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Culture Shock For Chinese Tourists And Taiwanese Hosts

  • (Photo courtesy: The Straits Times)

When Xiamen businessman Ying Jiming set foot in Taipei last Friday (4 July), he expected a modern capital with wide boulevards and glitzy skyscrapers.

But right off the plane, he found himself walking along a non-airconditioned pathway to the spartan arrival hall of the downtown Songshan Airport.

The city's mishmash of tatty shophouses and high-rise buildings also left him less than impressed, he told The Straits Times two days into his Taiwan tour.

"I thought Taipei should be comparable to, if not more developed than, Beijing and Shanghai," said the 44-year-old, who sported a pair of Gucci shades.

The disappointment expressed by Ying, one of 760 mainlanders on the historic inaugural cross-strait tour in Taiwan, might have been shared by a few of his fellow tourists.

Already, some mainland Internet forums have commented on how rundown (popo lanlan) Taipei is.

The Taiwanese, who had been bracing themselves for an influx of supposedly uncouth mainland tourists, are beginning to realise that culture shock cuts both ways.

"And it doesn't mean if you've seen Mount Everest, you don't need to see Mount Ali in Taiwan. It's not fair to make direct comparisons."

Barred from Taiwan for nearly six decades, mainlanders, who are increasingly affluent and well-travelled, may find the 'treasure island' less developed than they had imagined.

More Chinese tourists are expected to flock to the island after the political rivals eased a longstanding ban on non-stop weekend flights and mainlanders travelling directly to the island.

But even as the Taiwanese government rolled out the red carpet for the big-spending Chinese, some Taiwanese scoffed at their reputed lack of manners and poor hygiene habits.

Voicing a typical complaint, Taiwanese businessman Yen Ming-huei, 39, said: "The mainland tourists are fond of spitting. There is a risk that they could spread diseases."

Others, such as taxi driver Huang Li-kuo, are more tolerant. "The mainland tourists remind me of how we Taiwanese were when we first travelled abroad. We were also censured for talking loudly in public and haggling over prices," he said.

Taiwan had already established itself as a regional economic powerhouse when the mainland began liberalising its economy in the 1970s and 1980s.

"That is why some Taiwanese still have a condescending attitude towards the mainlanders," said Taiwanese Wang Hsing-ching, a well-known political commentator who pens columns under the pseudonym, Nanfang Shuo.

"But there has been a dramatic shift in attitude with the Chinese economy taking off. In fact, some Taiwanese have swung from one extreme to the other - from looking down on mainlanders to worshipping them as saviours of Taiwan's economy," he told The Straits Times.

Taiwanese journalists who trailed the first batch of mainland tourists on their 10-day tour around the island have so far put out mostly positive reports which portrayed the mainlanders as polite and friendly.

There have been only a handful of unfavourable reviews: On a Chinese tourist who wore his bedroom slippers to breakfast at a five-star hotel, and others who ignored no-smoking signs or refused to put on life jackets while taking boat rides.

Understandably, the inaugural batch of Chinese tourists - mostly well-heeled mainlanders hand-picked from thousands of applicants - were eager to impress their Taiwanese compatriots.

They have refrained from saying anything bad about Taiwan.

If she was unimpressed with Taipei's less-than-glamorous skyline, Madam Zhang Lizhen, 65, a retired civil servant from south-eastern China's Xiamen, did not want to say so.

Instead, she reasoned: "Every place has its own urban planning and pace of development. Old doesn't mean it's not good. And it doesn't mean if you've seen Mount Everest, you don't need to see Mount Ali in Taiwan. It's not fair to make direct comparisons."

In any case, she noted, southern Chinese like her have much in common with the Taiwanese.

"We speak a similar Hokkien and pray to Mazu," she said, referring to the Chinese Goddess of the Sea.

Observers are generally optimistic that increased interaction will close the gap between the people of the two sides and douse political hostility across the Taiwan Strait.

But some analysts are not holding their breath for Taiwan's democratic system to rub off on mainlanders quickly.

Dr Wang said: "All the talk about bringing change in China, I think that is looking at things from Taiwan's perspective. It's like telling people we have such a wonderful political system and culture, you have to learn from us."

Going by the fact that the Taiwanese say 'cheese' when being photographed while mainlanders typically shout out qie zi (Mandarin for 'eggplant'), just getting over the cultural differences may take some time. (By ONG HWEE HWEE And SIM CHI YIN/ The Straits Times/ ANN)

MySinchew 2008.07.11



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