Bamboo Butterfly

a journey.

admin On January - 29 - 2014

For those of you who have read through this blog, I think it’s quite obvious by now that I’m a little in love with Taiwan. I called the country home for a couple of years and though it by no means makes me an expert on Taiwan, I think I gained a somewhat decent amount of understanding about its culture and people (though my Mandarin could most definitely use some serious improvement). Taiwan changed my life in so many positive ways and for that, I’m forever grateful.



With that being said, I feel like I owe it to readers to share some of the not-so-nice aspects about the country. I often get e-mails from people wanting to learn more about Taiwan, primarily about teaching English, and there are a few things I definitely think they should be aware of before heading off to live on the sweet potato.

If I offend any Taiwanese person in the comments I’m about to make, I apologize, but as a foreigner who once lived in your country, these were some of the things I observed and so are my own personal perspectives (and please note, I’m aware there are MANY things wrong with the United States, so people don’t need to point that out).

Racism in Taiwan

I grew up living in a country that is a melting pot of cultures. I grew up in a neighborhood where white, black, hispanic, and Asian American people all hung out and all went to the same schools. We were all friends. One of my closest friends is black. This is normal in many places around America.

I understand that in countries such as Taiwan, there isn’t as much cultural diversity. In such countries (and even in some places in America, such as where I live now, out in the country), it may be hard for people to relate to those from different ethnic backgrounds.

However, I had a hard time with the serious issue of underlying racism in Taiwan.

First, let me say that overall, Taiwanese people are generally friendly to everyone (and maybe extra friendly toward white, blonde women). I often felt ashamed with all the attention I received and felt it was quite undeserved. People treated me wonderfully, and I’ll never forget that kindness. And now it makes me feel awful when foreigners in the United States are treated poorly, when I remember about how kind people once were to me in a land so far from home.

But some foreigners, especially those with darker skin, are not treated so wonderfully (and in fact, even some of my Taiwanese-American friends who have returned to Taiwan say that they are often criticized and made fun of for various reasons). There is an extreme underlying prejudice toward people with darker skin in Taiwan. Many Taiwanese will deny this or try to brush the truth under the rug.

I remember the time I went out with two non-Taiwanese friends I’d made – a guy from Africa and a girl from the Philippines. People stared at us like they couldn’t believe their eyes. Whether this was because we were all foreigners or because we were all foreigners of different races, I don’t know. Here’s a picture of us on that day:


Countless times I heard my students talk about how having brown skin was bad (many Taiwanese equate brown skin with being a lower class citizen) and ugly. Women tend to freak out about the sun and are constantly covering themselves to ensure they don’t get a hint of color. It may be more difficult for darker skinned people to find work in Taiwan, especially in areas such as teaching. There also is some prejudice toward Filipinos (many of whom work in Taiwan as housekeepers) and Taiwan’s native peoples. It broke my heart to hear the comments directed at Taiwan’s aborigines and witness how often they are ignored. I wrote about this subject in The Lost Tribes of Taiwan. It reminded me a lot of America’s own treatment of Native Americans.

I would often try to have discussions with my students about the subject of racism. I can only hope that in some way, I helped them see that all shades of people are beautiful and all should be treated with equality.

There are a lot of intense political issues that surround Taiwan, and some of these things can also be unpleasant to learn about. But I think anyone living in the country should learn about the country’s  tumultuous political past and present.

Taiwanese bluntness

Many Taiwanese people are polite and evasive when it comes to speaking their minds, BUT, there are also many who are completely blunt and honest. Though this isn’t always a bad quality, sometimes it can be a bit unsettling. I once had a Taiwanese guy tell me I would look younger if it weren’t for the wrinkles under my eyes (which I like to think are not that obvious!).  One time, an older man who I befriended (a security guard in my apartment building), bought me some sort of wrinkle/beauty correction fluid. I understand he was trying to be kind, but it did hurt my feelings a little bit.

Some Taiwanese people also will not hesitate to call someone out on being overweight. I once had a local girl call me “A little fat.” My co-worker had a guy ask her if she ate McDonald’s all the time because she was fat. My students asked me why Americans were so fat and if they always ate hamburgers (I did have to laugh at some of the comments, but hid my face). Please note, this doesn’t happen all the time, and there are many Taiwanese people who also keep their opinions on such things to themselves.

I also had people tell me they thought all Americans were rich and had huge houses (not true) and many assumed that foreign women were all easy and wild (no doubt thanks to American media).  I was happy to try to help correct these stereotypes.

