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Thursday, February 2, 2023

Beach culture in Spain and Taiwan

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Flying Dutchman
Flying Dutchman
For detailed biographical information, please check the very first article of this blog. Thanks!

With certain restrictions and following ten weeks of strict confinement, beaches in Valencia were opened to the public again on June 1st, 2020. Since then, I have been trying to take a daily swim in the ocean. Well, when I saw the red flag flying in the wind from the distance two days ago, I knew that my plan wouldn’t work out.

I decided to approach my original destination anyway. The lifeguards, only active during high season, were friendly and explained to me that they had started the day with a green one, and then hoisted the yellow version in the afternoon. So I had simply arrived too late…

When I asked why there were still children and at least a dozen surfers in the somehow rough sea, they said that the kids were very close to the seashore and therefore safe. Regarding the water sports enthusiasts, they were given a “pass” out of sympathy: as this region of Spain is not ideal for them, they should be able to enjoy “one of the five days every year” when the conditions are alright. Stunning logic!

In Taiwan, lifesavers are often strict and overprotective, as many people can’t swim or feel unsafe in the water. At the most popular areas on the Pescadores Archipelago west of the main island, where exactly you are supposed to swim is clearly marked by buoys connected by strings. If you try to ignore those, you will be ordered by megaphone to stay inside. Big Brother is watching you at the Pacific shores, too!

Although when I was a kid, the percentage of Spaniards who had learned to swim was quite low, that’s not the case anymore. The young generation might take part in courses before even starting primary school. However, that doesn’t mean at all that the number of local swimmers has increased significantly. It’s still the same pattern: “going to the beach” really means going to the beach only, just getting one’s feet wet or splashing around. Most of those who take a swim into the deep are actually foreigners.

The percentage of aliens among the few beaches that Taiwan proper has to offer is also very high, because for them it’s a natural place to spend part of their free time. In tow, Taiwanese partners, friends or spouses also end up there. Yet other locals just consider it cool to hang out with “big noses”!

Though the average Taiwanese would never think of “going to the beach”! What for? Nobody wants to go home red as a lobster! To be fair, almost all of the “crustaceans” in Spain are tourists from countries where the weather isn’t that nice. So they tend to overdo sunbathing over here!

On the contrary, most Taiwanese women would prefer to look like their Western counterparts! The whiter the skin, the better! They shun the sun as if they were vampires that would crumble to dust at dawn! Even when crossing a lane, they will open a parasol to avoid any sunlight.

My long-term local girlfriend, who in many ways was atypical and also didn’t care about her complexion, once offered me some whitening cream she had received from somebody else. I laughed and kindly rejected it, asking: “Don’t you think I’m white enough already”?

I was lucky to attend a few beach paella parties on the northern coast of Taiwan, where the participants were often mixed couples. The event was always organized by the same Spanish friend, a long-term resident as well. With fresh seafood, he made the best type of what is considered to be his country’s national dish that I have ever tasted. Though that didn’t happen anywhere near the sea, but on my terrace in Taipei!

Spanish and Taiwanese beach culture is therefore quite different, as for Southern Europeans it’s an integral part of their lifestyle. In contrast, only a small minority of East Asians, influenced by ideas taken from overseas, consider it to be fun. That’s not really surprising, because Taiwan has 286 mountains that soar over 3,000 meters. So hiking and climbing are the nation’s favorite pastime, and the best way to forget the stress caused by a busy work routine.

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