Raising children in Taiwan

If someone does not already knew: I became daddy in July of this year 🙂 Such a big change in life surely also has an impact on my point of views. I remember that I already wrote something about kids in Taiwan (go to sleep very late, great pressure at school), but yet I did not think about where life for children would actually be better: in Taiwan or in Germany?

I have two German friends who are also married to Taiwanese women and got a child last year. Both of them recently decided to leave Taiwan and go back to Germany to give their kids a better environment. So do children in Taiwan grow up in an unfriendly environment? Is that maybe the reason for the super low birth rate in Taiwan?

When I see how Taiwanese deal with kids, I do not have such a negative impression. Although I doubt the sense of responsibility of Taiwanese, I have to say that Taiwanese are very child-friendly. I think calling them „little friends“ (note: 小朋友 a synonym for kids up to age 12 or so) reflects a society in which children are welcome. We do not call children like this in Germany… and in contrast to Germany I also think that the very most Taiwanese can tolerate the noise and behavior of children.

From that side Taiwan seems to be a good place for children. However, we should distinguish between two separate things. What I mentioned above are „soft facts“ in my opinion. A feeling given from the society to each and everyone. On the other hand there are „hard facts“, the important things in life, in regard to children namely money, education and environment.

If you want to raise children, it will cost money. That is simply the way it is. In Taiwan, however, the situation of child benefits is rather poor. We once got an amount of 10,000 NT, that was all. In Germany, one will get about 7,500 NT per child per month until the child graduated. I have heard that people in Taipei could get child benefits, but Taipei is not whole of Taiwan or in other words, are kids in Taipei simply more worth than other kids in Taiwan?

I know that the situation might change quite soon due to the extremely low birth rate, however, whether child benefits or parents money, Taiwan probably will never (never wants?) to reach the same level than Germany.

Talking about eduction: I already posted my opinion about the Taiwanese education system here. As far as I am concerned, I totally cannot imagine letting my daughter go to a Taiwanese school, studying the whole day, exposing her to the pressure of the Taiwanese education system and even paying money for that kind of system!! I think education might be a reason to go back to Germany. The German education system by far is not the best in the world either, but children in Germany can still enjoy their childhood next to learning.

Another important „hard fact“ is the environment. Be honest, would you dare to push a stroller from the door of your house? Would you dare to push that stroller to the next playground? Do you feel safe with a small kid on Taiwanese streets? Of course…people without sense of responsibility do not have to worry about those things, but I will never be able to stop complaining about Taiwan’s traffic.

Reading the above problems I have to say that children (and parents) in Taiwan really have a hard life. Taiwan’s society loves them, but the government seems to nearly punish them. The government seems not being able making kids‘ life easier. I myself decided to look at the above points year for year from now on and to consider whether I can still accept those deficits or not. I hope that Taiwan will find a way to solve these problems quite soon, but I am rather afraid that Taiwan might need many more years to even understand them.

Religion in Taiwan

I think the religious culture is one of the most fascinating aspects of Taiwan. I remember when I first came to Taiwan, not even an hour after I landed, I already stood in amazement in front of a temple. For Westerners, temples are the epitome of Asian culture and when I was back in Germany, I still remember how everyone looked at my photos of the temples and said, „Wow, they are really beautiful!“.

Temples in Taiwan are the religious centers of the faithful and the place of the saints. I still cannot exactly assign what belongs to Buddhism, Daoism traditional folk beliefs, etc., because everything is present in Taiwan. Moreover, it seems that there is also a mix of different faiths in many places, so that each temple has its special characteristics. I think temples are a lot better than churches in Germany. In churches in Germany, I always have a very „cold“ feeling, likely because it is really quite cold there all the time 🙂 Since my childhood, I also remember the church to be a very, very quiet place at all times except the singing of songs and the service, otherwise it is always as quiet as the cicadas in the winter, what strikes me as somehow less inviting.

