|en told how beautiful they are or that theirChinese is terrific.
The best response is a smile and a humble reply in the negative, to avoidsounding arrogant.
On the other hand people are often shockingly direct once they know you andwill tell you directly you have gained weight, gotten ugly, are wearing unflattering clothing, and soon.
And between friends and even loved ones a bossy, pushy, insulting tone is often taken.
However, one of the best parts of the Taiwanese character is the general capacity for very open,sincere and lifelong friendships.
Taiwan has a literacy rate of 96.
No mean feat considering the country uses traditional Chinese characters to read and write with, and the average adult must learn to write and recognise thousands.
Sports Despite their propensity for work and study, Taiwanese are a sports-loving people.
Basketball andbaseball are the most popular organised spectator sports: both have their own leagues in Taiwanand games are popular with local audiences, especially baseball.
In fact, Taiwanese baseballplayers regularly make it to the big leagues in Japan (which introduced the sport to Taiwan in1906) and America, with players like Chien-Ming Wang now household names around the world.
Taiwanese are also quick to embrace athletes such as pro-basketball star Jeremy Lin, born inthe US to Taiwanese parents, as one of their own.
And with the ascension of Yani Tseng and LuYen-hsun, golf and tennis are seeing a resurgence of interest.
When the five-day (more or less) workweek was established in 2001, Taiwanese began to takeup biking, hiking, surfing and travel in record numbers.
Today, a sporting and leisure societymentality is well entrenched, something that often confounds visitors from mainland China.
As with most activities, Taiwanese localise some aspects of their sports.
Hikers always get uppre-dawn, for example, to watch the sunrise (a chi enhancing activity), while cyclists can’t bear tobe seen outside without the latest flashy gear and clothing.
TRADITIONAL FESTIVALS In addition to scores of local cultural holidays and events, Taiwanese celebrate the big traditional Chinese festivals such asLunar New Year.
These are mostly family affairs but it’s good to know a little about them as they are integral parts of localculture, and you might find yourself invited along at some point.
For aboriginal festivals, Click here.
Chinese Lunar New Year (Chūnjié) Celebrated for two weeks (people get four to nine days public holidays) in January orFebruary, this is the most cherished holiday of the year.
Activities include a thorough clean of the house; decorating doorwayswith couplets expressing good fortune; and a family reunion dinner on New Year’s Eve.
On the second day of New Years,married daughters return to their parents’ home.
The last days of the public holidays are for visiting friends and travelling.
The15th, or final day, is the Lantern Festival , which in Taiwan is celebrated with a number of exceptional activities.
Tomb Sweeping Day (Qīngmíng Jié) Ancestor worship is among the most important features of Taiwanese culture, and onthis day (Gregorian calendar, 5th April) families return to tend to their ancestral graves (though many now are interned in acolumbarium).
Mid Autumn Festival (Zhōngqiū Jié) Originally a harvest celebration, this public holiday falls on the 15th day of the eighthlunar month.
Families gather to barbecue, eat mooncakes, gaze at the full moon, and recount the story of the fairy Chang’eand a jade rabbit who lives on the moon and mixes a mean elixir of immortality.
Religion in Taiwan A funny thing happened to Taiwan on the way to its future.
Instead of losing its religion aseconomic growth, mobility and education brought it into the developed world, the veryopposite happened.
There are more Buddhists today, for example, than ever before, and infact, you’d be hard-pressed to find a larger (per capita) monastic population in all of Asia.
But the old Taoist gods, and the old acts of worship, have hung on, too.
When a modern Mr Wangis troubled he is as likely to burn incense and joss paper, toss moon blocks (bwah bwey) and prayat the altar of a favourite deity as his ancestors were.
Of course, before asking Baosheng Dadi tohelp cure his glaucoma, Wang will take the medicine his doctor prescribed knowing full wellwhich one is more efficacious.
But if he is cured, it’s still the temple that will get the fat donation.
Perhaps the biggest change has been the way the media, feeding the public demand for religiouscontent, has made nationwide stars of regional temple cults and festivals.
Religious associationsunderstand this very well, and several Buddhist and Taoist groups now control their own image byrunning independent TV stations.
Probably only in the US, with its tradition of fiery evangelistsspreading the word of God on TV, can you find such a potent fusion of technology with tradition.
All of which is to say that the more things change in Taiwan, the more they stay the same.
Nomatter what form it’s received in or propagated, religion in Taiwan continues to foster a sense ofshared culture and identity, and to provide the individual with satisfying rites of passage andintimations of the divine.
A god’s ability to grant requests is critical to popularity.
In the past he or she might be asked for protection against plague.
Today, it could be advice on which job to take; help passing an important test; or even, as we saw once on a prayer card at Donglong Temple, that the young believer grow to over 160cm tall.
A Brief History The early immigrants to Taiwan faced conditions not unlike the settlers in the New World did: aharsh environment, hostile natives, a lack of wives and a host of devastating diseases.
Faith in thelocal cults of their home village in China was vital in forming new and strong community bonds inTaiwan.
During the late Qing dynasty into Japanese times, a period of increasing wealth and mobility,many temples began to expand their influence beyond the village level.
Famous pilgrim sites arose,and Matsu started her rise to pan-Taiwan deity status.
The Kuomintang (KMT) at first tolerated local religion but then attempted to both suppress andcoopt it, fearing that it was at best superstitious nonsense and at worst a rallying point for Taiwanese independence.
They were largely unsuccessful and even before the lifting of martiallaw had abandoned trying to direct local culture.
Three Faiths (Plus One) The Taiwanese approach to spirituality is eclectic and not particularly dogmatic; many Taiwanesewill combine elements from various religions to suit their needs rather than rigidly adhering to oneparticular spiritual path.
Religion in Taiwan is largely about an individual relationship to a deity,dead spirit or even spiritual leader.
Many of the gods, customs and festivals have little to do withany of the three official religions and are sometimes described as part of an amorphous folk faith.
But don’t expect anyone to ever tell you they are a believer in this faith: instead, they will say theyare Taoist or Buddhist.
Temples have many statues of the same god because different statues can play different roles.
In Tainan’s Matsu Temple, theGreat Matsu statue oversees the local neighbourhood; a second watches over the internal affairs of the temple; another is a helper of the Great Matsu.
Each is said to have a different personality and be receptive t