Fort Santo Domingo in 淡水 not Tamsui

One of the reasons that the Spanish established Fort Santo Domingo (紅毛城) was that they, from this place, could see for miles out on to the Taiwan Strait. Below is my wife and daughter.

My sister recently visited me here in Wenshan, Taiwan. One of our stops included Fort Santo Domingo (紅毛城), out in Danshui. A lot of Taiwanese will say it's Tamsui when they're talking to me, but I prefer to call it Danshui (淡水), like it's pronounced in Chinese. The Spanish built this fort in 1626, two years after the Dutch built their Zeelandia in Tainan. The story is as follows (I'm using John Robert Shepherd's Statecraft and Political Economy on the Taiwan Frontier: 1600 - 1800, which I consider to be one of the best books ever written about Taiwan). M.G. Vries of Holland landed with a force in Danshui in September 1640, where he "found the Spanish garrison had already withdrawn" (Shepherd, 58). Vries and company then marched up to Keelung, but was met by 50 Spanish soldiers, 30 Pampangans, 200 slaves and 130 Chinese soldiers so they gave up and returned to the south. In 1641, Danshui natives along with the Dutch "foreigner" Thomas Pedel rallied the government in Tainan to do something about the Spanish problem. They claimed that several Danshui villages were already causing problems for the Spanish, who wished to leave Taiwan anyway as the only resource they found worthwhile was a bit of sulfur from Beitou. In August 1642, the Dutch landed a force that was strong enough to expel the Spanish. Of course, the Dutch themselves were given the boot 20 years later by the Ming loyalist Cheng Cheng-gong (鄭成功). Cheng hoped to use Taiwan as a staging ground for an invasion of China. After China had stamped out Cheng's grandson in 1683, they offered to sell Taiwan back to Holland. Holland declined the offer, leaving this single relic of a Dutch/Spanish presence in Taipei.

I like history; that's why I never tire of Fort Santo Domingo. According to my history prof at Chengchi University, the place has been done up pretty well. He even thinks the color of the paint is correct (although I have reservations about the huge Republic of Taiwan flag that flutters above the fort), but this is not really the point of this post. I think I'll discuss Mr. Wang (see above pic), the misguided soul who works the Fort Santo Domingo ticket booth.

The moment I appeared at the booth, even before I had opened my mouth, Mr. Wang was using a silly flat accent that is supposed to mimic "foreigners" who are able to speak Chinese. When I asked Mr. Wang about his strange accent, he said: "It's nothing. You're a foreigner." I told him that I was put off as it was a bit impolite, and that "foreigners" no matter if they were American, British, French, etc. would probably not appreciate it. But Mr. Wang continued on in the accent. My wife then asked him why he didn't just speak Chinese normally. Still he insisted. He even tried to put his arm around me, with a wink to his colleague (see above pic).

At this point, I asked his colleague: "What's this guy's problem? Is it because I have white skin?" She responded:

"We don't have racists in Taiwan," meaning, I guess, that it's only a Western problem.

"Does he talk to you like this?"

"Uh, no. But you have to understand his sense of humor," was the reply. She wasn't laughing though.

I'm really bored with this variety of individual in Taiwan. That he works at one of Taipei's major tourist attractions, a place that undoubtedly welcomes large numbers of "foreigners" is beyond me. I don't agree that racism is a Western problem, or that it has been imported from the West. Here are my suggestions to the Mr. Wangs of this island:

1. I'm not a foreigner. I'm an American.

2. If you want to know where I come from, it's Wenshan, Taiwan. If you want to know "Oh, no what about before that?" it's Wanhua, Taiwan

3. If you want to take a piss out of me, first you'd better know me. I'm a pretty easy target, so I'm used to it, if I know who the heck you are.

4. If you want to hug me, you'd better know me. Don't get me wrong. I like a hug as much as the next guy, but only not under the above circumstances.

5. If you think that I don't have a right to complain, that I must smile like I'm a monkey and put up with it because I'm a "foreigner", or that I can go back to the "foreign" land that I come from if I want to complain, well I've got news for you: There are around a half a million "foreigners" in Taiwan. One in five babies born have a "foreign" mom or dad. If you don't like to hear us complain, why don't you go back to China? Because, simply put, Taiwan is now a country of "foreigners".

6. If you still don't get it, here's a note in return for the hug:

Dear Mr. Wang,

Taiwan is a little country facing growing isolation and a declining population. It may soon discover that it needs the rest of the world in order to survive. Instead of burrowing further into the ground and pissing the rest of us off, Taiwan needs to find a way to be more open, less stubborn in accommodating out-groups.