On the other hand, I think that temples in Taiwan are much more inviting. The ornaments and decorations look much better in comparison to a church, the activities of the people are much livelier and the atmosphere is much more relaxed. I have long wondered why I have such a completely different picture of Taiwan’s temples compared to Germany’s churches and I think I now understand the reason to some extent: In Taiwan, religion is still a thing of everyday life. Of course, most Taiwanese also don’t go to the temple every day to pray, but faith, especially the traditional folk belief is found everywhere. For me, traditional folk beliefs include ancestor veneration, worshipping of gods, numerology, Traditional Chinese Medicine, talismans etc. and even food itself sometimes has to do with traditional folk beliefs (e.g. Tangyuan, Zongzi, Mooncake).

And then there is the „superstition“ about spirits. I personally do not believe in the existence of ghosts, but in Taiwan, I have learned to respect the beliefs of other people. When I came to Taiwan, I always laughed about the kind of „superstition“ of many Taiwanese such as not to go swimming during the ghost month. But with time, and a slowly adjusting understanding of Taiwan’s mentality, I then realized that I absolutely do not have the right to make fun about the faith of others, because I neither can prove the existence nor prove the non-existence of ghosts. Meanwhile, at Ghost Festival, I also go to pray with my colleagues in the company, because it is simply a common thing in Taiwan. In addition, the traditional popular belief has anyway no small impact on my life, since for example my wedding day was determined by the Chinese lunar calendar, the date of moving as well, and in ghost month, I really don’t go to the beach (… because my wife does not want it, haha) and at the Winter Solstice and the Lantern Festival, even I now want to eat Tangyuan and therefore do my best to preserve tradition;)

For me, religion in Taiwan is in many ways fascinating, interesting, exciting and a bit strange. I do not know if I ever will be able to fully understand the different faiths of the Taiwanese people, but I know that in addition to the belief that I have experienced as a child (Christianity), there are many other faiths in the world. Regarding religion in Taiwan, I am convinced that a mixture of religious faiths presents no danger to the particularities of a culture (which, however, was and still is the cause of many wars), but rather can enrich a culture and broaden people’s views.

Products from Taiwan – quietly on the market

When Taiwanese hear that I’m from Germany, they will probably mention, next to pork knuckle and beer, brand names like BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Siemens etc. When I think of brand names in Taiwan, for example Acer and Asus, I think that they don’t have quite the same glamour than German brand names, but particularly in the electronics industry, Taiwan produces absolutely world-class products.

When I was young (yeah, now I’m kinda old…), I was very interested in all kinds of electronic products. That time, the market for computers and computer accessories just began to grow, and computers got gradually cheaper and appeared on the consumer market. When you looked on the motherboard inside a computer, you could very often read the label Made in Taiwan. Up to now, many people still don’t know that a great number of motherboard components is actually produced from Taiwanese companies. When I started to work as a translator in Taiwan, I already knew some Taiwanese manufacturers of electronic devices, but I didn’t imagine that there are actually so many of them.

Looking at names, I thought that many products were made from American companies. For example, until recently I thought that Realtek (sound cards and network cards) and Mustek (scanner) are American brands, but like so many other manufacturers of computer accessories, both companies are actually based in Taiwan.

Besides computer hardware, there are also brand names in the software segment. Everyone who ever watched a DVD on the computer probably knows products from Cyberlink, e.g. Power DVD, or those who care about Internet security probably know products of Trend Micro (although it’s officially a Japanese company, it was actually founded by Taiwanese), e.g. PC-cillin. Furthermore, there is a large number of small hardware and software manufacturers. I suppose that each office building in Taiwan houses at least of them.

Thinking about Taiwanese brand names outside the electronics industry, I just can think of Giant. However, I originally also thought that it is an American company, since how should one know from the name „Giant“ that a company from Taiwan stays behind it? I think when it’s about brand awareness, Taiwanese companies have a real marketing problem. Why there are so many world-class products, but no equivalent brand awareness?

One reason might be that the history of German companies known in Taiwan is much longer compared to the Taiwanese companies, thus they simply had more time to take root on the market. Additionally, „Germany“ probably triggers another reaction in Taiwanese ears as „Taiwan“ does in the ears of Germans, so it supposedly has also something to do with a country’s general reputation. And currently, many Germans are not quite happy with Taiwanese companies. I don’t know if Taiwanese can still remember that BenQ bought the mobile phone subsidiary from Siemens in 2005, but about one year later stopped any financial support due to high losses which lead to the bankruptcy of the German division of the company named BenQ Mobile Germany and the loss of many jobs. Subsequently, BenQ has a very bad image in Germany and from the marketing point of view, it’s just a disaster.

