You know, Taiwan is a double-edged sword.
What do I mean when I say that? Well, there are some things here that really get me going, more personally, than anything else. Maybe other foreigners don’t really care, but deep down inside me, I do!
We all know that every country on the planet celebrates different holidays. How they celebrate, is up to them. Other countries may recognize those days, and whether or not they make it ‘official’, is here nor there. They may recognize the day, simply to pay homage to that culture or country.
In Canada, my experience has been that we have what, 11 statutory holidays? A few ‘recognized’ days, but not actual holidays. We also will ‘recognize’ other country’s special days… for example, July 4 for the US, or May 1 for Russia. We don’t get a day off simply because Russia’s birthday is May 1, but many people do recognize it. Now, taking into consideration date lines, and time zones, we may ‘recognize’ that day a bit later, but as far as we are in the ‘time of things’, we are recognizing their day!
Chinese culture has Chinese New Year. Now, again, we in Canada don’t have a holiday because of Chinese New Year, however, because of our diverse culture, we recognize this time, and will recognize Chinese New Year DURING Chinese New Year… not a week earlier or later… but during that time! Chinese New Year is a four or five day celebration of the beginning of the new LUNAR year.
People in Taiwan take this holiday as seriously as we take Christmas/New Year holiday time. A time for getting together with family… exchanging gifts (of one sort or another)… celebrating an end to one year, and the beginning of another.
Double-edged sword: When I talk about this, the first thing that comes to mind is Christmas/New Years. In Taiwan, it is not a celebratory time. Christmas means nothing, except to perhaps the foreigners and the extremely few Christians in the country. However, no time is given off… work continues as if nothing is happening. Okay, fair enough. As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, I’m not here to press my western beliefs on the eastern culture. I’m here to teach English.
However, how they ‘recognize’ MY holiday, is by having students wear Hallowe’en costumes, play games, and have the foreign teacher dress up in a Santa suit, give out candy canes and presents to ALL students, good or bad (hahaha)! Yes, since I do this for many of my classes, I have my own Santa suit now. And, I do not need a pillow anymore!
During Chinese New Year, it is customary for business to give employees and parents to give children a ‘hong bao’ (red envelope). Contained inside this ‘hong bao’ is money. Yes, real live, spendable CASH! Depending on the business and the ‘wealthiness’ of the parent, this amount can be anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand (remembering that $1 Cdn = about 30 TWD). However, when it comes to most foreigners, we do not get this ‘hong bao’. I’ve been explained it this way: “…you are not Taiwanese or Chinese, therefore, this is not your holiday or tradition…” When asked about Christmas and the exchange of gifts, this explanation: “… Christmas is not OUR holiday.”
Okay, now, I realize that Christmas is a time of giving, and not receiving. It is meant as a time to be with family and friends. ‘It is better to give than to receive.’ Fair enough. However, I am still expected to go to work, on December 24, 25, and 26 as if nothing is different – and on top of it, pretend to be a fat, jolly, old sole, in a red suit, handing out gifts to kids who don’t even know what or why they are getting them!
Now, we’re getting close to another of MY holidays, namely, Canada Day. Canada Day, for any of you that do not know, is celebrated July 1. The American holiday, unfortunately, is July 4. More people know about the US holiday, than my holiday. That being said, for the number of Canadian teachers in Taiwan, you’d think that Taiwanese people would know when Canada’s birthday is. There are approximately, according to the latest statistics, 9 Canadian foreigners teaching here, for every non-Canadian foreigner! 90% of the foreign teachers in Taiwan are Canadian! When I came here in 2002, that figure was at 79%.
I heard today, that there is a ‘Canada Day Beach Party’ on June 26th. June 26th?? What the hell is that? June 26th is a Saturday, but almost a week before MY holiday! Okay, if they had given the date as July 3rd (the following Saturday), I could have said, okay, they want to combine Canada Day with that American day! Speaking of which, I still don’t understand the fascination with the American culture. Maybe because I’m Canadian, and EXTREMELY proud of that fact, I can’t see why Taiwan people want to emulate Americans!
I suppose, like most Canadians, we don’t really know a lot about Taiwan. So, we speak about Taiwanese people as Chinese people. I’m probably just as much to blame, even having worked for so long, as anyone else. But, many times, the kids will refer to themselves as Chinese, not Taiwanese. It’s like us Canadians saying we are North Americans, and not Inuit. Taiwanese means people of TAIWAN! Most people living in Taiwan, are of CHINA decent.
Anyway, back to this Canada Day thing. I don’t know who is sponsoring this event. There is a very good chance that I will not go. I’m not involved in the foreign community in Taiwan, as, I suppose I should. I have my own life here, have adapted to the way people treat my holidays and customs. I try to fit in to their life, because I am sharing this country with them! I celebrate MY holidays in my own way, in the privacy of my home.
I am a proud Canadian. I will never give that up. However, I am grateful to be a part of Taiwan’s culture and people. I embrace their holidays and recognize their way of life. I just wish sometimes, they would understand me and my culture.