Naruwan said...

What I do with these disrespectful assholes is to embarrass them by using heavily accented Chinglish to remark upon their stupid Chinese-for-foreigners accent. Another method is to politely ask them to speak in proper Chinese and not in that "strange 'ah-da ah-da' style" Chinese which you can't understand. Usually works for me, most especially when their colleagues can hear what you're saying.

John said...

I think the dynamics of this type of situation can be a bit complicated. It sounds like the guy was insulted and wanted to make it obvious that foreigners who don't want to speak English to him are putting on airs by sticking to Chinese.

I always start an exchange in Chinese as best I can, and in my experience, Taiwanese who do not speak English (or who don't think they speak it well enough) are usually willing to patiently endure my bad Chinese and respond in Chinese to answer my questions or conduct everyday transactions.

Of course, most Taiwanese think they need to speak English to foreigners...at least to European-looking foreigners like myself. That's fine with me, but if I begin a conversation in one langauge, it seems rude for the other person to switch languages. If I stubbornly stick to Chinese, most take the hint and respond in Chinese, but now and then I run into Taiwanese who insist on speaking to me in English, even after I politely address them in Chinese. I suppose they are confident about their English skills, and want to prove it. Actually, if I am addressed in English I don't usually mind responding in English. However, a few times, I think I have insulted some stubborn people by being stubborn. Perhaps they feel I am not "giving them face" by allowing them to shift the conversation to English. Often goes like this :)

你好, 我要喝拿鐵.
Hot or cold?
For here or to go?

Patrick Cowsill said...

He started to talk to me in Chinese, and stuck to speaking Chinese the whole time. Actually, I'm comfortable in Chinese having studied it for a decade, so I don't think that was an issue. I'll speak either Chinese or English; I don't care and am used to flipping back and forth (my wife is Taiwanese; but speaks English as well).

I think there was indeed a face issue here, especially after I questioned his manners right in front of his colleague and several other Taiwanese people. He probably felt insulted.

Anonymous said...


This situation frustrates me as well. When I was younger, I took offense because I thought it was an aspersion on my Mandarin speaking skills. Now, I just see it as patronizing, an attempt to have some fun at my expense. I typically respond by asking the person why they speak Mandarin with such a strange accent. For whatever reason, most people cut it out at that point. If they don't, I dig in , just as you did.

The Mr. Wangs of our world do make me wonder if Taiwan is really ready for membership in the global village. I suppose it is wise to remember that most people back in North America would have trouble telling you the difference between Thailand and Taiwan.

Prince Roy said...


if they are responding to you in English after this, I can't say I'm surprised:

你好, 我要喝拿鐵.

What is that?

Oh, and the topic of this thread also gets my goat. I simply don't put up with it.

George said...

Dear Patrick:
After reading your descriptions about and suggestions for Mr. Wang (of course not me, even my Chinese last name is the same), I'd like to show my stance that I back you up unconditionally. I think that whoever you are Western or Eastern, the dignity should be respected one another, especially in initiating a conversation. There is only a word I can give you to treat such an impolite and boring man like Mr. Wang. That is to say back "I'm not a foreigner, but a Taiwanese- American, because both my wife and I can speak Taiwanese better than you can! You are dead wrong with what you think about me."

John said...

Don't ask me why, Roy, but that's how they say latte...or rather they usually say "latte", but write it as 拿堤.

And yes, I'm sure your Chinese is much, much better than mine.

And I appreciate your responding in order to point that out to me. Really.

Prince Roy said...

Thanks John,

that'll teach me not to be a coffee drinker.

Prince Roy said...

oh, and I certainly wasn't taking the piss out of your Chinese. How could I> I don't even know the word for 'latte'. Sorry for any misunderstanding.

Richard said...


Are you sure that just because someone wants "to take a piss" that makes him a racist? Lighten up and take the hug.


Patrick Cowsill said...

Rich, I wrote a paper recently about how deeply ingrained prejudice is in Taiwan’s society, so this is easy. I will summarize, using another of favorite books written on Taiwan, Gordon Allport’s The Nature of Prejudice.

