Foriegners In Taiwan: Are We Ronald McDonald?

Today was one of those days that my “McDonald’s urge” hit me and thus I found myself buying a number 4 meal, and, for lack of a China Post, sitting alone looking at a cutout of Ronald. It then dawned on me the scary possibility that Ronald represents my (our) place in Taiwanese society.

Think about this: Ronald is white (as most of us are, though our colleagues of other ethnicities are lumped into the same mold), happy all the time, loves children, is always ready to entertain. Foreign teachers are by and large portrayed and indeed expected to be happy all the time (ie, the common belief that we are generally happier than locals) always in the mood to entertain children, and be ready at any time to be someone’s “English answer machine”.

Ronald is also a clown. Foreigners are many times portrayed in the buffoon role, and many in fact readily accept this role on TV talk shows and commercials. Of course it is all in good fun, but one cannot help but wonder if we are playing into the hands of some sort of orchestrated social hierarchy( my inclination toward conspiracy theory tends to get me into trouble so I’ll stop now).
Perhaps in some broad cosmic way of looking at it, we serve a greater purpose, a bearer of others’ need for happiness.If so, I am glad to help someone. But what if…..

What if one does not wish to be Ronald McDonald today? What if today I do not feel like smiling? What if I’ve had a long day and do not wish to be asked questions pertaining to English? What if I actually have an opinion on a talk show, not the usual positive, happy-go-lucky “Taiwan is wonderful” answer? What if, instead of a happy clown who brings joy to others (a noble role but…) I wish to actually be a PLAYER in Taiwan society? To be taken seriously and to make a serious contribution to my new adopted country?

What then? Of course there are many charity societies that one may be relegated to, all of which serve a great service to society, but then this brings us back to a point: are we expected to be “sacrificial lambs” for the benefit of Taiwan society? Have missionaries fostered this image? I am by the way, a person of faith and admire missionaries greatly.

Is our only capacity then forever that of Ronald McDonald, a bringer of happiness to others? Can we from the “culture industry” as Taiwan blogger Scott Sommers so elegantly stated before, ever be taken seriously?

About the Author

Ran the Man is a musician,martial artist, language teacher, and defrocked renegade missionary (really). He has spoken Mandarin for over 20 years and been in Taiwan for over 10. He can be found occasionally in some God-forsaken dives in central Taiwan, where he drinks Coke and rum. See more of Ran's musings at his blog - The Truth About Taiwan

3 Responses to “ Foriegners In Taiwan: Are We Ronald McDonald? ”

  1. I agree with you, of course, but I’m not sure the problem is as hopeless as all this. Most white people who live in Taiwan don’t work in the language teaching industry. Large numbers of us work as engineers, bankers, journalists or even as employees for defense-related companies peddling and maintaining the weapons of a Free China.

    The problem is that, once you’re inside the industry, there is very little mobility into well-paying positions outside. How many long-term English teachers do you know who were able to move out of language teaching? Come back in 10 years and anyone who is still here has in all likelihood opened their own buxiban.

  2. English teaching is a dead-end job. Unless you open your own school you are just a money tree that someone else shakes…

  3. I think you mean that classroom teaching is a dead-end job. And as true as this is, what I mean is that the language teaching industry is difficult to leave. The skills you need to excel in it are not transferable to other industries with comparable levels of pay. Once you are in your 30s and working in the industry for a long time, you only have 2 choices, (1) get in a large institutional teaching setting, like a HS or university or (2) open your own school.

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