Treatment of stray animals in Taiwan

This is another serious issue. I had a really hard time with the treatment of stray animals, especially dogs. There is a massive problem with street dogs and most of it stems from some people not being educated about what it means to take responsibility for a pet. Dogs are often purchased as puppies because “They look cute,” only to be discarded to the streets later in life. I saw my share of dogs being kicked and kept in horrendous living conditions. There are a number of dog owners in Taiwan who look at dogs as property -  as guards to be chained up and thrown a scrap or two of food once in awhile.

street dog in taiwan

Then there are the dogs on the streets who are often abused by passerby, who gather in packs like wolves and sometimes become vicious because of the hand they’ve been dealt. I was chased by such dogs several times but I didn’t blame them for their behavior.  Thankfully, there are groups out there like MANA, who are striving to help the public understand the street dog epidemic. Nelie Aucamp, one of the founders of the group, shared her thoughts on Bamboo Butterfly with The Strays of Taiwan. There are also many Taiwanese people who do care about this issue and want to help the dogs.

Watch out for shady places of employment

While many schools in Taiwan are reputable, there are a few questionable cram schools who will make your time in the country miserable. If you’re thinking about moving to Taiwan to each English, please do your research.  You can start by reading Teaching English in Taiwan: Part I.

If you are driving and get into a traffic accident in Taiwan, most likely it will be your fault

Please see The Truth about driving a scooter in Taiwan.

scooter in taiwan

Though I could go on about a number of issues other travel bloggers may have complained about, I personally don’t really have many other unpleasant things to share about Taiwan.

Oh, except this:

giant taiwanese spider

Giant Taiwanese spiders

Yes, they exist. And I was lucky enough to encounter several of them during my stay. See Giant Taiwanese spiders: fact or fiction?  For the most part though, these creatures leave most people alone (unless you are a spider magnet, like me).

Again, Taiwan is a wonderful country and I don’t hesitate to tell people how awesome it is. Other than the spiders, the things I’ve mentioned above do not apply to everyone in Taiwan and similar situations can be found in any country around the world. I just felt obligated to share some of the more unpleasant aspects about the country so people understand that living in Taiwan may not necessarily be a good fit, nor is the country perfect (as I sometimes make it sound).  Please feel free to share your thoughts.



Categories: Asia, My Taiwan, Random

15 Responses

  1. MG says:

    I’m a Taiwanese woman living in U.S. and couldn’t agree with you more!! (except for the giant spiders – I’ve never seen them in my life!)

    About the Taiwanese bluntness, I think the cause is the nonexistent human distance in Taiwan. In addition to the short physical personal distance due to the dense population, there is no personal boundary and little privacy. So people feel that they can comment on other people’s lives freely. This is the main reason I choose to live overseas. California is a great place! You can live however you want, without strangers commenting on the way of your life! (except from Asian Americans of course…)

  2. admin says:

    What’s funny is I had several locals in Taiwan tell me they very rarely came across the spiders. Yet I probably saw at least eight or more and had really close encounters with a few!

    You are right about the distance thing in Taiwan, though when I moved to Puli in central Taiwan it was much less crowded and people were definitely more pleasant to be around.

    I’m sure there were plenty of things being said about me (especially about my poor Chinese) but generally most people were nice to my face. I felt that many Taiwanese were very kind to me and helped out whenever they could, and as I said, I also felt I didn’t deserve such treatment.

    But maybe people commenting on your life isn’t such a bad thing … I guess it depends. In some cases it may mean they feel closer to you. I was always an outsider and if I’d lived in Taiwan for 20 years I’d still be viewed as an outsider. Perhaps people did tread more lightly with me for that reason as well.

    I do hope that views in Taiwan start to change when it comes to race and street dogs. Those two things were especially hard to deal with.

    California is wonderful (I’m a fan of Northern California though). Thank you for taking the time to stop by and share your thoughts. :)

    • abc says:

      i think the culture make many difference.
      people in Taiwan comment on someone’s life is more like small talk between friends, rather than judge someone’s life.

      • admin says:

        This may be true, though I have had ABC friends whose parents were from Taiwan who told me they don’t always enjoy visiting Taiwan so much because sometimes people are too blunt with them. For example, making fun of their accents when speaking Chinese or calling them fat, etc. But you are right, there are cultural differences and perceptions that people like me may not be aware of.

