We live in a global village and cultures are no longer distinct. As people continue to migrate, cultures become even more indistinct from one another. The Chinese and Taiwanese communities in South Africa have found themselves adapting their traditional cultural customs to their Western lifestyles.

The Ku family, who migrated to South Africa in the late 1980s from Taiwan, opened their home up to demonstrate this now hybrid cultural background.

 

By Nokuthula Manyathi.

Confucian ethics are the cornerstone of Chinese and Taiwanese cultural beliefs. This doctrine dictates that one live harmoniously with others and practise non-harm. Confucian ethics maintain that xiushen (self-improvement) can be pursued only within the confines of the family.

In the Ku family, this principle is their core. “Almost every decision you make you have to think about how it might affect your family. Whether it is relationships or job choice or your behaviour,” says Tiffany Ku, a first-generation South African Taiwanese.

Her parents, Ivy and Spencer, moved to South Africa from Taiwan in 1988 because of the generous incentives offered by the government to foreign investors.

Twenty-five years after their arrival in the country, the family of five have tried to integrate traditional Taiwanese customs into their Western lifestyles.

In the parking space of their home in a gated Sandton community, is a German automobile with the number plate: TAIWAN.

Speed Race: Home is always close when you have a car Photo: Nokuthula Manyathi
Before you enter the Ku home you have to take off your shoes. “We take off our shoes because it keeps the home clean. We like keeping our feet clean and covered because in my culture the feet are considered a very intimate part of the body,” says Tiffany.
Inside, the walls of the home are covered with artwork. A bookshelf with hundreds of Chinese books covers the main wall in the lounge. On the coffee table, sits a plastic cylinder filled with paint brushes belonging to Ivy who is a professional calligrapher.
A Chinese proverb states: “Firewood, rice, oil, salt, sauce, vinegar and tea are the seven necessities to begin a day.”The Ku family often sit together in the kitchen and Ivy makes traditional Chinese tea – an elaborate process.
Tea is seen as both a refreshment and a tonic. Smelling the aroma of the leaves and swirling the tea on your tongue to taste all the flavours is an integral part of the process. The tea is usually served without snacks but when snacks are provided, they should be tasteless so they do not overwhelm the tea.
Another tradition the family follows is consulting an ancient wisdom book.

The book accounts for every day of the month based on the Chinese lunar calendar. Fortune is tied to the moon.

The book predicts an individual’s fortune for every day of the year according to their zodiac sign. “So mother is an ox and today the book says it’s a good day for an ox but not a rooster.”

“Today it says that it’s not good for burial,”

The book’s text and symbols are coded in red and black. Red represents good fortune and black represents misfortune.

“Today it says that it’s not good for burial,” says Tiffany.

The book is only consulted when important life decisions need to be made such as marriage, funerals, business deals, celebrations and important medical decisions.

The wisdom book is based on Buddhist philosophy.

The Kus follow Buddhist doctrine and evidence of the religion is sprinkled all over their home.

When they married, Ivy and Spencer fused Western and Eastern traditions

On the bookshelf is a picture of a Taiwanese Buddhist master.

The family makes regular trips to their local Buddhist temple for meditation and community.

Tiffany’s parents, Ivy and Spencer, have been married for more than 20 years.

In Taiwanese culture, there is a diversity of wedding ceremonies which are either traditional or modern.

When they married, Ivy and Spencer fused Western and Eastern traditions in their wedding.

Ivy wore a traditional white dress according to Western culture.

Spencer wore a matching white tuxedo.

The couple went through three costume changes on their wedding day, typical for a Taiwanese wedding.

China Discount Shopping Centre-1-2Tiffany has also walked the line between East and West.

“My parents are liberal and have tried to adapt to the modern times, but there are still elements of tradition,” says Tiffany.

For her matric dance, she designed a dress that was a fusion of modern fashion and traditional Taiwanese design