The difference between Taiwan and China is vast, yet I have never explored it. If you went just by my blog, this is little China, and that is simply not true. So I thought I would talk about the differences somewhat. I just had the most Taiwanese experience I have had so far, so I figure tonight is a good time to explain.
First, arguably most importantly, there is the language. I don’t speak the language here. I speak Chinese. I speak it poorly, but after a month of classes and almost four months of study, I at least speak Chinese. But I speak virtually no Taiwanese, so I don’t speak the language here. This is a crucial difference between southern Taiwan and northern Taiwan.
Northern Taiwan has a lot of former Chinese or Taiwanese that embrace China. Southern Taiwan is Taiwan; it is not China. The people speak Taiwanese, and the people are Taiwanese.
I actually on realized how distant the two were until yesterday. I was in an argument over dinner, a long story in itself, with a restaurant manager that reeked of Taiwanese. His clothing fit poorly, his teeth had been replaced from too much betel nut, and his skin was dark and worn.
Normally, Rie and I have a killer question, “Do you speak English or Japanese?” This question is normally devastating to people. When the answer is no, they simply feel bad. Why? Japanese and English are THE foreign languages. It is like going up to someone in America and asking “Do you speak ANY foreign language?” Many would say no, but most would feel at least a little guilty. So I use this question whenever someone tries to be smart with me. Typically its because they are pointing out a weakness in my Chinese, and I am essentially saying “hey, you don’t speak ANY foreign languages.”
So I got in a fight at a very Japanese restaurant in a very American mall. But for some odd reason, a very Taiwanese guy managed the place. When things started to derail, I asked my Plan – B question, unknowing to just how Taiwanese he is.
This is the most Taiwanese answer to that question: “No, but I do speak Chinese.”
Obviously he said this in Chinese. What amazed me the most was that he was obviously proud that he spoke Chinese. He truly viewed it as a foreign language, and an accomplishment that he could speak it. The oddest part was that he seemed young, and basically the younger someone is, the more likely they use Chinese primarily.
The comment really sat with me. Up until then I did not really consider Chinese as foreign to the people here. However, to many, it is.
I often ask people what their political party is. However this has turned out to be an intensely personal question. I was on a date with a a girl and asked it, and it seemed like I had over stepped my bounds. Asking what political party you are is asking a very serious question as to how you think the world here is.
Tainan is green. There are two political parties, much like America, but rather than red and blue, they have green and blue. Blue is Chinese. Blue believes, at least to some degree, that Taiwan should work with China, if not join with China. This tends to be the Taipei attitude. Ironically, I should say it is very similar to the US blue attitude. It is what the young people like, what the “cultured” people believe in. Taipei is the blue headquarters by far.
Green is Taiwanese, and Tainan is green. A green party member is against unification and is usually very pro-Taiwan. Green people speak Taiwanese at home, and approach Chinese with reluctance.
Tonight I just wanted to eat. I went out to eat at ten o’clock. I had napped most of the day after a long night and had not eaten. So I want to get food and ran into some of the locals drinking tea. The pourer offered for me to stay and I said sure. Much as most Taiwanese tea session go, it quickly broke into a drinking binge.
Taiwanese was abound. Basically, the only time someone spoke Chinese was to speak me, and they approached it like they were speaking the queens English. The speaker was given time to annunciate, and they tried to speak clearly and slowly. However, it seemed that they were not doing such a performance for me, but rather, Chinese was a big deal. They all spoke Chinese, but they viewed it as a foreign language, much like the restaurant manager.
I think Taiwanese is equivalent to whatever language America’s Deep South spoke a truly different language. It is ugly, and bluntly, it sounds uneducated. I could catch words because the people were drunk and spoke slowly, but I could not understand anything.
Anping is the home of the gangsters. Its fun to make fun of the idea of Asian gangsters, but remember, from Japanese Samurai to the Chinese Triad, Asian have a history of being WAY hard core. Taiwan gangs seem somewhat benign in comparison to the Bloods; but trust me, you hear stories, they are plenty hard core.
Anping is the Western district of Tainan; it is where I live. The guys I drank with were gangsters, and not individual gangsters, but the big deal. I knew one was because of a friend who told me when I first came here. However being a gangster boss in Anping is like running a restaurant: that is cool, but not really a HUGE deal.
Yet, I realized later that the people I drank with were all pretty big deals. I kept asking one what his job was. He said he was a “boss” and I said a “boss of what” and the comment just sort of sat there, ike it was unheard. Now I think it was heard, just ignored.
All I wanted to do was eat. I went downstairs to grab food, but I saw many of the locals drinking tea and they wanted me to join. So I joined in and had a tea. They were cool, and it was fun.
We chewed betel nut, the rather disgusting but definitely energizing drug around here. We drank far too much beer, and it was fun. On Wednesday, I am going to hang out with them again. They keep saying I can “help” (a Chinse word I am glad I learned). If it turns out I am now a member of the mafia, I will make sure to tell the blog community.