Monday, November 23, 2009

The dumpling soup incident

I don’t want to belabor the topic of Chinese tourists in Taiwan, but something I witnessed during lunch today compels me to revisit the subject, if only so briefly. Eating my shrimp dumpling noodle soup and absorbed in Jay Taylor’s biography of Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石), my attention was suddenly drawn to a trio of people — one aged man and two mid-aged women — speaking louder than usual. From his accent, I could tell that the man was from China. Had their behavior been limited to the usual loudness with which Chinese carry a conversation, I would have written them off and continued on with my meal.

The real problems started when they got up to pay. I eat at that restaurant all the time and know its staff pretty well; the waitress who process their bill is a good-natured and soft-spoken lady in her late thirties. When one of the women started raising her voice and arguing with the waitress (with the man looming not far behind), and when another young waiter joined in the discussion, I knew something was wrong. The whole scene must have lasted five minutes, whereupon the trip departed in a hurry.

When my turn came to pay, I asked the waitress the obvious — that is, whether they were Chinese, and what the problem was. As it turns out, they were Chinese and didn’t want to pay the total amount of the bill, arguing that they’d run out of Taiwanese currency. This is hard to believe, given that there were three of them and the place isn’t exactly expensive (I had lunch there with my mother and aunt a couple of weeks ago for NT$240). The likelier scenario is that the Chinese were once again showing their arrogance and treating Taiwanese like second-rate citizens — in their own country.

Rather than create a scene or call the police, the waitress played the ever-so-kind Taiwanese and paid the difference using her own money, slightly shaking her head as she closed her purse.

This is a minor, thought I’m sure not isolated incident. It makes me wonder, though, if, as cross-strait investment and economic activity intensifies through financial MOUs and an ECFA, Chinese will not also try to cheat their Taiwanese counterparts out of their money, this time on a much grander scale.


Islander said...

Wow, this is ridiculous. The waitress should have called the police.

Anonymous said...

"The Dumpling Soup Incident"...

Seems to be the title for a spy book.
Very good!

Anonymous said...

I wonder if the customer is Taiwanese, would the waitress let this happen. Taiwanese should stand up for what is right. Tolerating this kind of behavior only bolsters Chinese tourists' arrogance. I hope this is due to her kindness and not her surrender to the Chinese chauvinism. If the city governemnet or tourism industry provides some kind of training to deal with the Chinese agressive behavior, it would help. My suggestiion would be telling the Chinese, 'Why don't you go back to China before I call the police and put you in jail?'

Stephanie said...

In response to Anonymous:

Taiwanese people are known for being courteous. Generally speaking, the Taiwanese are much more gracious than the Chinese. I honestly don't believe that the waitress' response would have changed if the customers were from a different country. She was simply following Taiwanese etiquette, which sometimes calls for being more polite than the situation warrants.

Anonymous said...

Beside my comment about the very good title (come on! He is a writer, don't be surprised) I am wondering about something:

Whatever the reasons (Taiwanese kindness... Just name it), people start to accept something and next time something more and what next?...

Maybe one day, Taiwanese should stand up and say... NO!

Are they now?

Of course some are. But what's about the majority?

Why? I have no idea. Do you?

Except the easy (useless)answers, I really do not understand why.

Any asymmetry between foreigners and Taiwanese? I mean about the available data.

Maybe if Taiwan keeps the same pace, the author of this blog (and many others) will not have the freedom he is enjoying now (at least in Taiwan).
By the way Michael, I posted one day ago about the Education subject. Except the Chinese government is sending a lot of students here (which is possible and in that case you may be right) there is no reason to see a big inflow. So I quite disagree about your article in Taipei Times.

Anyway, "The Dumpling Soup Incident"... What's a great title for a book...


jack said...

Maybe there needs to be some disclaimer that this is an anecdotal occurence?

Regardless, I am a bit saddened at where Taiwan is today, vs. 15 to 18 years ago when it was quite prosperous by many means.

I think the Chinese government and its people are not coming to grips yet that they are trading environmental damages for riches. Somewhat similar to where Taiwan was as well. I digress.

Oh, as is applicable, the above are my views based on anecdotal occurrences as well. twitter/jack650

The Observer said...

Thanks to all for the interesting comments. Of course, this entry concerns an anecdotal occurrence and I did not mean to imply that all Chinese tourists in Taiwan act that way — they aren’t, though on the rudeness and loudness, I’d say it’s quite rampant, as I live right next to a big Duty Free shop where busloads of them are dropped every day. I’ve often observed their dealings with Taiwanese salespersons, and it’s quite often confrontational; it certainly isn’t as friendly as the many Japanese tourists who also shop there (though, to be fair in my complaints, most of them smoke).

