One thing that continues to surprise/bug me about Taiwan is the fact that Taiwanese people are constantly late for everything. Ok, I know this is an island, and one should expect island time on islands, but when I think of island time, I usually think of the Caribbean – more like vacation destination islands. Places where life is intentionally slowed down and siesta is a fact of life. Places where arriving an hour and a half late for dinner is expected. Places where I can sip a pink drink with an umbrella and appreciate the bikini clad eye candy walking around. Places where people intentionally go to be lazy.
Most Asians I’ve met back home are on the ball (time wise) and rarely late for anything, so I thought this would be the norm here as well. Turns out, not so much. Besides personal meetings where people are constantly late, I’ve heard of frequent lateness with business people as well. My gf is a sales rep. for a tech company, and she routinely has to wait for people to show up to meetings (buyers and suppliers). I myself have had to wait 30 mins for a realtor to arrive and show me an apartment.
There seems to be a very relaxed attitude toward time here that I did not expect AT ALL. It’s even crept into the language. A very common phrase here is “等一下” (děng yīxià) – wait a moment. It’s repeated with common regularity, and no one bats an eyelash…people will contentedly mill about waiting for the wait to be over.
If one asks how long the wait will be, the answer is invariably “Later”. In this context, later can mean 5 mins or 2 hrs. I never have any idea. But this too, seems to sit very well with the locals.
Ok – I can be a time nazi sometimes, so unless I’m in the right mindset, I like to time things so that I don’t have to wait – but when no-one else is doing that, it’s pointless to keep it up. It’s probably one of the harder things I’ve had to get used to over here – let time go and have things happen whenever they will.
Keep in mind, this is a perspective from the small town I live in – I’m sure the cities are all hustle, bustle and time-is-money. But outside, it seems life slows right down.
So, inevitably, I started wondering why? Why, in this country where people work themselves to death, are serious about everything, have conservative and old fashioned views on life – why are they so lax about time? It’s definitely NOT the “relaxed” nature of the Taiwanese because most of the ones I know aren’t really relaxed. Work and Duty are worshipped as the twin gods of success, so I can’t really see a Taiwanese throwing that all aside, tokin’ off a big fatty and relaxing to reggae beats – there has to be more to it!
I’ve started to think it probably has to do with the simple fact of population density. Because there are so many people in such a tight space, things just naturally take longer. More traffic on the streets, longer lines to buy something, more wait time at the supermarket – things like these will naturally slow everything down. There is a point where efficiency is just overrun by mass numbers, and maybe Taiwan has overshot that point. And growing up with all this, the Taiwanese brain expects it and therefore “等一下” (wait a moment) isn’t such a big deal. From my perspective, your average Taiwanese has more patience because he/she knows that things take longer.
So being late for work, just means one got caught in traffic – not one overslept due to too much rum the night before. Showing up late for dinner means there was a line-up at the ATM – not intentionally waiting till the last minute to finish that last quest in Starcraft. Being delayed for a meeting suggests one had a lot of clients to visit the hours before – not that one spent the last half hour talking to that scantily clad binlang xishi (betelnut girl) around the corner.
After almost 2 years here, I’ve started to be able to relax a bit on the time factor. Nowhere close to zen-like patience yet, but also far away from biting people’s heads off for being half an hour late, so I’ve made progress. Figure give it another 5 years, and maybe I will start to percieve time like a Taiwanese!