After much consideration, Chris and I have decided to stay another year here in Taipei. We have definitely taken a shine to this crazy Asian culture and, I dare say, they have taken a shine to us. Over the last few days, we have evaluated our expectations about moving here and how they have or have not been met.
First of all, we were very intimidated about moving to Taiwan -- simply because it was Asia. Why is that? For whatever reason, as westerners, we have some sort of deep-rooted fear of the Orient and its "bizarre" ways. I can't tell you how many warnings we got advising us to stay away from all meat because, chances are, it is either rat or dog. I can assure you that, while we may have eaten some odd things, the proud Taiwanese would never ingest either a gutter animal or their best friend. In fact, a lot of Taiwanese are a little grossed out by cheese. It is fermented milk, after all. Now who are the weird ones?
One of the scariest "fear factors" we had about coming here was the language barrier. Just the words tone and character sent shivers down my spine and, frankly, they still do. How would we possibly get around a place where you can't even decipher street signs and store names? The truth is, our Mandarin isn't nearly as good as I had hoped that it would be by this point simply because people are so ready to help. On more than one occasion, a Taiwanese person has taken it upon themselves to "adopt the westerner" and very amiably help us order at a restaurant or navigate our way to the airport. Even when we happen upon some of the local stores that don't speak English, the salespeople are invariably patient as we stumble through broken Mandarin and charades to get our message across. In fact, many people are actually apologetic that they don't speak English! How backwards is that? I am in their country and they are apologizing to me for not speaking English? It definitely gives us a different perspective for the Spanish-speaking communities around the United States because we have become what so many Americans complain about.
Having grown up in suburbia and Chris in the country, we were apprehensive but also excited about moving to a big city. It didn't take us long to come to the conclusion that we both love it. Between the subway, buses and trains, getting around couldn't be easier. As in most big cities, there is always something going on and somewhere to go. Being an incredibly international city, we get to try the Chinese version of all kinds of worldly cuisines. We don't drive so the only time we have to worry about traffic is when we are playing Frogger to cross the street. However, one of the down sides to the big city is the pollution. We were more than a little freaked out when we arrived and saw about 1/3 of the people going about wearing medical masks to protect them from breathing the polluted air. Hopefully no carcinogens will take root over these two years.
We were shocked to learn how incredibly safe Taipei is as well. We live across from a park and on the first day, we asked our principal if it was safe for me to go running alone. She had to stifle her laughter when she told me that it was absolutely safe. And, it's true! I would feel comfortable walking alone at 2:00 AM in just about any part of the Taipei. Maybe it is because of all of those over-crowded, under-fed prisons where the prison guards carry around cattle prods for anyone who disobeys. Just kidding.
All this to be said, we often wonder why we were so afraid of coming here. For the most part, the Taiwanese are actually excited to host Americans in their country whereas if we had gone to Europe, they pretty much would have resented every move we made. On the surface, many things about the culture in Taiwan may seem very different from American culture. But, when you get down to it, it really isn't that foreign. After all, have you ever seen a person from Montgomery try to order a sandwich in New York City? The culture and language gap may be just as wide across the Mason Dixon line as it is across the Pacific.