Thursday, October 18, 2007

Wasai-- The friendly and outgoing people of Taiwan

In early April I went to the National Palace Museum. The public transport made it fairly easy to find my way there. There were a few troupes of school kids there too, as is the way of these places. They seemed mighty curious about me. However, kids always whisper and giggle (so do plenty of adults) so I ignored them, telling myself I was being paranoid. After all, I was just a tourist, no-one could possibly find me interesting. I never thought that it could work both ways, that the locals would look at me as an attraction.

I was looking at an exhibit, when I heard this loud sound, of about 20 footsteps rushing up behind me. I ignored it. I then felt 20 pairs of eyes watching me. I staunchly ignored it. I couldn't ignore, however the different forms of greeting, all in English. Well, fractured, incomplete English, but still understandable. I turned to find a virtual army of school children, aged somewhere between 10-15, all staring at me.

My tentative reply of hello was met with a cacophony of answers, such as more greetings, “where are you from”, “what is your name”, “you look cool/cute/awesome/handsome/white”, etc. Kids in Australia were never this bold. I was feeling a little overwhelmed at that point, so I beat a hasty retreat, but not before I answered a few questions. “My names Sean”, “I’m Australian”, “Thank you, thank you, you all speak English well”

An hour later they caught up with me again, as I was walking down the long plaza all traditional important Chinese buildings have at their entrance. I was amazed to see that almost all of these 20 children had cameras. I guess kids are getting richer. They insisted that I take some pictures with them. I was beginning to feel like a tourist attraction, but the novelty of being popular, even to a bunch of kids, hadn’t quite worn off. So, we all gathered together, me in the middle of a big bunch of teenagers, while they swapped camera’s and took photos. It was kind of fun, actually. I think it must be a little like what a movie or music star must feel in front of their fans. There’s nothing like a little hero worship to boost the ego.

This wasn’t the only time. There are several moments when I was just walking down the street in Taipei, and I would get hailed down by a complete stranger. No serious reason, they just wanted to practice their English. Sometimes I got lucky, and I could understand them fine. Other times I stood there with a polite, glassy smile on my face, while the other individual endeavored to make themselves understood.

It was definitely different from being just another white person in Australia. One of the aspects of living in a multicultural society I suppose. Australians never get excited about foreigners in our country, no matter what their race, because we see so many. It’s not a novelty to us. And it probably never will be.

Submitted to Wasai Taiwan by: Sean Wise

(Taipei, Taiwan------ Melbourne, Australia)

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