Sound Off! – Indifference to Surroundings

This afternoon, my wife and I were eating lunch in our living room when we heard voices outside. We frequently hear people walking by, talking, so it’s not big deal. But these voices persisted, as if the people who were speaking had become stationary. I looked out the window. Boy, had they become stationary!

I opened the kitchen door and saw 3 men sitting on the ground next to our car, underneath our carport overhang. One was resting against the car. The other two were lying on the ground, and one of them was actually laying with his head on the stomach of the other guy (just too weird). They had hard hats with them which were placed on the ground. “What are you doing?” I asked. “Are we bothering you?” he replied. “This isn’t a hotel” I said as I slammed the door shut. They got up and left, clearly unhappy that I had made them move.

I don’t get it! Why would 3 men choose to sit and smoke on someone’s property? Add to the fact that these idiots who smoke always discard their cigarette butts as if they are bio-degradable. Those butts never go away and I end up sweeping the area every few weeks.

Why should I have to go outside and remind these guys that I live here and I don’t want them around?

Things that I’ve experienced due to a lack of respect for one’s surroundings include:

  • A couple that stopped near my table in a restaurant to fight, including loud yelling – 1 meter away.
  • A mother who stopped next to where I was seated outdoors, to pull her kid’s pants down. PU!
  • A man who stopped his scooter next to our living room window to talk on his phone – with the engine running, at 2am.
  • People very loudly talking on their phones right in the midst of people.
  • 7-11 patrons who exit the store like an F-16 carrier launch, and run right into me because they didn’t look.
  • People walking 2 or 3 abreast on a sidewalk, with no room to pass them, and no clue that anyone ever would.
  • The elderly gentleman who insists upon cutting the corner at my home on his scooter so closely, that I nearly hit him by simply opening my front door to go out.
  • Being woken up at 3am by people talking full voice as they go into their hotel room next to mine.
  • Having to endure listening to someone’s radio while I’m out in the wilderness.
  • People who park temporarily to visit the next door neighbor, while blocking my front door so I can’t open it.

All of these things are the result of people not thinking about others. It’s often been said that Taiwanese cannot imagine themselves in place of other people. My mother taught me that no matter what I do, I should not bother other people. Apparently this concept is foreign in Taiwan (and Asia for that matter). I have asked people who were talking on their phone to move away from me. Of course, they respond asking why. My answer “because I don’t want to hear you talking” always seems perplexing. I’ve asked people who are doing all sort of obnoxious things to please move away and it’s clear that they think I’m weird and have some problem. This is akin to the recent topic that’s been discussed on many blogs where people don’t respect peace and tranquility. I don’t want to look at your kid’s butt or smell what he did; I don’t want to hear you call your gf a dirty name and watch her slap you; I don’t want to have to block our your loud talking, and I sure don’t want you sitting in my carport smoking.

The last thing that I want to say on this topic is that all these things happen because people are indifferent to strangers. Once they are introduced to a person, they become the hao peng-you (good friend) and no one would do anything like this to their “good friend.” I’ve been in situations were a person was snubbed pretty good by indifference, only to be introduced later on and then treated with an entirely different attitude. If I had to sum this up, it would be that my mother taught me to respect the rights of all people. Here, people only respect those whom they personally know, apparently.

WAKE UP PEOPLE!

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15 comments

  1. Oh man, you hit the nail on the head there, MJ. That’s Taiwan for you–the land of wonderfully polite people, just so long as they know you. If they don’t know you, you’re basically just another piece of detritus. I have, of course, met many wonderful people who are considerate in any situation. Too bad they only comprise 10% of the population.

    1. Truett Black » it’s amazing…. they are polite to us but not their own, often enough. recently though i’ve had a rash of people doing stupid crap around my home. must be the full moon. thanks for your comments.

