April 7, 2010

You know, we North Americans have it good!

I was reading through the entries on Facebook, and came across one from my sister (sorry, Robin!). Her comment was as follows:

Robin Harvey is very tired because the boys woke me up early today! I vote for getting rid of ‘Easter Monday’ as a ‘holiday’. We already have Good Friday and Easter Sunday…what’s the Monday for? The government, I guess.

When I moved to Taiwan, I really didn’t know what I was in for. Sure, I had read as many books about the country as I could (travel guides, online material, messages from others that had been here, etc.). The one thing that I wasn’t expecting was the incredible work ethics (or lack thereof) these people have.

When travelling here, it may seem that Taiwan really likes tourists. And, I suppose most do. As a traveler, you can go anywhere, see anything, buy anything, almost any time of the day. It is very rare to find a store closed completely, unless they are out of business or moving. Generally though, business very rarely takes time off.

Okay, so the normal businesses close on weekends (school, government), but you can still go into the post office on a Saturday, (I’ve had mail delivery on Sunday!), and the odd small shop that caters mostly to locals may close on a day through the week, just for a day off. But Saturday and Sunday are business as usual.

When it comes to national holidays, there are only 4 or 5, compared to what, 11 or something like that in Canada? When Canada has a day that is considered a national holiday, many businesses will close for that day (or days), and if they remain open, by law, are required to pay their employees a ‘bonus’ for working that day (time and half, double time, extra day off another time, whatever the agreement). Here in Taiwan though, it seems like it is more of an inconvenience to the people.

As long as these holidays fall on a Saturday or Sunday, there is generally no problem. I can only speak from the viewpoint of working in schools and bushibans. As for other businesses, it is just another day. So what that it is the country’s birthday? What about Chinese New Year, the most important holiday of the Chinese culture? Businesses still expect and in some cases demand, their employees to work on that day, with no ‘bonus’ because of it being a national holiday.

If this national holiday falls on a weekday, especially when it involves school, the students are required to make up this time on a Saturday, either before or after the holiday, depending on what the administration wants. This past Chinese New Year, the students had something like 11 days off in a row. One of my school’s told me that the students would have to make up 3 of those days on Saturdays during the next few weeks.

I, as a teacher, was expected to drop everything else, and teach these classes that the school decided the students had to make up. The only good thing about it was, yes, I still get paid for the work, and that my first student on a Saturday happens to attend the school that this was happening at.

And this thinking doesn’t just happen for national holidays, either! A few years ago, Tainan was hit with a rather large typhoon. Yes, Taiwan gets its share of typhoons each year, but because of the geographical location of Tainan, it only gets the edge of typhoons at best. The winds are still strong. There is a lot of rain, but nothing that you wouldn’t see during a heavy rainstorm anyway.

Nonetheless, Taiwan, and in particular, the south end of Taiwan, was hit with a very large typhoon. A friend of mine was working retail at the time. I had received phone calls from all my schools that my classes were cancelled the day of the storm. Of course, the day would have to be made up at a later time, but at least during this storm, the schools decided to close. Most businesses had closed for the day as well. But not Ian’s place of business. They still insisted that their employees show up for work.

Outside, the wind was blowing at a healthy 60-70 km/hour! The rain was so heavy, that streets were flooded. The parking garage in my building had about half a foot of water, and the streets had turned to rivers. Tree branches were lying across the streets. Signs on buildings were literally being torn out their braces and falling into the streets. A trip, that on a good day, would have taken about 5 minutes, ended up taking almost 1/2 an hour! But, because the head office in Taipei was not getting this weather as bad, every store in Taiwan was required to be open.

Since I had nothing to do all day, I decided to go in with him. He opened the store. About an hour later, another employee who had left his home around the same time, arrived late. The sign on their building was hanging by one bolt! During the day, it seemed that with every gust of wind, the sign was becoming more loose. Nonetheless, the three of us played cards all day. Not one customer, from 10:00am until 9:00pm came into the store. And why would they? There was river flowing down the street, the wind was incredible, branches (and not little sticks, we’re talking BRANCHES) of trees were flying all over the streets… why would anyone risk going out in this weather!? But had he not opened the store, head office would have fined them for disobeying orders!

Back to Robin’s comment.

She mentions that Easter Monday should not be a holiday. Fair enough. From a parent’s viewpoint, it’s just another way for the government to have a day off, like they don’t get enough as it is. However, this is a long weekend. It is the first long weekend of the new year. By this point, the weather is becoming nicer, and it is a chance for family, who couldn’t get together over the Christmas/New Year time, to do so. And besides, you still get paid for work, even though you aren’t at work, and if you are, you get extra pay. I wish Taiwan would adopt this system.

It may look like that Taiwan people are workaholics, and they probably are. When I was working full-time in Canada, my average work week consisted of 40 hours, 5 days. Every 7-day period, you had a couple of days off, generally speaking. They may not be two days in a row, but nonetheless, generally. Here in Taiwan, most people work 6-day or 7-day weeks. In the case of Ian, his company allowed them to have 1 day off a week, as long as it was not a Saturday or Sunday. If they required 2 days off (i.e., going on a trip), this had to be approved months in advance, and not generally acceptable, unless the employee was a long-serving employee.

I can understand the need or desire for a business to remain open all the time. That is why they hire part time employees. This gives the full-time employees a break, so that they don’t feel they ‘live’ at work! It gives them time to be with family. It gives them time to enjoy life away from work.

Now, some people will turn to me and say, “But Bill, you work 7 days a week!” True, I do, but that is by choice, not demanded. I do weekend work to help students who don’t have time through the week, due to school and bushiban. To me, I have accepted the fact that Taiwan, although recognizing various holidays through the year, don’t really observe them. I am willing to adjust my schedule to help students who wish to improve their English skills. But this is MY choice.

Enjoy your paid holidays. Enjoy the four days off in a row. You don’t get many of these opportunities during the year, but at least you have them. Life is hard enough, and work is busy enough; you need that ‘downtime’. Relax, and don’t worry. Tuesday morning comes back too quickly!



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2 responses to “April 7, 2010

  1. Bilbet

    I expect that when retirement strikes you, you will totally enjoy it. The single problem with retirement is that every day is a day off and that can get to you over time as well.

  2. Robin

    Unfortunately, I did have to work ‘Easter Monday’ but it is not a recognized holiday at my workplace, so I didn’t get paid any extra than a normal shift. Being a part-time worker (less than 40 hours/week) doesn’t get you any breaks either!

    Canada has adopted another holiday, ‘Family Day’, in February, so that is the first long weekend of the year. But, not everyone gets paid for working this ‘holiday’ either. Although I don’t think this is a national holiday, which is why government workers have to work this day. I remember my sister-in-law who works for Canada Post had to work it.

    So I guess it’s a trade off…either Family Day or Easter Monday, depending on who you work for. Who knew holidays would be so confusing!

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