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An Aussie Muslim's Taiwan Christmas

  • 19 December 2014

Christmas is a fabulous time to spend at home. Even those of us who aren’t terribly Christian can enjoy a free holiday with friends and family. And if you like choral music, you can always come along with me and a Jewish mate to St Mary’s Cathedral. There you will see Catholics wearing all kinds of cultural costume.

Christianity isn’t just for white people, just as Islam isn’t just for Indo-Pakistanis. Though you’d have trouble convincing me of that back in primary school in the 1970’s. Christmas was always a very white affair. In passion plays at Ryde East Primary School, I inevitably played one of the three wise men from the East. The other two were played by a Chinese girl and a boy from PNG. Mary and Joseph were played by white kids, and the baby Jesus was a white doll.

Yes, it was all very white, But it was all very familiar as well. It was conducted in English, my first language. And when it was all over, we would head down to the canteen for a meat pie and paddle pop. The linguistic and cultural boundaries were a given and we fitted in quite well.

Last Christmas I found myself in the Republic of China. Most Australians would hear that name and think of a faraway place where we send all our coal. We don’t imagine an island half the size of Tasmania where most people are about as communist as Tony Abbott.

Taiwan is a place where few people speak English. At least that is the impression I had travelling there for three weeks. Street signs and shop signs are almost all in Mandarin, in complex characters (unlike the simpler ones of the People’s Republic). It isn’t easy to find someone who can provide you with directions in English.

But an ignorant Aussie traveller like me could not exactly complain about some backward place where 'no one speaks bloody English'. Taiwan is in many ways streets ahead of Australia. Taipei is much cleaner than Sydney or Melbourne. Its MRT train system is clean, safe and runs on time. Transport Ministers of NSW and Victoria should take note. Taipei is one of the gastronomical capitals of the world. Eating the street food won’t make you sick, though don’t expect it to be certified kosher or halal.

I found it almost impossible to go anywhere without Mandarin-speaking Australian friends. Taipei is very easy