Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Plug into Culture to Avoid the Shock?

In another follow up to the Lindsey Craig article, we have this recent article published by the Gazette.  The writer is a Taiwanese Canadian (or overseas Taiwanese?) who returned to Taiwan after being away from the island for several years. While Ms. Craig's article might have received a negative reaction for her dislike of the smells, the negative reactions to the food, etc., this recent article might treat the subject a little too lightly to do any real good.  The article is here:

My original point still stands about culture shock.  While preparation and education is key, one cannot simply 'prepare-away' culture shock by reading other's experiences.  This kind of definition of culture shock is oversimplified and rather one-sided.  While this might work for 'travelling', it does not work for truly living there, because there are distinct periods (the so-called 'honeymoon', reaction and acceptance phases) that one struggles with that people travelling there do not.  One might try reading any of the number of psychological treatises on culture shock before trying to prescribe it away with blow-offs like 'do your homework and everything will be positive' and 'if you don't like the place, it's all your fault'.    Enough said on that.

But let's get away from the Orientalism for awhile. Hunting roaches with pellet guns might be fun for Chuck and the like, but people relocating need help dealing with visa issues, being an 'institutionalized foreigner' and striking differences in work culture.  You might need to talk to more than one person. "Information for Foreigners" is a good place to start.

While food and bugs might be everyone's favorite superficial talking point, learning a few words in Chinese won't prepare you to argue employment law when an unscrupulous employer denies you your health or labor insurance or tricks you into doing an illegal job interview. The employer may be fined.  You will be deported. Are all Taiwan employers bad? No.  Does it still happen?  Yes.

Going to school to learn Chinese in Taiwan might be fine. However, learning that you need to have a interview to examine your attendance, grades and discuss future plans with the Foreign Affairs Police (now re-termed the NIA) every few months in order to renew your visa might quash any visions you have of reading those road signs.  Especially if you miss a few classes (e.g. sick) or aren't doing so well in your studies.

Of course, signing up at a local school to study is only illegal if you are a visitor--people who work full time are allowed, but be prepared that it is the norm to leave Taiwan to make any changes to your visa (e.g. if you are a visitor and want to become a student).  This can be a considerable shock to your wallet while you wait at home or in a foreign country to get your visa processed.  It could be just one of the many surprises Taiwan's visa system can have for you.  Far worse than roaches, in my opinion.

These are just a few differences from Canada that 'travelers' do not experience in Taiwan.  You must live there to get it.  The food, the culture and even the bugs are really interesting and make one feel like a real Dr. Livingstone, but in the end, love it or hate it, there is a wealth of misinformation and rosiness out there that mislead people into believe living abroad will be 'perfect' and 'wonderful'.  There are successes, but there are also disasters.  You need to understand both.

Locals in a country are not always the best source of information because they have never lived there as a foreigner and had to abide by the different regulations for 'foreigners', 'aliens', etc. Finally, no matter how much you prepare, you will always be at a disadvantage to truly understand until you experience things first hand.  Then you can make your decision over whether you can accept it or not.

The political correctness of being unable to accept another culture is a topic for another blog, but please: 'my vacation in Taiwan was great' is not a refutation of whether or not culture shock exists or if it is valid or not.  By all means, buy a Lonely Planet and read some websites, but don't think that you are totally in control of your own experience.  If you do, that's the first huge shock you are in for.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Lindsey Craig and Editor Respond to Criticisms, Protest

Ms. Craig and her editor responded to her recent criticisms over her article on Culture Shock in Taiwan today in a "Note to readers" published in the Montreal Gazette.  Although I do not know Ms. Craig personally, she did contact me recently over what had happened to her but asked that our conversation be kept private. I don't think she would mind me saying that she found the whole experience traumatizing and the extent to which some attacks were taken a bit excessive.

Ms. Craig's note to readers attempts to clarify that the intent of her article was to let people know they should do their homework before travelling.  She responds that the articles focus was culture shock, but that her observations led to criticisms of xenophobia, being pampered and not understanding the world very well.

What I found most poignant, however, was her description of the harassment she received. While I'm sure she might have expected nasty words on social media sites, or even threatening phone calls, who could imagine calls to former employers in Taiwan and other people that she knew.  On the whole, I thought it was a brave and mature response given the backlash she faced.  She seems to be asking for understanding of her points however, so as she mentions in the note, this might only serve to stir up more criticism.

The editor's note is more brief and to the point.  There is no retraction of the Gazette's decision to publish the piece and she holds to the position of the article.  It seems more like a position to defend the journalistic principles upon which the piece was published. She does explain the decision to run the story, although I think that this letter gives no ground on the decision to publish the piece.  Let's see what happens...



