“Ask An Aussie” series: Journalist Dr Martin Williams
Ever wondered what it's like to be an Aussie living in Taiwan? This series shares the perspective of a few of our favourite long term expats!
This month, we caught up with Dr Martin Williams, a journalist who first came to Taiwan in 1994. An inquiring mind who's always happy to share his insights on Taiwan culture, he's great to have a beer and a chat with. So that's exactly what we did. Read on!
Q: Few young Aussies know much about Taiwan growing up. How did you find this hidden gem - what brought you to Taiwan in the first place?
A: It was a bit of a combination - I was studying Mandarin at university and came here on a Chiang Ching-kuo scholarship in 1994 to study at NTNU's Mandarin Training Centre. Then I returned again in 1997 - stopping over in Hong Kong to witness the handover of power there - for my PhD study. I remember on that trip I saw a picture of a young woman in the back of an indigenous affairs newspaper, Austronesian News (which is not published any more). Though I didn't actually meet her for another year, that was the first time I saw my wife!
Q: After all these years, and with fluent Mandarin, are you fully integrated? Or do you feel like a foreigner still?
A: I don't feel like a foreigner. I don't have citizenship, so I am permanently separate in an official sense. But I don't feel like it makes a difference most of the time. As the spouse of a Taiwan citizen, in Taiwan's generous system I don't miss much on a practical level. Am I completely integrated? No. My wife is Indigenous, so I am perhaps more integrated in that community than the Taiwan mainstream culture. But I feel like I am integrated enough, I am at peace living here - more so than in Australia.
Q: You have a PhD in Taiwan ethnic politics and Indigenous history. Do you think there are things Australia and Taiwan can learn from each other in this area?
A: Definitely, I think there is a rich vein of material. Both sides could learn a lot by comparing notes. Essentially, Australia is much stronger in terms of the law. Taiwan can be much stronger in terms of practical outcomes. Despite also having a bloody history, Taiwan is somehow one of the safest and most peaceful places in the world. Taiwan is constantly working on self-improvement. And Taiwan is less offended by affirmative action - Australia is more like the US, in that sense. Taiwan can learn from Australian lawmaking - Taiwanese lawmakers often pass poorly constructed law. Australia has a core of lawmakers on both sides of Parliament with a better concept of lawmaking. In Taiwan, lawmakers are more focused on the cameras. So both sides can learn from each other.
Q: You love Taiwan - but is there anything you miss about Australia? Vegemite perhaps? The State of Origin? Beaches?
A: Family and friends - I miss them badly and as you get older you see less of them. That's a terrible gap that you never make up. And I miss sports - Taiwan mostly follows American sports, baseball and basketball. I'm a football and cricket person. The FIFA World Cup is the ultimate series for me. The weather here is not really suited to cricket pitches - though there's some determined expats who try to play. But I'm generally very comfortable here - there is a greater sense of a civilised community.