Epidemic busyness

A valuable traditional Chinese painting, carefully restored with the help of a friend in Taiwan who is almost 80 years old.

As a German with a strong Spanish touch, after decades of dealing with Chinese people, both in their natural environment, and with the diaspora in Europe, one of the things that I admire most is their industriousness.

Wherever you go, they will be doing some kind of business, refusing to be lazy or try to rely on welfare to make ends meet, like the majority of Muslims in the West does.

Following my first stay in Taiwan, in the summer of 1989 and in addition to Hongkong, Macau and Singapore, I visited Malaysia for a whole month together with the only German girlfriend I ever had.

As backpackers we stayed at cheap hotels, most of which were run by ethnic Chinese, who make up about 20% of the population in that country. I remember vividly that you always had to pay in advance…

They operated most of the tasty restaurants and well-sorted shops, as well as the numerous laundries where we had our few clothes washed quickly at a very reasonable rate.

Chinese will accept any tough job to survive, That’s the reason why you will never see any of them anywhere begging, stealing or pickpocketing, characteristics for which gypsies all over Europe are known so well.

Not to speak of the invaders from across the Strait of Gibraltar, who on the Old Continent terrorize not only locals, but often tourists by mugging and robbing them.

Although I ended up pretty fed-up with their obvious greediness, compared to the apparently more relaxed (not to say lazy) Malay lifestyle, with increasing age I learned to appreciate the Chinese approach to life, with suits a rather traditional German like myself quite well.

A good example for this ever-striving spirit is the old friend that I visited yesterday here in Taipei, who sells all kinds of paintings near my former language school, the Mandarin Training Center.

Over the years, he has helped to restore and therefore safe some precious calligraphies that I got my hands on. He even voluntarily carried my latest acquisition half way up to my place on the 4th floor.

I thought that he had already reached the age of (theoretical) retirement, but when he recently told me that he was close to 80 years old, I was pretty amazed.

Specially, as this elder gentleman, a cultivated Mainlander whose family came to Taiwan in the wake of the Chinese Civil War that the Nationalists lost to the Communists in 1949, shared with me the idea of starting a new business involving me.

As this weekend I got a very unexpected job offer and have a related interview tomorrow, for the moment I might not consider his suggestion too seriously. Though I will definitely keep it mind.

The general busyness here in Taiwan is contagious and even foreigners coming from societies which aren’t exactly known for their diligence become somehow infected.

This bustling environment, which always offers an opportunity to make (some) money, is another reason why I came back to Asia last year from over-regulated Europe, where I often felt demotivated, if not downright depressed.