Sunday, October 14, 2007
The NT$325 Vacation
the two continue to work hand in glove.
on other occasions, so I won't repeat those observations here. I have a large website devoted to Sun Moon Lake. Here a group of students from Chinyi University in Taiping listen to what they are supposed to be doing in order to have fun. Because clearly, young people do not know how to have fun and must be told how to. Have fun guys, it's compulsory!
tuan jie, the idea that the group must come together tightly as a group. Taiwanese culture is collectivist, and the individual has no space or rights that she can assert against the group. Nor is the group defined by those who come together, what constitutes the group is defined by those in power -- groups in Taiwanese culture are fundamentally authoritarian in nature. When you are placed in a group, you must come together with that group -- which means following the lead of those who lead. Or else.
For Americans from an individualist society where groups are fluid, and membership and level of participation are choices, the experience of Chinese-style groups is agony. For Taiwanese, American behavior is both inexplicable and threatening, often glossed as selfishness and arrogance. Each side has a totally different view of how humans and groups in their society should relate to each other.
In Taiwanese universities student life revolves around the Class. In the vocational universities, the intake is divided into groups of 50 or so students, usually on some random basis like odd-even student numbers. For example, our intake is 100, producing two Classes, designated A and B. For the rest of their university career, the kids in A class will take courses only with A class. What courses they take and in which order will be determined by the university, which assigns classes and teachers. There is no way that a B Class student could choose to take a writing class with a teacher designated to teach A students. Moreover, by organizing the students into classes and designating what teachers and courses they take, the university prevents mixing between students from different years, impairing the development of vertical relationships between the students of different years.
The authoritarian nature of this system, with its emphasis on cutting the bridges that people might build to each other, should be obvious. In the martial law days student leaders were recruited in each class to spy on their fellow students. Society might be democratic now, but the university system retains the structures of authoritarianism, and thus, still experiences their effects. This system will be defended and taken for granted even by teachers with extensive experience abroad -- one of the defining moments of an academic career in Taiwan is when you realize that all those Taiwanese with western educations brought back only their degree from overseas. All else was checked at Customs.
Hence, on the class trip, all the students play. All the students must play. There is no idea that the whole class could go, and those who wanted to play could play, and those who wanted to cook, could cook, and those who wanted to hike, could hike, and those who wanted to sit around and shoot the breeze, could. All must play, and all must enjoy. Or else you must be arrogant, anti-social, and selfish. Thus, for students of an independent mind, class trips are a boring torture of mindless, shallow games. My wife, who was educated as a young girl in American schools overseas, and then brought back to Taiwan at 16 to be tortured by local school system, still has nightmares about the transition, thirty years later.
This raises another issue: the apparent immaturity of the students, oft remarked on by westerners. In authority-centered structures, from fundamentalist Christianity and Mormonism to Fascism and Communism, victims/participants are expected to display happiness -- "Be Grateful that We're Fucking On You" is the attitude of Authority in all such systems. In response, and in defense, members often display an immaturity akin to childishness. When students display happiness playing games like these, which in our society is something only 12 year olds do, what exactly is going on?