  2. Great list MJ! If people are walking slowly in such a way that doesn’t leave me room to pass (and in Taiwan, there is a 99% chance that I am walking faster than anyone else on the sidewalk), I’ll walk as closely behind someone as possible and loudly clear my throat. I’ve scared the crap out of a few people this way. I came down with big city syndrome after living in Taipei for so long, if a group of people were walking towards me and were quite obviously not going going to make room for me to comfortably pass without having to step over the tires of parked scooters, I developed the habit of walking square shouldered into whoever was in front of me. This only led into a mild altercation on one occasion when a young man (and I use the term loosely) fell down from the impact. We got into a verbal argument, but he backed down when it was obvious that none of his friends were going to back him up.

    Todd’s last blog post..The Nantou County Culture Park

    1. Todd » i’m always amazed at how people in Asia “crowd” one another. even though the passageway is full and blocked, they keep trying to squeeze by! kids especially irk me when they come running right at me and push their way past instead of just waiting an extra second! people expect you to move out of their way. like you, i just walk normally and eventually someone will bump right into me. i just tell them to “kan loo” and smile. driving is another story altogether! how many times have you stopped because the road ahead was blocked, and you wanted to give others space to get out, only to have people pass you and jam right up into the clog and add to the mess? thanks Todd.

  3. Ha Ha Ha. Now you know what its like. As a Taiwanese person, nothing galls me as much as my compatriots treating each other (including me) like crap and then being extra nice to foreigners. I see this all the time with customer service, govt. bureaucrats, shopkeepers, random people on the street, etc. I’m sorry you’ve had to experience this lamentable aspect of Taiwanese culture but believe me, us locals get it 100X worse. p.s. I have nothing against foreigners, my vitriol is directed towards my clueless countrymen.

    1. Chuck » i hear you brother! sometimes i will point to my wife and say “you didn’t say hello to her” because like you, i’m tired of the special treatment. trust me, us foreigners just want to be treated like normal, everyday people.

      not sure if i wrote about this before, but one time HC and i were walking at night in our neighborhood when a car slowed down beside us. the driver shouted “HELLO!” at the top of his lungs – scared the crap out of us! then the kid did the same thing! we shouted “CRAZY” back to them! while i appreciate the sentiment, the execution sucked!

      you do bring up an excellent point though Chuck, as i have often wondered how the native born people feel when someone gives me the red carpet treatment. i’m no different than the next Taiwanese, so if i perceive that i’m being singled out for special treatment that inconveniences someone else i politely refuse.

      i’m glad that no one seemed to get the wrong idea – i love it here. there are just some quirky things that people do (every country is like that of course) and it makes for interesting discussions.

      Chuck, thanks for your participation.

  4. MJ. Why do people let their animals on other people’s property to that then cause damage to that person possesions :).

    People can be rude, pure and simple. Many are too selfish to think that other people share this world with them. Also no or very little common sense.

    I lived on the third floor of what they call a mansion many years ago here in Thailand. It was a really nice and clean place, big rooms and cheap. 3,000 Baht a month. Back then under $90 Australian dollars.

    After only a few nights I was awoken to a loud womens voice screaming, I opened my balcony door to investigate. What i seen was a young teen on the public phone directly below me. She was going off.

    I yelled out “shut the fuck up” as it was something like 3am. I think she was totally shocked as she did go quiet. But I soon learnt that this phone was going to be a real headache.

    I hate to admit but I actually sabotaged the phone twice to make it inoperable. And then I moved my room so I wasn’t facing the road and away from the phone.

    Everytime I went out on the balcony at some ungodly hour to yell at some intoxicated or broken hearted fool I lost count.

    Life is full of fun 🙂

    Brunty’s last blog post..Australian Drug Smuggler Dies in a Thai Hospital after Condoms Burst.

