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soc.culture.taiwan FAQ (part 2/6) -- Culture

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Archive-name: Taiwan-faq/culture
Last-modified: 1997/06/01

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                   Tung-chiang Yang (

  ***** FAQ'S OF SCT *****

     * (C. 1) What are the taboos for Taiwanese people?
     * (C. 2) What are the national holidays in Taiwan?
     * (C. 3) What are the days with special meanings in Taiwan?
     * (C. 4) I have a Taiwanese friend. How can I avoid
     * (C. 5) Where can I take a taste of the Taiwanese cuisine?
     * (C. 6) What are the special products in Taiwan?
     * (C. 7) What are the special events in Taiwan?
     * (C. 8) What are the recommended sources for learning Mandarin?
     * (C. 9) What are the recommended sources for learning Hoklo and


    (C. 1) What are the taboos for Taiwanese people?

   There are some taboos in Taiwan. Due to the close relationship between
   Taiwan and China in cultural respects, some of these taboos are common
   in all the Chinese societies, like Hongkong, Mainland China and

   Some of these taboos could be traced to have some legendary origins,
   and nowadays young people and those living in larger cities no longer
   adhere to them as much as in the past. Nevertheless, it is advised
   that you follow these guidelines unless you are quite sure your
   friends do not buy them.

    1. Do not use red ink to write letters or notes. It is O.K. for a
       teacher to correct the homeworks with a red pen, but a significant
       amount of writing in red should be avoided.
    2. Clocks should not be chosen as gifts for others. In Chinese
       "clocks" sound the same as "termination", which has an implication
       of death. As a result, giving others clocks can be considered
       bringing them mishaps.
    3. Umbrellas are not good gifts for lovers, either. In Chinese
       "umbrellas" sound similar to "separation", which means "breaking
    4. The period between July 1st and July 15th in the Lunar Calendar is
       considered the "Ghost Month" (Refer to "Chung-yuan Day" in
       question (C. 3) ). A lot of things should be avoided unless
       necessary, like marriage, moving, traveling and/or nonemergent
       medical operations.
    5. Taiwanese people interpret things differently from the Western
       ones. That you say something implies it will happen even if you
       mean no offense. For instance, if you say "watch out for the knife
       or you will hurt yourself", it implies your friend might indeed
       hurt him/herself though you don't want this to happen. Such
       statements should be avoided especially during the Lunar New Year
    6. The number "4" sounds the same as "death" in Chinese. When
       choosing gifts, don't give NT$400 or NT$4000, for instance. In
       some hospitals, you won't find the button for "4" in the elevators
       -- the 5th floor comes directly above the 3rd floor. On the other
       hand, the number "8" is considered lucky as it sounds similar to
       "prosper" in Chinese.
    7. In Taiwan, the color "white" is related to death. It is O.K. to
       dress in white for ordinary lives, going to work or school, but it
       is not good for a joyful occasion like a wedding banquet as a
       guest (the bride and the bridegroom are obvious exceptions in the
       western style wedding banquets).

    (C. 2) What are the national holidays in Taiwan?

   In Taiwan people go to work on all days in the week except Sunday on a
   regular basis. On Saturdays they have their duties off at noon.

   Listed below are the national holidays in Taiwan:

     * January 1, 2 -- Founding Day of the Republic of China, New Year's
     * March 29 -- Youth Day
     * April 4 -- Holiday for Women and Children (Women and children have
       one day off)
     * April 5 -- Tomb-sweeping Day/Passing of President CHIANG, Kai-shek
     * May 1 -- Labor Day (Workers have one day off)
     * September 3 -- Armed Forces Day (Soldiers have one day off)
     * September 28 -- Teacher's Day/Confucius' Birthday
     * October 10 -- Double Tenth/National Day
     * October 25 -- Taiwan's Retrocession Day
     * October 31 -- CHIANG, Kai-shek's Birthday
     * November 12 -- Dr. SUN, Yet-sen's Birthday
     * December 25 -- Constitution Day

   In addition to these, there are also some holidays defined in terms of
   the Lunar Calendar, which is as follows:

     * December 30 -- Lunar New Year's Eve
     * January 1-3 -- Chinese New Year
     * May 5 -- Dragon Boat Festival
     * August 15 -- Mid-autumn (Moon) Festival

   If any of these holidays collides with each other, usually a make-up
   holiday will be introduced after that one. For instance, if the
   Teacher's Day is on Sunday, then the next day (Monday) will also be a

   Sometimes in order to introduce a long weekend, the authorities might
   announce a shifting of the working half-day on Saturdays. For
   instance, if the Teacher's Day (Sep 28) lies on Friday, then the
   authorities might announce that the next day (Sep 29, Saturday) is
   also off, while people have to work all day long on the next Saturday
   (Oct 6) for making up the introduced holiday.

