Trips to mainland China eye-opening experiences for many Taiwanese

Many Taiwanese still consider the mainland to be backward but more frequent travel has proved to be an eye-opener for the visitors

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 15 February, 2013, 4:47am

Rapid cross-strait exchanges have helped dispel some urban myths and misunderstanding about the mainland and its people in the eyes of some Taiwanese residents.

James Wang, a Taiwanese engineer who was recently stationed to work at his company's mainland office, said it had been an eye-opening experience since moving to Suzhou , Jiangsu.

"I thought that while it might be scenic, it would be a relatively backward place, without even a gym where I could exercise after work," he said. "But before I even reported to work, some of my mainland colleagues there had already helped me find a list of local fitness centres after learning from my boss that I go to the gym often after work."

Wang, who returned home to Taipei for the Lunar New Year holiday, was one of the many Taiwanese with deep-seated stereotypes about the mainland and its people. It's only after a visit to the mainland that they realise how ignorant they have been.

Some Taiwanese who lived in Beijing more than a decade ago are under the impression that it's important to dress humbly, so as to avoid becoming the target of robbers and pickpockets. Taiwanese friends and relatives are sometimes advised to never wear nice clothes if they visit the mainland.

Jasmine Fang, a Zhejiang native now studying journalism at Shih Hsin University in Taipei, said she was shocked when some of her classmates asked her whether there were high-rise buildings in Shanghai.

"For God's sake, it's Shanghai," she said, lamenting that so many Taiwanese have backward views of the mainland, despite it becoming one of the world's top economic powers.

Cross-strait exchanges have increased rapidly since 2008 when Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou adopted a policy of engaging the mainland and permitting mainlanders to visit the island. As a result, myths and misunderstandings have gradually declined, but have not been eradicated.

Wang, who will return to Suzhou after the holiday, said he was surprised to discover that mainlanders "enjoy having a relaxing meal, like many of their Taiwanese counterparts".

"At first, I thought that eating out on the mainland must be like going into battle, as I thought that mainlanders tend to finish their meals in a rush, like in 10 to 15 minutes," he said.

Patricia Cheng, who works for a US-invested company in Taiwan, recently went on a trip to Shanghai. "I was dumbfounded because I never thought there would be so many upscale department stores and fashion boutiques in Shanghai," she said, adding that she ended up having a great time, shopping almost non-stop.

According to the Taiwan Affairs Office, close to eight million people from Taiwan and the mainland visited the two sides of the Taiwan Strait in 2012, with 5.35 million coming from the island. The disparity is largely because of some restrictions still placed on mainlanders visiting the island.