Because of American Councils Tradition and Modernity program at NCCU, I was given the tremendous opportunity to visit Taiwan for the first time. I tried my best to familiarize myself with my host country before arrival; for example, I practiced how to write and read traditional Chinese characters before coming here. Yet, some aspects of Taiwanese society were still a little bit of a surprise to me. In this blog, I would like to recount some of the interesting and/or surprising things I’ve observed while living in Taiwan so far.
One thing that surprised me the first couple of days here was how much Taiwanese people love their national flag. You can see the national flag on the public bus windows, in the lobby of the dorm building, lining the streets and walkways of the NCCU campus, etc.… In a way, it is not all that different from the United States. I know that the US is considered strange by other countries for the amount of flags we have hanging around. It is interesting to visit another country that expresses its national pride in a very similar way to the US. Speaking of similarities to the US, I noticed there are a lot of American restaurants around Taipei. I am not just talking about international fast food chains like McDonalds or KFC, but also local Taiwanese restaurants that specialize in American foods like burgers and fried chicken. Originally I was not expecting there to be many dining options outside of the different Chinese and Taiwanese styles of cuisine, but I have been pleasantly surprised by how international the options have been thus far. I can go out to eat Japanese, Korean, Malaysian, Vietnamese, Italian and even French bakery goods around campus. I have not given the “American” restaurants a try just yet, but I plan on trying them soon to judge their authenticity; I’m still skeptical, but perhaps they will be able to earn my American stamp of approval.
One last thing that surprised me during the first week of my visit here in Taiwan was how much religion is incorporated into people’s lives. I have noticed quite a few protestant churches around the city, although I learned in one of my classes that Christians make up a small minority here. I knew that Taiwan had famous temples before arriving. So far I have visited some big temples in Taipei like 龍山寺 (Longshan), 保安宮 (Bao’An) and The Confucian temple in 大龍峒 (Dalongdong). What I didn’t know is that there are a bunch of smaller shrines and temples scattered across the city that people commonly pray to for specific help/advice. For example, my class went on a cultural excursion to visit a small temple for a Taiwanese deity called the 月老 (Moon Elder). He is a rough cultural equivalent to what Cupid is in Western culture. My Taiwanese professor told us single college age girls will go together in groups to this temple to pray to the Moon Elder to help them find a suitable partner. For some reason I assumed Taiwan, especially Taipei, was going to be more secular than it actually is. I had this idea of Taipei being this big international city in my head at first, but I have been pleasantly surprised by how humble and devoted Taiwanese people are to their traditions and beliefs.
By: Matthew Jones
Program: Tradition and Modernity in Taiwan
Term: Summer 2018