Peter Chen has been a neighborhood chief in Chonghe City for 18 years. His hobby is studying English with the newspaper.
PETER: The first time I meet a foreign person I ask where they’re from. A member of my community, another neighborhood chief had a daughter who married an Australian. I wanted to get to know this person but felt nervous that maybe I couldn’t understand what he was saying, with his accent. I wanted him to join us at a restaurant on Saturday, but was afraid he would talk too fast and I wouldn’t understand. My feeling is that when a foreigner meets a Taiwanese, they have to speak more slowly, more formal and should be careful about using slang.
As neighborhood chief, I often help people solve their problems. Once in a while foreigners come to me, instead of phoning the police. It’s important for people to know they can go to their neighborhood chief to help solve problems about noise, parking, housing, sewage, lights, wild dogs, trash and recycling.
Usually, foreigners just ask a standard question, like what time is the bus to Taipei or trash pickup. Usually, neighbors tell them to ask me. But when I find out a foreigner is living here, I’m very eager to talk to them. Again, sometimes I’m nervous because they talk too fast, or use too much slang.
Who are “waiguoren?” [foreigners] From New Zealand, America; Filipinos. There’s a big difference between Western people and say, Filipinos. Filipino people come to talk to me about family issues, where to meet other Filipinos and cultural things. I feel Philippine people understand the local systems better, because they work as domestic helpers and hear everything.
Your question about foreign teachers drinking beer, playing guitar, being noisy is strange. Not all foreign teachers are loud. Most of the English teachers in my community are there to make money, so they work long hours and have no free time for having fun.
I wish Western people would try harder to connect with their neighborhood chief to get help, because that’s the function of the chief’s job. If Western residents don’t ask them for help how can we help?
Robert Lee is logistics manager for Honhai precision company – one of the biggest OEMs of 3C products and computer notebooks – and has been based in Shenzhen, China for the past two years.
ROBERT: I don’t feel they [foreigners] are different from us. It’s the same kind of animal — at least on certain occasions! Of course, it’s a very common phenomenon for those short-stay foreigners to be very keen on finding Chinese girls, and usually they can make it happen. They have an advantage. And they enjoy very much the “Laowai trend,” or situation. They don’t hide it, even.
They make a lot of fun communicating to local people in English; to describe differences in cultures is a lot of fun. To a lot of people who are interested in this, they will fit in. Usually we see our Westerner friends, they have a couple of girlfriends; that’s rewarding, right. Only a couple aged male Westerners are more like a lecturer, a scholar; they look into our culture in depth, without any motivation to have romance. That’s an exception. Some, they study Chinese architecture, culture.
Foreign women? Usually they’re not alone, they’re with a family member or Westerner friend. I don’t meet any single Westerners here, usually manager’s daughter or wives.
Do I consider ABCs/CBCs foreigners? No. And Asian foreigners, that’s another group in Taiwan, but it’s not the same story of Americans and Westerners, such as Koreans. I’ve been doing business in the Philippines, helping Filipinos send packages back. They are different from those Westerners; they’re also unique from a labor (point of view). They migrate from China to Taiwan, and usually don’t have any plans to go back. I watch National Geographic, it was talking about this topic of overseas Filipinos; they just find a way out of their country to anywhere, kind of escape. They save their money and 3 years later, with savings and money, go back to their life.
I don’t really deal with a lot of foreigners in my current job. Before, I was working for the shipping industry in Taiwan for two decades, with American, German, English companies, so that’s why I have a lot of foreigner colleagues in my office, but not now. Now I have one American. A bunch of friends like Denis (Chauvin), we drink together in Taipei in small dark corners.
Do I consider mainland Chinese foreigners? That’s very sensitive. When I have a chance to speak freely, I would say so; we’re different. As long as I’m in Taiwan I treat them like foreigners. In all aspects, we look alike, except that we’re totally different, even the language. But they don’t sense that, because they don’t have much chance to look at the world outside China, so they consider we are Chinese. I don’t like to say we get more privileges in our civilization and culture, but they’re still in the process of developing, and I believe they’ve lost their way, except economically. There’s so much nationalism. They don’t deal with issues like other people in the rest of the world, like how people live, culture, social [issues], or consider how people feel. They’re very single-minded and want money, that’s all, to be rich. In this kind of society they’ve lost their very value of life. They don’t appreciate those values we do. They won’t feel shame where any place else they would. They speak very rude, very straight. They only have the Communist Party in their mind, and don’t care how those foreigners see that. They feel very proud about being different from the rest of world, and don’t think whether it’s right or wrong.
To all foreigners in Taiwan, I would say “welcome” and tell them they add a lot to Taiwan’s progress and international life. It’s our advantage over the Chinese mainland — we are a couple, or ten years ahead. And Westerners make this possible. We are more modernized and more like Chinese to Westerners than the Chinese or Hong Kong people, because we are Chinese, and speak Mandarin. I really think we should look into Taiwanese competitiveness. We’re a multicultural society, at least in Taipei. I can hardly say for Chiayi or Kaohsiung.
Interviews by Trista di Genova, originally published in the hard copy of The China Post, 11/16/08. Additional translation and reporting by Rosanne Lin.