Monday, August 20, 2012

"From Second To First Degree Culture Shock"

I don't know if this is an "official term" in the wandering expat world, but it feels official. That transition from your own culture into different culture #1 -for me, China- and THEN AGAIN into different culture #2- for me, Taiwan- , feels like a shocking burn that is slowing cooling, slowing getting easier. You learn how to work around it and eventually it cools into the normal 98 degree temperature of the rest of your skin. But sometimes you forget about the subtle temperatures that exist between boiling and cool. You forget about the steps in between that you have to take to get to ''comfortable".

I honestly didn't think I would have culture shock my "second year living in Asia". I thought living in a "big city" everything would be easier and more convenient. I didn't anticipate the slight heartache- and no, not talking love related, just in general. I didn't anticipate the comparisons that I was making in my head- between Foshan and Taipei. I definitely didn't anticipate the insomnia. I anticipated the heat and I anticipated the lychees - and they didn't let me down. Both were here in plain sight, full force, when I arrived. :p

But it takes time. Whether you are in your 2nd year and you are transitioning from the US to Brazil and then to China, from the US to China to Vietnam, or from the US, to Harbin China, to Shanghai China. There are going to be differences and there will be shock. Even if the language is the same. Even if some of the holidays and cultural festivals are the same.

It's a new year and it's a new place. If I moved from New York to Alabama even, I'm sure there would be some "culture shock". I accept that in my head.... or even Los Angeles... yes that's "a city"... but it's SO different from NY- in terms of public transportation and just the layout of the city.... I love the ocean but it doesn't really feel like "the city" to me, as a native New Yorker thinks of "the city".

So it's funny that I would forget that in moving from one Asian COUNTRY to another...there might be some differences... some comparisons.

Here are the things that I've been thinking/missing - and yes, go ahead and laugh and shake your head at some things -


. Seaweed Flavored Pringles potato chips

. These pickled artichokes/vegetables in a sealed plastic bag that I used to buy at 7-11 in Foshan.

. H&M and/or just a good familiar "western brand clothing store" in general. We had H&M in Foshan.

. An easy way to dispose of my garbage. Why buy/sell black plastic bags here if everyone separates/recycles their garbage into those little pink plastic bags? I have a big roll of black plastic bags in my apartment that I have no idea what I'm going to do with.

. A good brand of hot sauce - the ones I've found here so far have been too oily or too salty for my taste - I know specifically the Lee Kum Kee brand is too salty. I'm a girl who loves her spicy Sichuan Chinese and/or Spicy Hot Pot Taiwanese food.  So, I'm open to anyone's suggestions!

. hearing people speaking Cantonese. It intrigues me and I still want to learn it, despite not being in a Cantonese speaking area. Admittedly here in Taipei, I'm still listening to podcasts on my laptop, learning a little more online. It's the FUNNIEST language. I mean with everyday words like "Nay", "Gnaw", "Gay", "Sick", "Hoe", "Sup" ... how could it not be?

.Being able to SPEAK CHINESE with my kids in school. I learned enough "classroom/children's language" from Metis my TA last year in China and last year I used it freely- even in front of my kids parents. But I'd get in trouble for that here. We're not allowed to speak Chinese in class. It's pretty much a written "rule". But I REALLY think mixing it up a bit for the kids CAN BE helpful - especially for the young kids. #1 - to be able to discipline the kids a little bit as a TEACHER, not just leaving the discipline to the TA. #2 - so the kids can look at you as LESS of a "STRANGER, foreigner" and more of a "friend, confidant" and also, even if they know that they're not allowed to speak a LOT with you, can find comfort in the fact that you literally "speak their language".  #3- to CLARIFY a term - just using a simple word like "tiaowu" - for "dance". I don't mean talking in conversation for the whole 90 minutes - I can't do that yet anyway. :p ... just little tidbits. Or maybe using just one sentence to say to a kid  "I'm proud of you" - "Wo wei ni gandao hen jiao ao!"

. PASSION- some days I feel like the kids here are pushed REALLY hard. Like harder than my kids last year in terms of school/schools they go to in one day. Regular school-English cram school- Math cram school. There's not much room left for imagination and creativity and FUN. Life is more than "passing a test". Life is a JOURNEY ... it's NOT a TEST! I TRY to make my classes as FUN as I can, because I know, mentally, some of these kids are worked down to the marrow in their bones. But then again, the kids I had last year were much younger -- and the older kids - Justin and Troy for example- went to boarding school during the week and only came in on Saturdays- so I don't know, they could have been worked hard there too ... but I just didn't see it as much- not as many tired eyes - unless you were looking at MINE on a Saturday morning! :p

I had a VERY quiet life last year in Foshan in comparison to all that has already gone on this year in Taipei. To sum it up you could say most days it was-  teaching/hanging at my school - IN the mall- to work and maybe get food and get my nails and eyebrows done, late nights at Starbucks after work - for wireless internet access, home to my apartment - to make dinner and watch whatever I downloaded at Starbucks, a few dinners and only 2 KTV nights out over the course of the year, and then also the occasional subway ride in Guangzhou or the bus to Hong Kong or Macau for visa trips when I had to leave the country.