    1. Brunty » you ask a very good question my friend. i believe that the answer is – they don’t know it’s wrong. also what is known as common sense really varies from country to country.

      i’ve been woken up by the most idiotic circumstances too. once i heard a guy yelling. a woman was in her car, doors locked and windows rolled up. he was apparently trying to get her to either come to his room or have her open up so he could get in the car. nevertheless, the woman wouldn’t just drive away. she wouldn’t open the door or window and a few times she crept away but he yelled and she stopped! this went on for like 20 minutes before the guy finally gave her permission to leave. this concept of being “polite” sucks because it prevents people from just saying “shut up” and driving off.

      what i said about not being able to place yourself in someone else’s shoes seems to be true. the girl on the phone cannot imagine someone sleeping because she is awake. that’s why it comes as such a shock. we deal with those people from the standpoint of “they should know better” but they really don’t. they are standing there, doing their thing, totally oblivious to everything else and then they hear someone yelling in English for no reason. later they tell someone that this crazy farang was yelling. the vast majority of people never get the reason why.

      thanks Brunty. hope you get that chicken situation worked out soon.

  5. I think it’s more of a lack of understanding about personal space than indifference to others b/c there isn’t any (personal space) in Asia. If you put 23 million Americans into 2 east coast states what do you think that would be like. That is the size of Taiwan.
    Everyday in Toronto I hear people talk loudly on their cell phones on the transit system and I hate it too.
    As for the noise in the wilderness I’ve hiked behind someone(Western) who was carrying a ghetto blaster on full volume but it was a Leafs game and they were in playoffs so I didn’t mind too much. I’ve been on a camp trip where someone in the next campground was blasting their radio and we Asians wanted to complain about them. I also have a Canadian friend who can’t go camping without a radio and he even brought a TV to camping trip for the world cup soccer.
    A few times I’ve had to step off the sidewalk and on to the street to get around slow multiple horizontal walkers in Toronto but I’ve never thought it was a big deal.

    “If people are walking slowly in such a way that doesn’t leave me room to pass (and in Taiwan, there is a 99% chance that I am walking faster than anyone else on the sidewalk)”
    If you are BEHIND them how would they know you want to pass? Next time try saying “duibuchi please let me pass” It’s worked for me on the MRT.

    “I’ll walk as closely behind someone as possible and loudly clear my throat.” I think that’s rude and aggressive like I said earlier just say excuse please let me pass and they will let you.

    1. Jeanne Wang » thanks for your participation. i can see that you are passionate about this topic! i’d like to address your comments if i may:

      I think it’s more of a lack of understanding about personal space than indifference to others b/c there isn’t any (personal space) in Asia.

      right. but that lack of understanding causes indifference. they aren’t doing anything bad on purpose. i hope i was clear about the point in the article.

      If you put 23 million Americans into 2 east coast states what do you think that would be like. That is the size of Taiwan.

      you’d have Long Island, except you’d have to add 2x more people. if you are saying that population density is the root cause, i am going to disagree with you. as you pointed out, personal space doesn’t exist in Asia, even in remote villages. the concept is missing. population density has nothing to do with it.

      Everyday in Toronto I hear people talk loudly on their cell phones on the transit system and I hate it too.

      fortunately however, you can tell them to shut up, because that concept is understood there.

      As for the noise in the wilderness I’ve hiked behind someone(Western) who was carrying a ghetto blaster on full volume but it was a Leafs game and they were in playoffs so I didn’t mind too much. I’ve been on a camp trip where someone in the next campground was blasting their radio and we Asians wanted to complain about them. I also have a Canadian friend who can’t go camping without a radio and he even brought a TV to camping trip for the world cup soccer.

      i’m sure we can all find examples of people who are acting rudely. but as i pointed out above, in those Western countries, this behavior is unacceptable and rare, whereas in Asia, is it the norm. personally i have never seen anyone camping with a TV or radio (unless it was a shortwave radio, taken to the woods for better reception away from the city). but i would have no qualms about going to their site and asking them to turn it down. try that at Sun Moon lake and see what happens.

