Taiwan’s baby culture is totally different than what I’m accustomed to, and I think it’s great. Let me start by saying that Taiwanese people’s love for babies nearly rivals their love for pandas. Am I stereotyping Asians? Yes. Is it a fair stereotype? Definitely. The fact that this is even a thing proves my point:
The point is that babies, like pandas, fall pretty high on the totem pole. Now, a baby panda…. no amount of dimpled hands and leg rolls can touch that. Fortunately for Kinley, there aren’t any baby pandas at the zoo, so the spotlight is all on her.
Taiwanese people love babies so much that they’ll practically grab your child right out of your arms. The fact that they’re strangers doesn’t seem to be too much of a deterrent. Coming from the States, this seemed like pretty unusual behavior. My first experience was at Costco during the time I had injured my foot fleeing from the spider. I decided to take a minute to focus on wrapping my foot before embarking on a shopping spree, and when I looked up, Kinley was in the hands of a random Taiwanese couple. This was a surprise since she had previously been buckled her into her car seat.
Last week we were eating at our favorite beef noodle soup restaurant when the owner’s wife asked to hold Kinley. We’re regulars there, so the waitresses usually take turns passing Kinley around. We never object since it’s a chore to juggle a squirmy baby and scalding soup while balancing on a tiny plastic stool.
After about 10 minutes of enjoying good food and conversation, Chris and I realized that Kinley was no longer in the restaurant. (I know–we’re totally incapable parents.) Almost immediately we spotted her with the owner’s wife standing outside the restaurant waving to people passing by. (I’m sure she couldn’t resist the opportunity to do a little free advertising: “Look, our restaurant is full of cute, foreign babies!”). Kinley seemed to enjoy the change of scenery, so we laughed and watched from inside as we finished our meal. Obviously, we had a very different reaction to the situation than if it would have happened at home.
Had a stranger in America removed Kinley from her carseat or walked out of a restaurant with her, it would have been a totally different story: panic, calls to 911, and hyperventilating into a brown paper bag.
In the States it’s totally normal–and wise–to be suspicious of strangers. Everyone’s eyeballing each other, wondering what no good the other person is up to. At least this describes me. My first thought when I see someone creepy is that they’re hiding semi-automatics in their trench coat. I worry that people with road rage will whip out a gun instead of their middle finger, and I think about how helpless I would be if the pesticide guy who monthly sprays my apartment is actually a rapist.
Taiwan is kind of like a social utopia by comparison. It’s the 2nd safest country in the world and because people feel safe and assume the best in one another, they interact differently. I’m accustomed to putting a wall up when I leave the house because I don’t want to get too friendly with other people and freak them out. (For example: I have to stop myself from staring at the cute baby in the checkout line at Target because I’ve been smiling at it for 3 minutes and it’s borderline creepy.) I also put up a wall to deter strangers from getting too chummy with me. It’s a sad way to live.
However, the Taiwanese are kind, trusting, and see the best in each other, which means that I’ve actually learned how to have a normal relationship with strangers. Initially it seemed odd that people would welcome themselves into my personal space to kiss Kinley’s feet or pat my leg while carrying on a one-sided conversation. (I don’t usually have much to contribute other than, “I don’t speak Chinese” which only seems to encourage people since I say it in Chinese.) It also seemed bizarre that strangers would be so eager to get a photo of Kinley. Taiwan has helped me see that, for the most part, people have good intentions and the only bizarre thing is how cautious and detached we have become as a society.