Allport defines prejudice as deriving from the Latin word “praejudicium”, meaning a judgment “based on previous decisions and actions” (Allport, p. 6). To this, he adds the term has acquired “favorableness and unfavorableness” that mingles with a judgment that is neither objective nor supported (Ibid). To Allport, prejudice is an antipathy based on faulty and inflexible generalization”. It refers to an unfavorable action, behavior, outcome or treatment

Allport has built a scale, moving from the least serious (something you can appreciate) to the most severe. On his scale, Allport lists five degrees, to show how deeply ingrained prejudice is in a society. The scale helps us see how firmly prejudice is anchored in Taiwanese culture.

In the first stage, called antilocution, he discusses the process of the in-group ostracizing an out-group through making jokes or having fun. If you’re confused, see my post. Antilocution, rich in negative stereotypes and negative images, paves the way for more harmful behavior in the second stage, avoidance. At this level, people in the minority group are instinctively sidestepped by those in the majority group. An often-referred to example of avoidance occurs on the Taipei transit system. Many Westerners have pointed out that Taiwanese would rather not sit next to them, choosing to stand even when an empty seat is available. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about here. Another example of avoidance that is injurious is the insistence of some Taiwanese parents that their offspring neither date nor marry Westerners. In a Confucian society that emphasizes filial piety and obedience, a child marrying someone whom he or she chooses and entering a transnational marriage can face unbearable pressure. Sometimes, it pulls families apart.

The third stage is called isolation: Enough said.

In stages four and five, physical attack and extermination, respectively, Taiwan has a rich and storied history thanks to a long frontier history, political instability and even superstition. Physical attack, meaning the propensity to vandalize the property of minorities and engage in violence against them, has been commonplace ever since 1624, the beginning of recorded history in Taiwan. In fact, struggles between locals and mandarin officials during the Ching Dynasty led to the saying: “An uprising every three years, a rebellion every five years”. All told, 159 uprisings occurred during 212 years of rule. The harsh treatment of the Taiwanese population under the Japanese imperialists during Taiwan’s colonial period and more recently under a KMT authoritarian government led to the brutal repression of thousands of Taiwanese locals. While KMT nationalist attempts to exterminate the Taiwanese in terms of culture and language have failed, the Taiwanese seem to have come much closer in doing exactly the same to Aboriginal culture and language.

Owen’s Rutter’s account in Through Formosa: An Account of Japan’s Island Colony speaks to how far along the final stage of racism, extermination, the Taiwanese actually were a hundred years ago:

“The Chinese atrocities [in Taiwan] far exceeded any committed by the [Aborigines]. The latter took heads, it is true, but the Chinese ate and even traded in their victims flesh. After killing an [Aborigine], the head was commonly severed from the body and exhibited to those who were not on hand to witness the prior display of slaughter and mutilation. The body was then either divided among its captors and eaten, or sold to wealthy Chinese and even to high officials, who disposed of it in a like manner. The kidney, liver, heart, and soles of the feet were considered the most desirable portions, and were ordinarily cut up into small pieces, boiled and eaten somewhat in the form of soup. The flesh and bones were boiled, and the former made into a sort of jelly…. During the outbreak of 1891 [Aboriginal] flesh was brought in – in baskets – the same as pork, and sold like pork in the open markets of Tokoham before the eyes of all.” (Rutter, pp. 224-225).

In the explanation of ethnocentrism, or a view of the world where a culture puts its own group at the center, with all others scaled and related to that group, we can also see several items at play in Taiwanese culture. Language, perhaps more than any other factor, reinforces this point with words like 中國 or “Center Country” referring China and 中國人, “Center Country’s People”, to Chinese (and sometimes Taiwanese) people as opposed to 國外 for “Outside (Center) Country, 外國人 meaning “Outside (Center) Country Person” and 老外, “the Old Persistent Outside (Center) Person”. 山地人, or “Mountain-based Person”, is a term that melts all of Taiwan’s culturally varied Aboriginal groups into one. The term is still common usage even though, as many Aborigines have pointed out, it is keenly offensive to Aborigines because their ancestors only moved to these areas in recent years after being pushed off the plains by Taiwanese frontier expansion.

Sorry, if this isn’t “light enough for you.” I’ve got a suggestion: find another blog.

Anonymous said...

Great stuff - one of the reasons I'm leaving Taiwan is because I'm tired of pricks like him who have no manners and no respect.

MJ Klein said...

Patrick, next time something like that happens, just go "ahhhhhhhh" then turn to your wife and say "honey, he's retarded, so be nice" and then talk to him like.... well, like a retard.

Eddie G said...

