When I arrived in Taoyuan, I was struck by my progress through the airport, through security, and to my hotel, all without one single person shouting laowai or HELLO!!! or taking photos of the foreigner existing in public. I mentioned this surprise to a Taiwanese colleague, who assured me that no one in Taiwan would ever do any of that.
Of course I didn’t believe him. My years in mainland China were filled with constant shouts, photos and staring, as well as the insistence that anyone who shouted at me must be just one backwards villager passing through. No one in Yantai/Qingdao/Beijing/Yangzhou/Shanghai or wherever this conversation was taking place, would ever be so gauche, because everyone in Yantai/Qingdao/Beijing/Yangzhou/Shanghai or wherever this conversation was taking place, is very polite. Clearly Hello Man, who lives in a backwater and shouts at 10,000 foreigners per year, is an outlier and should not have been counted. And yet, the shouts continued.
But in Taiwan so far, not only has no one shouted laowai at me, but when Taiwanese people get on an elevator with me, they’ll ask which floor in Chinese, and when I tell them, they nod and press that button without going a few rounds of 你的中文很好 or making sure their friends see the talking waiguoren. When I shop in Taoyuan, the cashiers don’t giggle and point at the price, they ask if I want to stamp my points card or if I want to buy a second Hello Kitty candy pack for the New Year’s BOGO promotion. Sure, it’s not like I can really navigate a frequent shopper card in my halting, awkward Chinese, but it’s still lovely to be asked just like everyone else. Because who doesn’t want a second Hello Kitty candy pack?