April 02, 2007


The best descriptive line about Taiwan I've seen in awhile comes from Notes From a Small Island:

Taiwan is a handsome teenager with no confidence and everyone goes on about the greasy spots without mentioning the beautiful face.
That's about it. I had three of those spotty teenagers in class this morning. They have the answers, but just try to get them to evict the words to form them from their voiceboxes. Phew.

The pervasive pessimism of the expat community is raised, and NSFI bemoans the fact that perky optimism seems to be no match for the general gloom by locals and expats alike.

When did
my perky optimism disappear, or has that candle really been entirely snuffed out? I know that I had it for the first year or so into my Time in Taiwan, but then a combination of workplace politics, exhaust, and lack of sunlight crept up on me in my second year.

When I got here seven years ago, foreigners weren't talking to each other on the street. Except for the Mormons. You could always tell someone fresh off the boat by their cheery greetings they gave to Western Strangers they happened across in SOGO, the night market, or McDonald's. Personally, I felt that the expat community was about the size of a small town back in the States and it kinda seemed natural to serve up a howdy to every round-eye I met. It's just not done.

I think it's because so many foreigners in Taiwan are freaks. Now, don't get all insulted. I'm sure no one reading this fits that description. But, if your cow udder keeps getting in the way of the keyboard, you might stop wondering why people won't look you in the eye.

Locals ask me all the time if I'm used to Taiwan. I think this means, have you gotten over stage X of culture shock. I can never remember what the stages are, so I usually ask my friend Craig who can rattle them off like nobody's business. But, today is Sunday and I know he's busy, so I'll look them up.

TravelWithKids came up first, here's their list, which seems like a downward spiral of negativity:
  1. Vacation
  2. Denial
  3. Anger
  4. Escape
  5. Depression
or, closer to home (playing fast and loose with terminology here--in this case "home"
being Taiwan) this list
from WHOSE Travel, Taiwan with some helpful tips on getting over yourself and learning to be happy wherever you're stuck. Ouch, that didn't come out right at all.
  1. Honeymoon
  2. Disillusionment
  3. Understanding
  4. Integration
  5. Re-Entry
or, according to Paul Pedersen , a Professor of Education in the Department of Counseling and Human Services at Syracuse University in New York, and author of the weighty tome The Five Stages of Culture Shock
  1. The Honeymoon Stage
  2. The Disintegration Stage
  3. The Reintegration Stage
  4. The Autonomy Stage
  5. The Interdependence Stage
Pedersen's book costs $115 and is printable on demand, in case you're interested.

Yeah, so the locals ask and I don't know if I'm understanding, integrated, autonomous, or what. I think if I was "used to it" I wouldn't find myself scoffing so much as I see people enjoying their days off at the electronics store watching Kenny G on the plasma TV, or standing in line at Baskin Robbins for an hour to get a US dollar off on an ice cream cone because it's the 31st of the month. I think if I was used to the place, I wouldn't ask myself "Why?" so often, and would instead take the Taiwanese approach of "Oh well, that's Taiwan."

The answer I usually give is that the whole world is the same. Every country has its share of good folks, and bad folks. There are consumers of mindless tripe here just as there are in America. Taiwan has any number of news programs that do nothing but pander to one side or the other. America has FoxNews. (Personally, I'll take the local variety there, because it's so easy to tune out.)

Oh lord I've been rambling. Ok, quick five good things about Taiwan:

Culture (no, really, I like to joke about Taiwanese culture, too, but there's some good stuff going on here) Cloud Gate Dance Theater--Ju Ming Museum--Ang Lee--
Taiwanese Food--Slow Cooked Chicken (tu yao ji) which I'm moments away from making into a lasagna, thus the rushed ending to this post--Taiwanese breakfast burritos--blood rice
Beautiful Scenery--Most of the East Coast--the mountains--the outlying islands--hotties
Location, Location, Location-- work a year, save some cash, travel around Asia for two months...that's awesome
The People--sorry, I was really reaching for number five, because I'm hungry. Honestly, not all Taiwanese people point at you and say "Look at that guy with the big nose!" And not every Taiwanese person is going to cheat on his taxes, or cheat you on the price of a motorcycle, or some dumb trinket in the night market. My wife is awesome (and married) and her family are kind caring, and have I mentioned what a great cook my mother-in-law is? Some teenagers can be a bit wearing on a Saturday morning, but they're not all like that, and the ones who are, mostly grow out of it.

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