Thursday, November 12, 2009

‘Sorry, they’re Chinese’

On the eve of my relatives returning to Canada, I took them to one of my favorite northern Chinese cuisine restaurants in my neighborhood, a place that offers great variety and succulence. No sooner had we seated ourselves than a burst of laughter and loud conversation emanated from a table behind us. So intense was the noise that all three of us turned around to look. Throughout the meal, the same ear-splitting talk would shatter the otherwise calm ambiance in the restaurant, prompting our kind waitress to apologize profusely.

When I paid the bill, the lady said, rolling her eyes: Dui bu qi, tamen shi zhongguo ren. “Sorry, they’re Chinese.”

Indeed. Loud, disrespectful and chauvinistic. In our three weeks of travel, we ran into many of them. At the National Palace Museum, making it a point to touch every object bearing a “do not touch” sign or putting their hands on the windows, forcing a poor museum employee to follow them like shadow with her cloth and Windex, often shaking her head in dismay. At Sun Moon Lake, busloads of them careening down the narrow roads, roaring as if the world belonged to them.

Before returning home this evening, my aunt wanted to go to a Duty Free shop in Minquan Road, a spot that I know is a favorite of tour operators. Sure enough, a whole group of Chinese was there, their ID cards — and thick Chinese — identifying them as such. Again, they were loud, loud as if they’d never seen a shopping mall in their lives. In their haggling with vendors, they were aloof and often impolite.

As the good taxi driver told me in Kaohsiung last week, we like their money. But what an unpleasant experience it is to be around them. Is it worth it? What will it be like if — and when — they are allowed to travel alone rather than in groups? What if, at some point, they were allowed to rent cars? Would they bring the same type of chaos to Taiwan that drives my good friend Steve crazy whenever he travels to China for business?

I have nothing against Chinese per se, no underlying aversion to their people based on genetics. Rather, my problem with many of them is their social behavior, which is very revealing of the society and system in which they are brought up.

The diplomat in me usually wins over the temptation to turn to them and scream a good Taiwan jiayou! or Yi bian, yi guo at them. I don’t. Steve would have. Maybe I will.


Mark Forman said...

This was the Taiwanese 20 years ago, the Americans 50 years ago, the... Basically all new money acts this way.

Thomas said...

Mark, I am not sure you are correct.

My opinion:
New Money acts this way around Old Money. However, a visit to China reveals that such behaviour is common. During a recent trip, I commented to a travel partner that one of the biggest problems with modern Chinese society is that there seems to be a general lack of consideration for those locals are not trying to impress or who are not part of their immediate friends and family.

This is less about money than it is about experience being brought up in a society where a) rules are commonly understood to be selectively applied; b) almost anything is allowed as long as the actor does not get caught or is not criticising people in power; and c) social morals are lacking. Why would social morals be lacking? The communists did a wonderful job at tearing down traditional social restraints. Religion, "feudal traditions", and confucian ethics went out the window in a fiery blaze and the educated classes were locked up or otherwise dealt with.

Compare this to Taiwan where political undesirables were dealt with but most social traditions were left untouched. Despite the fact that many Taiwanese are still poor, it is one of the politest places I have ever lived.

I think that some of this is in the process of being relearnt right now, but without progress in terms of developing a "fairer" society (one where laws and rules are enforced, encouraged and respected), I don't think the progress will be as rapid as you seem to imply.

Thomas said...

Correction: there seems to be a general lack of consideration for others among locals unless those locals are trying to impress someone or they are dealing with their immediate friends and family.

mOOm said...

This is how we viewed American tourists when I was growing up in Europe 30-20 years ago. Not sure if they are better now...

mOOm said...

Sorry 30-40 years ago.

booboo said...

