Saturday, July 21, 2007

Losing Face

So you know how Taiwan culture is supposed to be all about gaining and losing face in imperceptible ways I can't possibly understand. Well I just learned a couple of good ways to lose face that I do all the time.

The first is getting angry or upset in public. For example, there's really no road rage here. You get cut off about a million times a minute and no one cares. Part of that comes from them not having any concept of right-of-way; I think that I have the right to be here because I'm going straight and you should yield to me, but they think, there's no rules! Just drive. Also someone told me that both on foot and on the roads, people assume that if you're not pushing past them, you're not in a hurry. So you have to push around people all the time.

Even when people get into accidents, there's no screaming or anything. The people will just both be like, "Are you OK? Cool," and if there is no real damage both drive off. Even if there is damage they will just leave their cars or scooters in the middle of traffic and get out and have a long conversation, usually ending with one party giving the other cash for the damages. I will be in trouble if i hit someone because who has that much cash? Not me.

So I've been cutting down on my road rage but sometimes you get upset in public. What can you do. For example, the other day- they started turning on AC in the exercise room in our apartment building, so I can run again for more than 20 minutes, but it's incredibly frustrating because I never knew when it would be on, and there is this nice cleaning lady and she told me every day at 10 am. Then the next day I went it wasn't on so I had to go downstairs and ask the guard and he was like, oh, today we won't turn it on. Gah! Then yesterday I was all set to do a really long run, and I went in the room and the AC wasn't on but the building manager and some guy came in and started fixing something on the one treadmill. So I got on the other one and warmed up, but they had left the door open to the hallway and it was getting really hot, so I shut the door and they started working on my treadmill. So I asked them if I could run soon, and they said yes, so I waited and I figured it's OK because I can get the building manager to show me how to turn the AC on. So when she was done I asked her, and she said they wouldn't turn it on because it was only me in there. I tried to say something in English but she didn't understand so I tried to say in Chinese that it wouldn't be hot if you hadn't left the door open, but I couldn't think of the words for door and open, which I know really well, so then I thought in English how unfair it is that they turn on the AC for these stupid kids who just come in and beat on the pool table with the pool cues and throw the pool balls around the room when I actually come to exercise, and I am physically capable of running for an hour and a half and I could probably train for Taipei marathon if it weren't so hot or I could have some AC (I thought this would appeal to her sense of patriotism- I want to run a marathon in your country!) but my Chinese couldn't quite express all this, so I said, "These bad kids, you give them cold air, but they don't run! They-" simulate beating on the pool table- "their health is not good! I want to go to Taipei, and run very far, maybe 40 kilo- sheme" (kilo-somethings; I know the word for kilo but not meters). You must give me cold air! It's really bad!" Zhende bu hao! So then the maintenance man tells me the AC comes on every day from 10-12, 1:30-5, and 7-9. Which is stupid but at least if I know it I can plan around it. So I said "Hao" (OK) very grumpily and meanwhile the cleaning lady came in and said "You should not get angry. It isn't good." So of course I started to cry a little. She just gave me this disappointed look and said she would go downstairs at 1:30 and make sure they turned on the AC, and I said ok, thanks, and then she rattled at me in Chinese I didn't understand. But sure enough the AC came on right at 1:30 and I had a good run.

Wow, that was a long story. But you see how easy it is to lose face? Especially because I easily get angry when I'm hot, and I get frustrated at being unable to make my point in Chinese.

Anyways, the other way to lose face is to get involved in a dispute that's none of your business. That's why people almost never call the police when they get into an accident. For example, just the other day I was outside Family Mart (like 7-11) at night and there is a street dog who always lays outside it, and he and another dog were barking like crazy and running around this lady who was holding a little yappy dog. The Family Mart dog ran into Family Mart (great, I know) and got freaked out by the automatic doors but the other dog was jumping on the lady and scaring her- it was a golden retreiver. So I started yelling at the dog in my best stern street- dog English (you go away, you bad dog!) To be fair I thought it was another street dog, but it turned out it belonged to this couple that was walking down the street, and they and the lady with the little dog were all like "What are you doing?" and saying things in Chinese I didn't understand. They got their dog under control and I said sorry and they all just looked at me disgustedly. It was very weird.

Along the lines of losing face, there's this thing my kids do- if someone does something really embarassing, they take their ring finger, middle finger, and pointer finger and drag them down their face really slowly. The first time I saw it I asked them what they were doing and they said, it means like her face is turning yellow. They bust it out only very occasionally, and I don't think they're making fun of the person- they'll do it about their friends- I think they're just trying to show me how embarassed they are for the person.

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