Sunday, March 6, 2011

226 Montreal Protest Site Shut Down?

Interesting. Sounds like they are trying to shut things down on the 226 Protest against the Montreal Gazette page. I wonder why? There is an adequate English translation below but I translate the Chinese as:

While the article that was published was obviously unfair, it was one person's personal experiences.  Such expressions of emotion and personal speculations serve only to obscure the original intentions of this group and may lead to unwanted effects for those Taiwanese and Canadians who love Taiwan. 

 Here's the full posting from one of the admins:
基於尊重正確的事件傳播以及避免事件被過度放大,此論壇將關閉。 請將您寶貴的意見寄到: gazettebias226@yahoo.ca
再次,萬分地感謝大家對台灣的熱情及擁護 !!
I’d like to thank all ours friends for supporting Taiwan. Promoting the great images of Taiwan is what every Taiwanese supposed to do. As Montrealers from Taiwan, we will keep doing our best to be the voice for the country we love. 
What the newspaper published in this article may not be impartial but was only one person's personal perceptions. Therefore, our emotional speeches and personal speculation will only vague the focus of the event, and may cause some unnecessary effect toward the other Taiwanese and Canadians who love Taiwan. 
Based on respect for the proper event propagation and to avoid the event is over enlarged, therefore, this discussion group will be closed. If you have any valuable opinion, please email to: gazettebias226@yahoo.ca
Thanks again for your warm supports and your love to Taiwan !!

UPDATE: (About 10:30AM EST) There has been clarification from another admin that the group has temporarily "closed the comment function" but asks for continued support through invitations to the group. (About 12:30 EST) Post seems to be removed.

UPDATE 2:  (About Monday 7:00 AM EST) Seems like comments are still open but posting new items is disabled. (?) Old posts are being brought to the top when members comment.

UPDATE 3: (About Monday 1:30PM) Admin has removed all members and made it clear that the group is closing.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Saga Continues...

Michael Turton mentioned this blog's post on the Lindsey Craig fiasco and the '226 protests' that cropped up. Flattered.  The comments were good and all in all, I felt that something good got done.  Here's the comments I posted to his blog:

I have to agree with Michael—great comments on this post.   Whether people agree or disagree, there is much more balanced discussion here than anywhere else on the net.  My faith in humanity has been restored after reading the comments today!
The only reason I blogged about this in the first place was that issues of ‘returnees’ is an interesting one. As Michael said, this is a rarely heard from group, be it Chinese/Taiwanese from other parts of the world or ‘foreigners’ from Taiwan.  
In trying to understand the reason for such a backlash like the protest, did anyone look at the translation on the 226 protest site?  I think it ‘amps up’ a lot of Ms. Craig’s points and exaggerates bias.  I have to say if I relied only on that translation I might be a lot more angry as well.  
Also, if Trevor from Cornwall sees the intent from the article to push these ESL schools in Montreal, we should ask the same question about the intent of the Montreal 226 protest as well.  That their organizers could benefit from such solidarity perhaps might outweigh the reason for the protest itself. (See my comments re: the (legitimate) W5 protest and the creation of the Chinese Canadian National Council) 
Conspiracy theories aside, I agree with a number of other comments on here:  Ms. Craig’s article is (and originally was) a blog post.  It must have been a slow news day and it got pasted to the front page of the community section in Montreal during the weekend.  Now it’s receiving an inordinate amount of backlash from people with nationalist (over)sensitivities and politically correct agendas.

Another very in-depth look at the female perspective was published by Jenna at Lao Ren Cha (老人茶). A very good account--hopefully she won't suffer her own protest. The Gazette should have picked up her story instead.


UPDATE: Of all the comments I have read on this, one blogger named Julian seemed to hit the nail on the head quite well regarding Ms. Craig's article.  Generally, he had little to complain about in terms of the smells, bugs and road signs. Agreed.  However it was the negative work environments (which I hope to write more about), immigration and crazy bureaucracy that would have been much more worthwhile to bring to the attention of the Gazette's readers.  One can only speculate if the same backlash and protest would have ensued.  (I think it would have.)  I've posted his comment here as it brings things to a close for me, about the article at least:
When I move back home to Canada after 4.5 years here in Kaohsiung and Taipei, 90% of my memories about TW will be good ones. Any complaints I have won't be about smells or chinese or cockroaches, they'll be about shitty work environments, crazy bureaucracy, and bosses that fired me after I tried to legally quit and find a way to make an orderly transition between jobs. 
I think the reason people are so eager to rip on her is that her complaints seem so silly to people who have lived here for years. Road signs, really? It'd be like a Taiwanese person moving to Montreal and being shocked at a few inches of snow. Plenty of people have had horror stories about dealing with bosses or police or immigration here, her complaints are just..... wimpy.

Friday, March 4, 2011

If you can't say something nice...

