Taiwanese people on the surface are interested in logical and most importantly high-profit, low-risk solutions to life’s problems. Safety and income are prioritised as more important than happiness and relaxation, especially for young people who are expected to work 60 hour weeks to show their vigilance in supporting their family.
In my random sampling of friends and acquaintances I regularly make suggestions that I hope they will take time for themselves to relax and enjoy being young. Of course we all have different things that make us happy, but I have a diverse portfolio of interests that make me happy and I try to share some of these with them.
I am a patron of the arts, a poor patron, but a patron just the same. I like music events, films, biking, running, hiking, photography, reading, writing, baking, cooking, traveling and more recently painting. It’s easy to find a mutual interest, but it is a little difficult to find a way we can both enjoy that interest in execution. They usually want to be orderly and well-planned in advanced, and I want to do things on the fly.
Last Sunday, one of my Taiwanese friends organized an art in the park event. The premise is pretty simple, he went to the museum and was inspired to have a group painting in the park…with feet. He went and bought canvas, paint trays and some kind of latex-based paints. When my Taiwanese friends start a new hobby the start by going shopping to buy all the “necessary” equipment.
They don’t do things halfway with a litmus test to see if they like it or not. No, instead they will find some online list of “MUST HAVES” and then buy all the things. On the other hand I would probably improvise a cheaper option or wait to buy it later. For example my friend organizing the painting event, I thought he would buy paint and thicker paper and then we could run around on some long streamers.
He chose to buy the canvas which it turns out was even better because damp feet would probably break through paper. But he was really stressing about having buckets for rinsing feet, and holding paint and I suggested we use some old shoe boxes. Improvisation, it isn’t always pretty or well-thought out or endorsed by websites.
Improvisation and creativity are not really encouraged or taught in Taiwan. My students at school are downright confused when I ask questions that aren’t in the book. But that doesn’t mean some Taiwanese don’t naturally gravitate towards the crazy foreigners that can show them a more laissez faire approach to enjoying art.
The creativity is there, just under all the controlled actions and procedure driven behavior. Once and a while I am lucky enough to watch a friend or student really exhibit their creativity, without shame or worrying about the time. That’s the good stuff. Witnessing creativity at work is almost as good as participating in it first-hand. It isn’t planned, it’s a little crazy and there is a chance of failure and also the chance to make something entirely new and wonderful.