Welcome back. I am slowly regaining my writing mojo. Over the last few weeks, I have had absolutely no compulsion to write — especially not about the delights of Taiwan. The reason? I was having a prolonged and unusual episode of ‘I hate Taiwan-itis’.
How could a self-described Taiwanxifu go through a period of disliking Taiwan? Well, it all started two weeks ago when my workplace received a sharply worded gongwen from a Taiwanese government department that will remain unnamed. (A gongwen, by the way, is an official government communication.) The effect of the gongwen, while not apologising, was to advise that the said ministry had made a mistake and now required Mr Taiwanxifu to hand back his identification cards within three working days. This has practical implications for his functional ability to remain in Taiwan under current arrangements. The matter is still ongoing while we seek further clarification. It has been causing us considerable distress, especially because it feels, well, discriminatory.
I have heard, anecdotally, through other Taiwanxifu and expatriates about problems with governmental xenophobia towards foreigners. While most is designed to prevent a deluge of mainland immigrants, the measures can be at times overly restrictive and at odds with the friendly and welcoming attitude towards most (Western) foreigners by most Taiwanese. My friends include several long-term residents who have married Taiwanese and have children here; yet they must still carry ‘Alien’ Residence Certificates, cannot establish a business in their own name (or even get a loan or so much as a credit card), and must report at regular intervals to the police station. And treatment of foreign workers from Southeast Asia is even more restrictive: our lovely Filipino nanny, who has worked in Taiwan legally for a decade, still goes through administrative hurdles to get her working permit renewed each year. Some expats have even claimed of downright discrimination: until I received the gongwen two weeks ago I had thought such things were rare and perhaps even self-deserving.
What has, somewhat strangely, saved me from a downwards ‘everything in Taiwan is bad’ trend has been television. In particular, a Taiwanese soap opera with the poorly chosen English title of ‘Inborn Pair’ (in Chinese it is called 真愛找麻煩 — love looking for trouble). Usually I try to avoid television, but while recovering from a cold I decided to indulge in some mindless TV … now I am hooked. While our own bureaucratic saga has played out, I have become absorbed in the details of the romantic destiny linking the two main characters — entering into a fake marriage to please Grandma (nai nai), who organised a betrothal between the two before birth, the two lead characters have an affinity that only gets closer with time (aided by a shared bedroom) despite their reticence to acknowledge the growing mutual attraction.
Shot in Taipei, especially in the Xinyi commercial district where I live and work, and in the Leofoo Safari park and Resort in Hsinchu, I have found myself irresistably drawn to the shots of familiar landscape. “Look, there’s Taipei 101,” I find myself thinking, “and the restaurant where Ke Weixiang took Song Yijie to when he was clumsily and unconvincingly trying to woo her.” (If you are curious, I have worked out it is most likely DN Innovacion.) “And this must be the spot where he waited for three hours in the rain for her to finish work.” Oh, and I have talked Mr Taiwanxifu’s cousin into organising a family trip to the Leofoo Safari Park — she is also a huge fan of the series, no doubt because the lead actor (Chris Wang) is undeniably cute.
But what also fascinates me about this particular soap is the stereotypical — but often true — depiction of family life in Taiwan. There is the bossy grandmother, who dictates what the family should do. The fault-finding mother-in-law, always hinting that Yijie should be better in other respects and comparing her to others. And Dad, who should act as head of the family but seems instead beholden to the women in his life.
I also love how the male lead character, Ke Weixiang, has such a strong respect for family and tradition. He tries so hard to do the right thing according to what family and society expect of him, with an at times naive sincerity and oblivion to his own feelings. He has a sweet sense of needing to protect those close to him, including his married-to-please-grandma-rather-than-love wife, Song Yijie (played by Annie Chen), and also ‘old friend’ and determined love interest Luo Yun. While not so good at expressing his inner thoughts, he choses instead to demonstrate his regard with actions. (Rather like Mr Taiwanxifu, who does thoughtful and caring things but rarely verbalises feelings.) And all of this is played out while living with the in-laws, who watch and analyse every move between the couple.
Thanks to this Taiwanese soap, I am falling in love with Taiwan and life in Taiwan all over again. My life may have its ups and downs, but I can now pretend as if it is just another tension-raising moment in the current episode of the ongoing saga. Sometimes I even find myself humming the theme song … my life as a soap opera.