Around 60% of today’s 3-hour class was spent bashing Taiwan and its stupid, illogical, frustrating facets. Some things we all agreed upon, like why the hell the Taiwanese stubbornly ignore the benefits of insulation; some were individual grievances, including my own pet peeve (why do children stare me down coldly when I smile at them — cannot explain why this gets to me but last night I was so close to kicking a child in the shins).
Our teacher patiently took it all, listening to us pummel Taiwan into a bloody, unrecognisable mess, and then said sadly, “I hope that when you leave Taiwan you will not be telling everyone how awful you think we are, we are a small country and we need support.” Nice guilt-trip, but I was quick to reassure her there are many things I love about Taiwan.
This is not actually a list, but just the main thing that I will miss when I leave. I will miss how safe it is here.
I have never lived in a really dangerous place; even King’s Cross in London is fairly tame nowadays. Because I am inexplicably lucky, I have experienced a couple of failed muggings (London, Melbourne) and failed bag-snatchings (Brussels, Beijing). I did had my wallet stolen once in Beijing though, and that once was enough for me. So I can really appreciate how safe things are here — I love, really, really love, that I can leave my iPad and phone on my desk in the library and know that they will be there when I return. Every time I come back from the bathroom, I want to hug the students around me.
But more than that, I love how safe I feel as a woman here. I remember a poster protesting violence against women in the JCR at SOAS (where else…), which quoted a man saying “I want to live in a world where women aren’t afraid of me when I walk down the street behind them”. He would probably think men in Taiwan don’t know how lucky they are. I often walk home late at night, or run on isolated trails, and my path will cross that of a gaggle of young men smoking, or an old man flailing his arms about and muttering to himself. Anywhere else in the world, a thousand scenarios flash through my mind, my heart will beat faster, and I will mentally prepare myself for fight or flight. No, of course nothing (hardly ever) happens in Melbourne or London either, but as a woman you are always aware of how vulnerable you are, and those groups of men who stand in your path probably will never know how menacing they appear.
I am aware that bad things can happen in Taiwan, and sadly have heard several shocking stories from friends here, but I do feel that if something bad did happen to me, it would really be bad luck, as opposed to something born from a culture of violence towards women. Taipei is full of dark alleys, but whenever I turn down a back-street at night and see a man sitting on a scooter smoking and watching me, I see him for precisely what he is: a man sitting on his scooter and having a smoke. If I’m walking home at 2am and the street ahead of me is full of teenagers lurking outside the 7-11, I will walk straight through them without a second thought. I would never, ever do that in London, and it infuriates me to think of the power my fear gives to those men — but common sense just dictates to avoid confrontation and unnecessary risk.
Yes, the rowdy construction workers who squat by the side of the road chewing betel nut still will call out “I love you!” as I walk by — but they are never threatening. I don’t know how much my perceptions and experiences are biased because of being a foreign woman as opposed to a local. I also don’t believe this demonstrates a significant increase in actual respect for women, but I really will miss how safe I feel here. Safe is perhaps not even the right word, because I’m not so deluded as to imagine a complete absence of danger. I just feel like the balance is better maintained here, where the men around me are just normal people, and their threat isn’t increased by mere virtue of their gender, or their race (this feeling extends to all the foreigners living here as well as the locals).
Anyway, this is a bit long, but it’s something I have been thinking about for a long time, and something I will really miss.