McDonald’s, Tradition and Cultural Identity

大家好 and hello to you, reader! This fortnight’s blog post is about experiences I’ve found interesting as I settle into 台南/Tainan. They’ve challenged my cultural disposition as a second-generation Chinese-New Zealander in Taiwan. Reader, I hope you enjoy the journey through my thoughts.


Mcdonald’s has unfortunately become my weekly haunt. The familiarity of the restaurant interior, the consistent menu with some regional variations (hello Taiwanese fried chicken!) and the promise of reliable wifi genuinely overwhelm my better judgement when I’m homesick. As I feel more at ease with the locality (and to wean myself off their deliciously nauseating greasy cheeseburgers), I’m trying to find another, more local, “third place”.

The offerings in front of the university McDonald’s when I visited with my roomie, Bonnie.

However, one day I saw a food and incense offering for the deceased. As in the picture above, there were quarter pounders with incense sticks stuck atop, soft drinks in McDonald’s branded cups, wooden chopstick utensils, packaged plastic snacks and a large metal incense burner placed outside the restaurant. Traditionally, food is offered to one’s deceased ancestors to show respect and because one’s ancestors are believed to influence daily life. It felt strange but significant to see a mingling of a corporate brand with East Asian tradition.

Nature and nurture: my heritage and upbringing 

My Taiwanese language partner and myself in a Japanese restaurant!

Locals have been curious and wonderfully understanding of my background. It must be odd to see someone who looks Chinese, but whose Mandarin is only semi-fluent. Over the past three weeks alone, I’ve learned a lot about the liminal cultural space I occupy. 

In my experience, it seems very natural for locals and foreigners to ask where their conversational partners are from. Interactions usually start with asking me about where I’m from; I reply New Zealand. They then ask where my parents are from; I say from 大陸/mainland China. Interestingly, I feel a need to quantify that they, like me, consider New Zealand as their 家鄉/home. 

Living in Taiwan has made me realise that although my heritage whakapapa’s back to mainland China, I don’t consider it my home. I have only been there three times total, and my family’s friends are mostly all first-generation Chinese-New Zealanders who’ve made New Zealand their home. I’ve asked myself what I think of when I say “home”. I imagine my leafy, easygoing neighbourhood in Tāmaki Makaurau where I take myself and my dog for a swim at the nearby beach. I wish I could, but I can’t think of homely memories related to mainland China. 

Besides that, I’ve grown to realise that I don’t just have to be “Chinese” or “Kiwi”, pretending as if cultures fit in neat boxes in the first place. I’ve become increasingly proud of my heritage and upbringing as a rich cultural blend of carefree Kiwi-ness and family-oriented Chinese-ness. I’m excited to continue learning more about my Chinese identity and representing Chinese-New Zealanders on this trip – I’m grateful to be a part of it.

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