I mentioned in a previous post how much my friends in Taiwan have already strongly shaped my experience in this country. These people come from all different walks of life. Some have lived abroad. Some have never left Taiwan. Some come from wealthy families Some have had to work diligently for everything that they have in life. I have been able to witness many different aspects of Taiwanese society through experiences and interactions with my close friends.
Recently, one of my friends opened a new restaurant with his family. I was invited to participate in the opening ceremony.
His family restaurant specializes in bento boxes, or take-away lunches. The bento box culture in Taiwan is heavily influenced from Japan. In fact, many things are heavily influenced from Japan, but I will address that in a later posting.
Being the guy that is ALWAYS challenged to drink, I did fairly well avoiding alcohol this night. Recently, I have been much more focused on my health. Excessive drinking isn’t conducive to that lifestyle. That being said… I did consume several glasses of whiskey with the host and his friends (Refusal is insulting when offered such expensive alcohol!).
The atmosphere at the dinner was convivial. The food fantastic. Alcohol flowed, and good-hearted jokes abounded. One word of advice: never get a tattoo in direct reference to a girlfriend/boyfriend/husband/wife/significant-other. In any culture, you will be constantly chastised for the rest of your life. I was happy too see such community support for this family’s business. Interestingly, it sharply contrasts to what I have seen in the United States.
One of the more stimulating and inspiring aspects of both times living in East Asia is the entrepreneurial attitudes of many people of the people here. An attitude that is not just limited to locals. It manifests in many of the foreigners that move here, as well. In just a few months, an English friend of mine is planning to open a pizzeria in southern 高雄 (GaoXiong). The attitude is infectious!
After I first returned to the United States from living in China, having imbibed this infectious attitude towards life, I was met with a sort of American negativity that I hadn’t, previously, noticed. The United States, per capita, has the largest number of entrepreneurs of any country in the world. However, this figure isn’t close to what could be considered a large swath of the population. Furthermore, of those that don’t have the desire to make something for themselves, it almost seems as if there is a stronger defeatist attitude towards life. “This is who I am. this is what I have. I shouldn’t try to overshoot my place in life.” Now, I can’t speak for everyone, but this is what I have, myself, noticed. “We avoid risks in life so we can make it safely to death.”
East Asian countries have rapidly developed over the past few decades. The glamour of the big, beautiful cities belie some of the more fundamental social necessities that are lacking (Taiwan is a MAJOR exception to this, however). There is not a generational history of social welfare programs, provided by the government (or others), upon which people could rely when life became tough. If you didn’t make it for yourself and your family, you didn’t make it. Period. I think this kind of attitude instilled within people a more hands-on approach to managing their lives. One is forced to take more, and riskier gambles, as there is little alternative.
This way of thinking and acting, to me, is a refreshing departure from what I have become accustomed.