Friday, May 11, 2012

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Difference between Taiwanese and Chinese tourists

5/11/2012 Taiwan Explorer
It's not as simple as it seems

Screencap from Chinasmack.

Mainland Chinese Tourists Deface Plants in Taitung, Taiwan was one of the most commented articles on ChinaSmack recently. The article is in a way a continuation of my post from a short while ago named Chinese vs. Taiwanese on Alishan, where I highlighted the issue. It is upsetting to see tourists defacing plants and generally cause damage and distress on famous sights around the country. But is it really ok, to always point the finger at Mainland Chinese? Are we on this side of the Taiwan Strait really that much better? Let's see the issue from multiple sides.

Chinese tourists are polarizing

Commentators on ChinaSmack had lots of interesting comments, here my personal pick:

Wednesday, April 25, 2012 at 12:35 pm
Nothing new here. Chinese have been doing it for centuries. Except the earlier Chinese explorers were better behaved and brought their own stone tablets (or stela) and left the local agave alone. “Zheng He wuz here” or something like that.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012 at 3:59 pm
Give China time. 100 years ago it was the uncouth Americans going to Europe and being inconsiderate. Now the United States is the home of world culture.
I wouldn’t be surprised if China is able to do this more quickly and with fewer wars.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012 at 11:01 pm
Carving shit onto things in tourist spots is somewhat of a grand tradition all over the world. You should see the number of names written in permanent markers all over statues in Paris. I think it’s fucking antisocial of course, so I don’t condone it anywhere. Writing on some plants though does take the biscuit somewhat for being WTF.

Thursday, April 26, 2012 at 8:03 pm
While I understand the contempt people have toward such PRC Chinese behavior, I don’t think it should be attributed to traditional Chinese culture. It is mostly the result of over 60 years of being ruled by a peasant regime. Some aspects of that “5000 years of culture” are quite decent.

Friday, April 27, 2012 at 1:42 am
This is the paradox about living in China. While people live under an oppressive regime that curtails your civil rights, people are free to do whatever they want as long as it doesn’t interfere with the government’s idea of a “harmonious society”. It’s OK to drive against opposing traffic, but it’s not OK to use Facebook.

A stele from Qing Dynasty found near Shinzu temple, Lukang: Some idiot carved 牛头人 in simplified Chinese. I took the photo around Chinese new year 2012.

Two different people, two different views

After reading the article, I asked myself the following question: Were Taiwanese tourists before really much better? I asked my wife to research the web and she found a very interesting article from China Times named 陸客走的路,我們也走過, which was written by Chen Ying-zi 「陳英姿」 on 14. July 2011. The journalist interviewed few experienced travel agency managers about the differences and similarities between Chinese tourists of today and the Taiwanese of few decades ago, when it became the norm to travel abroad. My wife picked the most interesting paragraphs and helped me to compose a rough translation [I added my own comments in the brackets]:


More than a decade ago, Taiwan was beginning to see the Mainland as a travel destination. When the Mainland was very poor, the Taiwanese tourists spent their money very easily there and showed a lot of arrogance. "Taiwanese should sense that some of the Mainlanders' behavior looks like no manners, but this is their transition period and it will improve gradually", says Lin Long 林龍 [independent senior tour guide]. He adds: "In some provinces there were signs, that said if you spit, you need to pay a fine of 20 rmb. Some Taiwanese deliberately spat [pēi pēi pēi pēi] to provoke the fine [because they felt the fine is so low]."


He said "Taiwanese should sense that Mainlanders are improving gradually. This is their transition time. In recent years some Mainlanders become very rich, but they will still talk loudly in the restaurants, sit with one leg on top of the other with a pulled up sleeve scratching the leg's hair. After dinner or lunch, all of them will squat outside the restaurant and smoke together [something Taiwanese commonly don't do anymore]."


Lion Travel Agency's 「雄獅旅行社」 vice President Huang Hsin-chuan 「黃信川」 said: "Before, when Taiwanese begun to travel abroad", they a lot of times embarrassed themselves abroad without knowing it. Our elders were sometimes walking in underpants to the hotel lobby, which had the consequence that some of the 5-star hotels in Japan banned Taiwanese tourists from staying [even my pro-Taiwan mother-in-law admitted, that Taiwanese were not much better few decades ago]. When time passed, Taiwanese learned the international travel etiquette and the world started to welcome them. We needed two decades to reach the current standard, you can't ask them [Mainlanders] to reach it in just few days."


Huang Xinchuan says: "Mainland just started with tourism and of course there are some problems during the transition time, so we have to be more openminded to welcome them and take them as the normal tourists and give them our high-class service, which is our soft power."


Zhao Min 「趙政岷」 general manager of the Times Travel Agency 「時報旅行社」 says: "There are two kinds of Taiwanese people: One type tries to make Mainlanders feel welcome, for example the restaurant will try to make the food taste more like Mainland food, they will make it oilier, spicier, saltier. But people from the Mainland actually want to eat the local food as it is. The second type is hating them, because they feel they talk loudly, have no manners and are not sanitary. They even call them 「阿陸仔」 or "A-lak-ah", which somewhat translates as "stupid Mainlander" [hard to find a good translation]. He then goes on saying: Actually Taiwanese are also disliked abroad, because they sometimes throw the toilet paper in the trash can, while foreigners throw it in the toilet."