To conclude, I’d like to mention something quite interesting: I somehow found out that I recently take high value on (electronic) products from Taiwan. At the moment I own a TV from Chimei, two computer screens from Chimei, a PC from Gigabyte, a PC from MSI, a notebook from Acer, a smartphone from HTC and the most precious, a Taiwanese wife 😉

Pinyin and Pinyin is not the same

I studied Chinese at the Fu Jen University (輔仁大學) located in Hsinchuang (新莊). Prior to this, when I had been in Germany and needed to send my application forms to Taiwan, I didn’t have the ability to write the address in Chinese, this I used the English version „Fu Jen University in Hsinchuang“. Later in Chinese classes, I learned that the character „仁“ is transcribed „ren“ in the study book and not „jen“, and I also had to learn that the busses going from Taipei to Hsinchuang actually didn’t go to Hsinchuang or Xinzhuang as learned in class, but rather to Sinjhuang or Shinjuang, since these forms had been used. This chaotic Pinyin writing is very common in Taiwan and partly displays a highly inconsistent situation.

But why do I actually mention this over here? Well, because I’m a foreigner and Latin letters are something I’m used to since I was a small kid. Although I’m able to understand Chinese characters by now, when I have to choose between Chinese characters and Latin letters, I rather prefer the latter. However, in Taiwan, Latin letters not necessarily lead to a better understanding for foreigners. Some Taiwanese might probably think that foreigners coming to Taiwan shall adapt to the local way of life and culture, but if that’s the case, I don’t understand why the Pinyin writing is used at so many places. Furthermore, I also studied Zhuyin Fuhao (Bopomofo) at Chinese classes, but I can’t it find anywhere on the streets of Taiwan.

Why is this thing so complicated in Taiwan? Of course I know that political reasons play a role, but different from the question whether to use traditional or simplified characters, using Pinyin does not deal with some kind of cultural heritage. I can totally understand that people in Taiwan don’t want to use a writing system that was developed on the mainland, but not being able to decide for an alternative way of writing is also a wasted effort. The People’s Republic of China introduced Hanyu Pinyin in 1957 and basically didn’t change much since then. Besides Zhuyin Fuhao (Bopomofo), Taiwan used the Wade-Giles System (e.g. Hsinchuang), which was developed in England in the 19th century. From 1986 on, MPS II (e.g. Shinjuang) was used. From 2000 on, Tongyong Pinyin (e.g. Sinjhuang), and from 2009 on Hanyu Pinyin (e.g. Xinzhuang) leading to the fact that „新莊“ and „ㄒㄧㄣㄓㄨㄤ“ and „Hsinchuang“ and „Shinjuang“ and „Sinjhuang“ and „Xinzhuang“ all describe the same name. Wow, applause please!

The strange things is: „Practical Audio-Visual Chinese“ is the standard book for foreigners learning Chinese in Taiwan (I don’t know any foreigner who didn’t use this book for studying Chinese), however, this book uses traditional characters, Bopomofo, English and Hanyu Pinyin as Romanization system. But when I started to learn Chinese in 2004, no one used Hanyu Pinyin in Taiwan. Furthermore, many people in Taiwan are not able to write place names in Latin letters according the sound, since they learned Bopomofo at school. I think this kind of situation doesn’t meet Taiwan in the era of globalization and somehow makes me wonder whether I should laugh or cry about it.

Learning Pinyin is not that difficult. When I saw Bopomofo for the first time, I also thought that it will be very difficult to learn, however, I could write it without any problems after five days, just like small kids in Taiwan 😉 A standardized way of writing Pinyin is no sign of an upcoming unification with the mainland, but the expression of understanding the needs of foreigners in Taiwan as well as the intention to communicate with other countries.

Further info: Romanization of Chinese in the Republic of China & Pinyin Comparison Chart

Is Taipei a global city?

