A Mainlander’s first impressions of Taiwan

Our friend Rob is the only foreigner accompanying a group of Mainlanders from Nankai University on an academic/tourist trip to Taiwan. He’s blogging it all, and in this post writes about some of his Mainland Chinese classmates’ first impressions of Taiwanese people and society: “Yesterday when we were hiking back down a different mountain, we passed several people coming up who nodded and said hello. The first time this happened, we got no more than ten feet past them before Xuebin turned to me and said, with astonishment, “They don’t even know us! I can’t believe they’re saying hello!” It wasn’t an expression of distaste, but rather of amazement. How could ordinary people be so friendly, with no strings attached?”

And in a later post: “Xuebin then told me something extraordinary. Dr. Ma, the teacher, had apparently been approached by a representative from the Nankai University Marxism department, and asked to give a short lecture to the students assuring them that Taiwan isn’t nearly as nice as it seems. The clean streets and nice air and friendly people are all just illusions that were put on to impress mainland visitors. Actually, Taiwan is a very dark place that lacks the wisdom and enlightened guidance of the mainland government. Dr. Ma, appalled, declined. I was appalled, too. Who wouldn’t be?

“But that’s how deeply this visit has affected my mainland friends. None of them want to go back… Students have come here and, in large part, have seen what the mainland could have been. They’ve seen what a Chinese society is like when culture is preserved and people are free to read and discuss what they like.”

Happy Dragon Boat Festival 2011! Here’re some photos!

Today is the Dragon Boat Festival 端午节。Tianjin’s Dragon Boat festivities don’t even come close to what we saw in Taipei (though I did once see a dragon boat team bailing out their sinking dragon boat while trying to practice on the canal 卫津河), so if you want to see some dragon boat race pictures I suggest you take a peak at this gallery:

Dragon Boat Festival 2006

All our Dragon Boat stuff was written from Taipei:

Taibei underworld

(this is an old post from when we were teaching in Taiwan that never made it to the blog, but it’s kind of funny, so here it is.)

Funny (and slightly disturbing) experience today. A friend took us around to help with some errands that require Mandarin: wiring money, exchanging money, and getting vaccinations. We had to exchange several thousand dollars. He said the bank’s exchange rates weren’t that great today and he knew a better place to exchange the money.


So we went to this popular, busy shopping district kind of like a big outdoor mall. There was an eyewear store. Our friend walks in with two white people in tow and says in Mandarin to the lady at the counter, “I have $300,000 I need to exchange” (that’s about $9k US). A woman immediately goes to stand lookout at the store entrance. Two guys appear from the back as ‘security’ (later he told us they thought he’d said $3,000,000 – that’s $91k US!). They directed us to a set of stairs going down at the back of the store in the corner. Halfway down at the landing there was a big Chinese dragon relief covering the wall, just like in a kung-fu movie. In the basement there were several unmarked doors. A woman standing in one doorway pointed us to another door behind which was a cashier counter. Turns out their exchange rate was the same as the bank’s. I suggested we go back to the bank then, since it’s the same rate and, um, legal. So back up past the big dragon relief and out past the eyewear.

Apparently this sort of thing is like driving 8km over the speed limit back home, from the way he described it. And these places are everywhere (our friend knew of several just in that area). And, for those of you who may or may not be interested, if you ever needed to launder money, this is the place you’d go. Good to know!