This incident occured a while back, but re-surfaced in memory while having a conversation with some of my more advanced students. We were talking about countries they wanted to visit. Most of the students wanted to go to America, England, Canada, Australia etc. – the fascination with everything western is obvious.
When asked where they DON’T want to go, invariably the answer was China. Obviously being Taiwanese, this is a knee jerk reaction – China is the accepted Public Enemy #1. But I wanted them to try and examine their reasons for this and come up with coherent arguments to support their stand. So I asked why?
On a side note, asking “why?” in a Taiwanese classroom sometimes leads to uncomfortable students and blank gazes. They don’t like to question what they are told is true. It is how it is – there is no “why?”.
Anyway, my students, now being used to my frequent “why?” questions furrowed their little brows in thought. One of the brighter ones spouted, “Because they are not polite.”
“Really? What do you mean?”
“They talk strong…never stand to wait…not polite.” she struggled. It was obvious she was pursuing a line of argument, but didn’t know how to express it in English. Wantng to encourage her thinking I said, “Ok, Chinese.”
She fired off a few sentences to the class, and one of the students who was better at English translated, “They don’t wait in line, they talk loudly and never act polite.”
And that’s when I remembered the horde incident. Here’s what happened.
We were at Sun Moon lake in Nantou county. There is a shop there that’s famous for it’s tea eggs (eggs boiled in tea) and we were waiting in line to purchase some. A big tour bus pulled up in the nearby parking lot. I saw my gf glance at the bus and kind of roll her eyes in a vexed sort of way. I looked at the bus, then back at her and raised an eyebrow – what was going on here?
“Chinese tourists”, she said in response to my silent question.
I didn’t know what this was supposed to imply, but before asking her to explain, I glanced back at the bus again and there it was!
Pouring out of the bus and creeping toward the tea egg shop was a forming horde of people. As they stampeded toward our position, the sound got louder and louder. People were yelling at each other and the horde was inexorably gathering speed toward our little line of customers. Then, within an eyeblink, they had washed over us and there was no more semblance of order.
My gf is a typically small Taiwanese person. I had to literally put my arms around her and elbow people around to keep her from being stampeded over. People were waving wads of cash at the exasperated and overwhelmed staff behind the counter and shouting orders. There was no system, just mass chaos hungry for tea eggs.
I’d heard from some friends that lived in China before, that apparently over there, there is no concept of a line. Of course, I could theoretically understand it, but here I was right in the middle of actually experiencing it, and it was crazy. As I elbowed us out of the throng, I noticed that the other people who were in line with us were also standing on the fringes waiting for the commotion to die down.
“See”, she said.
Where there was once an orderly line and efficient service, there was now total disarray. I looked over the (presumably) Taiwanese people standing at the side lines and saw resigned irritation on their faces. It seemed like this behaviour was expected and they’d seen it before.
Completely oblivious to this, the Mongol-like horde continued trying to slake it’s hunger for tea eggs in the most inefficient way possible – by shouting, jostling and waving around money. Finally the commotion died down and they stumbled back to the bus. At this point, the original people who were in line formed up again (in the same order as before), and tranquility returned to the area.
This whole thing was somewhat reminiscent of Black Friday in the US – a day where prices are lowered and people mob department stores looking for deals – total chaos.
Later on, I discovered that this happens frequently when the tour buses carrying Chinese tourists come around. Of course, this isn’t to say that every Chinese tourist is loud-mouthed line jumper, but there have been enough incidents to make the local Taiwanese expect this kind of behaviour.
I’ve heard that mainlanders are very rude, loud and obnoxious from friends and students, but always dismissed it as trash talk from nationalistic Taiwanese, but being there, in the middle of that horde made me think again. I’ve never experienced that sort of chaos – even when taking the MRT in Taipei city. People line up in an orderly fashion and board the train cars. While it may be crowded and you have to squeeze, no one is elbowing each other to get out of the way.
Just another example of how the Taiwanese strive to differ themselves from their cousins to the north. Seems like it’s not all just nationalistic pride. I certainly didn’t enjoy the experience and am glad that Taiwanese don’t act that way.