Focus: Navigating your 20s in Taiwan
The fact that Taiwan's population is "aging" has been much hyped in news media over the last couple of years, so this month eRenlai attempted to read between the headlines, so to speak, and to find out how the choices young people are making in their lives - in terms of career, education and family - affects the population as a whole.
Senior project manager Hong Xiaoping explained, "It’s mostly design classes, for one hundred hours, work ethics, financial management and work shadow, to understand the nature of the work in the design and printing industries. Including classes on CV writing and team-work, allowing students to understand that having talent alone is not enough.
Hong Xiaoping told us that often companies question the value of having young people who have given up on their studies and have no professional background interning at their workplaces.Many firms discover that these young people have a lot more potential than they had imagined, although they often find they have to adjust their methods and preconceived ideas when dealing with them. Young people nowadays tend to question everything, and don’t like being bossed about. Once they are clear on the purpose of what they are doing, and they know its significance, they are willing to go and do it.
TAAYRW was founded eight and a half years ago, with the primary aim of changing the stereotypical idea within society that the youth are ‘dependent’, and instead to portray them as ‘citizens-in-the-making’. We promote rights including for welfare protection, public participation, recreation, health, education, and employment.
Society needs to see the changes that ordinary young people are going through, on the cusp of becoming mature citizens of society, and this needs to be supported by society, in terms of families, communities and educational institutions, and foster an atmosphere of social participation, citizenship and a safety net for those who fall into poverty.
The mainstream test-focused system.
Approximately 90% of young people make their life choices within the frame of the test-focused system, they are restricted by this system of values. If they don’t get into a good school or get good grades, their value to society diminishes, to the point that some of them might not even be considered people. Moreover, whenever there is any activity that contradicts this mainstream ideology appears, it is quickly blown out of proportion by the media, and becomes so-called deviant or antisocial behavior.
If the mainstream education system continues to bread people who are just good at pursuing good grades, then it will suppress the emergence of many kinds of creative talent, who will have to rely solely on their own effort, without support. For example a lot of people only have the chance to realize their talent abroad, why don’t we cultivate this kind of talent in Taiwan? The education policy focuses on collecting what is already a finished product, instead of nurturing new talent, it is very short-sighted.
There needs to be some planning ahead when it comes to policy. For example, if someone enjoys painting and creative work, how can we help them become a designer or someone involved in creative activities. This process cannot be achieved in one go, but rather needs to be cumulative. With this in mind, we hope that through or training project “Good Design”, we can let people know that the talent training that the Taiwanese government often mentions needs to be a cumulative, top-bottom process. It requires consideration from the business point of view, and investment from the education aspect. Moreover, it should support people before they have made a name for themselves.
Shattering some myths
We have seen a lot of employers who are interested in making use of young people’s energy, passion, and creativity. But they are scared because of the stereotypes they often see in the media, such as young people being hard to control or egocentric, so the first time they employ a young person they are usually wary. We feel that our organizations activities and accomplishments have become very important. We have invited a careers coach to serve as a bridge, helping companies and employers understand how to interact with young people. We hope that through these training activities, we can make people understand a lot of these young people are not “strawberries”; they work very hard and very seriously at their jobs, but this hard effort is not reported by the media.
Translated from the Chinese by Daniel Pagan Murphy, Conor StuartChen Jiajun, the girl who participated in "Youth design" program tells us her story...
The first subject we tackle is that of marriage. Here, we have a variety of different opinions. There is the Chinese teacher in her late twenties who wants to focus on her career until it is established before contemplating marriage. Her view on delaying marriage is also supported by a masters student who believes it is too expensive to get married and have children for the youth of today. Also related to the marriage situation are our articles regarding the declining birth rate in Taiwan. We learn some reasons for the low birth rate here, and we also discover that the problem may not be as dramatic as the media would have us believe.
Our other main topic is the job and university situation of young people and the challenges that they may find pursuing their dreams. Two students, one from a restrictive all-girls school background, and one a student come to the big city from the South, will share with us their different university experiences and how they have transformed their lives, in addition to expressing their hopes and aspirations for life after graduation. We will also hear from people working in different jobs, such as the content tarot reader, and a struggling actor. They will each share their opinions about family expectations and pressures from society and the difficulty meeting them when doing a rewarding, but not necessarily well-paid job.
Photo by Wesley He
Yang Shufan, a single Chinese teacher from Taipei on the threshold of her thirties, discusses her attitude towards marriage, children and her career at this key juncture of her life.