    (C. 3) What are the days with special meanings in Taiwan?

   There are some days associated with special meanings in Taiwan, which
   are defined in Lunar Calendar. A partial listing is as follows.

   January 15
          Lantern Festival, also known as Tourism Day. On this day,
          people will prepare for the dim sum "Yuan2 Shiao", which is a
          riceball with sweet stuffings (sometimes meat is used instead
          for a salty version) in a soup style. Kids might bring lanterns
          with them and have a walk in the evening.

          In some temples there will be a meeting for riddles. Electric
          lanterns built in a "robot" fashion are set up to tell some
          historical stories or legends.

          You might want to check out the Taipei Lantern Festival, which
          is a three-day event held at Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. It
          features thousands of elaborated lanterns, and folk art

   March 23
          Matsu's Birthday. Matsu is the Godess of the sea and the great
          rescuer for fishermen. In addition to Chaotien Temple in
          Peikang, there are also major Matsu Temples in Lukang, Changhua
          County and Tachia, Taichung County, where Her birthday is
          widely celebrated.

   July 7
          Chinese Lovers' (Valentines) Day. Once upon a time, there was
          an industrious cowboy, and the God made him His son-in-law as a
          reward for his hardworking. However, after he got married, he
          and his wife, the knit girl, spent less time in working,
          therefore the God penalized this couple by separating them
          across the Milky Way so that they could meet each other only
          once a year (this day) on a bridge formed by skylarks.

   July 15
          Chung-yuan Day, also known as Ghost Day. Legend has it that in
          Lunar July, the Hellmaster will release the ghosts to the human
          world so they can enjoy the ghost money, incense and food
          provided by their families. Lunar July is also known as the
          ghost month . On the first and the fifteenth, people and stores
          usually put their offerings of food in front of their doors.

    (C. 4) I have a Taiwanese friend. How can I avoid misunderstandings?

   There are some basic cultural differences between the East and the
   West. Taiwan is no exception. By knowing how people in Taiwan
   interpret things differently from what you do, you might be able to
   avoid some possible conflicts and make yourself a better friend.

   "Face" is a very important concept in Asian culture. Sometimes people
   might choose to have a big car, a piano in the house (though nobody
   plays), and a lot of brand-name liquor in the cabinet, while living on
   a budget and bargaining in the markets for a discount for only a few
   New Taiwan dollars. Choosing a gift with a snob appeal usually pleases
   your host when you visit them.

   However, the gift business is not that simple. As a tradition, the
   host will usually say thanks for your generosity but refuse to accept
   the gift, as he is afraid of being considered greedy if he takes it
   easily. On the other hand, the guest is supposed to insist the host to
   accept the gift, otherwise he will be considered not sincere enough.
   Such an "argument" might last for several rounds until eventually the
   host happily accepts the gift.

   The host is not supposed to open the wrappings for the gift in front
   of the guest, which is quite contrary to the American style. Opening
   the gift in front of the guests is viewed as a greedy behavior in

   Going Dutch is something Taiwanese never learn. When friends go to a
   restaurant together, they usually end up with "fighting to pay for the
   bill". Don't feel surprised if you feel your Taiwanese friend all of a
   sudden seems to argue with you while one minute ago you were still
   happily chatting with each other. Probably this kind of behavior can
   also be traced up to the "Face" issue.

   In the West usually personal privacies are emphasized strongly and
   everyone is supposed to mind his/her own business. However, in Taiwan,
   sometimes minding other's business is used as a signal to show that
   you care for your friend. When your Taiwanese friend tells you, "You
   are overweight and you should be on a diet," don't get upset. He/she
   is just trying to tell you that he/she cares about you. Similarly,
   when your Taiwanese friend asks you questions like "Are you married?",
   "How many kids do you have?", he/she just wants to be friendly. You
   can make up a story and tell him/her whatever you feel comfortable
   with if you don't want to tell the truth.

   Speaking too frankly is also something to be avoided. In Taiwan,
   usually people say what they expect their friends would like to hear
   to preserve each others' faces. Beating around the bush is a basic
   communication skill in Taiwan. Fortunately, such a skill in Taiwan is
   not as sophisticated as in Japan, where Westerners are often puzzled
   by what the Japanese people really mean.

