Ni hao, Taiwan!
It seems appropriate to end my hiatus by reflecting on my new environment and the one I left behind. I was able to visit America for a few months before arriving in Taiwan, but as I unconsciously compare my new surroundings with the ones I am used to, the comparison automatically lines up with Korea. Asia has, in reality been my home for the past year and a half. A life that was nonexistent in any reality I had before all just seems normal to me now. Standing on the bus or subway amongst a sea of black hair, picking up fruit at the outdoor market on my way to work, buying things at the grocery store and guessing how to cook them, playing Frogger across each and every road as to not be hit by the hoards of scooters and buses that have the right of way over pedestrians, and all the extra attention and freebies. Not much surprises me here anymore, which is a big reason I have been so lazy with keeping the blog. I will have to take it as a challenge to dig deeper!
Since leaving Korea, I only remember the good things. In fact, my first week in Taipei I had a few moments of running through whether or not to just go back – go back to my easy life there, my friends, my free apartment and well paying, insanely easy to find jobs, comfort of knowing where to go and how to get there. This whole new city with long ridiculous names over each MRT stop, impossible bus routes, no way to communicate with taxi drivers and no friends seemed looming and lonely. Those moments were few, but they were there and were strong. But I can never forget the strange satisfaction I get when I realize that I am familiar with this street, district, bus route that felt so alien only a short time before. Like the map in my head has expanded to include this place that did not exist to me before and can never go away. That feeling has been driving my life for the past 3-4 years and it’s undeniable to me. Of course I wasn’t going to let myself go back to Korea. Afterall, I KNOW that although I never think about them, there are plenty of reasons I was so happy to finally board that plane out of Busan.
I was going over those reasons today, trying to remember. Though I never allow myself to dwell on the negative (Rule #1 of living abroad), it is a big part of the experience and probably should be given the most credit in regard to personal growth. With respect to Korea, culture was definitely the biggest hurdle. This word, “culture”, is something quite opaque when you are constantly surrounded by your own. Not even in America’s melting pot do you really see or feel this intangible thing as you do when you are outside of your own and submerged in one completely foreign for the first time. And the strangest thing about this feeling is that you are the foreign factor in this equation; the one that’s got it all wrong. It’s something I could have never prepared myself for, and something impossible to convey through words to others. It felt insanely lonely. I felt out of place, unsure, self-conscious, and wasconstantly walking on eggshells. But it really does thicken your skin, build your confidence, and grant a whole new (very necessary) sense of humor.
Taiwan I don’t feel the culture shock, really at all. My first few days in town, walking around Taipei’s massive subway stations I remembered that feeling of self-conscious – that everyone is looking at me and knows I have no idea where I’m going even though I’m desperately trying to act as if I belong. That feeling quickly subsided here and now, quite honestly I feel right at home after only 2 months. I can’t quite decide if it’s more the culture or because it is my second time living in a big Asian city. I”m sure it is partially attributed to both, but I also know that people here are much more open minded to cultural diversity than in Korea. The overall mindset of Koreans is still set on preserving homogeneity of the culture, and recently graduated English teachers from the West do NOT by any means help forward that agenda.
My life here is great so far. The Taiwanese might be the friendliest group of people I have ever come in contact with, I have a job teaching kids that I love so far at a school that I really like, a fabulous apartment in a perfect location, good roommates, a growing base of friends, and am overall stress free (which most of you know is very high on my list of essentials!) . I’ll keep you posted!