Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Is Taiwanese Healthcare a Model to Emulate?

Healthcare. That word in the United States draws controversy from all sides of the spectrum. Our nation’s healthcare reform debate is an ongoing political issue, as the United States is still the only industrialized democracy without universal health insurance.


Imagine a small island nation over seven thousand miles away. Here, residents may visit a clinic down the street and meet with a doctor they haven’t seen before, without scheduling an appointment. When meeting with the physician, they present a medical card that contains a chip with all their medical records. The doctor has immediate access to these patients’ medical history, any drugs they are taking, and other important health information.

Though quite different from what we’re used to in the United States, the above scenario depicts the healthcare system in Taiwan. When I visited last summer and stayed with my cousin and his family, I had the chance to learn more about how the country’s health insurance system works. Since 1995, Taiwan, with 23 million residents, has had a universal healthcare system called the National Health Insurance (NHI). This form of socialized medical care allows Taiwanese citizens and residents to enjoy the benefits of a single-payer health insurance system.

My first week in Taipei, where my cousin lives, his three-year old daughter came down with a cold. On a Saturday morning, I tagged along with his wife and the child to the hospital.

What first caught my attention was how no appointment had to be made; another that struck me was how little time we had to wait at the clinic. Within a few minutes, a pediatrician escorted us to her office and my cousin-in-law handed her a medical card. My cousin’s daughter was given a checkup and rescribed some medicine. What also surprised me was that the medicine only cost 100 NT, which is just over US$3.


Why not: the actor Jerry Yan in The Hospital, a popular Taiwanese television drama

Though Taiwanese citizens have equal access to healthcare, the country spends only about 6.6% of its GDP on health expenditures, while the United States spends more than 17%. Residents of Taiwan pay a monthly fee for the NHI themselves, and their companies pay for a portion of the fee. The vast majority of patients and doctors in Taiwan are satisfied with this convenient and affordable system.

Of course, there are also costs to having unlimited access to healthcare. With a lack of funds, the Taiwanese government has had to borrow money from banks. Additionally, with the convenience of healthcare, there is a large number of patients relying on too few doctors. When patients pay frequent visits to the doctor, it causes doctors to limit the amount of time each patient can be seen.

With a system that promises equal healthcare access, Taiwanese residents take care of each other. In the United States, healthcare is seen more as the responsibility of an individual. Perhaps these two nations’ different systems stem from this cultural disparity.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

For Many Students, When Summer Starts – So Does School

“What are you doing this summer?”

When a lot of Asian students are asked this question, “summer school” – followed by a glum look – is a typical response. For many children, “summer” means attending fun camps, traveling with family, or relaxing at home without the stress of schoolwork. But for many other students, “summer” means getting ready for more school.

Elite high school entrance exams, the SAT, ACT, or simply keeping busy are all reasons why so many Asian parents send their children to “cram schools” during the two-month vacation.


Homework and summer studies are now the norm for more students, starting at younger age

I grew up in Bergen County, New Jersey, in a small suburban town with a large Asian population. Since early elementary school, classmates attended afterschool programs to brush up on their math and reading skills. Hagwon and buxiban (“cram schools” in Korea and Taiwan/Mainland China, respectively, who have made their way across the Atlantic to the U.S.) were commonly heard words.

In the midst of fractions and phonics in third grade, students would be busy solving for variables and reviewing vocabulary flashcards. When other students played sports and attended Girl Scout meetings as extracurriculars, many Asian students headed to Kumon, C2 Education, and Honors Review.

Of course, the SAT was a huge focus when high school started. At my high school, many Asian students were sent off to SAT prep schools for at least one summer. Though attending school eight hours a day for seven weeks may not seem like a very appealing summer activity to most teenagers, I felt pressure to enroll in SAT courses because everyone around me was doing so, and if I didn’t spend that extra time preparing for the exam, I would definitely fall behind.


New meaning to a “working” holiday – is this what we’ve come to?

I have lived in my hometown all my life, and over the years, I’ve noticed more and more Asian-owned learning centers opening up. A growing number of parents are investing money into their children’s education by sending them to these for-profit academies. Children are being tutored for longer periods of time, and they are also starting younger.

This phenomenon stems from East Asian countries and the high value they place on quality education. Students in East Asia continue to outperform their Western counterparts in academic performance and international exams. When their children are very young, many Asian parents begin to emphasize the value of education.

The summer after my first year of college, I taught English to underprivileged elementary school students in rural southern Taiwan. Though many of these children’s parents worked long hours for little pay, a lot of my students attended buxiban after six hours of English class every day.

When I was a teacher’s assistant at an English-Mandarin bilingual school with a large percentage of Chinese-American students, I noticed that many children rushed off to tutoring programs when the school day ended. But what really opened my eyes while interning at the school was though most students there were born into low-income immigrant families, the teachers were excellent, children were enthusiastic about learning, and attendance was near-perfect.