    (C. 5) Where can I take a taste of the Taiwanese cuisine?

   Due to different climate and geographical conditions, in different
   parts of Taiwan you can find miscellaneous food, including hot
   cuisines and special agricultural products. If you stay in Taiwan for
   a longer period, they are certainly worth trying.

   However, before you try them, you should keep two things in mind.
   First, most people in Taiwan don't have allergic problems with MSG.
   Therefore, by default all Taiwanese cuisines (and actually almost all
   dishes in Chinese restaurants) contains MSG. Secondly, for some
   unknown reasons, hepatitis B has a high infection rate in Taiwan. Do
   not visit the street vendors for cuisines if you are not satisfied
   with the sanity of the containers they use.

   Listed below is a partial list for places with high concentrations of
   Taiwanese cuisine vendors.

   Miao-ko (Temple Entrance), Keelung City
          There are around 200 to 300 vending sites at the intersection
          of Jen Three Road and Ai Four Road. Tien-fu-lou (fried item in
          Japanese) from No. 16 by WANG, Teh and Tou-chien-keng near No.
          16 is worth a try.

   Shihlin Night Market, Taipei City
          Most vendors are located around Yang-ming Theater. Several
          vendors carry Tou-hua (soft bean curd).

   Chaotien Temple Night Market, Peikang, Yunlin County
          The customer base for this night market is on the believers of
          Matsu, who visit Chaotien Temple especially from Lunar January
          to March. Most vendors gather around Chun-shan Road and Chunhua

   Hsiao-pei Night Market, Tainan City
          One of the major areas in Tainan where vendors concentrate,
          which is located on section 4 of West Gate Road. Shakaliba,
          enclosed by Chung-cheng Road, Yu-ai and Hai-an Roads also
          deserves visiting. Check out "Coffin Board" by Liu-yi Hsu in
          Shakaliba if you are an unsuperstitious gluton.

          Dan-tzu Noodle (noodle soup in Tainanese style), which lies
          opposite to the City Council across Chung-cheng Road, carries a
          special flavor. You are supposed to sit on a short bamboo chair
          and enjoy the noodle under the dim light.

   Liu-ho Night Market, Kaohsiung City
          This night market occupies roughly one block along Liu-ho Road
          from Chung-shan Road. Most Kaohsiung residents come from some
          other adjacent counties, which results in a great variety of
          cuisines here.

   (Reference: "Introduction to Taiwan Famous Food and Snack" by Yu-wen
   Chang, 1994 edition, by Outdoor Life Co. Ltd. (ISBN 957-9476-48-9) ).

    (C. 6) What are the special products in Taiwan?

   Listed below is a partial list for special products in Taiwan. Some of
   them are food while some others might be artifacts.

   Iron Egg, Tanshui, Taipei County
          If you think your teeth are quite robust, try it. With spices
          and some soy bean sauce, eggs are cooked, air dried and then
          cooked again, and such a process is repeated within a week,
          until the eggs look like a black marble ball, which bounces
          when dropped to the ground.

   Kumquat Cake, Ilan County
          In fact kumquat cake is a name used for all the preserved
          kumquat, which is good for coughing people in herbalists' view.

   Bean Jelly Cake ("Yokan" in Japanese), Su-au, Ilan County
          Bean jelly cake is not made from lamb, though it is said that
          originally in China bean jelly cake was prepared by cooking
          beans in a lamb stomach, and later Japanese transformed it into
          a sweet snack and introduced it to Taiwan during the occupation
          period. It is a kind of jelly-like snack, though much thicker.
          The bean jelly cake in Su-au becomes quite famous because the
          cold spring available in Su-au. Check out Feng-ming Bean Jelly
          Cake Shop at No. 18, Chung-shang Road and Su-au Preserved Fruit
          Shop at No. 42.

          Yuli, Hualien County is also famous for its bean jelly cake
          production. Check out Kuang-shen Store at No. 82, Section 2,
          Chung-shan Road.

   Dried Bean Curd, Ta-shi, Taoyuan County
          Dried bean curd is a snack made of bean curd. Dried bean curd
          is famous in Ta-shi because of the underground water people use
          in the manufacturing process. Check out the store owned by
          HUANG, Ju-shiang at No. 56, Hoping Road.

   Rice Noodle and Gong Meatball, Hsinchu

   Marble, Hualien County
          Marble is an important mining product in Hualien. In Hualien
          City, the bricks paved in the sidewalks are made of marble.