I am 40 yrs old now and have lived in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Canada and USA. As long as I can remember, Chinese people are just loud. Especially cantonese speaking folks like my aunts and uncles. May be it's hearing lost from the war. I don't know why they have to shout at each other when they are just sitting next to each other. It definitely has nothing to do with new money or levels of education coz they are bunch of PHD's whom have worked hard and saved some retirement money over the last 40 years or so (not new money). Our family reunion is like going to a shouting match. It's quite entertaining. :) So Sorry, they are Chinese.

Thomas said...

Related comment: A relatively blue friend of mine, out of the blue, said to me on the phone tonight: I picked up X from the hotel and brought him to the airport. The X hotel he was staying in near Taipei Main Station is full of "mainlanders". They have no manners at all."

Whether this is an old money new money problem or not, I think that it is important to notice that it may be having an effect on Taiwanese perceptions of those across the strait as a whole. This is not the first time I have heard such observations.

When the negotiations regarding tourism were underway, I remember reading the comments of several KMT officials to the effect of, "bringing in more tourists will lead to greater understanding between the people on both sides of the strait."

Wouldn't it be amusing if the proponents of such views were correct, but not in the way they were expecting. Increased contact does not necessarily lead to increased love.

J. Michael said...

Interesting observation, Thomas. An increasing number of commentators is saying about as much on the subject of growing cross-strait exchanges in academia, with hardcore CCP officials showing their colors in Taipei and, in the process, raising eyebrows. Rather than have pan-blue and plan-green experts snipe at each other and wax theoretically about China as before, we now have the occasion to hear them directly and to see how little they understand realities in Taiwan. Here again, this may lead to better understanding, but not necessarily to a rapprochement of minds, as hoped.

dennis said...

my friends on their trip to Maldives met a massive group of chinese tourists, and pretty much experienced exactly the same thing. loud and without any manners. all the travellers were stuck in a long queue behind the airport counters because of computer system fault, a chinese man decided to walk behind, yes behind, the counter and started asking the attendants in chinese why it is taking so long. my friends wished that they looked different skin/hair colour so the other travellers wouldn't think they were chinese too. hmm... actually that'd be really really awesome if taiwanese looked different to the chinese.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like the fat obnoxious loud mouth stereotype Europeans have of American tourists.

Marc said...

This is the same reaction the Trojans had of the Myceneans and Spartans!

Marc said...

Dennis said: "...that'd be really really awesome if taiwanese looked different to the chinese."

You don't already see the differences?

dennis said...

Marc: I'm a 100% Taiwanese by blood.

and i guess what i was trying to say is that I wished the taiwanese and chinese looked so different that anyone can tell the difference, such as the difference between a white and black.

if i were to gather together 20 chinese and 20 taiwanese and mix them together, are you confident that you can seperate them into the 2 group with 100% accuracy? hell I'm confident I wont get it 100% correct without a LOT of luck. get my point?

Anonymous said...

"Rather, my problem with many of them is their social behavior, which is very revealing of the society and system in which they are brought up."

Rather than getting annoyed with them, maybe you should pity Chinese nationals who act like this (and not all do, of course). Their government has really fucked them over for the past half century, and of course the country suffered other traumas before then. Everyone has basically suffered years of abuse and like abuse victims, have internalized the emotional (and physical) violence they were subjected to. It takes a certain kind of behavior to survive a something like the Chinese gov't -- and to those of us who grew up in better places, we see that behavior as loud-mouthed, uncouth obnoxiousness.

In another universe, I might up grown up in Communist China, and I feel blessed that I didn't, because I can't imagine what it would be like.

FOARP said...

Basically, these tourists are most likely new-money people who grew up on farms. I'm serious, most of China did so this should not surprise you, and yes, this is the same stereotype that Europeans apply to Americans.

However, I really don't like the tone of distaste with which you describe mainlanders. They are after all just people, and I'm sure that they don't mean any harm.

And yes, Chinese-speaking-people generally are loud, Cantonese the most, and North-Easterners the least. Taiwanese people fit somewhere in the middle of that range - they are far from the quietest.