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“Foreigner-friendly”? Taiwan might have some ways to go

Taiwan just ranked as the second safest countries in the world, and is famous for its beautiful scenery and welcoming residents. But for German entrepreneur Arwed Graubner, who has lived here for over 22 years, there is a lot of room for improvements in terms of foreigner-friendliness.

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Arwed Graubner came to Taiwan in 1993. Originally from Germany, he received his bachelor’s degree in Taiwan and later started his own business called Vapor Technologies (VTLG), a Hong Kong based company with offices in Taiwan, China and Germany. VTLG focuses on developing and manufacturing customized magnets, ceramics and steel balls for motors and supplies a global customer base in more than 15 countries.

A year ago, VTLG launched an online shopping site and app, providing industrial products that seems common, but is difficult to find in normal hardware stores. One example are the small wheels that are used to move things around in a warehouse. “We sell 1500 items on the site now, and revenues are growing. Having a niche market is very important” Graubner said.

VTLG has reached markets all around the world and the company has close to 30 employees from France, Spain, Malaysia, Germany, China and Taiwan. Many of them having been with the company for 10 years. When asked about his secret to grow his business, Graubner said, “We are making it step by step and day by day. With rational decisions, you will definitely see growth.”

Graubner is without a doubt a successful entrepreneur who can choose to live anywhere in the world. And for Graubner, he is becoming less and less interested in living in Taiwan. Even if he speaks fluent Chinese and has lived in Taiwan for more than two decades, he still feels he will never be accepted as anything else but a “waiguoren”. “In fact” he said, “it is perfectly normal to be called “the foreigner” or “foreign friend” when being talked to in Chinese instead of being addressed by my name, sometimes linguistics is telling…”

“Often on the MRT, the only empty seat is the one next to mine. Yet when I get up to leave, the seats fill up quickly,” Graubner said. And he continues, “There is a very predictable pattern in response to conflict, it typically is solved to be a misunderstanding since the foreigner just did not understand and Taiwan is different.”

Besides Taiwanese people’s reactions to him as a foreigner making him feel uneasy, he finds that local regulations and attitudes from institutions and their employees are also a big disappointment.

“Let’s call it what it is,” he said “racism. They do not treat people of different color equally.“ And continues, “Being Caucasian one experiences as well a lot of positive discrimination what is nothing than the other side of the same coin.”

He gave the example of being at a public notary to get a contract notarized. The notary conducted the whole meeting in Taiwanese knowing that Graubner does not understand the local Taiwan dialect fully. While being asked to switch to Chinese, “Well he just laughed and continued in Taiwanese” Graubner said, what he sees as a good example of not being really taken equal or serious.

“Throughout the past 14 years in business in Taiwan I as well had multiple times that a customer or supplier did not want me to sign a contract but insisted one of my local staff should do it, for fear that it would not be valid if a foreigner signs.”

It is understandable how this would make anyone feel humiliated and discriminated against. Also, although there is no rule against foreigners having a Taiwanese credit card, it is most foreigners’ experience to be welcomed by frightened and unfriendly stares from bank clerks. Graubner shared his own experience, in which the bank turned down his credit card application because they claimed that it is exclusive to Taiwanese nationals, but at the same time he had an employee from Hong Kong with a Canadian passport who immediately had his application accepted at the same bank.

All these experiences have frustrated Graubner greatly through the years.

“I thought I would be accepted if I learned Chinese and tried to get into the Taiwanese society. But this is impossible. I won’t stay here much longer. Back in my college days I still argued the point, and it usually ended with the comment ‘if you don’t like it, why are you then here?’ ”

Searching the Internet, it does not take long to find many other people sharing similar thoughts and experiences.

Most foreigners find Taiwan to be a place with friendly and passionate people. People who have lived here for decades and loves Taiwan and their lives here still face many difficulties in their daily lives due to restrictions, some of them written into rules and regulations, some of them just due to the person handling an application.  Even with an APRC, there are still restrictions regarding credit cards, bank loans, pensions, and healthcare for children from birth and much more.

These days Graubner is spending more and more of his time building his new business and life in Europe. “I do not want to wait until I am old to build a life and human connections in a place where I am welcome.”

Many foreigners now living in Taiwan would like to become Taiwanese citizens if the law would change so they would not be forced to give up their original passport in the process. Considering that Taiwanese people can very easily add a second passport, it just seems fair.

Successful foreign and immigrant entrepreneurs like Graubner are valuable assets to Taiwan. They help Taiwan create a multicultural society with vitality and variety. Taiwan should look over rules and attitudes to keep and attract more talented entrepreneurs from around the world, not push them away.

 

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