   Taro Ice, Tsouhu, Taichung County
          In fact, it might be better described as taro ice cream, which
          comes in cubes. Tai-ho Taro Ice Shop and Mei-fong Taro Ice Shop
          are two major examples.

   Wu-lung Tea, Deer Valley, Nantou County
          Wu-lung Tea originated from the Frozen Top Mountain near Deer
          Valley, which might be considered a representative model for
          miscellaneous teas in Taiwan.

   Pork Dumplings, Changhua
          Actually the pork dumpling from Changhua is not round, as
          implied by its Taiwanese name. It is like a large dumpling with
          wrapping made of sweet yam powder and some vegetables cooked
          with meat as the stuffing.

   Preserved Fruits, Yuenlin, Changhua County
          With a subtropical/tropical climate, Taiwan is famous for its
          diversified fruit production. Yuenlin, being adjacent to nearby
          fruit fields and a climate with shorter rainy season, is
          well-known for the industry on preserved fruits. Check out
          Fu-erh Preserved Fruits Company should you want to take a

   Paper Umbrella, Mei-nung, Kaohsiung County
          Mei-nung is one of the Hakka towns in Taiwan, and it is a Hakka
          tradition to use paper umbrella as a wedding gift for daughters
          because "paper" and "son" sounds similar and there are five
          parts corresponding to "man" in the Chinese word for
          "umbrella", which is a good sign for "getting sons sooner".
          These umbrellas use materials from bamboo as the skeleton, then
          painted paper is used for the umbrella covering. They are much
          more expensive than the ordinary umbrellas, but they last
          longer and they are a good artistic souvenir for your
          collection too.

   Pig Feet, Wangluan, Pintung County
          Check out Hai-hong Hotel in Wangluan Market, which provides
          chewy but not greasy pig feet.

   (Reference: "Introduction to Taiwan Famous Food and Snack" by Yu-wen
   Chang, 1994 edition, (ISBN 957-9476-48-9) and "Introduction to Taiwan
   Special Products" by Yu-wen Chang, 1990 edition, both by Outdoor Life
   Co. Ltd.).

    (C. 7) What are the special events in Taiwan?

   Most of the special events in Taiwan are defined in terms of the Lunar
   Calendar. Listed below is a partial list of them for your reference.

   Rocket Hives, Yenshui, Tainan County (January 15 (L) )
          On January 15 night, the small town Yenshui becomes "Fireworks
          Capital of the World". Rocket-like fireworks fly through the
          sky with a high pitch, and hence they are named "Rocket Hives".
          Currently this event has already been one of the major cultural
          events in Taiwan. Local folks believe the more fireworks they
          have, the more prosperous they will be in that year.

          Fireworks are built in a shape of a castle, and they are
          connected in such a way that once ignited, fireworks fly away
          like crazy hornets towards all the directions. Some firework
          castle can cost up to several thousand US dollars.

          It is advised to arrive at Yenshui before 16:00 on January 15
          when the traffic control is in effect, so you might familiate
          yourself with a better orientation. Eye protection is a must,
          for which the helmet for motorcycles with eye shielding can be
          used. You should also cover all of your skin for the possible
          injury from the "bee" attack. On the other hand, it is a better
          idea to view the magnificent scene in the up-wind direction so
          you won't be choked by the smoke generated by the fireworks.

   Water Lantern, Keelung (July 15 (L) )
          Originally water lanterns are used as signs for the drowned
          ghosts so they might find a way back to the human world for the
          offerings in food and ghost money. However, nowadays it has
          lost its significance and only Keelung together with some Hakka
          villages keep this tradition in the Ghost Month.

          On Chung-yuan eve, there is usually a parade of water lanterns.
          After some ceremonies, the local folks will light up the
          lanterns and put them on float. Legend has it that the farther
          the lantern flows away, the better luck the family will have
          which the lantern represents.

          In Keelung, water lanterns are usually set free at Wan-an Lane
          in Patoutze around 23:00 on the eve.

   Ceremony for Confucius (September 28)
          Ceremony for Confucius is held everywhere in Taiwan in the
          local Confucius Temples on September 28. This has been a
          tradition for Chinese culture for more than one thousand years.
          Even during the Japanese occupation, such ceremonies were still
          performed as Japanese culture is also affected by Confucius.

