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FYI SOUTH Magazine, Winter 2007


A cultural breath of fresh air: Taiwanese returnees

Translated by Ann Lee

Freddy Sun

'Taiwan Expat' profile: Freddy Sun (Zuhause German restaurant owner, Kaohsiung)

Although he doesn't quite fit the mould of a Taiwanese expat, Freddy nevertheless has his roots in Asia. Born near Hamburg, Germany, Freddy's family emigrated from China many years before. Six years ago, Freddy moved to Taiwan where he's been experiencing his "Inner Asian" ever since. Although Germany and Taiwan share few cultural similarities, he enjoys the flexibility that Taiwan provides. If you start a business in Germany and it fails, there's a good chance you'll be in debt for a long time, he states. But in Taiwan, it's easy to recover financially in a few short years and start over. He's had his share of little culture shocks, from people assuming he's Taiwanese and speaking to him in Mandarin, to having to adjust his menu for Taiwanese tastes. It's all part of merging into this culture for him. You don't have to accept everything in a new culture, but you do have to respect it. And he does. --Words and photos by Sean Cooper


Michael Lee

'Taiwan Expat' profile: Michael Lee
(ALLIANCE BERNSTEIN—Technical Support Analyst, Taipei)

Michael's family immigrated to the United States when he was a little boy. After growing up and living in Cleveland, Ohio for 20 years, he made his way back to Taiwan when his parents retired two years ago. Michael moved to Taipei because wanted a challenge with his job and wanted to know what it was like to live in Asia.

Although his Taiwanese IT job is similar to what he was doing in the States, Michael has still had to get used to the cultural differences and office politics in Taiwan. He came to the realization that working in the States was simple and straightforward, but he believes the Taiwanese work environment makes it much more intense and fast-paced. When asked about how he's adjusted to Taiwanese culture, Michael replied, "It's not as hard as you think. The secret is to find how to handle things yourself and learn about self-protection." There was one fun difference he noticed, "I used to drink wine back in the States, but most people drink whiskey here. I've seen the shocking statistics of the [whiskey] market..."
Like many others, Mike agrees that people in Taipei are friendly and living here is very convenient-- there are a lot of fun ways to kill time in the city. He also believes that it's easy to make friends in Taiwan, but it's harder to really get to know them on a deeper level. In the diverse and eclectic city of Taipei, Mike said that, being single, his life is actually "quite boring" as it is pretty much the same every day. --Words and photos by Josie Wu

Diva Yang

Diva Yang

Diva Yang


'Taiwan Expat' profile: Diva Yang (Event Hosting, Taipei)

Born in Taiwan, Diva made her first visit to the United States when she was just 10 years old. Even though she was still very young, Diva knew that she wanted to attend school there. While living in Seattle and San Francisco, she didn't have any problems adjusting to the culture, and she also felt that these places were more like home to her than Taiwan. Diva almost felt as if God played a practical joke on her--she was supposed to be born and raised in the West, but it was the other way around.

Because of her family, Diva moved from Seattle back to Taipei but, since she became so used to her lifestyle back in the States, she still has a hard time accepting the Taiwanese way. The one issue that continuously bothers Diva is her identity--it can be a struggle finding a place to belong while wedged between such dissimilar cultures. She's often been told, "You speak Chinese with a funny accent" or "You don't look Taiwanese." Some of her identity issue were healed with a job offer from the communication group ICRT. Having a job as a radio DJ gave her a legitimate reason speak Chinese with "funny" accent, as the DJs for ICRT usually sound like expats.

Right now, Diva has great Mandarin skills and works in the film industry. She helps directors sell and promote ideas and films internationally, with her multicultural expertise and background in entertainment, she is a great candidate for the travel-intensive job. Using her own background and language skills has allowed Diva to contribute something back to the Taiwanese film industry, and to Taiwan in general. She says, "So what if I'm too darn Americanized? Bite me! Without all those years living in the States, I wouldn't have become the person I am today." --Words and photos by Josie Wu


Chi Chiang

Chi Chiang

Chi Chiang

'Taiwan Expat' profile: Chi Chiang
(Taichung Splendor Hotel Sales and Marketing Acting Director)

Taichung Splendor Hotel Sales and Marketing Acting Director Chi Chiang never intended her return to Taiwan last January to be more than a short visit from her adopted home in California. Today, she's still in Taiwan for a stay that will last at least two years.
Chi went to America at the age of 18, barely able to say more in English than "How are you?" Fifteen years later, after a graphic design degree and successful U.S. career in television and the hotel industries, she considers herself more American than Taiwanese, and exudes the confidence of a straight-talking Asian-American businesswoman. She says that the transformation was the result of immersing herself in America, surrounded by American friends and freed from the more conservative confines of her Taiwan past.
"My personality changed. You always have to be proper here and watch every step, but in the States I had the right to voice my opinions. That was wonderful," she says.