  3. Victor Wang says:

    Agree! About the wrinkle problem, some young Taiwanese seem to have a talent for hurting people’s feelings with their bluntness, and some even feel proud of their own “candor” nowadays. As for the old security guard, I think it’s just super normal because most of the elderly in Taiwan are unbelievably nosy, especially those retirees. In this regard, you should feel relieved that you didn’t have a great command of Mandarin or Taiwanese, otherwise you would’ve found yourself bothered at all times by your elderly neighbors or friends who could be more eager than your parents to set you up on a date with a gentleman.

    Hope Taiwan as well as the rest of the world will have no stray animals and racism one day.

    • admin says:

      Lol Victor. :) Actually, I think the security guard did want to set me up with his son. He invited me to lunch once and also invited his son along and was acting kind of weird.

      With that being said, I did date one or two guys while I lived in Taiwan. People seemed to freak out in general at the sight of me walking down the street with a Taiwanese guy. I can only wonder at their whispered conversations.

      I suppose I should be glad I couldn’t understand more than basic Mandarin … maybe I would have been annoyed or would not have liked what was being said.

      I also hope the stray problem stops around the world and racism stops as well. Racism is indeed a problem all around the world.

  4. Ben says:

    Enjoyed your sharing of candid observations on the darker side. I’m Taiwanese and you remind me of my elementary school teacher at the Bethany School in Taipei. She also fell in love with Taiwan and won’t stop talking about ‘shaobing youtiao’.

    FYI, i’ve seen about 3 of those big spiders in the middle of Taipei City, and at least 20-30 more in the countryside. But that’s just part of why Taiwan can still be such a natural place. I’d hate to not hear birds on my daily commute, even in the middle of Taipei.

    Keep up the great blog! and more dark postings for bright Taiwan.

    • admin says:

      Thanks Ben! I’m glad you enjoyed the post.
      The one thing I DON’T miss about Taiwan is the spiders!! :)

      But yeah, Taiwan has some interesting creatures. A lot of it is because of the climate, I assume. I’m sad I never got to see one of those giant grasshoppers though. It would have been much nicer if those had followed me around instead of the spiders. :)

  5. Yzzah says:

    Hello there! Thank you for sharing these things.
    I feel like I’ve seen a different side of Taiwan, something which makes it look more natural compared to the heavenly place other people would describe it.
    What struck me the most was the racism you mentioned towards Filipinos. I am a Filipina myself, with relatives working in Taiwan. Though I think its just because of our skin color, it still saddens me nonetheless.
    Well, we can’t really please everyone. I’m proud of my color and if I travel, and people will point it out, I think I’ll just shrug it off. After all, we were raised on different viewpoints due to our culture. Understanding is always the key.

    • admin says:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts! You
      are right, understanding is the key. We all
      need to be more understanding of one

  6. Carol says:


    I’m a 23 year old American and will be visiting my family in Taiwan in a few weeks. My parents were born and raised in Taiwan, and my family (grandparents etc) live in all parts of taiwan – taipei, the southern parts, tai chung, etc.

    I’m rather tan. The last time I went there was when I was 16 and had so many comments and stares even from my family about how dark I was. I didn’t realize that there was this beauty standard, or rather favoritism toward light skinned people.

    I was wondering if you knew any Taiwanese Americans in taiwan, specifically ones who rocked a tan? I’m still going to act like myself and not be phased by it (like I was when I was 16!) but it would be nice to know what I’m walking into.

    My parents tell me I’m too dark, and that I look “dirty”

    Thank you!!

    • admin says:

      Hi Carol,

      I think that in some parts of Taiwan such attitudes are changing. I know several Taiwanese Americans with tanner skin and what I suggest you do is just go there, rock it, and tell people that in America people would pay to have darker skin as many find golden shades of skin more attractive. I used to sometimes purposely let myself get tanner in Taiwan and then if and when my students ever said anything about “darker skin” I would point to my skin, show them how tan it had become, and asked them if they thought I was dirty. You should have seen the looks on their faces. :)

      To tell you the truth, it probably isn’t that big of a deal anymore. You might get one or two comments, but I would ignore them. I don’t know exactly what it is to be a Taiwanese American visiting Taiwan (I’ve had a friend who used to get comments from his family back in Taiwan about all kinds of things relating to his looks, accent, etc.) but I think sometimes Taiwanese people are just too blunt without realizing they are hurting people’s feelings.

      Overall, I still think people there are some of the nicest I’ve met. Hope you have a wonderful trip and try to enjoy it! :)

  1. [...] The Darker Sides of Taiwan Despite being a little in love with Taiwan this author didn’t neglect to notice the country’s negative points. [...]

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