They are everywhere. All along the roads, inside and outside shops, along apartment buildings, rec centres and parks. More numerous than Chuck Norris memes, cameras dominate the urban as well as parts of the rural landscape in Taiwan. You just can’t escape them. Big Brother is always watching. And as if that isn’t enough, the Taiwanese public are super cellphone cam jockeys – like a navy seal wielding a Colt M4A1 carbine to neutralize a target, the average Taiwanese can whip out an HTC One, iphone 5 or Samsung Galaxy and film you from any angle, anytime, anywhere.
Although I’m now totally used to it, there was a time when I was paranoid about the fact that I was being constantly watched. What if I unconsciously picked my nose while waiting for the train?? Or picked out a wedgie on a hot Taiwan summer day??
And then there have been the times when I’ve been drenched in the nectar of the gods, stumbling home from whatever watering-hole I spent the evening at – exchanging made up stories of bravado with other equally soaked individuals. Oh embarassment!! I shudder to think how stupid I must have looked to the electronic eye while trying to weave a crooked path to my bed.
Enough to say, you are constantly on camera in Taiwan.
When I first realized how many cameras there were, I was immediately uncomfortable. Not that I was planning the heist of the century or any sort of illegal activity, but just knowing that all my movements are recorded took some getting used to. No-one watched me like this back home. I wonder if this is something that all westerners go through when they get here. We are used to having privacy, so I’d imagine a fair chunk (once they became aware of it) MUST be uncomfortable in the beginning.
Not that this is a terrible thing. I’d imagine being aware that you are always watched will instill a sense of public order and safety – I mean, there will definitely be a record if you did something wrong. This is most definitely a factor contributing to keeping the crime rate down. But that being said, what about the insanity that occurs everyday on Taiwanese roads? Obviously, the law isn’t too tight on traffic violations because people don’t seem to care that they are caught on camera driving like Evel Knievel.
Over the months, my unease eased off and I got used to it. Nowadays, I don’t even think about it anymore – sometimes even forget about the cameras. Then, invariably, a news story erupts of someone getting caught doing something stupid on camera, and I remember that it’s not only Big Brother, but also Normal Everyday Wang that’s watching me.
The online life in Taiwan is HUGE and in terms of gossip, Taiwan’s online community is worse (or better – depending on your view) at spreading the latest buzz than rumour-mongering high school girls. Cell phone cowboys and cowgirls are constantly on the watchout for anything they can upload to their blogs or FB pages that may be sensationalistic. Most of this is in Mandarin, so the majority of foreigners here aren’t aware of it. There are a few foreign bloggers here that can speak the language and are hooked into the Mandarin blogging scene, so they translate it for the rest of us illiterates – and man, is it rife!
Put all of this together, and it’s pretty evident that if you do something stupid in Taiwan, chances are, someone is going to see it. And even if you don’t, you may feel uncomfortable with knowing that your pretty foreign face is constantly on camera. Just something to be aware of if you are new to Taiwan, or planning to come here soon – keep your nose clean – and not by picking it!