having crazy styles.

You can also see lots of fashionable guys and girls in Ximending.

There are so many different types of young Taiwanese guys and girls, it would need a lot of research to define all of them. You can see young lorry drivers, who chew betel nuts and don't care much about how they look like, to neat and clean guys in suits, who look like movie stars. They're probably the upper class and highly educated, well mannered and well traveled. I'll let other bloggers write about Taiwanese guys, I rather focus on... you know who ;-)

Taiwanese girls love to dress sexy, but not trashy. High-heels are a must (source).

When it comes to girls, it's a bit different. Most Taiwanese girls in and around Taipei take good care of themselves and that consists of a healthy diet (most girls are very slim), using various beauty products like creams and masks and a dress very womanly. You can see a lot of girls in high heels, skirts and stockings walking on Taipei's streets or riding scooters. Oh yeah, you think Italy is "Scooterland"? Come to Taiwan and you'll be totally proved wrong. And trust me, when I tell you, that you'll see some of the most beautiful girls and women, if you ever travel to Taipei, you can be sure of that.

Another thing that's pretty common in Taiwan this year are fake eyelashes. They're much more popular than anywhere I've been before in Asia (and that includes Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, Macau and Seoul). Most Taiwanese girls have long straight hair, usually dyed in brown tones, blonde is very uncommon. And so many young girls, especially teenagers love bangs. Sometimes they are so thick, it looks hilarious. This photo comes close to that. Taiwanese girls want to appear young, which leads to a phenomenon, where women over 30 (sometimes even over 40) dress like people 10 years younger than them. And some can even pull that off, because they really look much younger than their age. The "culture of cuteness" (influence of Japan) is very strong in Taiwan. Girls want to be cute, cute is desirable for old and young, so many things can be ke ai (可愛), from accessories to bags, from clothes to watches, key chains and stcikers. Cute stuff makes Taiwanese girls and women happy. And they love to shop online. Online shopping is really big in Taiwan and many girls order things together and then get a big shipment of clothes (usually from China, Japan or Korea), meet up and distribute the clothes among themselves. I've seen that first hand and I must say the girls were very happy. Here are some links of popular Taiwanese online shops recommended by my girlfriend: [Makeup] [Clothes] [Bikinis] [Shoes].

Taiwanese TV at night is often full scantily clad girls.

My impression. How are young Taiwanese really? It's hard to say, I must admit. In some regards they are like other East Asians, in some ways they're same as young Europeans, but they also have some very uniquely Taiwanese traits. In the end, every individual is different and deserves a chance to be judged by their own actions, rather than being defined by a stereotype, be it a positive or a negative one, so take my observation with a pinch of salt.

My experiences: I must say I mostly had pleasant experiences with young Taiwanese. I can give you one example: There was a Hi-Life (a convenience store) near my apartment and I went there daily to buy some food or drinks, usually for my coffee. A nice young guy, probably around 20 years old, worked there and seemed to be excited to see a foreigner coming to his store. It started by him asking, if I was American. And it continued with a kind of a language exchange every day, because he always tried to speak English with me. Once he had given me a straw and then asked, how is that named in English? I replied: "Straw". And he would repeat that and then teach me: 吸管 (xī guǎn), which is the Chinese equivalent. I remember he once called a friend and they showed me a word they did not understand. Guess what, it was "chimney". You have to know Taiwanese don't have houses with chimneys, usually they don't heat during winter like we do in Europe, so I had to explain the meaning to him with a lot of sign language.

Young Taiwanese love to ride scooters.
Generally speaking: Taiwanese are usually shy but friendly in the beginning, but once you get to know them better, they open up and become very loyal friends. I've encountered all kinds of people in Taipei, from those who stared at me to those who smiled at me, even waved to me, like that one guy, who sat beside a temple and saw me taking photos. I remember once a girl in Ximending said hello to me, when I passed by and she caught me off guard. I wasn't expecting something like that, so I just said hello back and walked on. Another time a girl asked my girlfriend, if she could take a photo of us and we smilingly agreed. I once had a young guy helping me with directions, when he saw me being lost and trying to read a big Taipei map.

I think the biggest problem between foreigners and Taiwanese is the language barrier. Even though you can see language schools on every corner in Taipei, Taiwanese usually don't speak English well and foreigners on the other hand don't speak enough Mandarin to be able to have a decent conversation with each other, that goes beyond the usual small talk. Language is always the key that opens the most doors.

Young people in Hsinchu love to gather for rock concerts.

I will continue to learn Mandarin and continue to make friends in Taiwan, because I think they're great and generous people. I'm very hopeful for Taiwan's youth and the future that lays ahead of them.

If you have anything to add, what I have missed, please comment below. Thanks.