After six years with Hilton Hotels, she was on the verge of opening a business with American friends--a cafe targeted at dogs and their owners--but opted to first return to Taichung to visit her mother, the Splendor's Executive Board Director and General Manager Nancy Hu. Chi was asked to help out with PR at the hotel, which turned into a longer-term sales position. She also hoped reacquaint herself with Chinese culture and community and explore job opportunities in the region.

"I couldn't say no to family. I wanted to see if I could get closer to my mother, but I never thought I'd work for her. I see this job as helping out my family...a really good learning experience dealing with Chinese business environment," says Chi.

Challenges since returning have included her complete indifference to local fads and fashions, her love of tanned skin, and a discomfort about being asked how much she weighs, how much she earns and other questions Americans consider personal. Adjusting to local business/office culture has also been a challenge.

"There's a lot of angles you have to watch, 'landmines' you have be careful of. Everything you say has to be diplomatic, using the right terms and attitudes; your etiquette has to be perfect or people think you're attacking them personally," she says, adding that another change has been the local "chien cheng" bureaucratic culture of running all paperwork through multiple levels before approval, versus America's simple, email-oriented approval process.
Nevertheless, she is putting her American side to good use on the job, passing on Western business skills, culture and procedures to her staff with positive results. Besides specific revenue management skills, she encourages them to be more straightforward, make decisions without becoming uptight, bring up issues freely, solve problems as a team and remain friends after work.

"So far, it's been pretty good within my department. I talk to the staff one-on-one and ask them about it, and they've been positive, look forward to coming to work and learning about Western culture," she notes. "I do see my Chinese side as very important and will never forget where I came from but I now see things very differently." --By Douglas Habecker




'Taiwan Expat' profile
JoAnne (Walk Cafe restaurant owner,

" In Provo, Utah, there are no cigarettes or alcohol, no coffees or condoms. Only after coming back to Taiwan did I know that this is a place where you can find a lot of freedom."

After 20 years of living in the United States, JoAnne, now a restaurant owner, returned to Taiwan with her husband Fraser to start a new life. Mutual friends introduced Joanne to Stan, a young, energetic chef who was always creating delicious, eye-catching dishes. After getting acquainted, Joanne didn't want the Taiwanese chef's talent to go to waste, so she decided to open a restaurant. Thus, the Walk Cafe was born.

Although they've only been open for a few months, the cafe has already attracted a stream of regular customers and newcomers alike. Ecstatic about the success of her business, JoAnne jokes, "It's all because of my wonderful people skills!" While being serious, she explains that the real reason behind her success is Fraser, her Canadian husband who has supported her adventure financially.
JoAnne stresses that the Walk Cafe is not fancily decorated--just full of good food and good intentions. One thing this restaurant-runnin' trio has in common is their love of animals. This passion for furry friends is shown at the Walk Cafe, where you're welcome to bring along your pet when you visit. They also offer custom-made dishes for cats and dogs that are sure to make other pets jealous.
When not whipping up gourmet dog food, Joanne can be seen welcoming stray animals into her house, taking them to the vet, and helping them find good kitty or doggy parents. To this day, she has cared for over 200 cats, most of which have been adopted into good homes. She has even been contacted by people overseas who were interested in adopting her animals. When asked why she would voluntarily take care of countless cats and dogs, JoAnne explained that taking care of another life and helping an animal find a good home makes her extremely happy.

She also explained how free she feels here, "In Provo, Utah, there were no cigarettes or alcohol, no coffee or condoms. Only after coming back to Taiwan did I know that this is a place where you can find a lot of freedom." After living in an extremely conservative town in the United States for so long, it is no wonder that Joanne wanted to return to Taiwan, learn more about her own culture, and follow her dream of owning a restaurant and helping animals. With everything she has accomplished, it is no wonder that, right now, she feels freer than ever. --By Uvia Chang

Visit JoAnne's blog at:

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