Whether it is doing vocabulary drills or solving equations, when summer finally rolls around, it is certain that many students will be busier than ever.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Growing Up as a Chinese-American

I am an ABC, an “American-Born Chinese.” My parents were born in China, but I was born in California.

California has long had a vibrant Asian population; I blissfully grew up in an Asian bubble. Kids did not tease me on the playground nor did they pull the corner of their eyes while chanting pseudo-Chinese sounding words.


Hey. Kids are jerks.

The dichotomy that many Asian-Americans expressed while growing up somewhat baffled me: I couldn’t relate to the hardships they faced in trying to become “more American.” I did not understand why they would feel embarrassed to use chopsticks in public, or why they would opt for the “all-American” burger or slice of pizza at lunchtime. I was not ashamed of my Chinese heritage and I openly practiced them without the need to hide my roots. I used chopsticks along with forks and knives in the same meal; I added wasabi peas to trail mix and brought it to school for snack time. For lunch, I ate chow mein with hot dog bits.

I felt that my Chinese practices and American practices seamlessly fused together. Growing up, I did not push aside the Chinese side of myself.

But I wanted to.

It would mean leaving behind the discipline and pragmatism. My parents avoided all frivolous expenditure that they believe would distract me from my studies. They saw vacations as something that would divert my focus from school and make me long for “fun”, so I stayed home during school breaks and learned the multiplication tables instead of going to Disneyland. I did not have stuffed animals or game consoles: such toys had no place in our household. Nor did I have jewelry and accessories. My parents were not going to encourage me to be some flirty “party girl” who cared more for fun than academics.


Diversity even in sleepovers

That goes to say, I did not enjoy the themes of the American “coming to age” culture: sleepovers, parties, dating. I wanted my childhood to be about the whims and enjoyments that categorize mainstream American youth, but it was an unrequited fascination.

Yet, I don’t resent my upbringing, though I do wonder whether I would be the person I am today without it. Would I still have the habit of compromising more than I should? Would I be more vocal with my thoughts and opinions? Would a more liberal upbringing have made me more self-confident? Would I still have had my eating disorder?

I know that I am who I am today because of my parents and how they raised me. I am grateful for my family and for the part they have played in making me the person I am proud to be today, shortcomings and all.

Friday, June 6, 2014

A Taste of Taiwan: Four Not-to-Be-Missed Spots

On a sunny spring day, people stood in a queue to wait for a sizzling plate of oyster omelet: a savory dish of small oysters, egg batter, sauce, and green leafy vegetables. A few feet away at another small booth, a large group eagerly awaited a light snack of peanut brittle shavings, ice cream, and cilantro, in a thin burrito wrap. All around the festival site, people held colorful cups of bubble tea and aiyu jelly as they explore arts and crafts and watched exciting traditional dances.

Last week at Union Square in Manhattan, the 13th Annual Passport to Taiwan Festival celebrated Taiwanese-American heritage and introduced hundreds of people to the island nation’s brilliant culture, art, history, and mouthwatering food. That afternoon, I sipped on a boba drink while walking around the venue with a friend. We both spent last summer interning in Taipei, and the sights, food, music, and performances at the festival reminded us of our exciting adventures in Taiwan.

Here are four fun destinations in the nation’s capital that I really enjoyed last summer!

1. Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall (中正紀念堂/”Zhongzheng jinian tang”)

Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall-taipei-taiwan

The place I worked at last summer, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was right near this well-known monument erected in memory of the former president. During lunchtime, my colleagues and I would stroll to the large public square leading up to this memorial building and explore the area. Sometimes we’d watch the changing of the guard, which is an hourly ceremony conducted in a strict military fashion.

2. Yongkang Street (永康街/”Yongkang jie”)


Though I’ve been to Taipei a few times before, last year was the first time I visited this street, known for its famous restaurants, cafes, and small shops. While working at the Ministry, my coworkers and I would bike here to try out various delicacies: I really enjoyed Yongkang Street’s quaint noodle and dumpling restaurants and shaved ice booths.

3. Elephant Mountain (象山/”Xiangshan”)


Hiking up stairs to reach the top of this mountain gives you a magnificent view of the Taipei skyline. It only takes about 20 minutes to get to the top, and the stairs aren’t too difficult to climb. The mountain is a particularly popular place to visit during sunrise and sunset, with tourists ascending alongside locals and photographers.

4. Ximending (西門町)


This shopping district is famous for its youth culture and its restaurants, fashion-forward clothing shops, and all types of entertainment: theaters, salons, KTV venues, trendy bars and clubs, and food stalls. Ximending is always packed on weekends, with young people enjoying this happenin’ district.

There are abundant options of stores and places to eat, and you’ll find foreign restaurants in addition to unique eateries, including the infamous toilet-themed restaurant. Whether it’s seeing a live performance, getting a new haircut, or buying a snack, Ximending is an unforgettable must-see if you’re ever in Taipei.