The Life of a Foreigner in Taiwan: An Introduction
Ah, the life of a ‘waiguoren’ (meaning foreigner) in Taiwan! We get stared at by children and adults alike, especially in the smaller, more remote areas of the island. We get talked about on buses and subways by people who are unaware of the fact that some of us actually understand every word they say. We get greeted with a wave of ‘Hello, hello, hello’ everywhere we go. We get approach by people all the time who want to communicate with us and practice their English. And we constantly get offered teaching jobs left, right, and center.
With that being said, the people here are very friendly and will go out of their way to help foreigners without any expectations in return. They will take the time to explain aspects of their life, culture, and traditions. They will show you how to do something through the use hand gestures and body language. They are always willing to offer a smile and tell you your Chinese is great, even though you used the wrong tone and said something completely different to what you were trying to communicate.
The life of a foreigner in Taiwan can be very exciting and a little frustrating at times. However, I have learned to embrace the fact that I stand out like a sore thumb.
Does it Happen in Western Countries?
The answer would be ‘Yes.’ And I was absolutely thrilled when my husband experienced the same in Canada!! Here is one example.
The Tables Are Turned: Standing Out in Canada
During our last visit to Canada, my husband and I decided to take advantage of the beautiful weather and travel to a scenic area known for its challenging hikes and breathtaking views. We had an action-packed week planned: a kayaking trip, a strenuous full-day hike, a scenic drive to enjoy the spectacular views of the mountains, lakes, and other natural attractions of the area, as well as a boat tour to view the fjords.
During our first day, we opted to check out a local souvenir shop selling a wide arrange of local crafts and mementos. My husband, who is Taiwanese, and I walked into the tiny establishment and were greeted by two young people, who were clearly students in their late teens. They proved to be a great source of information as they grew up in the area and could practically answer all of our questions without much thought or hesitation.
However, the two clerks were mainly interested in my husband’s story, which was not surprising, as the area doesn’t get a high volume of Asian tourists.
We chatted for a while and were off.
However, in the days that followed, my husband voiced numerous times how he regretted not buying a certain item, a product which he regarded as the perfect souvenir to remember this leg of the journey. He mentioned it so often that we found ourselves making our way back to the store to purchase it.
I walked in first and was greeted with a hello and a smile. A few moments later, my husband entered and received ‘Oh, you are back!! How was your hike? Did you get to go kayaking?’ and on and on!! You could tell from the excitement in their voice, they were happy to see him again!
And with a smile, I looked at my husband and said ‘Now you know how I feel in Taiwan.’ The two teenagers immediately began to apologize and I reassured them that no apology was needed. I told them that I was relieved to blend in, to be unnoticed, and I was happy that my husband was receiving all of the attention.
My husband finally knew how I felt in Taiwan: to be recognized, to stand out, and to be noticed.
When we left the store with his precious souvenir, I told him ‘Welcome to the life of a waiguoren ‘. He had now claimed ‘celebrity status’ in Canada.
And I must admit, I was delighted that the tables were reversed, even though it was just for a little while!!