Nini, and being a girl in Taiwan

Just for fun we had a little “what did you do today” conversation in class on Wednesday.

This is Nini (click here for her blog). She’s one of our Level 4 students and just turned 10 in this March. Aside from regular grade 4 and three nights a week at PEI, she takes piano, clarinet, flute, Japanese lessons, and I forget what sport. She usually shows up at PEI two hours early to do her Chinese homework before scarfing down some food and starting our two-hour English class at 7pm. She is perpetually exhausted and gets mediocre grades. Last class she slept on her desk during break instead of playing with the other kids. She hopes to get reincarnated as an American. Although I find that appalling (the American part, not the reincarnation =), I can hardly blame her.

Her parents were both famous actors in Taiwan. Her father is now a politician and her mother is a radio personality – a high profile and upperclass family. Our other students have seen her mom in TV commercials. Most people in Taipei know their names.

Her father wanted boy, but he got three daughters instead. They named Nini’s youngest sister 娣娣. She’s named this because 娣娣 is pronounced exactly the same as the affective term of address for “little brother”: 弟弟 (siblings often call each other “older sister” or “younger brother”). The only difference is that the symbol for ‘female’ () is added to the characters for ‘little brother’ (). When her name is written you can tell it refers to a girl, but not when spoken.

Like the woman who was passionate in her belief that the father in The Parable of the Lost Son was wrong, Nini and her sister are more blips on the cultural radar; just the first few strokes of a massive picture we’re slowly painting in our minds of what it’s like to live here.

5 thoughts on “Nini, and being a girl in Taiwan”

  1. Fascinating blog, to be sure. What does it mean? ;-)

    I’m running into “the MuLan syndrome” (girls who want to do what boys do, girls who wish they were born boys, girls who are marginalized in their own families) even here, with people from Chinese cultures who’ve lived here for many years. So much to learn in order to really connect …

  2. What does it mean? Beats me. I left that out on purpose! I’ll get around to explaining what stuff like this really means in… 30 years or so. That’s long enough to get a clue, right?

    There’ve been other anecdotes that seem to reflect the gender issues. During Chinese New Year, one successful woman we know complained that “women are nothing in Taiwan.” I said something like, “Is it still that way? Haven’t you done pretty well?” She replied that basically she didn’t work/earn her way up (to her university teaching position and good job in radio) – she is where she is because of her guanxi. I wonder if it robs her from feeling like she’s accomplished much.

  3. Another blip on the radar screen happened one day when I was talking to our boss. I was talking about some of my reading about China…and about how boys have typically been favored over girls. He was saying how true it was. Then I said something off-hand like, “but I’ve heard it’s getting better for girls now….” I didn’t even get to finish, because he kind of cut me off and said…”No, it isn’t.”

    Then he talked about how more families want boys than girls…and mentioned both Nini and another student at PEI who are both from families with three girls. He said, generally, if a family has three girls…it’s because they really wanted a boy and kept trying to get one. We didn’t get to go much deeper into the subject, but maybe I’ll make this one area of my studies next semester in our practicum.

  4. Actually, when I commented about the blog, I was thinking humourously, not so much about your article, which is very engaging indeed. Nini seems like a very sweet kid … I hit the link to her blog, and in my reply to you I was referring to what “her” blog meant. Can’t read them traditional characters at all ;-)

    Of course, your reply fits properly with either referent …

  5. oops. but yeah, either way, we still don’t know what it means! She does have an English song they sang for Mother’s Day up there though.

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