1) Their facebook-loving, no-child-left-behind, everyone-is-included, attitude towards their peers. Even towards strangers. I’ve never been around a community in which nearly every person in that community is eager to welcome you into his/her social circle; few people are looking for power or looking to stand out among the crowd- especially at the expense of others feeling uncomfortable or alone.
2) How they cook their street food: immediately, outside, on the spot, right in front of you so you can watch how they make it from scratch. All fruits and vegetables are fresh and bought day-of to sell. All meat is bought that same morning- and animals are even killed that same morning, right in front of everyone.
3) Their night-life… I mean, bars/ clubs don’t close till 5, 6 a.m. You could say I fully exercised my new rights.
4) How easy-going and laid back their culture is. No one appears to give a fuck really. Noted, this is in Tainan, which is populated by 99.9% locals. But everyone seems to be accepting of a lifestyle that consists of chilling, managing the store, doing some Tai Chi.
I believe this largely contributes to the fact that I see 80, 90 year old people on their mopeds, walking the streets, still going strong. I saw so many elderly people that I felt sad comparing this reality to the reality in the U.S.
5) How cheap their food is. On average I paid $1-3$ for every meal bought on the street. And I’m talking good-sized, I’m too full to eat anymore, meals. Living in Taiwan felt like my mom was cooking on every street corner, and I could just go up, pay $1 cause she loves me, and she’ll provide me with a home-cooked, yummy dish- except in this case, I had no idea what I was eating half the time.
Still tasted amazing.
6) Dumplings. I think I would go back just for the Dumplings…sad but true.
I’m in a car with a Taiwanese mother and daughter who do not speak English. We’re driving on roads I’ve never driven on, passing by mountains I’ve never seen. I’m eating food that, two weeks ago, I never knew existed. But these roads, these mountains, this food, is all most Taiwanese people know. It’s all they’ve ever seen, and it’s all some them will ever see.
Ninety-nine percent of the people I’ve asked tell me they’ve never been to the United States. Of those 99%, about half of them have never even left Taiwan. And they are happy. They are content with their familiar life-styles. Who am I to tell them they are “missing out” if they don’t visit the U.S.? What exactly are they lacking, if they are happy? Awareness? Maybe, but most of them do not even have the means to be aware. And by that I mean money. They are poor by U.S. standards.
I gaze out the window and I smile to myself, knowing that there are so many sources of happiness in this world, and that pure amazement is one of them. I stare out the window and I feel warm and appreciative of simple things-like the fact that I’m in a car with this mother and her daughter, who is a student in my classroom. And the fact that they are simply there, offering me awareness of another life’s course.
Frequently my surroundings stimulate a powerful realization, one that is becoming more and more apparent to me the longer I’m here: there are very few customs that can be universally defined as “good.” You can argue which customs make you happy- but they won’t please everyone. You can argue that a certain way of living is ethically good. But there will always be someone who disagrees with you. What I think I know is good and just- I will be re-evaluating, exploring, doubting for the rest of my life ( hopefully). I want to doubt. I want to reconsider. I want to welcome criticism and I want to know better so that I might be able to do better.
I’m learning- absorbing everything new and different, slightly disturbing, awesome, scary…Every day I am reminded that we can have beautiful moments with people without speaking, without knowing each others language. We can look in someone’s eyes and see them smiling, without needing to hear the words that describe their happiness. Every day I am once again blown away by the similarities among people all over the world. I may not know how to speak to you, but we both know what a smile means.
We both know what tears mean. We both know what embarrassment feels like. We both feel sadness at times. Both feel excited when good fortune arises, when we receive something we’ve wanted for a long time. We both feel. We may react to stimuli differently, but we both react. Feelings, emotions run through every body whether that body is in the United States or in China or in Italy or wherever. And within those emotions we find common ground, we find connection. Not always within language.
Words can only do so much. But what if I don’t want you to talk to me, what if all I really want is a hug. What if all I want is a smile, a hand to hold, a person to dance with? What if I want the comfort of your presence, or reassurance through facial expressions? Can you give that to me through words? Every day I am motivated by the answer to that question. I will build a connection with my students, because I know that connection is built upon so much more than language.
I’m tempted to say that Taiwanese students are shy. But shy is an understatement. I feel like there is no word in the English language to describe their overall behavior, behavior that seems to be instilled in them from the moment they open their eyes as a baby. They demonstrate a shyness that is not just indicative of an awkward teenage phase. This trait is bred not just in students but in the entire culture. Adults, kids, teenagers…everyone, with the exception of a few people who we would describe as confident but docile in the U.S.
In the classroom I do whatever I can to help the students feel comfortable talking, but a lot of times I’m left feeling frustrated an confused. The feeling of “talking to a brick wall” comes to mind. But I know they are just scared. I keep having to remind myself that they aren’t used to talking back to the teacher; education in Taiwan seems to promote teachers lecturing the students, while the students sit there and listen, mute. They have been taught to respect- and fear- the teacher. And not to talk back. So how do I make them un-learn these tendencies?? It’s not going to happen.
All I can do is try to get them to see me as a friend- a friend who knows English and plays games with them.
The first day: lost my phone, but I got to ride on the back of a moped through the streets on Tainan to retrieve it. Hardly anyone speaks English in Tainan. I’ve resorted to pointing and smiling I’m order to get food/ whatever I need. A lot of locals seem to stare at my group and I, almost as if they’ve never seen a white person walk this earth. I expected this response somewhat, because that’s what I experienced in Singapore.
Yesterday I started my orientation for teaching english. Today I’m expected to perform my first pilot lesson in front of a classroom, even though I’ve never taught a class of any kind before. I feel like I’m going to be pushed to all my uncomfortable limits this summer, whether I like it or not.
So far, the locals are polite and the food is yummy. A few nights ago, our group of teachers went to the night market, which was visually fascinating.
Tons of vendors in every direction, bright lights illuminating delicious food, kids laughing, people on mopeds flying by…these are just a few of the sights and sounds.
The humidity had me delusional and dehydrated the first day I arrived. The hotness here sticks to my body and never releases itself, even indoors. I know I’ll get used to it. One thing I don’t think I will get used to, however, is squating on the ground to pee.
This place is awesome, and there is so much left to explore.