Hey Taiwan! Is This Um… Stuff… Really News?

Watching a nation’s newscasts provides insight into a culture’s psychology, at least the narrow slice of what captures people’s attention and brings in ratings for news stations. In Taiwan, which is a fairly small island, pleasantly peaceful and prosperous, the news reveals the country’s interests and concerns.

Major news stories garner airtime, like the MRT murders last year, the 黑心 recycled oil scandal, the Sunflower movement protests, the Kaohsiung gas explosions, local election coverage, the TransAsia plane crashes, etc. These stories would likely make news headlines just about anywhere.

But what I find curious and amusing is all the other frivolities considered worthy of primetime news.

A typical Taiwanese news broadcast consists of stories about new and trendy eateries. Restaurants and edibles feature prominently in Taiwanese culture. Recently there was a broadcast about a bakery that makes bread resembling watermelon. If it’s food and it’s cute, it’s sure to make the news.

And speaking of cute… Anything cute it is probably a trend worth reporting. Like the now famous mailboxes that were struck during a typhoon and left tilted in a way that was considered adorable by Taiwanese standards, drawing huge crowds just to pose for photo ops with the pair.

And speaking of queues… Taiwanese people are passionate about waiting in line for the latest and greatest food and other attractions. (To witness this, just go to Costco on a Saturday, lines of people snake around the store for a sample of food bits.) Taiwanese news reports on hotspots where queues are forming, and even on the phenomena of lining up and waiting itself.

A Taiwanese news broadcast wouldn’t be complete without dash cam footage of car wrecks and scooter crashes, which are plentiful.

It’s always a lucky day for news journalists when they can sniff out a story, pretty much any story, featuring a westerner in Taiwan. Whether causing a ruckus, or just reacting to local culture, or speaking Chinese, 外國人 are a sure to create a buzz.

And the ultimate Taiwanese news sensation features a combination of the above mentioned elements, as in this clip below. A western guy speaking Chinese, trending food, long lines… A Taiwanese reporter’s dream!

Finally, the news story that seems the most comical of all… Now and again something happens in Taiwan that gets picked up and reported by foreign news channels. When Taiwan is covered on the news in other countries, the foreign news coverage is news in Taiwan. “Hey look! We made CNN everybody!”

What makes this all so amusing to me is the fact that it is news at all. American news, while not being qualitatively better by any stretch, is just different. Food, lines, foreigners, car crashes and cute things are the stuff of Youtube videos or morning shows, but hardly feature stories on the news.

Taiwanese news seems more gossipy and lighthearted than its fear mongering American counterpart. The Taiwanese news aptly reflects what it’s like to live in an ordinarily pacific society, where people don’t have to bear the heavy burden of wars, police brutality, gang violence, racial discrimination, sexual violence and abuse, drug wars, gun violence, human trafficking, etc. being broadcast daily into their living rooms.

Sometimes I scoff when I see trivial Taiwanese news stories, and I’ve often argued, “But that’s not news!” At the same time, Taiwanese news reminds me of all there is to be grateful for. I appreciate being able to live in a peaceful country, where it’s generally safe to be any race, gender, or age. A country where guns are illegal and violence is the exception, not the rule.

What type of news stories do you consider odd or amusing? Let me know how Taiwanese news compares to news you’ve seen in other countries.

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Lonely Americans In Taiwan: Why Making Friends Is Harder Than We Thought

Before I came to Taiwan, I imagined living here would be a lot of fun and I would make new local friends quickly and easily. This had always been the case wherever I’ve gone, and I assumed Taiwan would be no exception. However, after arriving to Taipei I soon realized I was wrong. I wrote about this in a post called How To Make Friends In Taiwan. Fortunately for me I am a quick learner, and I began to meet Taiwanese people and get acquainted.

However, after more than a year later, I felt like nearly all of my acquaintances had still not converted to deeper friendship, and continued to lack meaningful connection and closeness. I attributed this to “cultural differences” which I explored in a post called Taiwanese People Are Superficial and Fake? A Western Perspective.

I’m still searching to unravel the mysteries of closeness and connection in Taiwanese culture. Obviously people here form strong bonds, despite my inability to. In my search to understand, I shared my feelings and experience with my Chinese tutor. He is also American, like me. But unlike me, he speaks very fluent Chinese. In the video above he shares his perspective (in Chinese! with English subtitles) about the challenges of making friends in Taiwan.

If you have any personal stories, insights, or advice for me on this topic, please share in the comments. Thank you!

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Humor In Mandarin Chinese: I Don’t Get The Joke

I sometimes watch television in Taiwan and wonder, “What’s so funny?” I am looking forward to the day when I can be in on the joke! Here’s a short and hysterical clip of a Taiwanese TV show. I have no clue why everyone is in stitches at the end. But it’s amusing to watch.

Often I find myself among friends who are laughing, clearly amused at the humorous banter between themselves, and I can not figure out what is so funny. I laugh anyway, but I long to “get it.”

Understanding a culture’s funny bone is important in language learning. Knowing what’s meant to be funny, and how to be funny is a critical social skill. Yet, this is something I still haven’t figured out in Taiwan.

