The Taiwan Soap Saga

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.

The main characters Ke Weishan and Song Yijie finally share a passionate albeit 'fake' kiss -- it took 43 episodes to get to this point but was worth the wait

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.


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About taiwanxifu

‘Taiwanxifu’ (pronounced ‘shee foo’) means ‘Taiwan daughter-in-law’ in Chinese and has been my nickname ever since I married my Taiwanese husband, Sam. I love sampling Taiwanese food, even local specialties such as stinky tofu, pigs blood cake and Taipei beef noodle soup with offal. But there are many other options on the menu. Promise!
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15 Responses to The Taiwan Soap Saga

  1. Kath says:

    Gosh I am so sorry you have been through all this fuss and drama! It sounds appalling. I’m lucky that in the three years I have been living here I haven’t had any problems. Hopefully that continues… I do find it really annoying that I can’t get my own credit card but that’s very minor compared to what you’ve been through.

    LOVE this tale of how TW soap opera got you back to loving Taiwan. It’s awesome and a great read. Three cheers for the return of Taiwanxifu’s writing mojo!!

    • taiwanxifu says:

      I hadn’t expected to encounter all this drama, either, especially as I have been such an advocate for Taiwan (or at least, have tried to be). I am philosophical that it will sort itself out soon. (Fingers crossed tightly.)

      How do you manage without a credit card for things like buying purchases online and travel? Or do you just use your husband’s cards? Thankfully Taiwan is mainly a cash-based society.

      Take care and hope your own writing mojo is still strong.

      • channamasala says:

        I can’t speak for Kath but I use a Visa-linked debit card on my American account back home. It’s not a credit card but it acts like one for online use. The downside is that I have to send myself money from Taiwan periodically to keep that account stocked, which of course comes with fees (about $30 a transfer).

      • taiwanxifu says:

        Are you another Taiwanxifu, too? It must be a hassle to have to send money over the US when you need it. We have to do something similar to get my salary sent over, but thankfully it is only around AUD$20 each time and is very fast. I also have a Visa debit card but I find it is not as widely accepted here as it is back home in Australia. I have had a few hotels reject it, which is quite embarrassing. I actually do have a credit card, but I got one only because I am a premium customer referred from Australia. I would never have got this treatment here in Taiwan as an ordinary foreigner.

  2. J says:

    Hi! blobofcolour from LJ here. Hope the real life matter gets sorted out soon. At least you’ll have a new episode of Inborn Pair to look forward to tomorrow.
    Nice blog you have here. I’m fond of Taiwan as a tourist destination so I’ll be checking out your posts for ideas for future trips. ^^

    • taiwanxifu says:

      Hi LJ, once again many thanks for your detailed English plot description of analysis of Inborn Pair. Yes, I will be looking forward to Inborn Pair but I am also trying to catch up with previous episodes. Actually, I am trying to self-impose a ban on watching for a while because I have become too addicted and want to get back into writing again. Let’s see how long that can last!

      Is Inborn Pair broadcast overseas as well? If so, does the version you watch come with English subtitles? I can functionally understand what is happening, but I suspect I lose some of the subtleties. For example, when Yijie caught Weishan together with Luoyun on the sofa, he got angry and told her that since they were only in a fake marriage, would she really care if he was having an affair (bitui). Took me a while to find out what bitui meant as I gather it is a colloquial term — at first I think he was saying would Yijie really if he was trying to push Luoyun away. Anyway, got that one (eventually) but hopefully am not missing out on too much more.

      • J says:

        The version I watch on youtube is as what is being broadcasted in Taiwan. Viki has a subbing channel for IP but I think they are still very far behind. But it’s true that IP is funnier for me as I understand both Mandarin and the Taiwanese dialect (台语) and can appreciate the puns.

  3. taiwanxifu says:

    I think I will have to learn Taiwanese so that I can get all the humour!

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  9. Belinda says:

    Reading your blog brings back all the memories of growing up in Taiwan. All the yummy dishes, ridiculous ”tradition”…etc. I am an Aussie daughter- in-law who have lived in Melbourne Australia for the past 20 years. Taiwan, on the other hand, seems… somewhat foreign.
    I am so glad I stumbled across your blog.

    Take care, Taiwanxifu.

    Love from down under
    Belinda Tsai- Lintern

    • taiwanxifu says:

      Dear Belinda,

      I think we must have swapped roles somewhere in the cosmic universe. I was actually born in Melbourne, but as you can see from my blog, now live in Taipei. What is it like being an Aussie daughter-in-law? Or are you so Aussie that you don’t notice cultural differences so much these days. I bet people don’t ask you about your mother-in-law as soon as they meet you (usually one of the first questions I get after people find out my husband in Taiwanese).


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