Ups and Downs in Taiwan

In Taiwan people are mortally afraid of the downs. For example, the public health service makes doctor’s visits cheap, enabling people go to see the an ENT specialist every time they catch a cold, which they do.

Here’s a recent conversation:

“I have a cold.” I said.
“Have you seen a doctor?”
“You should go see a doctor.”
“I don’t typically see doctors for colds. They rest a little and are over it in three days to a week.”
“I guess rest will do the trick, but in Taiwan, we like to get well immediately.” He sat upright to suggest vigor. “Here, you should try this. I have a cold, too. I took this this morning, and I feel better already.”  He handed me some herbal medicine.

It seems I have not gotten used to the air and water here, as I have had two colds and a case of food poisoning since arriving in October. In none of the cases did I see a doctor, but made a quick recovery with rest and tea.

It’s not just that people really believe that they will get well faster with a doctor’s visit and some medicine. They are in a veritable rush to get well. “Get well immediately.” is a phrase often bandied about. Another conversation:

“Don’t you want to get well as soon as possible?”
“The infection is still there, the medicine just masks the symptoms.”
“But don’t you want your nose to stop running?”
“The nose is running to flush out the virus. If you mask the symptoms it could take longer to get well.”
A pause. “You have a very interesting way of thinking.”

So it seems to me that people are afraid of the down that a sickness gives, and want to put their bodies on the up, using whatever artificial means available.

There is a definite lack of negative space compared to what I am used to. Often when I am speaking with an a customer about something complex, he leaves no down-time for thought, and no verbal confirmation of “Do you get what I’m saying?” He does not even detect my body language when I am trying to gather my thoughts or when I am trying to say something.
I have to quite literally while he is talking say “Stop. Give me a moment to think about that.”

And then there is that incident that I wrote about here (in chinese), a phenomenon where people are really afraid of apologizing.

I would think this is an isolated incident, but I was speaking about it with a foreign friend of mine who has been in Taiwan for three years. Being a foreigner, people saw him as a neutral party, and he literally had people come into his office crying because someone else at the office was mean to them.

“It’s like their egos are really fragile, and they’re afraid that any little admission of wrong will cause their entire psychological edifice to come crashing down.”

Which brings me to the thought that the admission of downs as well as ups into one’s world requires a bit of fortitude and perspective, without which the downs will appear crippling. It is according to this is a belief that I have tried to cultivate myself: to rest when my body is telling me to rest, give pause to allow someone else to think, apologize when I have done something mean, and shrug when someone has said something that I’d like to ignore. All of these things require a silencing of the ego. I feel like this is something that I learned from Japan, and I feel like I’m bumping up against a society of people that hasn’t had as much practice.

For an example of how ego gets in the way, yesterday I was on the phone with the customer for nearly an hour an a half while he presented 11 slides about a problem and his proposed solution. The trouble was, he was so confident of his proposed solution that he brought it up frequently, and the entire presentation had a spin toward his proposed solution. It was hard sort through what was opinion and what was fact. At one point, I had to say. “Look, I know you feel that that would solve the problem, but I don’t understand what the problem is. Can we please talk about the problem first? Then, we can talk about proposed solutions.” I made my frustration very evident in my voice, and exaggerated the relief in my voice when I finally understood the problem.

Then, what he took 11 pages to explain, I typed up a 1-page email with two graphics that and sent it to our engineers.

I have been struggling with many things here, but I woke from a dream Monday with a thought that has made things slightly better. I noticed when I felt wronged, I often rehearsed what went wrong, and ended by rehearsing several alternate scenarios for putting them in their place and regaining the upper hand. My thought was – what if I rehearsed forgiveness? What if I ran through the entire scenario, and figured out what to say or do to put the other party at ease, build a bridge to lead him across, or simply shrug and send him off?

This sounds like a small change, but it’s been a revelation to me, and I wonder if I can hold it, where it will take me.

But I still yell at the motorcyclists when they pass too close (they speed away without looking at me), and I’ve noticed the motorcyclists and cars pass a little farther away when I am wielding a folded golf umbrella like a baton.

1 thought on “Ups and Downs in Taiwan

  1. Aka

    Hi Jason, I would have same problems as you each first couple days when I came back Taiwan.
    Either culture shocks or food problems…Same as this time after we had a good meal together with my friend,….I had a very terrible food poisoning next day.. I guess our bodies used to have fresh food or cleaner water while we were in JP.
    For the culture shock, I remembered I was talking with one of my good friends from college on train 10 years ago when I came back for visiting a week. I did feel her voice was too loud so I asked her to make her voice a little lower..She told me..come on, here is Taiwan not JP. Please do not pretend you are Japanese and ask us to do something we do not usually do. ”
    I guess the transitional Taiwanese talk and think very straightforward which I found it from my family as well….It is difficult to let them and you better accept their thoughts without telling them what you think or cut off their talking…But I am not telling you to accept the idea that they are doing right. Everyone has their own opinions and here….people have very narrow views to see bigger pies. So it does not make senesce to go further with the topics or try to make them think as you. Anyway, we can hang out more and you will see more different people who have same feelings as you. And see how they solve the problems.
    BTW, people here care about colds a lot because it could be another reason to find you may have a serious sickness. Also from the history, people here scare colds…. They told you to see the doctor but it does not really mean you have to …sometimes, it is like how Japanese told you…The weather is hot…..same…for polite … when they do not know how to care about you and they can not help you better. Also here people like to share their better experience in many things. They are just so kind and want you to be better….Just take it but you have the right to decide to take it later or throw it away 🙂


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