2/11/2009

Strawberry Generation X in My Backyard

There are four parks within minutes from my home in Wenshan, Taiwan. They all have monkey bars, slides, rocking turtles and teenagers. For some reason, the teenagers in my neighborhood congregate in playgrounds. This is a concern for parents with infants as the older kids weave their bikes through wobbling toddlers, practice throwing fastballs with rocks at anything colorful that can serve as a target, slam dunk basketballs between the monkey bar grates and persist in all other kinds of stupid and dangerous stunts. They also litter cigarette butts and empty drink boxes on the ground where the smaller kids are playing. I really don't get why the playgrounds are so popular with teenagers, but every single one in my neighborhood comes with them.

I took the above shot a couple of Sundays ago. Notice how teenagers have taken over the jungle gym - the kids in the picture are 14 and 15 years old . I was telling myself I'd do something about it if my daughter tried to climb the stairs. Then another two-year-old beat her to it. He didn't get far as the kid with his ass hanging out dropped a couple of rungs, oblivious to the little boy he was impeding and about to land on, and continued with his attempts to impress the young ladies inside. When I went over and asked them if they were little kids, or if they weighed 30 kilograms or less like the sign said they needed to be, he became even more sarcastic than I was being and a bit hostile. "This is not a joke," I warned him. "Get lost." After the teenagers had returned the playground to the toddlers, a mom came over and thanked me. There was a nice wimpy-looking man nearby and his face was beet red. He was the little boy's father.

I go to this park almost every evening after I pick my daughter up from the babysitter's. The teenagers are always there. It has more or less the same crew; sometimes it swells to ten or even 15, and then there are some new faces. On occasion, the teenagers borrow my cell phone to call up more buddies to come over. I'm starting to get to know a few, like Andy, who's 14, and his chain-smoking girlfriend Amy. I once asked Andy if he had to study or something. He said he did from time to time. "Come on," I prodded, "you're not that diligent" and he agreed.

Actually, I'm finding when I talk to Andy and a few of his pals that I like them. I hear a lot of talk about how this generation, labeled the Strawberry Generation (actually they're post Strawberries as they were born from 1993-96 - Strawberries are the 1980s), is pretty useless. According to people my age (I'm 38), they're selfish, lazy, wasteful, unfilial and what have you. Taiwan's birthrate, which is less than one now combined with a high divorce rate, 35% and increasing last I heard, are the main culprits for spawning these non-Confucian mutants. Parents do one of the three: spoil them as they're only children, neglect them as they have to work 24/7 to keep up with the country's high cost of living or simply ignore them as they're divorced and back in the dating game. The tag Strawberry speaks to the character of this generation. It's easy to bruise.

The reason I think I might kind of like post Strawberries is they seem less inhibited, freer and a lot more fun. They can be pretty friendly, in a real way. I see this in Andy, the before-mentioned ringleader of the park invaders. He often comes over to talk to me, between smokes, and not just to bum my cell phone. He plays with my daughter and even scolds me for not teaching her better English.

When I mix new Taiwanese like my daughter (20% of Taiwanese babies have at least one "foreign" parent) in with the Strawberries and post-Strawberries, I can see that Taiwan is soon going to be a radically different place. That's more than OK by me. In a way, the presence of such a generation is "sweet" and satisfying, so long as it's not in my local playground.

6 comments:

The Taipei Kid said...

I don't see what the problem is. Their physical age may be 15 but their Taiwan age would be about 6, so their immature behavior seems about right.

Stefan said...

Isn't that the same everywhere? Teenagers are not allowed on playgrounds, but they are not allowed in more adult locations either. Some will try to trick their way into the adult world (fake IDs and so on) and some will try to return where they used to be welcome.

We seem to be happy to give them space when they are little, but when they are older we can't seem to find room for them.

Patrick Cowsill said...

Hey,

Nobody normally feels more sorry for a Taiwanese teenager than me. But it's not like we're setting up our kiddie trikes on the basketball courts or taking over the arcades at Hsimenting.

When I was 14, I had to work part-time for pocket money. I'm not blaming them though; I see their parents as negligent. These kids are out until 11 or 12, playing the monkey bars, kiddie jungle gyms and swings of playgrounds. Who puts money in their pockets so that they can buy unlimited smokes and juice boxes? Who can't be bothered to check if they're home at 11 or 12?

Ed said...

Interesting read! Older people have always been complaining about young people but things really seem to be getting out of hand. It's the same here in Europe, actually I think it's at least twice as bad as in Taiwan as far as I've observed. If MTV (the Hills, My sweet 16) is any indication on how it is in th US that country is doomed. My big question is, what will happen when these kids actually have to make a living?

Patrick Cowsill said...

There are even teenagers in my apartment complex playground. I remember a while back one threw a lit cigarette on the slide. Then my daughter slid over it. I did the mature thing and complained to security. But they were to intimidated to throw him out. This guy was a skinny wanker of a little fellow too. They suggested that I call the police. So I just threw him out myself. He was half asleep, or it perhaps it was the new cool way of the walking. I had to peel a couple of girls off him - he was sitting about five feet from the slide on a bench, but claimed it wasn't him.

My wife later complained to the security boss, and he was stunned. He said: "That guy could've had a stick!" Since then, the security that suggested I call the police has been fired.

Miami Office Space said...

Teenagers are not allowed on playgrounds, but they are not allowed in more adult locations either. Some will try to trick their way into the adult world