Respect is not like filial piety. Filial piety is given, respect is earned. A Taiwanese person obeys a police officer because he knows the police officer is more powerful than he is. He obeys his teacher, his parents, the laws of society, for the same reason. But the moment those people look away, he does whatever he wishes. When he disobeys them, he does not understand whether or not what he is doing is wrong. When he obeys them, he does not care whether or not what he is doing is wrong. He is not a bad person--he is just not raised to think about right and wrong. And if he cannot understand right and wrong for himself, how is he fit to revere the rightness or condemn the wrongness of those who have come before? How is he fit to judge those who come after? I tell you, Kevin, in Taiwanese society, filial piety is not reverence. It is an excuse to abdicate moral responsibility.
I much prefer the American concept of respect. All Americans understand it. They may neglect it, sometimes, but from an early age they are taught to know what it means. Respect is not just for power, or for seniority, it is for all things. It is for the beliefs, possessions, and safety of others. When an American gives money to a beggar, he knows what he is doing. When an American spraypaints graffiti on a store owner's wall, he knows what he is doing. Would a Taiwanese person help an old woman cross the street if he knew he would not have the woman's gratitude? Would a Taiwanese person think twice about bursting the tires of a friend who betrayed him?
When I first came to America, people warned me that I would not fit in. They said I would be treated differently, that I would be discriminated against. But I tell you, Kevin, no one has treated me more fairly than the Americans. Look at my beloved white son-in-law, Scott, and my beloved daughter-in-law, Beverly, and how good they are to my children. Look at your little second cousin Lucas. Are we really so different? They are family, every bit as much as the ones we left in Taiwan. They have never treated me differently from other Americans.
"Chinese people." (Note: The Chinese phrase for "Chinese people," translated one ideogram at a time, means "central nation people." --Ed.) Really? Little Lucas is no less Chinese(English) than we are. Ask little Lucas what nationality he is. What do you think he will answer?
I have run my own business in Cupertino for over thirty years. The other Americans, they may look at me differently, but they respect my business. They recognize me as an established part of their community. I have never felt alienated or alone. And I tell you, Kevin, I have no regrets about leaving, and no intention of going back. I wasn't like your father, coming here in search of opportunity. When I was in my twenties, I had all the things Taiwanese people want. I owned a successful bicycle parts factory, many pings large, in expensive Taipei; I had a car when everyone else was still riding bicycles; I had a wife and children. I could have stayed and lived well. And I still knew it was time to leave.
The problem, I tell you, is education. Not just schooling, but the entire education process that turns someone from child to adult. They've ruined it, over there. Self-interest, greed, corruption, kickbacks--your father never saw any of this, back then. I did. They cultivate a culture of apathy, leaving goals half-met and half-finished, and aspiring to nothing. They are competitive, with so much wealth and so many people, to the point where, if they see a tragedy about to happen, they will keep silent and watch rather than lend a hand. They shun the sick and the disabled, and shame them into hiding their weakness. They teach children to look out for themselves, their friends, and their parents, and no one else. You look at the Japanese, who are even more obedience-oriented than we are--what happens when a Japanese politician cheats the public out of their trust? He genuflects in public (A gesture of sincere apology and deep shame in both Chinese and Japanese cultures, colossally expensive in social capital--Ed.) and steps down. Will you ever see a Taiwanese politician genuflect? No. The only words a Taiwanese person in any position of power knows are "It's not my fault." This is a problem not only with the politicians. It goes all the way down to the lowest members of society. It is rottenness all the way down, transformed from habit to tradition, back to the days of the KMT in China and beyond. And a Taiwanese person who harms society is not necessarily bad. He simply does what everyone else is doing, what he believes to be acceptable because it is done everywhere, and does not understand.
It starts early--very early. As early as when your cousin Li Wei was in elementary school I saw them doing it to her. I saw the teachers shunning and chastising her because of her disability (Li Wei is partially deaf due to an early childhood injury), writing her off as a lost cause, as teachers over there often do. I saw them sorting the children, as they do, into those who would grow up to make money and earn reputation for the school, and those who weren't worth the time and effort to teach. And I didn't want my children to grow up in that world. I didn't want to be in that world myself, anymore. I wanted my daughter to grow up just like any other child. I wanted to raise them in a country with a short history, with respect for all people regardless of who they are or what happened to them, and no such taboos. No country better understands that respect than America.
And now look at Li Wei--a Masters in Computer Science and happily married. Look at my son, Robert, stubborn and troublesome as a child, now a successful doctor and a wonderful father. What kind of people would they be now, if I had let them grow up over there?
I have not one regret.