Taipei is the home of one of the tallest skyscrapers in the world as well as the host of one of the most important computer exhibitions. And it seems that the number of foreigners on Taipei’s streets is increasing. Taipei somehow makes the impression of being a global city, but do you really think that Taipei could compete with cities like New York, London, Hong Kong, Beijing, etc?

When I read about all the special things Taipei has to offer I feel like „Wow, what a cool city!“. However, every day when I drive to Taipei for work, I somehow don’t have this kind of feeling. Probably because I’m not a tourist and most of the things I do in Taipei are just common things. Furthermore, when I had been in Taiwan 8 years ago, I also have been in Taipei just for one day, but when I had been in Paris and Hong Kong, I would have considered staying just for one day as way too short. The simple reason is that these cities are much bigger than Taipei.

So actually, what are the special features of a global city? Scientifically speaking, a global city has a large political, economic and cultural significance. From the political view, the world’s leading cities are Washington D.C., London, Paris, Moscow and Beijing….thus definitely not Taipei. From the economic view, Taipei indeed has certain significance, not necessarily on a global scale, but definitely for Asia. And then the cultural aspect….well, I guess I have to be careful how to write this….but what I mean is the cultural significance of a global city and who really thinks that Taipei has a similar significance than Rome, Madrid, Paris, London or New York?

Another viewpoint is the presence of world-famous sightseeing spots. Well let’s see and compare: In New York we have the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building, in Paris we have the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe, in London we have the Buckingham Palace and the Tower Bridge, in Beijing we have the Forbidden City, and in Taipei we have….what do want to pick? Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall, Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall, Longshan Temple, National Palace Museum or rather Taipei 101? I suppose that Taipei’s city government would definitely choose Taipei 101, since many leaflets about Taipei write: Taipei 101 is the landmark of Taipei. Quite true, Taipei 101 put Taipei on the map, but when I look at Taipei 101 now, several thoughts cross my mind: On one hand I think that it’s an architectural and technical masterpiece and on the other hand I think that Taipei 101 totally doesn’t suit Taipei. When looking at Taipei 101 from far distance, one can see Taipei 101 and nothing else, like the last man standing. However, I think I really shouldn’t describe the skyline of New York, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing, shouldn’t I?

There’s also another feeling on the streets of Taipei compared to other cities. When I had been in Paris, Berlin, Hong Kong and Miami, I always felt like a very cool dude, haha!!! But not in Taipei, very probably since I already live here for more than six years and don’t share the impressions of tourists since a long time anymore. And talking of tourists, they are also significantly less in Taipei compared to Hong Kong, Paris, London and New York, thus no feeling of a global city either.

Well, I hope that Mr. Hao Long-Bin (the current mayor of Taipei) won’t complain about me, but my conclusion is: Taipei is not a global city. Taipei is an Asian metropolis and definitely the political and economic center of Taiwan. Furthermore I think that Taipei is just right, not too big and not too small, a good mixture of traditional and modern aspects. If you have the chance to travel to Taipei, it will be totally worth it. If you could chose among New York, London, Paris, Beijing and Taipei, well then probably not.

Do Taiwanese people lack a sense of responsibility?

My mom once taught me „Red light means don’t cross the street!“ Well, either Taiwanese moms forgot to teach this to their kids or the kids forgot it after they became adults. However, crossing the street without looking is not the only thing I can notice, and together with other things I really wonder whether Taiwanese people maybe lack of a sense of responsibility.

First of all I should make clear that most of the situations I noticed take place in Taipei; so when I write about „Taiwanese“ in this article, I will probably just refer to „Taipei people“, since I really really hope that not every Taiwanese is acting like this. I just mentioned people who cross the street under red light. Some readers might now think that my opinion is rather ridiculous or that I am just a grumbler, but it’s not like that! If I’m in a hurry I also don’t care much about red lights, but what I see each day is not the same. Minquan Road in Taipei has a lot of side streets with big and small intersections and especially at small intersections, many people totally don’t care about red lights. I think it’s okay when there are absolutely no cars on the street, however, pedestrians sometimes force car drivers to brake because they walk across the street and that’s not okay. I usually complain about car drivers who don’t mind red lights, so I also have to complain about pedestrians who don’t mind red lights, quite fair isn’t it? The bottom line is, crossing the street without minding red lights can lead to dangerous situations….why the heck for saving 30 seconds of time bring others into trouble? Is one’s own security really such worthless?

