Thursday, May 05, 2011

What symbolizes Taiwan?

I gave the 100 first-year students a five paragraph essay assignment that asked them to name three things that symbolized Taiwan to them and explain why it symbolized Taiwan. Here is what they picked. The number indicates how many times (out of three hundred possible) that item was selected:

night markets ….. 49  
Taipei 101 ….. 31
food ….. 11
friendly people ….. 10
Mazu ….. 9
stinky tofu ….. 9
Yu Shan ….. 8
scenery ….. 8
pearl milk tea ….. 7
national health insurance system ….. 6
fruits ….. 6
Chopsticks ….. 5
Chinese New Year ….. 5
agriculture ….. 5
traditional religion ….. 5
Taiwanese Festivals ….. 5
Ali Shan ….. 5
temples ….. 4
aboriginal people ….. 4
bicycling ….. 4
Red Envelope ….. 3
election culture ….. 3
computers ….. 3
sweet potatoes ….. 3
national palace museum ….. 3
butterflies ….. 3
Calligraphy ….. 2
animals ….. 2
2-28 incident ….. 2
pig's blood cake ….. 2
sun moon lake ….. 2
chinese characters ….. 2
taroko gorge ….. 2
hot springs ….. 2
black bear ….. 2
dragons ….. 1
hand puppets ….. 1
Spring Scream ….. 1
music concerts ….. 1
beehive fireworks ….. 1
sky lanterns ….. 1
plum flowers ….. 1
dragon boats ….. 1
protesting ….. 1
department stores ….. 1
betel nut ….. 1
cops ….. 1
made in taiwan ….. 1
rice ….. 1
danshui old street ….. 1
Wenhua ….. 1
architecture ….. 1
convenience stores ….. 1
OEM manufacturing ….. 1
culture of taiwan ….. 1
traditional crafts ….. 1
Mid Autumn Festival ….. 1
traditional markets ….. 1
seafood ….. 1
oyster omlet ….. 1
Taiwanese language ….. 1
special drinks ….. 1
tung blossom festival ….. 1
hakka culture ….. 1
kenting ….. 1
chicken steak ….. 1
bananas ….. 1
Acer ….. 1
spotted deer ….. 1
anping fort ….. 1
convenient traffic ….. 1
four god soup ….. 1
folklore ….. 1
old streets ….. 1
national parks ….. 1
useless government ….. 1
plastic bag ….. 1
HSR ….. 1
betel nut girls ….. 1
nuclear power plants ….. 1
tea ….. 1
tea shops ….. 1
China-Taiwan relations` ….. 1

Best line from an introductory paragraph:
"When people talk about countries, they may think about something that symbolizes the countries. The beer and bangers symbolize Germany. Tap dancing symbolizes Scotland."
Don't miss the comments below! And check out my blog and its sidebars for events, links to previous posts and picture posts, and scores of links to other Taiwan blogs and forums! Delenda est, baby.


Karl said...

"Betelnut" is one word, you philis-tine.

Fred said...

What about... democracy? Free elections? Demonstrations? Freedom of speech?

Looks like the "Wild Strawberries" did not have such a lasting effect after all.

Also, when adding up the numbers, the total number of votes cast seems to be way short of 300. How come?

Thoth Harris said...

Ah, back to the torture of my trying to recall the different between synecdoche (my damned computer doesn't recognize this as a real English word, would you believe!) and metonymy. No, don't do that!
The problem lies with you assignment, I believe. It is useful for conversation, and maybe even for an informal adult class. I would choose that for a 1st-year course. The idea that one thing symbolizes a country seems to me a bit fatuous. It can be interesting in some respect, but ultimately, not very productive.
I would, however, preclude such dismissal if the scope was narrowed a bit more. Let's say you assigned the students the task of writing about what Taiwanese historical event most conspicuously stands for Taiwan, and why is this, or how is this the case. Or something on that order. Specify a bit, otherwise students will run roughshod over all sorts of hallowed and unhallowed ground without any intent or awareness.

Herman said...

An exercise of imagination! Very good choice of topics. Really nice to see the tabulation of responses.

How about an exercise on observation? A topic on "A day of my daily life" where they describe what they see and experience. 5 paragraphs. They pick and describe what they see in the street, or in their home, or in school, or in their own thoughts, or in what other people are doing or talking about, or in an TV episode, or a story in the news...

Love to see you post your students' work.

SoCalExpat said...

Sweet potatoes got more votes than betel nut beauties?!?!

Michael Turton said...

I didn't mean much by it, Thoth. I was just curious about how the students would frame the issue. Many of the topics are closely related -- for example when they mentioned night markets the emphasis was on foods, not on the working class nature of night markets, for example.

I can't ask them to write about history since it is a "political" topic and that would get me in trouble with my bosses.


waltzing Jaloma said...

Tap dancing had a Highlands connection? uh?!
Garrgh! Choking on a bite of that haggis.

Your list is as interesting for what it lists up as for what it does not. No Japan-related item listed up. Oshiina (惜しいな!), mottaenaina(持った得ないな!). Oops! But we have hot springs, architecture and Shinkansen (HSR).
Phew! I’ll knock one back to that. Pass the Knockando.

Michael Turton said...

Sweet potatoes got more votes than betel nut beauties?!?!

Sweet potatoes are an old symbol of taiwaneseness.

Anonymous said...

There seems to be a strong local identification with consumer culture.

Nothing out of the ordinary for young people who are steered away from identification with other symbols of their community like flags, galvanizing historic events or inspiring individuals.

Karl said...

"Sweet potatoes are an old symbol of taiwaneseness."

Surely you mean "Taiwanosity", you vulgarian.

Readin said...

