This article is previously published on Claire Delfin Media (site now inaccessible) circa June 2018.
With the announcement that Taiwan decided to extend its visa-free entrance for Philippine passport holders, I couldn’t help but reminisce and reflect on our recent visit to the quaint yet interesting country. It has been said that it is often harder to describe your own culture to someone when you have no point of comparison. For someone who has been living in a particular place for the longest time but who is unable to visit another country, he may not be even aware of the nuances of his own culture. Having a fresh perspective beyond the corners of your own country is definitely eye-opening.
Considering that both the Philippines and Taiwan are from Asia, it is easy to perceive that the cultural sentiments of both nations would be similar if not entirely the same. While there are indeed similarities, there are very striking differences between the Taiwanese and Filipino culture.
Here are five points of observation that I wish we Filipinos back in the Philippines could experience and emulate.
1. The Taiwanese are very progressive and efficient people.
We arrived at the Taoyuan airport really early in the morning (around 3 am). As we rode our service car from Taoyuan to downtown Taipei, we could not help but be amazed by how intricate the freeway system is and how the lands are maximized to create roads and highways for easy navigation. Even their railway system was nothing short of remarkable.
We utilized their Metro Rail Train System (MRT) during our stay and planning trips has never been easier. There are several lines with various interconnecting stations. You can basically go anywhere and everywhere by just riding their trains, and yes, you can also ride the MRT to reach the airport. Even the lines are color-coordinated making it very easy and convenient to ride trains without getting lost.
I am so amazed and really envious at how much time and effort are conserved by the Taiwanese people in their daily commute considering that back in the Philippines, there are only three operating lines along the Metro, with only one interconnecting station (Cubao). Needless to say, traffic in Taiwan is very smooth and commuting is actually a breeze once you get the hang of it.
2. The Taiwanese are well-disciplined people.
One can see how disciplined locals are by how the place looks like and how the people follow simple traffic rules. For one, Taiwan is a very clean place, there is almost no dirt lying around and you would not see a single person throwing garbage or littering the streets. People also follow traffic rules. You never see anyone crossing the street unless the light turns green for the pedestrians and jaywalking is nowhere in sight. The people also follow basic etiquette in using the elevator, those on the right lane staying put, and those on the left lane walking for those who are in a hurry. All of these are almost non-existent in the Philippines and I always wonder why we cannot do the same.
3. The Taiwanese are very respectful and polite people.
The Taiwanese never fail to greet “Ni Hao!” when you buy railway tickets and say “Xie Xie” when you leave the counter. They are also very accommodating although it could be a little difficult for visitors who don’t understand their language. What made me realize just how respectful the Taiwanese are is how they treat their elderly and seniors. The younger ones often accompany their elderlies assisting them with their commute and chores. These kinds of scenes never fail to warm one’s heart.
4. The Taiwanese are hardworking people.
It is not rare that I see aged men and women still working in Taiwan. Everywhere we go, there is always a senior working, either serving the dishes, cleaning the tables, or ushering lines. We are then left to wonder why, at their old age, they still seem to enjoy working when back home most of our elderly are always at home or luxuriously spending their retirement pension. We can only hypothesize just how hardworking the people are in Taiwan that the only thing that can stop them from working is when their bodies already fails them.
5. The Taiwanese are punctual people.
Perhaps a corollary to their being respectful, the Taiwanese people are very punctual as they respect other people’s time. We had to be reminded of this the hard way when we were about 5 minutes late at the agreed meeting place for a tour which we booked. Our guide was asking where we have been saying that we were lucky because he was about to give up and leave us. In our defense, we booked the tour before flying to Taiwan and, unfortunately, the hotel we were supposed to stay in was under renovation and we had to be relocated to another hotel about two roads away. Needless to say, we got lost trying to go back to the address of our original hotel. I guess the “grace period” of 15 minutes back in the Philippines is not applicable in Taiwan, which, personally, I think is a good thing.
Perhaps a two-day trip will never be enough to encapsulate the whole culture of the Taiwanese people but I believe that it is a sufficient period to observe certain nuances which points to the larger picture. Indeed, one culture can be best described in juxtaposition with other cultures. The world is a canvas and everyone’s cultures create the masterpiece.