As I’ve said before, I think this is a societal problem, in the way Chinese are brought up under the CPP system. I don’t believe in some Chinese “predilection” for loudness and rudeness — or environmental damage, for that matter. In this case, it’s nurture and perhaps a dose of chauvinism of the type that, to echo comments on this blog, characterized “loud” Americans in Europe (still, when we thought Japan would take over the world in the 1980s, Japanese tourists retained their reputation as friendly, quite and polite).

So yes, as Fred argues, this posting is as much about Chinese as it is about Taiwanese and their famed kindness, which though pleasant may be an offshoot of their experience as repeated colonial subjects. If they are to stand up and defend their rights, they’ll have to shed that straightjacket once and for all.

With this posting I did not mean to generalize, but I nevertheless believe in observing things at the “everyday citizen” level, which, within reason, allows us to extrapolate.

Fred: Glad you like the title. Really couldn’t think of anything else. Could make for a good Eric Ambler novel!

The Observer said...

Fred: Regarding your comments (and post) on Chinese students coming to Taiwan. I fully agree that, from a strictly “business” point of view (that is, universities as businesses), it makes sense to attract foreign students. I agree, too, that a dose of competitiveness could reinvigorate the students here — all these things I don’t disagree with. Your assessments of top Chinese universities is also correct, in that they produce, in general, quality students. My apprehensions are strictly on the political level, where otherwise brilliant Chinese students have demonstrated time and again, despite their intelligence and contact abroad, the effectiveness of brainwashing on certain matters (e.g., the CCP, Tibet, Taiwan). This is where I see a potential for trouble, as a great majority of them — at Harvard, Cambridge, McGill, MIT and so on — have been unable, or simply refuse, to rid themselves of that rigid Party ideology. In fact, it’s been proven that quite a few are willing to “cooperate” with Chinese authorities in collecting “intelligence” on, say, dissident communities abroad (we’ve also seen many instances of Chinese students turning violent in their host country [e.g., France, South Korea], such as during the Olympic torch journey). In other words, to spy for the Chinese government as part of their “extracurricular” activities. I’m not saying that other countries are not doing that, but it’s never to that extent. Plus, we must not forget that we’re still dealing with an authoritarian, and in fact Orwellian, state here.

I guess for Taiwan it will boil down to the number of Chinese students who are allowed to come study here. It’ll be interesting to observe their behavior. Maybe some will be willing to learn (in terms of political freedom, different discourse on Taiwan), but this could mean trouble for them when they go back to China. I’m sure Beijing will screen students bound for Taiwan to make sure that none have a propensity for flexibility on core nationalistic matters. I’ve met quite a few Chinese academics visiting Taiwan in recent weeks, from undergraduates to professors, and I must say that this is not encouraging.

As always, in its opposition to the policies of the Ma administration, the DPP failed to articulate its opposition to those decisions and ended up sounding amateurish. The ammunition to express fears over that decision exists, and this is what I attempted to flesh out with my article. Sadly, the DPP didn’t try to do as much.

Anonymous said...

When I posted in my blog about "Education", I didn't think about politics.
But I must admit that I agree with you when you pointed out the danger from the brainwashed Chinese students.
And about spying, just in France, there are many cases of Chinese students caught stealing files when they are trainees in companies.
Yes, I confirm again, your title was what attracted me first, before the content of your post.
Eric Ambler? Yes... Even though I was thinking about Graham Green and one of the last sentences in the Spy game movie (not related to him):[...]We have an incident in China...
By the way, the "f" in "fvarga" stand in for Franck (English translation of my given name) not Fred.

Gilman Grundy said...

1) Taiwanese people are generally polite and courteous.

2) Chinese people are usually friendly and fair minded.

3) Anyone trying to claim anything else is judging people by a politicised measuring stick.

If you want to see examples of arrogance, cheating, and stinginess, I have anecdotes a-plenty about my Taiwanese colleagues in mainland China, and about Taiwanese businesses in mainland China in general. Given that such stories exist, why should mainland Chinese put up with it? The simple fact is that these incidents are not generally representative of Taiwanese in China (except for the incidents of bigamy and sexual exploitation, which are legion) but even if they were, the relationships between the two sides is still profitable. Just as mainland tourists visiting Taiwan are profitable.

Really - should I apply my anecdotes of American tourists in London, loudly proclaiming our money to be 'mickey-mouse money' and calling England a 'cute, quaint little country', as generally applicable and indicative of the nature of the the Anglo-American relationship? This is pure foolishness, and you should know better.