I find it interesting that only two items got more than ten percent, and that night markets came out so high. Would have thought sweet potato, betel nut girls and pearl tea all would have scored higher, but I guess that's a difference between a native pov and a foreign pov.

What would they choose to symbolize America, Japan, and China I wonder.

Anonymous said...

"I can't ask them to write about history since it is a "political" topic and that would get me in trouble with my bosses. "

Michael, who's your boss?

Gotta admit you're good in drama and suspense if not being corny.

Anonymous said...

Trevor in UK notes the 7 ways that Taipei beats Singapore..

Mates, my Singy friends tell me:

''Singapore likes to think of itself as a modern and high-end Asian
city. We are cleaner, greener and leaner than our Asian neighbors, we
are constantly reminded by our media and our government.

In subtle ways, our media draws attention to the flaws of our
neighboring countries. Look at Malaysia and their church burning
religious zealots! Look at Thailand and the instability caused by the
Red Shirts versus the Yellows Shirts! Look at Taiwan and their
politicians who constantly fight in Parliament!

"Aren't you glad you live in Singapore, where things are better?"
seems to be the message.

It was the mental image of chair-wielding politicians that I carried
with me when went to Taiwan recently. The wife and I and some friends
flew to Taipei (on Singapore Airlines, of course, because it is better
than any Asian airline) and spent a week there on holiday.

I was surprised by what I found. Let me share some ways Taipei kicks
Singapore's behind.

Mala noodles, a spicy speciality of Taipei1. Taiwanese street food is
good and cheap.
Singapore used to be known for cheap food. We still have it here and
there but really, food prices have been rising to what we call
"air-conditioned food court prices". Where we used to pay SGD2 for a
bowl of noodles in a hawker stall, it is now SGD3 minimum. At the food
courts, it is hitting S$4.50 for that bowl.

So much so that when we hear of a wet market or hawker centre
undergoing renovations, we expect prices to go up and the food quality
to drop.

In contrast, in Taiwan, you would find a meal for less than NT$50,
which is about two Singapore bucks. Sometimes with a free cup of tea
thrown in.

Needless to say, we totally pigged out at the night markets. We made
the mistake of having a full dinner on the first few nights. The trick
is to just snack your way through the stalls at the night markets and
not have one big meal first.

2. Taipei has a kick-butt MRT system.
Singapore has always prided itself as having a world class public
transport system. But with a growing population, mostly from the
influx of "foreign talent" is stretching our transport infrastructure.

The best that the Singapore MRT can do is an interval of 2 to 5
minutes between trains during peak. We are told it is due to the
signaling system that needs to be upgraded to decrease that interval.

Trains in Taipei come as frequently as 1 minute apart during peak
hour. The trains never feel as packed as Singapore trains, even though
our populations are about the same (actually Taipei has about a
million more people).

Which brings me to my next point...

3. Taipei people stand to one side when riding escalators.
The thing that struck me when I took the trains was how well-behaved
people were. At the escalators, people automatically stood to the
right (they drive on the right there, unlike us), so that those who
wanted to move ahead can use the left side of the escalator.

Singaporeans have never understood the concept of standing to one side
of an escalator. It is almost as if we believe that by not giving way,
we win. Letting someone else go faster than we do, even if we just
want to stand all the way down the escalator, is against our religion.

Anonymous said...

Trev Uk notes: obviously the kids are lost and have no idea who they really are...but can you blame them? their country is a mess. there is nobody in charge.

Trevor in Cornwall UK

Anonymous said...

betel nut girls is three words but it should be "betel nut beauties" or "betel nut women" as they are not girls, they are women, over 18 and that makes them women. but boys will be boys.

Trevor UK cornwall

Okami said...

Sweet potatoes don't surprise me as they were quite important back in the day. Before, during and after the widespread irrigation projects started by the Japanese, Taiwanese farmers kept a small plot of sandy soil for sweet potatoes. If the rice crop failed and it sometimes did, they still had something to eat. You could also eat the leaves unlike with potato plants. Two rice crops a year is a relative new thing and can only be done within a greater agricultural infrastructure or exceptional natural circumstances.

Stefan said...

@Fred: "What about... democracy? Free elections? Demonstrations? Freedom of speech?"

It says:
* election culture
* protesting
* useless government (you need to have free speech to say that)

Anonymous said...

Just to show you guys and gals, my ex wife sent me this gem from China Pest newspaper today in Taibay, advert for a reporter to join staff. the copy reads:

- Must have near-native English writing skills
- Professional journalism experience preferred by not necessary

with adverts like that, who needs writers..... o that pesky China Pest.... are they still running those embedded 12 page inserts from the Beijing office of the CCP without any ID in the insert as to who is writing that crap....?

GIO should investigate if nothing else, or maybe Freedom House in DC

-- Trevor hungover in UK today

Herman said...

Shocking to see the kind of criticism thrown at Michael! If the gentle commentators were to be asked to lead a discussion panel to help reform Taiwan's education system, can we expect see some positive conclusion to come out in say, oh maybe 10 years? I doubt, doubt, doubt it. They have shown no skill in reaching agreement with people of a different view.

I fully believe Michael is as good an English teacher as any out there, including the best. And the assignment was excellent. If he follows up with another essay assignment to his students on, say, "Taipei 101", "friendly people", "Mazu", or "Stinky Tofu", we will learn more about how young Taiwanese see Taiwan themselves. And that would be edifying for us, don't you think? That list is valuable "raw data" if you can frame it in a context for more educational explorations.

Carlos said...

It's simpler than that... these are things that are at least somewhat unique to Taiwan. Democracy and freedom aren't. They're important in defining Taiwan, but they don't make it stand out from everyone.