Of perceptions and habits

When my wife visited Japan few years ago, she went with a group of travelers from Taiwan. The travel guide reminded them, that they should not throw the used toilet paper in the trash can, which confirms the above statement by Mr. Zhao. Tourists, no matter where they come from, can be a blessing and a nuisance at the same time. The question is, how much should a guest adapt to the customs of the country he visits? How much should a country adapt to foreign visitors? I believe it should be balanced, as a guest and as a host you play a certain role, which gives you certain rights and certain duties. As a visitor, you would probably not want to make the locals feel unpleasant (or even break laws). And as a local, you would certainly try a little bit harder to be welcoming and warm to the visitors and make their stay as comfortable as possible.

Chinese tourists in Hamburg: Stopping the bus in front of every church is obligatory.

Where Taiwan could improve

It's quite known, that I love traveling in Taiwan. It's a beautiful country with so much to discover, it's a pleasure to promote this travel destination to the world. I usually focus on the good things, I'm the type to see the positive rather than the negative. Nevertheless, there are some things that I saw during my extensive traveling around the island, where I would not mind a little change. Don't see this as criticism, see it as a comment from an European traveler, who has a different background and different expectations. Maybe this can serve as a good reference to those, who need this kind of feedback. Here is a brief overview:

1. Food everywhere: Every old street, popular temple or famous scenic spot will have someone cooking something right there and locals munching their "xiao chi" while walking around the area. I've asked my wife, if there was any spot in Taiwan, where locals don't eat while visiting the historic sights? Cooking and eating brings along smell and trash and the old street, popular temple or famous scenic spot don't seem that enjoyable anymore. [Image above is from Lukang, near the Old street, February 2012.]

2. Tidying up areas: I was surprised to see this scene in central Lukang, which is one of the most famous old towns in Taiwan. The photo above was taken near the center. When a "restaurant" is also a "parking lot" for scooters, it doesn't look too good. I know this is part of Taiwan's lifestyle, but to some foreigners it might not be too appealing. This is generally a tough call, because sometimes such changes can backfire and destroy a certain area, such as in the case of the Chien Cheng Circle in Taipei. It has to be done with care and with locals having a say in it.

3. Noise pollution: There are a lot of popular spots around Taiwan, where stalls and shops use megaphones to attract customers. I'm not sure, how much revenue this method brings in, but to my ears it's purely annoying. The biggest shocker for me was when an uncle blasted into the crowds awaiting the Alishan sunrise at 5am in the morning (see video above). Peacefully enjoying the awakening of the morning on Alishan? 沒辦法! I know a lot of young Taiwanese are not happy with these megaphone-culture as well.

4. Tractors on the beach: As seen on Taiwan's most prominent seaside resort Kenting's Nanwan. Not sure, what was more disturbing: These rusty tractors plowing through the sandy beach or the nuclear power plant nearby. Both not my cup of [bubble] tea.

5. Treatment of monuments: I saw this kid kicking a ball into the Confucious temple in Chiayi. The grandpa was nearby, but didn't feel it's inappropriate to behave this way. The ball was dirty and and I saw some black marks left on the temple. I observed many times, that monuments of historic or religious value were not treated well, touching and climbing is quite common, especially when kids are around.

6. Inconsiderate photographers: Sometimes going too far for a good picture. I can relate to that, as I'm sometimes tempted to be this way myself. Last year I was trying to take a good picture of the Acropolis, I stepped on a forbidden platform and got caught and scolded. I lost face :( Nevertheless, I think we should still be careful about how far we go to get a good photo. [Photo from Taichung, 2011]

7. Inconsiderate youngsters: When in groups, some of them can hardly be controlled - they climb places, throw trash, make noise. I know it's fun and exciting to be outside the boring daily routine, but some boundaries should not be overstepped, as you are not the only one visiting the spot. The photo above was taken in Yehliou last year.

8. Shy of speaking English: A lot of young Taiwanese are shy to speak English with foreigners and sometimes there is awkwardness between locals and visitors, who inquire for directions or order food. I suppose this will change through time, when foreign (means Western) visitors become a more common sight in Taiwan.

In conclusion

This post wants to highlight the challenges, that come along with the recent phenomenon of Chinese tourists, as well as discuss Taiwan's current struggles as a travel destination and travel nation. Taiwan is truly a big step ahead of China, when it comes to travel etiquette and service, however, there is still room for improvement. I believe, that we need to give Chinese tourists some time, they will make mistakes and we need to firmly point them out, but they will also learn and improve through time - some more, some less. I'm interested to hear what you say! Here are some of my questions:

- How do you see Chinese tourists and Taiwanese tourists?
- Where are the differences, where similarities?
- Do you agree with the senior travel agents' opinions?
- Where could Taiwan improve as a travel destination?

[TAIWAN TRAVEL page][All photos by MKL, 2012]