Eryk Smith, 32, is an American writer who’s been in Taiwan over 10 years.
ERYK: We had our child at Tai An, the Seven Day Adventist Hospital, only four months ago. The doctors and nurses all spoke English fluently, and overall the service was excellent. We paid just over NT$10,OOO (about US$300) for the whole delivery and two-day stay at the hospital, which you would never find in a U.S. hospital. US$300 — that would just cover the cost of putting your foot in the front door.
The Taiwanese have a traditional one-month period [after women deliver a child] called “tsuo yetze” (“sit a month”). They don’t get their head wet — not a drop of water on the women. And they eat a special diet — all kinds of soups, with a high meat and protein content, nutrients, vitamins and minerals. It’s a way to try to recover the iron content in the blood lost from bleeding, and replace all the stuff lost during pregnancy. They credit this regimen with preserving the youth of women after childbirth. They consider foreign women who don’t observe this month of care would age faster because of it — of course this is speculation.
My wife is Hakka, and each family in Taiwan has their own traditional way of doing this. [Being Hakka,] it may just change the flavor or ingredients in the soups. But in general, it means getting lots of vitamins and minerals, rest and bonding with the kid. It’s pretty boring. If people have the means, they can have a company come and deliver the food to the front door. Or stay in a 5-star hotel for a month.
We’re a half-American and half-Taiwanese family, so we did half of that tradition. We tried to do the month procedure — usually the mother goes to her mother’s home — the grandmother — and they take care of you for that month. Chloe did go back to her mother’s for a short time, two or three weeks, to follow that program. For the first two weeks I could not join her in the south; I had to work. But when she came back to Taipei, I helped out with last portion, mainly taking care of the housework, all the peripherals associated with running a house, the laundry.
As far as everything else goes, at least in Taipei they have a subsidy for nannies. The government gives you NT$3,000 per month, but the problem is it costs about NT$17,000 to find a decent full-time nanny to work 8 a.m.-7 p.m. So even if you get a government subsidy, you’re still looking at 15k out of your own pocket. And in Taiwan the salaries are stagnant, so if the average office worker goes back to work [after giving birth], she may make NT$30,000 a month, or less. She would work the whole month and we’d have to take the baby to the sitter every morning, and all we’re getting is 15k a month for all that. So we decided we’d go the traditional route, where I work and she’d stay home and look after Baby Lisa.
I’d have one criticism. The birthrate in Taiwan is falling, and of all the births occurring, something like 23 percent are from mixed marriages — people who are having more children on average than the Taiwanese. The government is begging people to have children because the population is falling, but the subsidies — which actually are far better than 5 years ago — are still not attractive enough to fulfill the [targeted] replacement rate of 2.631 per couple. I don’t see a population boom happening any time soon in Taiwan, because in my experience there’s no way I could go to two (kids). The government can’t just throw money at every project, but it might consider finding some other subsidies; for example, diapers should be free…! It’s 5NT per diaper, and they go through tons of them!
Chloe does 99 percent of the work with the baby — there’s no question about it — but it seems to work best for us. I try to give her a night out with her friends every two weeks, but to be honest she spends most of her time at home with the baby. Economically, that’s the main option we have. We’ve reverted to very traditional family, where the woman stays at home and man goes to work all day. For some foreign people that may not be the modern ideal, and it’s fallen out of fashion among people my age. But for an economic situation, it’s what works for us right now. It could change in a year; we’ll re-evaluate the situation then.
So for many foreigners working for big companies having a kid shouldn’t be a problem, but we’re just kind of an average pair, the English teacher foreigner with a Taiwanese. Two incomes was a nice thing, but we’re making the best out of our situation, and I’d say thriving. But if Taiwan is hoping to boost the population, they’ll have to do better.
Another issue is schooling, which won’t come up for a few more years, but there are currently few middle-range options for mixed children. The Taipei American School — and I wouldn’t want to knock it — is something like NT$200k a semester. So at that rate, only the wealthy or people who work for a large corporation can have kids educated at that level. And at Christian schools, I’m afraid it would be forced indoctrination, where they’d have to go to chapel every morning. That’s unacceptable to me. So it would be nice if there were some English-language charter school, or private schools that were reasonably priced. This is probably a pipe dream, but the options for schooling here are quite curtailed. I could send her to a Chinese school, and I’ll probably do that, but at about 8 or 9 years old, the education here turns quite difficult, painful and nasty, for children, a lot of rote memorization, and a climate that’s not conducive for creativity. It’d be nice if Taiwan had something other than public schools, Christian schools and super-expensive American schools.
If you want me to comment on the feeling of having a child, that old adage I used to roll my eyes at as a teenager — that you’re not a man until you have a child of your own — I think I can accept that now as valid, at my old age. It may sound insulting, but it’s true, you don’t get the concept of adulthood until you have a child, or see the real difference between adulthood and childhood. It’s illuminating; I realize how selfish I am, but it’s helped me realize how selfish I am, to a certain degree.
So I would say about having a kid in Taiwan that if you’re in love with your partner, you’re in a stable situation and have the financial means, then jump in because the water’s good.
Interview by Trista di Genova, originally published in The China Post