Sunday, March 23, 2008

The perpetual “angry strictness” of Taiwanese/Chinese people


On my recent trip to Taiwan, I immediately noticed upon arrival at the airport that the people there had this strict uptight serious look about them, which was a total contrast to people in the Philippines where I had flown in from only 2 hours away. It wasn’t just a contrast, but they were like a different species altogether. It was like crossing into the Twilight Zone, coming from a place where no one is strict, uptight or quick tempered, to a place where everyone is strict, uptight and quick tempered. (figuratively speaking)

I even got the impression that smiling or saying hi to anyone would disrupt the equilibrium of the environment. One sales lady I saw at the airport even had this strict look on her face that said, “If you talk to me about anything other than business, I’ll get pissed, for you will be committing a grave sin in disrupting the equilibrium of my environment.” Ick.

No one even makes eye contact with you, even if you’re attractive or good looking. And if you make eye contact with a girl or smile, she looks horrified as if a strict unspoken rule is broken. Ick! How can human beings be like this? It’s like everyone here is in the military 24/7.

Furthermore, I began to notice another pattern I hadn’t noticed before. The Taiwanese (as well as Chinese in general) seem to have this perpetual anger about them in the way they talk to each other. When you watch them interact in public, you notice a high occurrence of this angry tone in their voice, as if they’re always arguing, even in casual conversation. And often in a self-righteous tone as well. It’s not uncommon on the street to hear shouting matches either.

This is even portrayed in their TV soap operas and political commentary shows as well. In them, the actors and interviewed guests also speak in this angry self-righteous tone as if they are arguing in every little word. And their tempers are quick to flare. Anyone can see this right on TV. And in fact, even in many American movies, Orientals are portrayed as overtly angry and strict, yelling at each other as part of their natural speech.

Even Oriental movie stars have this perpetual angry look about them. For example, Bruce Lee had that angry look and personality, as well as Jet Li (in his older movies), and even the sexy Lucy Liu displays such traits in her expressions. Of course, there are always exceptions to every general rule, such as Jackie Chan.

I have been told that Koreans are like this too, that when they interact with each other casually, it sounds like they are arguing, at least to outsiders.

The best way I would describe it is as an “angry strictness” that is quick tempered. And it’s not even about what kind of things they are strict or anal about either. There seems to be this inherent fundamental strictness in their basic personality and nature.

I wonder why this is. Being angry all the time certainly doesn’t fall in line with their Buddhist and Taoist teachings and traditions. I wonder if it’s a cultural thing that they adopt, or perhaps it’s inherent in Chinese genes.

Since I am of Taiwanese descent, I too can sense a sort of blood boiling adrenaline within me that can make me quick tempered at times, though I’m definitely not always angry, but prefer to be peaceful, and definitely not strict at all. But it’s hard to say whether that is due to my individual nature, family genes, or to collective racial genes.

As someone told me, “Most Asians don’t think for themselves, they simply follow the pack. You are one of the exceptions.” Thus I’ve noticed that a lot of Chinese and Asian people feel uncomfortable around me, when they realize that I’m different from them. They are strict conformists to society who obey authority, and thus feel uncomfortable around freethinkers or freespirits who think on their own outside the box. Probably they fear what I stand for, as it is outside their safety comfort zone of conformity and thinking inside the box. As a result, they have no idea what to do with me or how to make sense out of me, so they often resort to just avoiding me altogether. (except for my relatives and extended family of course)

Likewise, their “angry strictness”, uptight nature, and narrow insular mentality make me feel uncomfortable as well. Whereas they are strict conformists who follow the pack, I defy and challenge conventionality. I have my own way of thinking, which I fight for, and that threatens their identity, it seems, maybe because they can’t be as assertive and independent as I am. It’s like we see each other as invaders of our own paradigms and reality. Basically, they perceive me as one who is trying to expand their mind and thinking beyond the comfort zone of their paradigm, while I on the other hand feel as if they are trying to shrink or squeeze my mind and intellect against its nature.

This happens to be the case with my own mother as well. She has many of the “angry strictness” qualities typical of Chinese people. And when we are around each other, we both make each other’s blood boil. Simply put, just being “who we are” around each other causes friction. Recently, this seems to be a documented fact even, as we bought a blood pressure measuring device (I have mild hypertension that needs to be checked regularly) and noticed while using it that when I’m with my mom or interacting with her, my blood pressure seems to rise considerably than when I’m sitting alone doing something else.

Even though my parents practice and study Buddhism and spiritual teachings, they argue over little things and raise their temper quickly. I wonder why they have to be that way.

Go figure.

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