Kenneth McCauley had an awesome letter today in the Taipei Times. And by awesome, I mean a letter that everyone is sending me with a subject line that says: WTF? He writes in the opening lines:
In Taiwan, there is a lingering perception of Westerners as neo-colonialists with gel-induced hair waves instead of powdered wigs. Western men are seen as personifying a veni, vidi, vici mentality. That’s a bad way to think, not because it stereotypes white people — Come on, whites deserve some stereotypes — but because it depicts foreigners as Julius Caesars (minus the tunic but still rocking the sandals), thus rendering Taiwanese a conquered people. Taiwanese shouldn’t see themselves that way and we don’t deserve that august comparison.There's a lazy linguistic agreement that everyone falls into, including me, that basically uses the terms westerners and foreigners interchangeably. It is due, in part, to the Taiwanese practice of dividing the world into only two kinds of people, us and foreigners, as if Brazilians, Afghans, and Norwegians were all of a piece.
But while we’re pretty ordinary plebs, we’re not on a mission of Falstaffs come to evangelize, engage in lechery, booze and sacrifice goals on the shrine of carpe diem.
Nonetheless, there seems to be growing dissatisfaction from both young and old, though perhaps for different reasons, about foreigners dating local girls. Even MC Hot Dog, of I Love TaiMei renown, has felt the need to vent his frustrations in a song called TU about how sick it makes him to see foreigners, specifically black ones, picking up Taiwanese girls and also ranting that all foreigners in Taiwan are teachers — 90 percent is still not “all”!
Foreigners do come here to teach, and yes, it is easy money. As a result, there’s some reasonable resentment towards this Asia-specific phenomenon, especially when the foreigner is arrogant about his no-skills-needed high salary — but in future when everyone in the US is paying big bucks to study Chinese, I’m sure we’ll see lots of flip-flop-clad Taiwanese turning karaoke Thursday into “Thursday: The Only Karaoke-Free Night.”
Let's lay a few things out here which we should all try to keep in mind.
(1) a significant lump of foreigners born overseas who come here ARE here to make money, they are foreign workers in Taiwan factories, and much of the sex they have is forced, through human trafficking. The allegedly oversexed overwhelmingly white male teaching population is small relative to them; a floating hothouse world that is only an echo of the real Taiwan;
(2) in the case of the US (and I bet figures are similar for Canada, Australia, and the UK), the majority of foreign nationals in Taiwan were born here, moved there, obtained citizenship, and then returned here. An official at AIT once told me that there were 60-70k US citizens on the island, but only a fraction, like a third or so, were people like me, born in the US and having only citizenship there, but living here. Further, a portion of that fraction of foreigners consists of people born to Taiwanese immigrant parents in the US but who have moved to Taiwan;
(3) a large number of "overseas Chinese" -- foreigners who take advantage of the KMT government's racial concept of citizenship to garner benefits denied foreigners with the wrong ancestry. The OCAC says there are roughly 40,000 of these in Taiwan as of Dec 2008. To put that in perspective, there are probably more US passport holders born in Taiwan, immigrated, returned, and now living here than "overseas Chinese" in Taiwan;
(4) overseas brides -- all foreigners, and outnumbering any other single category of foreigners, I believe; and
(5) there is a large miscellaneous population of non-factory, non-teacher foreigners doing all sorts of interesting things who get zero coverage. For example, there are several thousand Indians in Taiwan, almost all of whom are working in the technology industries or going to school. As far as I have seen, few books or publications that interview "foreigners" ever discuss this large population. There are probably many other foreign populations existing in Taiwan that I have never heard of.
In other words, 95 percent of foreigners aren't teachers. They belong to some other category.
We lack the vocabulary that sorts among all these catogories properly, and correctly labels them all foreigners, and is free of the kind of assumptive racism that conflates westerner (with its inherent labeling of white) with foreigner as opposed to the local ethnic Han population (are aborigines foreigners? But they drop out of local conversations when people get sorted into neat categories). People who discuss "the foreign experience in Taiwan" are too often talking about a tiny community of expats who are totally unrepresentative of all the foreigners in Taiwan. You could just as well argue that the real representative foreigners are the engineers in Hsinchu who were educated abroad and have citizenship there (with children birthed there), but work here. Or the Indonesian factory workers. Or the Indian computer industry workers. Or foreign brides. But teachers? We may get all the headlines, but we're a privileged, tiny minority.
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