Humor is usually pretty sophisticated in terms of language skill.

Pascal Vrticka, PhD and postdoctoral scholar at Stanford’s Center for Interdisciplinary Brain Sciences Research’s describes it like this:

Humor requires the ability to understand an apparent discrepancy or incongruity between two or more elements of incoming information. Through detecting and resolving the discrepancy or incongruity, the result is amusement or mirth.

For example, incongruity can be introduced by the occurrence of an unexpected twist in successive events, which then has to be resolved by associating the new outcome with an alternative meaning.

For now, I’m on the outside, working on my basic Chinese language skills. If you know any jokes in Chinese, please share them in the comments so I can learn and start to practice humor skills.

There’s a lot to learn!

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Learn New Spanish Vocabulary The Fun & Easy Way!

Last week I posted a Taiwanese pop song that passively teaches you how to say why in Chinese with virtually zero effort. This week I want to introduce a similar type of pop song that teaches some basic phrases and vocabulary in Spanish by using a similar bilingual format.

Because language learning should be fun, right?

Far from a musical masterpiece, this cheesy but classic pop song Sigan Al Lider is a fun and easy way to learn some basic beginner Spanish. The lyrics are a blend of English and Spanish, and even a total beginner can intuit the meaning of most of the Spanish through the English cues.

Released in 1998 by the Dutch dance group The Soca Boys, the Spanish version was an instant hit in Mexico and could be heard at every party and in every discoteca as young people followed the moves and steps outlined in the song.

Ditch your audio tapes for a week or so and instead listen to this song. If you play this song a few times on your commute every day, it wont’ take long to learn all the vocabulary in the song with almost zero effort.

Here are the lyrics:

Sigue Al Lider

The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire!!
Follow the lider, lider, lider, follow the lider, ¡sígueme!
Follow the lider, lider, lider, follow the lider, ¡sígueme! ¡sígueme!
Follow the lider, lider, lider, follow the lider, ¡sígueme!
Follow the lider, lider, lider, follow the lider.

Manos arriba y abajo, arriba y abajo, arriba y abajo, arriba y abajo.
Todo el mundo una mano arriba, solo una mano arriba.
Nos vamos a la izquierda y a la derecha, izquierda, derecha, izquierda, derecha, izquierda, derecha, izquierda, derecha, ¡sígueme! ¡sígueme!
Izquierda, derecha, ¡left right!
Izquierda, derecha, ¡left right!
Izquierda, derecha, ¡left right!
Izquierda, derecha, ¡left right!
Follow the lider, lider, lider, follow the lider, ¡sígueme!
Follow the lider, lider, lider, follow the lider, ¡sígueme! ¡sígueme!
Follow the lider, lider, lider, follow the lider, ¡sígueme!
Follow the lider, lider, lider, follow the lider.
Un paso izquierdo y un paso derecho, un paso izquierdo y un paso derecho,
un paso izquierdo y un paso derecho, un paso izquierdo y un paso derecho.
Clap, clap! that way!, ¡palmas!
Clap, clap! that way!, ¡palmas! ¡palmas!
Clap, clap! that way!, ¡dame palmas!
Clap, clap! that way!, ¡todo el mundo!
Follow the lider, lider, lider, follow the lider, ¡sígueme!
Follow the lider, lider, lider, follow the lider, ¡sígueme! ¡sígueme!
Follow the lider, lider, lider, follow the lider, ¡sígueme!
Follow the lider, lider, lider, follow the lider.
Ahora canten conmigo, todos juntos canten conmigo, ¡bueno vamos!
I love Soca, ¡me gusta Soca!
I love Soca, ¡me gusta Soca!
I love Soca, ¡me gusta Soca!
I love Soca, ¡me gusta Soca!
Ahora todos juntos bien fuerte ¡un grito!…¡¡¡aaaaaaahhhhhhh!!!
Follow the lider, lider, lider, follow the lider, ¡sígueme!
Follow the lider, lider, lider, follow the lider, ¡sígueme! ¡sígueme!
Follow the lider, lider, lider, follow the lider, ¡sígueme!
Follow the lider, lider, lider, follow the lider.
Ahora todo el mundo nos vamos poco a poco abajo, todos juntos,
y abajo, abajo, abajo, abajo, abajo, abajo…
Y ahora poco a poco arriba,
y arriba, arriba, arriba, arriba, arriba, arriba…
Follow the lider, lider, lider, follow the lider, ¡sígueme!
Follow the lider, lider, lider, follow the lider, ¡sígueme! ¡sígueme!
Follow the lider, lider, lider, follow the lider, ¡sígueme!
Follow the lider, lider, lider, follow the lider.
The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire!!
We don’t need a water let them. Fire, fire, fire!!
The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire!!
We don’t need a water let them Fire, fire, fire!!
Follow the lider, lider, lider, follow the lider, ¡sígueme!
Follow the lider, lider, lider, follow the lider, ¡sígueme! ¡sígueme!
Follow the lider, lider, lider, follow the lider, ¡sígueme!
Follow the lider, lider, lider, follow the lider.
Follow the lider, lider, lider, follow the lider.

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