      A few times I’ve had to step off the sidewalk and on to the street to get around slow multiple horizontal walkers in Toronto but I’ve never thought it was a big deal.

      it’s not a big deal with you can step into the street and go around them. in Taiwan it’s hard to find a place to walk, let alone walk around someone. people see you coming and they keep on coming right at you, or even worse, they see you coming and they step into your path and stop to do something. i can’t think of a better way to say “FU” to a total stranger than to step into their path and ignore them.

      “If people are walking slowly in such a way that doesn’t leave me room to pass (and in Taiwan, there is a 99% chance that I am walking faster than anyone else on the sidewalk)” If you are BEHIND them how would they know you want to pass? Next time try saying “duibuchi please let me pass” It’s worked for me on the MRT.

      you don’t know when people are behind you? i do. my mother taught me to be aware of things and to turn my head to check behind me. people in Asia never check to see if anyone else is being inconvenienced because they simply do not care. if i think that someone should be smart enough to know to move, but aren’t going to, i say “zo kai.”

      “I’ll walk as closely behind someone as possible and loudly clear my throat.” I think that’s rude and aggressive like I said earlier just say excuse please let me pass and they will let you.

      i don’t find that aggressive at all. i always hope that people will learn something but such examples but i doubt they do. it’s a matter of perception and people in Asia will always consider the “foreigner” to be “strange” and not stop and think whether or not he might be right. i’ve simply been walking down the street and had people say “strange” just because i exist. so how could i expect anyone to pay attention to me?

      thanks again for your comments. we’ve had some interesting ones on this topic, haven’t we?

      when are you coming back to Taiwan?

  6. well,,well,well,,thank God am a Filipino,,,LOL,,hopefully after living in taiwan for more than 5yrs,,and having them as friends,,,i hope i never lost the ethics my folks taught me……

  7. yeng » you bring up an interesting point. my experience is that Filipinos are more “westernized” (if you allow me to use that term) than other Asians. i’ve always felt that Filipino standards of behavior were more like European than Asian. what say, you?

  8. personal space doesn’t exist in Asia, even in remote villages. the concept is missing. population density has nothing to do with it.

    Population density has nothing to do with it? In crowded places there is always more likely to be more bumping and crossing of personal space and that becomes their behaviour and they will carry this behaviour wherever they go, whether it’s dense or remote. I don’t think it’s the only reason but I don’t think it has nothing to do with it. I think the experience of poverty is also a factor.

    i’m sure we can all find examples of people who are acting rudely. but as i pointed out above, in those Western countries, this behavior is unacceptable and rare, whereas in Asia, is it the norm. personally i have never seen anyone camping with a TV or radio (unless it was a shortwave

    There are Provincial Park Campgrounds all across Canada that have radio-free and radio campsites. It is common enough that they have to have rules and then have park rangers drive around at night to enforced those rules. What’s worse than the radios is the loud drunken parties that young people have at campgrounds. That’s a very common rudeness here.

    Taiwan it’s hard to find a place to walk, let alone walk around someone. people see you coming and they keep on coming right at you,

    Taiwanese prolly see the same thing…they see you coming and see you keep coming at them.

    you don’t know when people are behind you? i do. my mother taught me to be aware of things and to turn my head to check behind me. people in Asia never check to see if anyone else is being inconvenienced be

    It depends how far behind me they are what I’m doing at that moment. I may be distracted by traffic or I’m preoccupied with looking for something. If they are close behind me then I will move to the side so they can pass b/c I hate when peops walk close behind me. Sometime I find that they don’t want to pass so I will walk slower so they can be ahead of me or faster so I can get away. Just b/c someone is behind may not mean they want to pass, everybody is different so just say excuse me.

    The worse experience I’ve had was in Taipei..I was pushed from behind by old Aunty types. It happened twice. I’ve never experienced it anywhere else tho. I’ve heard it happens in China so I suspect it’s something from the mainland. Rudeness happens everywhere but in different ways and no single culture has a monopoly of it. I don’t know when I’m going to Taiwan I would love to go there every year.

    Jeanne

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