I am from Taizhong and I went to Taizhong First Senior High School, where I always got good grades and I enjoyed studying. However, after joining the school’s National Music Club and learning how to play zhongruan (Chinese alto lute), because of my deep commitment to the club’s affairs, I gradually drifted away from the world of books. In my 3rd grade, when I didn’t feel like studying anymore, I saw this drama course at the National Taiwan University of Arts. At the time I wasn’t even very clear about what it was, but I registered for entry exams anyway, and as a result, I passed them! In fact, before that time I had never seen a single stage play.
After joining the drama department, I found that moved afar from my expectations and speculations. Once, after going through a rough patch, I suspended my studies. In my first year there were virtually no performances and until the second semester we hardly touched things relevant to the course, so I decided to work at a movie theatre. In the second grade I thought I should give myself a bit of challenge, so I took up an acting job outside the school, thanks to which I gradually developed an interest for stage performance. Actually, most of the students from our department have gone through a similar process of fumbling our way through the dark. Most of us felt quite confused, so we actively tried doing many different things. Anyway, the proportion of my classmates going into theatre after graduation was not high at all, only roughly 30 or 40%.
Learning to Play off the Audience
An actor’s professional skills are accumulated from everyday self-training. We have to learn to multitask, to watch our appearance and posture anytime and anywhere. Let’s take me as an example. Because I have a habit of hunching, I have to make sure that I hold my head high and upright at all times. It is similar to practicing reading a newspaper aloud while holding a pen in your mouth. Biting a pen helps you to get used to straining your lips while speaking. Or let’s take learning how to “cry”. I am in fact a very easily moved person, but on a stage I could never weep. Thus I attempted to train myself to tear easier. Only later I have discovered that the reason why I couldn’t cry on the stage was because I was not concentrated enough, I didn’t enter my character’s mental state deep enough. However, when I devote myself wholeheartedly during the entire play, the emotions are coming out naturally. Before, I wasn’t experienced enough to understand this principle. I was trying to find ways to think of something sad in order to help myself, but my efforts were always to no avail. It is because emotions that are faked can be easily seen through and can’t touch anybody.
What gives you the biggest sense of accomplishment as an actor is when the audience either laughs or cries after your performance, it is really touching. While standing on the stage during a performance, you can actually feel the mood of the audience, although it’s very subtle. In a theatre, the play’s plot is fictional, but the emotions definitely must be real; the audience that is watching a play is real, but sometimes we must pretend that they’re not there at all; because we must often direct our bodies toward the audience in order to make the reception easier for them, our dialogues and postures are also not realistic, because a usual dialogue does not look like that. It is thus a constant transformation between fictional and genuine. To sum up, while on a stage it is impossible not to feel the audience and so it is impossible for the audience not to feel the actors, and what is really interesting is the communication between them.
For instance, today you are performing slipping after stepping on a banana peel. If the whole room bursts into laughter, it can give you a huge boost. However if you fail to entertain the audience and they remain awkwardly silent, it can also influence your next performance. When I first came across such a situation I was completely devastated, but now it’s not so bad; if they don’t find a joke funny you just need to continue the show.
Determination that is Keener with Every Setback
In my acting career I had one major setback. I was never very good at acting and after going through a long period of fumbling and practicing, only in the second semester of my fourth grade I got things straight in my head. It was like suddenly I knew what acting is all about. My classmates and teachers say that I improved a lot and my self-confidence also started building slowly at that time. Nevertheless, during the last class of some course the teacher gathered everyone to sit in a circle to talk about our plans after graduation and said: “I think that among the 12 students in our course there are only two people suited for performing”. I was not among the two people that the teacher had mentioned. It brought me, originally full of confidence, straight from heaven down to hell in a flash; at once I felt really depressed. Later I thought I should have said to him: “you say I am not suited to acting, but I will prove it to you and one day I will be good enough to perform with you”. As a result, to this day I have always carried within me an unwillingness to admit defeat and a passion for acting.
After retiring, I participated in a casting for The First Lily, staged by the Ping Fong Acting Troupe at the 2010 Taipei International Flora Expo, and as a result I was successfully recruited. Out of my acting experiences, this was up till now the most accomplishing and the most beautiful one. Although I only played a supporting role as a clan warrior, the play was staged almost 200 times, which cultivated in the entire team a profound revolutionary spirit, and the whole staff felt like a family. The best thing is that thanks to that play I have met a Formosa Aboriginal Song and Dance Troupe. They often took us, Han people, to perform traditional aboriginal ritual dances and songs. From their bodies I could see their love for own traditions and a sense of mission to pass on the aboriginal culture. It was very touching to me and it also influenced my later decision to join the Golden Bough Theatre.
The Formosa Aboriginal Song and Dance Troupe made me realize that I should probably also make effort for the sake of my own culture. I am Taiwanese, yet I can’t speak the Taiwanese language (Hoklo), and the Golden Bough Theatre requires its members to speak good Taiwanese and to perform local Taiwanese stories. I really need to work harder on these things; it is what I expect from myself for the future.
