“I really miss joking….and having people answer my questions…and people not cringing when you try to hug them. There are a lot of things I love about Taiwan but I really miss expressiveness and touch-feely-ness. Direct answers. Sometimes it makes me feel so lonely.” – Nina Bo Bena
Interesting observations from the young, vibrant, and outgoing Miss Nina Bo Bena, one of my new friends who connected with me through this blog. She’s a recent expat, having arrived from the US just a few months ago, and is still adjusting to life in Taiwan. I remember when I was new in town, when I had been here for just a few months and was really struggling to adjust. It was not easy.
So now, as I pack my life into two checked bags and one large carry-on and prepare to end the Taiwan chapter of my life, Nina’s comment got me thinking –
“What will I miss about Taiwan? And what will I NOT miss about this island that’s been my home for almost four years?”
Things I Really Won’t Miss
Nina’s rant about missing “joking, hugging, and direct answers” was right on and speaks directly to the clash of cultures!
tends to be very culturally specific and doesn’t translate easily, as Nina is finding out. I tried to use humor when teaching since laughter seemed to relax the students and lighten the mood in class. Some of my classes really “got” my sense of humor, but it wasn’t always easy and it took some time to figure out what worked.
in Asia are also very different (and often frustrating) for Westerners who are used to a more direct style. In Western cultures, if there’s a problem you deal with it. In many Asian cultures, if there’s a problem, you circle around it and try to avoid it, especially if it involves bad or negative news. THAT was extremely frustrating for me at times, and Nina is sharing that same sense of frustration.
Passion for life…
One the biggest cultural differences that I’ve noticed involves a simple passion for life. At the beginning of each semester, my students would introduce themselves and answer the question: “What do you like to do on weekends?” I wanted to know what they’re passionate about!
Typical answers: sleep, eat, play video games. Taiwanese people are very hard-working and highly motivated but it seems their true passion involves food and family (and sleep!). In contrast, I found in Nice a passion for art, music, and life! I felt much more “alive” there!
Some people are born to teach. It’s in their DNA and they have a real love for the job. I am not one of those people, which is surprising considering my grandmother, my aunt, and my dad were all teachers. I overcame my fear of public speaking in order to teach, knowing I had to make money to fund my life in Asia. But for me, it was never more than a way to pay the bills.
Also, as a natural introvert, teaching was friggin’ exhausting! Some nights I just didn’t feel like talking and felt pressure to always be “on”. I faked my way through many classes (Journalistic Writing, for example) and felt like a total fraud teaching topics I knew little about. (Thank God for Google!)
Sometimes I wonder how I survived and am so grateful my teaching career is over! (I now have a much greater respect for all teachers!)
The Taiwan trash system is unique and quirky and it’s something no one warned me about. During my first month on the island, I kept hearing annoyingly loud, obnoxious music playing randomly throughout the day. I didn’t know what it was, but it was distracting.
Finally, I found out it was the Taiwanese trash trucks making their rounds. The truck blares loud music to alert people to their location and then people line up with their bags of trash and chase after the truck, tossing their trash in the back. Kind of funny but I never got used to that blaring music and it still annoys me!
Before leaving the US, I lived in Tampa, Florida for ten years. Florida in the summer is hot and humid but doesn’t compare to the heat and humidity of a summer in Taiwan. Summer starts sometime around early May and continues through late October. I felt (and looked) like a total mess for the entire summer and usually avoided going outside whenever possible. The heat and humidity made every day a bad hair day!
Driving in the Driving Rain
As much as I love my scooter, driving to class in the rain was one of my least favorite things in the world. It was impossible to stay dry and I always arrived at class looking like a drowned rat with really bad hair and makeup running down my face. I won’t miss that.
Rush Hour Chaos
Along with driving in the rain, driving in rush hour traffic is another thing I definitely WON’T miss! My neighborhood is very close to the Hsinchu Science Park, where over 100,000 people work the same hours. There are only four roads exiting the Science Park so from 5 pm to 8 pm it’s best to just avoid going anywhere.
Nina asked for advice on dealing with things that currently frustrate her. Looking back, I think I dealt with it by spending a lot of time alone and became a bit too isolated!
So, my advice to new expats like Nina would be this: Find other expats who get your jokes and will give you a hug when you need it! It’s so important to connect with people even though you may not totally connect with a new culture.
Moving on into my new life, I look forward to sharing lots of laughs and hugs in Nice! And wine….lots and lots of French wine!
Things I’ll Kinda Miss
I was extremely lucky and nabbed a beautiful apartment in a quiet, rural setting located just minutes from shops, restaurants, and work. I decorated it with beautiful stuff I bought on trips to Thailand and Bali – a silk rug, a beautiful painting of a long-neck tribe woman, bright splashes of color to go with my bold orange wall.
It’s comfortable, affordable ($300 USD/month) and really feels like home. If I could pick up my apartment and ship it to Nice, I would. Surprisingly, the undecorating and tearing apart of my home hasn’t hurt as much as I expected and now most of my beautiful stuff is in a box. (I guess I’m really ready to move on!)
Prior to arriving in Taiwan, I had never driven a scooter. Ever. I was terrified for the first few months, dreading the crazy traffic on Guangfu Road. I felt grateful every time I returned home at night without dying a grizzly pavement death.
But something strange happened – after a few months my confidence grew and I actually grew to LOVE my scooter! Weekends were spent out driving random mountain roads just to see where they went. Driving in the mountains became my “scooter-therapy”! I’ll really miss that!
My patio has become the center of my very narrow social life and is known as the neighborhood “Patio Pub”. Many nights are spent hanging out on the patio, drinking wine and chatting with a few neighbors. It’s become the gathering place since pubs are rare in our area and outdoor cafes and virtually non-existent.
When I arrived in Taiwan almost 4 years ago, it was the end of “Ghost Month”. I had no idea what that meant but it sounded intriguing and so totally different from the nordic culture in my hometown of Zumbrota, Minnesota!
Over the past four years, my students have taught me about Ghost Month and many other cultural things. I’ve learned as much about their culture as they’ve learned about the English language. They were willing to answer my many stupid questions and grew more comfortable expressing themselves in English so it was an even exchange in many ways!
A friend of mine visited Taiwan last fall and one of the things he raved about was the incredible kindness of the Taiwanese people. He grew to love the country so much in the month he was here, he threatened to pick up and move here! The people are wonderful and some of my former students I now consider friends. And my landlord, Chile, wins the award for “The Nicest Guy on the Island!”
I’ll miss Chile, and my apartment, and my scooter, but it really feels like the perfect time to move on. No regrets! The Taiwan chapter is coming to a close and the rest is still unwritten...