Monday, January 21, 2013,
People who know I've been to Japan before like to ask me "What's the biggest difference between Japan and Taiwan?" Usually I just say "Uhhh... umm... well... the food?" not even knowing what the BIGGEST difference is. Japan and Taiwan are very similar in many ways to a westerner, but SO different in more ways than they are the same. I think I've finally figured out what the biggest difference is, respect.
Japan is an extremely respectful country. If you know some Japanese, you'll know how many languages you have to practically learn before you can be able to communicate with everyone, like three. You have a way to speak to your friends and those who are your age or younger, but to speak to someone older or for the first time you have to change some verb forms and sentence endings. However, in business and speaking to people quite older or of higher status than you, you have another language almost, because the verbs suddenly change, and when to use them also changes depending if you are talking about yourself or about others. Anyway, let's not get into that any further, the point is, the Japanese culture is VERY aware of how to be polite, that even their language is affected. Chinese and Taiwanese, yes they are two different languages, however, only have one form. This is quite a lot easier. Also, unlike Japanese you don't have to worry about disrespecting someone by calling them "you" and not by their name "Mr. Johnson."
It really goes much beyond the language though. Where you can see this difference is out in the real world. As populated and busy as Tokyo is, when I was there if somebody bumped in to me, they would stop, apologize while bowing, and then walk away ashamed. If I was walking and they noticed that they kind of cut me off even, they would do the same. Stop, apologize while bowing, then walk away ashamed. I felt like I was always trying to convince them it was no big deal, saying "Nonono! It's okay!" However, when I was on a street that wasn't even busy in Taiwan, a lady, probably around 50 years old, totally whacked off my hat while swinging her umbrella around, and my hat landed right in a nice dirty puddle of water. She turned around, looked right at my face, looked right at the hat sitting in the dirty puddle of water. What do you think she did next? Had she apologized like people in Tokyo apologized for bumping in to me I would have forgiven her and told her it was fine, BUT after looking me straight in the eyes and looking at my now dirty hat, she simply turned around and walked away. That sort of got to me. I watched for like ten seconds with my mouth wide open as she walked away. Not a nod like "sorry," not even any emotion.
What made me think of this today was I was on my way home from dance on the train, and this guy sat across from me. He was probably just a very strange guy, you'll find out why, but he was taping something on his jacket. He ripped off a little tape and just wadded it up and shoved it in the crack of the seat, then ripped of some more of the bad tape and did it again, and again. I watched him with the face of "Umm... how rude" the entire time. THEN he proceeded to pick his nose. Usually when you see people picking their nose, if they see that you saw them, they try to make it look like they were just itching their nose casually, and then they stop like "ugh, darn it." THIS GUY, however, no. I stared right in his eyes for a whole 15 seconds (which doesn't sound like long, but count it out and picture it, it was way too long.) and he stared in my eyes the entire 15 seconds, picking his nose the entire time. I was astounded. I wanted to see how long he would go for, but I just couldn't watch anymore, I had to look away.
Anyway, some of the similarities between Japan and Taiwan often have me expecting the same respect as in Japan, but people in Taiwan are almost as rude as people in the USA. haha! However, none of these countries have terrible respect problems, but compared to Japan I think the whole world seems like it has terrible respect problems. So, don't think that Taiwan is a rude and scary country! There are just a few people here that are a little strange and might get on your nerves. MOST people are very very kind, curious, and generous. :)