Taiwan A to Z: The Essential Cultural Guide
By Amy C. Liu
Published in 2009
Published by the Community Services Center, Taipei
Available through Amazon here.
For many of us expatriates who find ourselves in foreign cultures, working out norms and expectations without offending anyone is a really daunting prospect. I know when I first came to Taiwan for a visit in 2006 for three weeks I was petrified nearly the entire time that I would do something stupid and offend my then boyfriend, now husband's family. I was one of the lucky ones - I didn't mortally offended anyone but then I did have the best guides possible in my mother-in-law and my lovely man. For those who come to Taiwan without such an advantage, this books is the next best thing to having someone personally guiding you through the confusion.
Amy C. Liu, the author of this book, grew up in Taipei in the late 70's and early 80's before moving to the United States with her family. She completed her education there, gaining a Masters degree in Counselling Education from San Jose State University but then surprised a lot of her friends and family by returning to Taiwan. Having becoming completely Americanized during her time in the States, it was on a trip to Japan as an exchange student that Amy came to realize that she knew far less than she would like about her home country and its rich and diverse culture. Thus started the journey that lead her back to Taiwan where she has been living and working since 1999 as a cross-cultural educator with the Community Services Center in Taipei, a center set up to assist expatriates relocating to Taipei.
Taiwan A to Z really is just what the title says it is. It covers everything you ever wanted to know about the culture in Taiwan as well as many things you'd never thought of. It gives clear advice about how to decode what Taiwanese people really mean when they say "Yes" and why they hardly ever say "No"; it looks at the important festivals celebrated here in Taiwan, such as Moon Festival, Dragon Boat Festival and of course, the big one: Chinese New Year; it introduces you to local foods and eating customs and coaches you on expected etiquette in a range of circumstances. It really is the only guide you'll ever need to navigating Taiwanese culture.
The thing I love the most about this book is the personality of it. Reading this book feels more like a friendly conversation with Amy than anything else. The advice and information is delightfully sprinkled with personal anecdotes and stories - this is the written version of the top-notch training that Amy has been providing expats in Taipei with for the last ten years.
Who should read this book? In my opinion it is not only a guide to navigating the culture here in Taiwan but a fantastic introduction to a wonderful country. Taiwan, the unsung hero of the Asia region, is so often overlooked by travelers and I really feel that they're missing out on something incredible. If you are interested in learning more about Taiwan, have an interest in traveling here (for either business or pleasure) then this is the book I would recommend.
Watch this space later on next month for an author interview with Amy herself!