I have to agree with MJ on this one, just treat him as the retard he seems to be. This kind of behavior is just so annoying. My girlfriend and I came across a complete retard yesterday at a Taiwanese party. When she and our friend briefly switched to Chinese to discuss a certain dish he asked in Chinese why they were talking in English before. Their explanation, that I don't know Chinese very well, was not good enough for him and he kept on bugging them. Interestingly enough this took place in Sweden and the guy then proceeded to talk in Swedish with the people sitting on his other side...

Patrick Cowsill said...

I think I'll give MJ's suggestion a try. It sounds like fun.

Many people in Taiwan are in denial when it comes to racism, and insist that it's only a Western value. These individuals should consider the recent comments made by Ma Ing-jeou (the current KMT leader) about Taiwan's Aboriginals:

"If you come into the city, you are a Taipei citizen; I see you as a human being, I see you as a citizen, and I will educate you well. Aborigines should adjust their mentality -- you come to this place, you have to play by its rules."

I remember four years ago when Lien Chan (the KMT leader at the time) said he wouldn't want a "foreigner" in his family. He later backtracked to say it was because they would "have communication problems". This was pure BS. Lien Chan did his graduate work in the US and even taught a year at a US university. His kids went to the Taipei American School and one of them, as far as I know, even lives in the US.

Racism is not an imported Western value. "Foreigners" have been writing about its presence both in Taiwan and China for hundreds of years. It's time Taiwan starts to face this problem and to deal with it. If not, there will be more and more clashes. Half a million "foreigners" live here. One in five babies has a "foreign" parent.

The Taipei Kid said...

I think I ran into Mr. Wang's daughter while waiting for a friend in the crowded waiting room by the door at the gym a few weeks ago. She asked me where I was from and I didn't respond, just kept staring into space. I don't like to give strangers personal information about me, especially sitting in a room full of other strangers. Then she told me to fuck off in front of everyone.

Patrick Cowsill said...

I often say that I'm from Wenshan, which is in Mucha. When they press me, I say Mucha is in Taiwan.

For the overly eager, who ask: "No, but before that?" I think I'll start saying "Where in China are you from?" Then, maybe I'll just continue "外國 is not a country. Just in case you're still confused, I was born in America. It's not hard to remember because it's the most powerful country in the world, much more than 中國. Anyway, we're all 'foreigners' here in Taiwan."

Why on earth would this woman tell the Taipei Kid to fuck off, especially in his own turf, Taipei?

Patrick Cowsill said...

A friend has pointed out that the comments about "retarded people" -- we should call them mentally disabled -- are completely unfair, unsensitive and discriminatory. Of course he is right, absolutely.

He has also pointed out that Mr. Wang could've been simply trying to make himself better understood. On this count, I couldn't disagree more. First of all, Mr. Wang didn't even know if I could speak Chinese. He started making that silly sound before I opened my mouth because, gee I don't know, he could see my white skin. Second, the silly accent is actually harder to understand, because it doesn't sound like the Chinese our teachers teach us to speak. Third, the silly accent is the result of some very racist programs that used to be on the air around ten years ago here in Taiwan. These shows would go as follows:
1. First, invite an unsuspecting "foreigner" to join the show.
2. Then, when he or she is on TV, ambush them and begin to make fun of them, especially how they speak Chinese (although body hair, height and weight are also fair game). That is where this accent was born. A TV host who thought it was funny and started to use it. Soon, other hosts copying him, using it on their guests. Usually, the guests were caught off-guard and felt dumbfounded. They had been told that Taiwanese were very polite, and simply did not know how to respond to the demeaning and ungracious behavior of these hosts.

It is worth pointing out that when the hosts tired of picking on unsuspecting "foreigners" (usually students who had just arrived in Taiwan), they moved on to Aborigines. They would invite them on their shows to sing, promote themselves, etc. and then surprise them by gleefully giving them rubber spears to play with or bringing out actors dressed in Flinstonesque caveman outfits for a shock effect.

MJ Klein said...

"A friend has pointed out that the comments about "retarded people" -- we should call them mentally disabled -- are completely unfair, unsensitive and discriminatory. Of course he is right, absolutely.

except for one thing Patrick: those comments weren't directed towards a mentally disabled person - they were meant for an asshole. let's keep our perspective here. the whole point of it was to be insulting right back to Mr. Wang. you gave him a chance. you asked him to please stop. he refused. so be it. he chose to be that way. give it to him, i say.

MJ Klein said...

