Going on exchange is supposed to widen my views by putting me in many different and difficult situations. I think of myself as a mindful and aware person. But living in Taipei for almost five months has made me realize I still have a lot to learn. Exchange has made me less judgmental, and recently, it has taught me that Taipei is full of non-Taiwanese people.
I get stared at a fair amount in Taipei: on the bus, in the MRT, walking on the street, and in restaurants and shops. Since I’m Asian (Chindian) I attract less stares than a blond European exchange student. I still get the look enough to know that I don’t fit in here.
In America, any ethnicity is normal, so there aren’t any stares (unless you are a different color from both of your parents). In Taipei, the vast majority of people are Taiwanese. The population of Taiwan is 23,000,000, while the number of foreigners is 485,308. More than half of that number of foreign residents are from South Asia here mostly for low-wage jobs. Therefore, locals don’t see white people and dark people very often.
Anyways! I realized that Taipei is full of non-Taiwanese people when I participated in a “free hugs” event held by one of my classmates. We went to the Taipei 101 area, which has more foreigners and tourists than other parts of Taipei, I’ll give you that. And it was on Christmas day as well. But the point is that I saw so many Asians walking past who I assumed were local Taiwanese people when in fact they weren’t.
We were standing in a line in front of the MRT exit, six or seven of us, holding two signs among us saying “FREE HUGS” and handing out milk candy (I brought it) to anyone who gave us a hug. About half of the people walking by looked at us after hearing us yell out “Free hugs!” and “免費擁抱！” . There were so many decisions being made before my eyes: Should I take a detour right before my already late dinner to give a stranger a hug in public? During this time I found that eye contact and a smile is very important to draw someone in. Just simply yelling out “free hugs” won’t do the trick; people want the personal element.
So there were many individuals, couples, and groups of people that came over for hugs that spoke native English to us even though they looked like they should be speaking Chinese. If they hadn’t come over to give us hugs, I wouldn’t have known that they are not local Taiwanese. So in that way, going to the free hugs event was a rare opportunity for me to get a glimpse of the backgrounds of pedestrians. On a normal day, other than overhearing someone speak in English, you wouldn’t be able to tell if that person is a local Taiwanese or not.
Now, after that free hugs event, I don’t take it for granted that I am the only native English speaker in a bus or the MRT. I guess I won’t be speaking English too loudly in the MRT anymore!