          The ceremony starts at around 05:00 on Confucius' Birthday. The
          program is conducted quite seriously, which is different from
          other Taiwanese events where "Renao" is emphasized. 64
          elementary students will perform the "Eight Yi" Dance, which
          has been set up since the Tang dynasty.

          Interested tourists can try to visit the Confucius Temples in
          Taipei, Taichung and Kaohsiung for this event.

   Burning of King's Boat, Tungkang, Pintung County (September (L) )
          This is not an annual event. In Tungkang, such a rite is held
          once in three years in Lunar September, which lasts for around
          7 days. The actual date will be decided by the King himself.
          The boat will be burned early morning on the seventh day. On
          the other hand, in Sikang, the rite lasts for 6 days and it
          will be held in Lunar April. The boat is burned at noon in the
          sixth day.

          Local people start to build the boat around four or five months
          beforehand. During the rite, they believe the burning away of
          the boat is a symbol for the leaving of all the disasters, as
          the "boat" is a vehicle for the local plague king. There will
          also be a parade before the burning rite.

   In addition to these, each of the nine major aborigine tribes in
   Taiwan also has their own rites for different occasions. If you are
   interested in their events, it is recommended to contact local county
   governments for details. Around the Mid-autumn Festival, Hualien
   County government usually organizes a "Harvest Festival" for all the
   Ami people in Hualien, which lasts for one day. Several thousands of
   people will work together for miscellaneous songs and dances, as songs
   and dances are a part of Ami people's ordinary lives. You might reach
   Hualien County government, 886-38-227-171 for details.

   (Reference: "Introduction to Taiwan Popular Special Events" by Yu-wen
   Chang, 1989 edition, by Outdoor Life Co. Ltd. (ISBN 957-8987-27-7) )

    (C. 8) What are the recommended sources for learning Mandarin?

   Stanford University has a cooperative program with National Taiwan
   Normal University. You can reach Office of Foreign Student Affairs at

      162 Ho-Ping E. Rd. Sec. 1, Taipei 106-10, Taiwan
      Tel: 886-2-362-5621.

   University of Massachusetts also has a cooperative program with the
   Chinese Language Center at

      Box 862, Tunghai University, Taichung 407-04, Taiwan
      Tel: 886-4-359-0259
      Fax: 886-4-359-4408

   There is also the very *for profit* organization, Taipei Language
   Institute (TLI) at

      4F 50 Roosevelt Rd. Sec.3, Taipei 100, Taiwan
      Tel: 886-2-367-8228, 886-2-367-2112
      Fax: 886-2-363-4857

   TLI might have other branches around Taiwan.

   You can get the book "Higher Education in ROC [=Taiwan] Guide for
   Foreign Students" from your nearest Taiwan representative office.
   (Refer to (T. 7), "Where can I find the representative offices for
   Taiwan in other countries?" in the Tourism part for their locations).

   (Thanks to Dan Jacobson, "" who contributed
   the information here)

    (C. 9) What are the recommended sources for learning Hoklo and Hakka?

   For people who can already speak Mandarin, you can learn Hakka by

      Hakka Cathay News
      9F-5, No. 1, Chan Chien [ (Zhan4 Qian2) "station front" ]
      Miaoli City, Miaoli 360, Taiwan
      Tel: 886-37-271-603, 886-37-271-613   Fax: 886-37-271-583

   There is a Hakka Chinese Homepage with URL

   from which you might learn more about the Hakka people and their
   language. Taiwan Hakka Association of the U.S.A. also has a homepage

   where you might learn some Hakka songs and even Hakka phonetic

   There are also lots of books and tapes available for English speakers
   who want to learn Taiwanese [ 1 Hakka book too, but only one cassette
   ]. Please contact

      Maryknoll Language Service Center
      P.O.Box 149
      120 San-min Road Sec. 1
      Taichung 400, Taiwan
      Tel: 886-4-371-2133

   Pingtung County Government in Taiwan also has one Hakka Tape/Book and
   one Taiwanese Tape/Book. Please contact Tel: 886-8-736-0331,

   (Thanks to Dan Jacobson, "" who contributed
   the information here and posted it in the newsgroups
   "tw.bbs.soc.hakka" and "soc.culture.taiwan".)

   (Permission to repost the finished document or make copies of it in
   electronic, mechanical, photocopied, or other form as appropriate will
   be granted provided it is not modified in any way whatsoever, and it
   is not used for profit purposes without prior explicit consent from
   the author. Copyright 1995, 1996, 1997 by Tung-chiang Yang).

Tung-chiang Yang                    

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