Besides earnings, one of the reasons I chose to come to Taiwan over other destinations in Asia is because it’s an island, which means beaches. And I’m a beach junkie. I love sand, sun and water – put them together in one geographical location, and I’m in heaven. Along with beaches goes the beach lifestyle – relaxed, friendly dudes playing beach volleyball, hot babes walking around in bikinis, lots of people enjoying the sand and surf, everyone swimming – you know – island life. At least that’s what I thought it would be.
Not so much in Taiwan.
Living here, by gorgeous oceanside, you’d think everyone would take advantage of it, but most Taiwanese I know can’t swim. Apparently being surrounded by water doesn’t make ocean swimming second nature – who knew?? A lot of the locals consider it to be dangerous and don’t like going to the beach. If they do, you can be sure as hell they won’t step into the water beyond a little ankle wetting.
Eyes spinning in disbelief!
While westerners shell out truckloads of cash to fly to beaches every year, Taiwanese shun this paradise that’s on their doorstep. Back home, waterfront property is premium but here no one wants to built a house near a beach. Sometimes on a nice summer day, you will see people on the beach, but considering the populatuion density of the island, this is a miniscule percentage. And to top it off, a lot of them will be foreigners. Ahhhh people of Taiwan – why?
I have been trying to figure out the answer and have come up with a few possible reasons:
- Asia has been rocked with nautical disasters quite frequently (tsunamis and whatnot), so maybe a morbid fear of water has developed in their collective consciousness. I’ve never had to contend with this , so I’m blissfully free of fear (and sometimes a healthy respect) for the wild oceans.
- Dirt. Taiwanese are fastidious about their personal hygiene, so maybe the ocean may be seen as dirty and polluted. Immersing oneself in that water would obviously be undesireable.
- Taiwanese are generally less adventurous than westerners, so diving headlong into something as vast and unkown as the ocean may not be seen as exciting – perhaps more as stupid and unfathomable.
- Local beliefs and religion – I’m not positive about this, but I’ve heard stories about ghosts and spirits dwelling in the water, and pissing them off would be a bad thing – hopefully only if your Taiwanese, not a foreigner – we barbarians don’t know better!
- Time. Taiwanese are incredibly hard working, and maybe just don’t have time to spend on what they percieve as frivolous activity. After working a 12 hour day, I’m thinking they might just want to spend time at home instead of jumping on a surfboard. Plus I get the impression that some Taiwanese men (older ones especially) consider anything fun to be useless. Why waste your time enjoying life when you could be working hard to build up your wealth and reputation?
- Familiarity. If you have something, you tend to use it less. I remember wanting a nintendo more than anything in the world. Once I got it, I played for a few weeks, then lost interest in the thing. Maybe the Taiwanese figure they will learn swimming tomorrow…the ocean isn’t going anywhere.
Of course, this isn’t true for ALL Taiwanese. There are those who adore the beach and the hardcore watersports types. These people realize what they have, and are at the beach almost every chance they get. I’ve been lucky to meet a few through surfing, and they too are amazed by their brothers’ and sisters’ reluctance to embrace the water. These types are a small minority, but they are vocal about their passion, and try to promote water and beach culture at every chance they get.
While Taiwanese avoid beaches, they do frequent swimming pools. I guess it’s a much more secure and controlled environment, so it assuages the fears in the Taiwanese mind. I don’t really like going to the pools here because men HAVE to wear tight, junk suffocating swimming trunks and a swimming cap. It’s definitely hygienic, but totally uncomfortable.
So Taiwan’s beaches remain a happy playground for foreigners and a few brave locals. Just another big difference between the western and eastern mind. If this mentality continues – which it probably will, Taiwanese culture is not HUGE on drastic change – then hopefully there is a nice, very affordable beach front house in my future!