I think….if adults put themselves in dangerous situations, it’s their thing, but I would like to give another example for irresponsible behavior: Many foreigners like to take pictures like these. The first time I saw a whole family riding on a scooter I also thought it’s pretty funny, however afterwards I think: Do these parents totally don’t care about their kids‘ safety??? Some friends told me that compared to cars, scooters are a better choice for people in Taiwan, because they are cheaper, more flexible, they are no parking problems and so on. That’s quite true, for adults it’s quite true, for school kids I’m already not that sure, and for babies it’s totally not okay!! However, each and every week, I see some mothers holding their small babies in their arms while driving with dad on a scooter and each time I see something like this I think: They must be totally nuts! I’m sorry, but I don’t have any understanding for people like this. I really pity kids with parents like that. I really hope, those parents will be punished and get shown pictures of small kids after a traffic accident….I don’t care much about adults who have no sense of responsibility, but parents who don’t have any sense of responsibility for their children are just criminal.

Compared to the last thing, the following is less severe, but I think still quite strange: Every evening on the streets of Taipei, I see at least one car driving completely without lights turned on. Why is that? I don’t believe that drivers simply forget to turn on the lights, since not turning on the light at the evening also means not being able to see the speedo, actually that’s quite obvious. I could understand when I would see this like once in a month, but every day? What’s the reason for this? Are such drivers just too stupid or incompetent?

I don’t know, but looking at these three examples I’m really worried about the security of Taiwanese people on the streets. Lack of a sense of responsibility paired with imbecility very probably leads to disaster. I think guardian angels in Taiwan must be pretty busy, however, I would personally not entirely rely on their protection. And you?

Can I also experience the wonderful soccer madness in Taiwan?

One month ago, the Soccer World Cup in South Africa came to an end. I saw almost every match in Germany since I visited my family in Germany during the past month. In Taiwan, I already saw some soccer matches before and now I am wondering whether people in Taiwan could also comprehend this sweet feeling of soccer madness.

I totally regret that I didn’t fly to Germany in 2006 to watch the Soccer World Cup in my own country. I didn’t expect that soccer would have that much of influence. Germans of course already liked soccer a lot before, but the World Cup 2006 really went beyond everyone’s expectations. Prior to this, there haven’t been things like public live broadcasts or fans who totally support the German team with their outfit or national flags that are tagged on cars etc. Thus, my feeling of watching the World Cup in Germany this year was quite different compared to before. (If you want to watch pictures, please click here)

But what about the Germans who live in Taiwan? I was very happy to find out that the Taiwanese television, unlike the Euro Cup 2008, broadcasted all matches again. Furthermore, everyone could go to pubs, restaurants or similar places to watch the matches together with fellow countrymen and people from Taiwan. However, this cannot replace the atmosphere one can feel in Germany. We Germans of course are very glad that many Taiwanese support the German team, but one’s own feeling towards the national team is still a little bit different.

What I mean is that we Germans do not support the German team because some players or the coach is really handsome, but because we are simply Germans and our support for the German team is somehow determined. Speaking of the German Soccer Team, we Germans frequently use „we“, especially when „we“ (the German team) won a match. 😉

In my opinion, this kind of „national feeling“ shows the overwhelming influence of soccer. Can you also feel it Taiwan? I think yes, however, not quite comparable with Germany. In Taiwan, when I go to a pub to watch soccer, I somehow have the feeling of an „international community“. In this way, I surely still support the German team, but I would hardly scream my head off while doing so. Additionally I have to say that I probably won’t see any Taiwanese who dance and sing totally „high“ (I am using this „high“ right now because many of my Taiwanese friends who live in Germany used this word to describe us Germans, haha) and have a car parade after a victory.

When it’s about soccer I have a dream. I dream that the soccer team of Taiwan one day could participate in the World Cup so that people in Taiwan would be more interested in it. If one day in Taiwan, I could go to a public live broadcast like in Germany, then Taiwan would be quite the acme of perfection in my eyes.