Translated from the Chinese by Witek Chudy
Mr. Sun from from the Taiwan Labor Front, and Huang Shiyi, a Masters student, share with us their different perspectives on work and marriage in today's society. Though they have different opinions about certain aspects, they both agree that the awful economic conditions of Taiwanese youth today are a big contributor to the slowly declining birth rate, and a reluctance to get married and start a family.
Taiwan Labor Front Secretary General, Sun You Lian
When the Corporation overrides the Nation
“The collapse started a long while back, and it has been a gradual, dynamic process.” The Taiwan Labor Front Secretary General, Sun You Lian, said that this generation is faced with the problems of increased corporatization, poverty, and a low birth rate amongst others, all of which is leading to its collapse. This is the karma of Taiwan’s developing history. The government should be blamed for its “Neo-liberalist” economic policy, no matter which party is in power.
Since 1980, Neo-liberalism has become a mainstream idea which is valued by all countries. It believes that the less governments intervene in economic affairs the better and that economic power should be handed over to market mechanisms, not considering that the tax cuts could actually damage the same countries that believe in it. “ The government believed that after enterprises grow and gain better profit margins, they will naturally flourish, and subsequently give back to laborers and society as a matter of course.” Sun refuted above argument, “Most of enterprises don’t have conscience. Neo-liberalism only allows big corporations control the government easier, but laborers salaries don’t increase.”
He mentioned that no matter whether the people are informed about it or aware of it, 800,000 Taiwan dollars are still owed by each Taiwan citizen in national debt. Some say that this debt is due to a large social welfare, but he believes the true reason to be tax breaks: the lack of taxes for the corporations in order to encourage investment.
The youth become the “working poor”
“Nowadays, poverty is no longer exclusively for people under the poverty line, it is suffered by the general public. In the past, work is a way to lift oneself out of poverty, but the government’s mistakes have allowed the average young wage to fall to a meager 22K(22,000).” Sun lamented: “Compared to previous generations, even though the youth nowadays have better education opportunities, their career conditions and salaries are getting worse year by year. It’s easy to anticipate they will be poor throughout their whole life.”
“When can these young people of this generation raise their wages from 22.000 to 50.000? While waiting for their salaries to increase, they must face high house and commodity prices. When they reach retirement age, they probably encounter postponed retirement, extremely high insurance fees, and the highest taxes for the lowest payment of the National Pension Insurance, because the national treasury will be running out of funds.”
“A former colleague of the Taiwan Labor Front who graduated from the political science department of National Taiwan Univ. got a salary of 20,000 per month 20 years ago. His elders told him that doesn’t matter for a young man with ideals.” “A pay of 20,000 was considered as a bit of a sacrifice in that time, but 20 years later it is considered the norm”, Sun said with a bitter smile.
Poor and harsh are the words Sun uses to describe the working conditions of youth generation. “Poor because the work is very stressful but the rewards are very few. It is harsh because they can’t afford living costs let alone dare to get married and have children.” The origin of all these crises can be traced back to side effects from the government-made tax breaks, social welfare cuts and reduced salaries. The effect of the poverty in work reflects on the family situation as well, causing a problem that we could call “fertility strike”.
Translated from the Chinese by Yang Zi-jie
proofread by Daniel Pagan Murphy
Thoughts about marriage and the meaning of family
Huang Shiyi is 33, but has no plans of getting married in the near future. He is unorthodoox in his work as well, snce, amongst other part-time jobs, he is also a tarot reader. In this video, we follow him during a day in his life and learn his opinions about marriage, family, and the reasons behind Taiwanese youth being more reluctant to make a commitment.
News reports abound about Taiwan's aging population problem, many emphasizing the imminence of this impending doom, but is Taiwan really as far down this path as eye-grabbing headlines wish to suggest? eRenlai talked to government minister Cheng-Tay James Hsueh about the realities of the aging population problem in Taiwan and what the government is doing about it and to a young woman who talks about her decision to have children in the near future.
University students Lisa Lo and Yu-Tang Hou (侯昱堂) tell us about their feelings and impressions on university life in the following two videos. They represent the youth of Taiwan, and have both had very different university experiences, but both agree that university is a place where one can simultaneously feel more mature but still enjoy the carefree hapiness of youth.
Lisa is a student of Graphic Communication at National Taiwan Normal University. She comes from Taipei and has found in university a sense of freedom and emancipation, in addition to an opportunity to meet lots of new people from all walks of lfe, which had previously been difficult due to her all-girls school upbringing.
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