Patrick, i forgot to mention something before, but one of your comments reminded me. i often answer The Question by repeatedly saying "wai guo." of course, the person repeats the question, asking again (sorry i can't type Chinese well but i can say the words) "ne zhu nadi ren?" and again i answer "wai gou ren." then, just when they think i'm either stupid or confused, i go on by saying "just ask any kid - he will tell you "there's a wai gou ren" so, i'm wai gou ren." to date, no person has given me a comeback to that one.

Eddie G said...

Just like MJ wrote we're talking about this moron in particular. He's a retard, which is something totally different from being mentally challenged. I always answer "wo shi reidien ren" which almost always get the anser "reishi?" and some comment about cheese and watches. Sweden, Switzerland, why does it have to be so similar in Chinese too?

Geezer Foo said...

This is soooo funny. Mind you, Patrick, at least Mr. Wang deigned to actually *speak* to you, instead of staring blankly at you and trying to work out what on earth the big hairy barbarian is saying. This happened to me so often in Taiwan, even down my local 7-11 where I'd lived for two years. I mean, I'm saying 'ni hao', for God's sake, how difficult can it be?

I've asked Taiwanese friends about this and they all assure me that would be extremely rude for a Taiwanese to ignore another Taiwanese's greeting. Yet it happened to me all the time. And I've asked my Taiwanese friends about this and they assure me that it's not racism, the store clerk (or whoever) just 'doesn't understand me.' Which, again, is just a reproduction of the whole 'we don't have racism here' argument - even from Taiwanese friends. It *is* racism: either they cannot possibly comprehend that someone without Han ancestry can have mastered 'hello' in Chinese after six years, or they don't believe that 'foreigners' deserve common courtesy. I suspect, on the whole, it's the latter.

What irks me perhaps even more is that other 'foreigners' (I use the term advisedly) are apologists for this kind of behaviour. Scott Sommers, for example, has written long (and twisted, and tenuous) tracts on how he believes that the word 'foreigner' is not offensive. It is! It is offensive! It means 'everyone who is not us by virtue of having a different skin colour or, failing that, not being descended directly from the Yellow Emperor.'

On a slight side note, it wasn't just Lien Chan who didn't want a 'foreigner' in the family. Old Chen Shui Bian got huffy because his daughter-in-law was going to give birth in the US, and he didn't want to be 'the grandpa of an American.'

The story's here: http://english.www.gov.tw/

I haven't yet decided whether the fact that this is on the Government's own website is kudos for them for admitting a balls-up (unlikely) or some scurrilous foreign English copy editor who has smuggled this under the noses of their Taiwanese overseers.

Patrick Cowsill said...

Around a year ago, I wrote a letter to the Taipei Times complaining about how difficult it is for a "foreigner" to obtain a visa or become naturalized in Taiwan. In the last paragraph, I wrote about Chen's son/daughter-in-law. They were living in New York at the time. Chen’s daughter-in-law was pregnant and some were saying the Chen's were considering having their son (born) in the US so he could have citizenship, which I felt was ironic as 1.) a child born in Taiwan of two "foreigners" is denied citizenship in Taiwan and 2.) their father, the president, has done nothing to change this law (or even address it). For some reason, the paper rewrote my conclusion for me:

I do remember Chen getting in a huffy about the possibility of his grandkid being born there, especially after the press started making a big deal about it, saying things like he’d have (OH MY GOD NO!) a non-Taiwanese family.

After the letter was published, several people wrote me to insult and tell me to get out of Taiwan. Another “foreign” blogger even spent some time trying to enlighten me; he didn't like that I was criticizing Chen and figured I'd been brainwashed by the media. He assumed (I guess because I have a non-Chinese sounding name and because I look white in photos) that I couldn't comprehend Chinese for myself and wanted to know who was translating the media reports for me.

Anonymous said...

Were the Danshui natives Chinese or aboriginal?

Patrick Cowsill said...

Probably Aborigines. Most of the Chinese presence in Taiwan in the 1640s was concentrated around Tainan (maybe about 20,000 in total at that time). The Ming government ordered all Chinese in Fuchien and Guangdong inland. They then scorched the land along the coast to starve Koxinga landing crews out, so it was hard for Chinese to come to Taiwan (usually they did so in Dutch ships headed for the southern part of the island). The Chinese people, needless to say, suffered greatly from this policy, but I don't think the well-being of the citizenry ranked very high in Beijing's agenda.

Chinese women were also forbidden from coming to Taiwan until 1788. Chinese men in Taiwan married Aboriginal women; pretty soon the people were neither Aboriginal nor Chinese.