Monday, March 27, 2006


Taiwan??? Culture???

People like to say that Taiwan has no culture. People think that Taiwan is some backwaters mini-China shithole full of microchip, bicycle and plastics factories. That completely ignores the fact that 70% of Taiwan's economy is now services, but it also ignores my experiences of this place.

Not all experiences here can be captured on the Taiwan Rover. For example, my gf goes for a weekly treatment at a traditional Chinese medicine clinic. Take the word "clinic" with a grain of salt. The building also happens to be where the Chinese doctor lives along with his wife, dad and kids. The household grandpa is literally the grandaddy of Chinese medicine as the business was passed down from father to son for several generations. It don't get mo' trad' dan dat.

The first time I went to see my gf get her treatment done was more than a little interesting. First, they put several steaming hot cloths on her back for about 10 minutes. Then, the doctor used a tiny razor to make dozens upon dozens cuts all across her back. Little beads of blood sprung forth from the wounds. The doctor stuck suction cups on her back that were connected to a loud, cantankerous hydraulic pump. Flicked the switch. Gaaaaaaaaaah! Blood filled up the suction cups. If there was only a genre called Chinese gothic horror, this scene would fit perfectly.

The second time I came along for the ride was much more fantasmagoric than the first. It started ominously in that the kids were stowed away out of sight, out of mind. Everybody was speaking in hushed voices, but we couldn't figure out why. Who knew? Maybe it was just a quiet Sunday night.

The doctor's brother (friend?) was over, and he was just outside the clinic room whippin' out the masterful kungfu moves with a fan to the tune of "Everybody was Kungfu Fighting". Indeed he was as fast as lightning. Also, he had expert timing.

My gf was relaxing with the hot cloths on her back when a man and a woman both dressed in black entered the building. Neither of them spoke more than a whisper, but the doctor and family knew exactly the their expectations and ushered them in quickly and discretely.

The man laid down on the other table and put his head to one side. The doctor's wife then prepared a thick round cloth and laid it upon the man's head. She then sprinkled a liberal amount of Chinese medicine dust on the cloth and lit the dust on fire.

I was outside the clinic room at the time, watching some 70s kungfu movie with the doctor's kungfu brother. My gf was sitting down in the clinic room. So fascinated was my gf at the sight of a man's head on fire that she, in a very non-discrete fashion, called for me to quickly enter the room. "Kai, kai! Come look at this!"

The look on the man's wife's face showed that she was not amused, for her husband's health was not supposed to be a freakshow attraction. I was more discrete with my fascination than my gf. At some point I may have raised an eyebrow, but that was it. Once my gf started getting cut, my attention was more focussed on that.

It should be noted that, although not verifiably so, the man in black with his head on fire was probably a gangster who wanted medical treatment without having to identify himself at a large hospital. That would certainly explain the hushed voices, etc.

People say Taiwanese people ain't got no culture. Alls I'm sayin' is, when your gf's getting blood sucked out of her back by a Chinese doctor and there's a gangster with his head on fire next to her; when there's a kungfu master just outside the door whippin' out the mad fan moves, when you're sitting around with said kungfu master drinkin' oolong tea and watchin' 70s kungfu movies while listenin' to "Everybody was kungfu fighting" and your local Chinese doctor is carrying down a business handed to him from generations upon generations of Chinese doctors before him; when you start to meet these people and have these experiences, that's when you start to have to admit that maybe, just maybe, Taiwan and Taiwanese people have a culture beyond "I know how to make a profit by cutting production costs".

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