Yet More Random Cultural Observations

1) There is a huge obsession with cutesy cartoon characters here.  The most famous one that we know of in the West is, of course, Hello Kitty.  But there are more.  Hundreds more.  Thousands more.  There are cutesy cats, dogs, hamsters, pigs, pandas, you name it, it's been done.  Some of them aren't even identifiable as any particular species.  But they all have the same basic shape.  Big, disproportionately round head, rounded body, big eyes, small or non-existent mouth.

7-11s here give away Hello Kitty stuff if you buy more than a certain amount.  A few months ago it was magnets, now it's pins.  They have a whole set, and people here go nuts collecting them all.  It's insane.  Even my Canadian roommate has gotten caught up in the fever.

2) Another obsession here: mingpian, or name cards.  Practically everyone you meet has a name card that they want to give you.  It may not even be a business card, either.  Some people just get cards made with their name, phone number and e-mail.  I have some, too, which I give out.  At first I had them made because I wanted to recruite private students.  Now, I don't want any private students (I have little enough time to study as it is), but it still helps to have them on you, here.  It's just sort of expected.  I got mine double-sided: one side Chinese, one side English.

3) It turns out that some things are universal.  Taiwanese women all think they're fat.  This is amazing to me, because Taiwanese girls are, on the whole, about as pudgy as your average chopstick.  But they will insist to me, with a straight face, that they are really, really fat.  I even had one friend brag to me that she'd lost 5 kilos.  I looked her up and down and told her that she needed to gain them back.  I mean, this girl was so thin that her butt curved IN.

4) Some things do make me angry about Taiwan.  For instance, people who ride scooters without helmets. There is a helmet law here, but it's not universally enforced, it seems.   But, whatever, that's their choice.  What really makes me angry is when I see people driving with their kids, and the kids don't have helmets.  It makes me angrier when the parents in question ARE wearing helmets.  I mean, how are you going to feel when your kid is dead on the pavement after an accident, you're still alive, and all you had to do to save your kid's life was to spend less than US$10 for a helmet?  Sometimes I really despise people.

5) People here have certain set ideas about when to eat sandwiches.  Here, sandwiches are, and always will be, only a breakfast food.  There's no such thing as peanut-butter-and-jelly or ham-and-cheese for lunch here.  (They do have ham-and-cheese here, but only for breakfast.)  I always buy sandwiches from the 7-11 (suprisingly healthful, actually) and eat them at school during my dinner break.  My students will wander by and express their profound amazement that I am eating sandwiches for dinner.  ("Teacher, why sandwiches? Now no breakfast!"  and so on.)

6) In general, there is a great respect for teachers here.  That is eroding as they move on into the "modern age" (i.e. do everything like America does), but it's still pretty strong.  For example, Teacher's Day is celebrated on September 28, which is supposed to be Confucius's birthday (they credit him with inventing their education system).  In a recent oral test I gave one class of students, I asked them: "If you could be anything, what would you want to be?" 90% of them said: "I would be a teacher."  (Now, they may just have been sucking up.  But even so, this is different than America.  When I was in high school, I had the infernal gall to remind a student teacher that "Those who can do, those who can't, teach.")

(Man, I was a little jerk in high school, wasn't I?)


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