Lynch mobs, I mean... protest groups have now taken up the cause against Lindsey Craig's article on her cultural shock during her time in Taiwan. A "226 protest of media bias Gazette in Montreal” has been set up on Facebook "calling on foreign nationals living in Taiwan teaching foreign languages to contact the group to lodge a protest against the newspaper."  I wonder what kind of response they will get.   Apparently this has become a big news item in Taiwan (as anything slightly anti-Taiwanese does.) Here's the story in the Taipei Times.

I wish we could have a response like this when similar things come up in the Taiwan press. Take for example this story exposing a love affair gone wrong between an AIT worker and a local Taiwanese woman.  The original story is in Chinese but there is analysis by Michael Turton in English, the blog I found the story on.  As he points out the newspaper also ran editorials with 'experts' who made statements such as '90% of foreigners in Taiwan are losers.'  Kind of a double standard, don't you think?  There is further follow up by Turton here.

I remember at the time saying to someone when I read these articles.  "If this kind of stuff was done in Canada there would be a huge protest."  Well, the 226 Facebook group is here. Told ya so...  I wish them all the luck in their protests--of course, for 'foreigners' living in Taiwan, it is against the law to protest (you can't become a citizen) so we'll just have to put up with the situation for now.

CORRECTION:  Thanks to Steven who pointed out that, yes, you can become a citizen--I personally only know of two 'westerners' who had to really fight for special circumstances.  I should have written 'almost impossible' when compared with Canada and other countries (which was my point).

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

TECO's Response to Lindsay Craig

Here's an interesting response to Lindsay Craig's article on teaching in Taiwan.  Seems the re-telling of her trials and tribulations during a 7 month stint in Taiwan raised some ire both at home and abroad!  The most controversial travel memoirs I've seen for awhile!

Although I had a nice acknowledgement of my points from Ms. Craig in the comments section, she got slammed by a number of people both here and on Michael Turton's blog when he linked to the piece.  (Read the comment sections in both blogs.)

The Gazette comments were just short of a lynch mob.  Obviously, if you have a difficult time living in a country or feel any isolation after 7 months, it's your fault because you shouldn't have any difficulties or even try to travel anywhere else if you are going to complain. Many 'travelers' compared their experiences--do I even need to mention what's wrong with that?  Culture shock baaaaad. Shame on you, Ms. Craig. It's easy to be annoyed about those who complain about diarrhea when you don't have to drink the local water.

I also laughed at the comparisons to the Taiwanese community in Montreal. People have no idea of the differences in visa requirements, access to language (different education systems) and culture (monocultural vs. multicultural). Whatever happens to you is your fault and if you don't like it, go home.  It's funny that were the situation reversed, (saying that about someone who immigrated to Canada) it would be out and out racism.  And it stands in stark irony to what Canadians tend to do for others who come here in terms of language support, acculturation and general volunteer services.

Of course, posters to Turton's blog were a bit more understanding because, like myself, many have been there, done that.  I found the comments on the whole at his blog to be more balanced.  Some liked Taichung, some didn't. In the end, Ms. Craig also didn't and has every right to dislike the smells, bugs and whatnot.

Most interesting was this letter received by the Taiwan Economic and Cultural Office and posted in the Gazette:

Re: "Cultural shock" (Gazette, Feb. 26).
Lindsey Craig shared her experience being an English teacher for seven months in Taichung, Taiwan, in 2005. Although the teaching job was in general pleasant to her, she found it hard to cross the environmental and communication barriers, though, as she put it, "if I'd more carefully prepared, it could have been one of the best" experiences of her life.
We are sorry to learn that Craig's stay in Taiwan was not satisfactory to her. We know that many things, such as road signs in English and air pollution, need to be improved so that the environment will be more friendly to foreign visitors.
Taiwan signed an agreement on youth mobility with Canada last year, which allows youths from both countries to work while travelling in each other's country. As Craig wrote, Canadian English teachers are very welcome in Taiwan. We therefore encourage Canadian youths to make good use of the program. The Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Canada is more than willing to provide information.
Emily Wang
Taipei Economic and Cultural Office Ottawa
If you've read this blog you'll probably get an idea of what my general feeling for TECO is--although having met some of them one on one, many are good people. The system, as they admit, still needs work.

I guess the thing that really bothers me about the letter--although admittedly fair--is that it in a plug for their youth program, it advertises that almost any Canadian kid can be an English teacher in Taiwan.  Be very careful about this comment.  First off, you need a degree, second off, there are some schools out there with very dodgy reputations looking for kids to capitalize on.

Ms. Craig's original advice still applies.  Do your homework and really investigate these type of programs. Not everyone follows labor laws in Taiwan like in your home country and while there are positive aspects to working in Taiwan, there are also a slew of negative teaching experiences by those who thought they would do as Ms. Craig did.