So I think.... these first 3 months here in Taiwan were for adjusting and learning and transitioning. In the beginning I feel like I was rushing to do EVERYTHING when I got to Taipei. Taking on that MANIC pace that fits with city life... but really looks more like a TOURIST with little time on her hands. Taipei 101, Taipei Zoo, Shilin Night Market, Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall, Eating WESTERN FOOD - at On Tap, buying western food at Carrefour,  etc. etc. I needed to slow down.

and I think I finally have. I'm starting to SEE the smiles of the local people here, and hearing people - young Taiwanese guys mostly being brave enough to say "Hello" is nice- as I say "Hello" back and ask them in Chinese if they speak English, usually the answer is "just a little".

to be SO QUICKLY ... building wonderful FRIENDSHIPS, almost like FAMILY - with other expats- like my co-workers "the boys", in particular some good fun, quick witted office banter with my co-worker "mate"- half South African/Half Brit/Sagittarius/NY Times crossword loving/brother from another mother -  Luke.  and WONDERFUL TAIWANESE friends .... who are so helpful and LOVING and so quick to "bring me into the fold" and make me a part of their "everyday..."  annnnd it's especially SO nice to have these new TAIWANESE friends on FACEBOOK. I have QQ and whatever communication I do with friends in China, it's there and it's in English mostly, but the fact that my Taiwanese friends and co-workers are here on FB... it's hard to describe how nice it is. It feels like I am "going out of my way" ... every time I get on QQ. Like it's a bumpy backroad that I'm forced to drive on because the main road is blocked.

Finding schools to take MANDARIN CLASSES! FINDING the ANIMAL RESCUE CENTER! Fantastic places to go for DINNER! KTV! .... amazing fast wireless internet! - there is A LOT  to love about Taipei. But it takes a while to see it .... and I wouldn't recommend trying to see it all or EXPECTING to FEEL it all in the first month. I came here assuming "Taiwan will BE WONDERFUL and the people will be KIND and there will be A LOT to DO!" ... and it is, and they are, and there is .....

but I wouldn't recommend expecting to see it all  or feel it all as soon as you get here. Or as soon as you "get to" wherever your "2nd country, 2nd year away from home" is. Just as it takes a while to build cities- it takes a while to build familiarity and routines with new places and people.

I didn't want to go to South Korea or Vietnam in my 2nd yr of teaching because I didn't want to " have to learn another language". I wanted to continue to learn Mandarin. But now, I really feel like, in reality, wherever we go, we will always be learning "new languages".  Each country, province, state, city, neighborhood ... has it's own.

be patient with yourself, be kind to yourself, and despite the jet lag, despite the tint of those rose colored glasses of yesterday distorting the view a bit, keep your eyes open ...

that's my advice for now.

Though I've barked at one or two co-workers here for making overblown generalizations about China -I've defended the PEOPLE there, knowing that there are good people there. I'm very happy with the decision I made to come here.

Be patient and give everything time.... that's the best advice I can give.

    and take time to chill out like these guys I saw hanging in Ximending with their shades & pink tinted hair...

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Typhoon. Hospital. Breathing. Olympics.

That's my title. I feel like it's been awhile since I've written - almost a month. Sometimes I feel like writing takes energy that is difficult to muster after a long day of teaching classes and/or just a busy day. I know "they say" you should write everyday .... so I'm going to TRY to get on that as my next challenge. I know that it's important, and I know that I LOVE to read other people's blogs ... so I gotta do my part and give back/share TOO!

Today is a "Typhoon Day" - so really I have no excuse NOT to write. I was off yesterday and I'm off again today. All schools and big businesses are closed today. We never had "typhoon days" when I was in China. Basically what it is, is a big rain storm- lots of rain and wind- almost like a Hurricane. It's literally be raining since late yesterday afternoon. I was hesitant to open my door today, not sure if I would need a boat to get out, but it's... nothing really. Just a lot of rain. No flooding here. I went to 7-Eleven to get some milk and toilet paper and went to this South African restaurant to get a chicken curry pot pie take out for dinner .... but other than that, I've been home - watching episodes of "Anthony Bourdain" AND "The Real L Word :Season 2" - it's not THAT bad- they've got one or two good story lines this season - i like the couple trying to get pregnant and the Japanese girl who might- don't know yet- come out to her mom- on my laptop, reading, doing wash .... etc. I'm starting to get a bit of cabin fever. I'm looking forward to going back to work tomorrow - and especially just to an end to all of this RAIN.

A few days ago I took my first sick day and went to National Taiwan University Hospital Emergency Room. I wasn't sure about any other, smaller "clinics" in the area... and I needed a doctor's note if I was going to take a day off. Feeling woozy and headachy and head-cold-y, I just needed a day .... so I went and they discovered I had a mild fever and some sinus pressure - but no, that did NOT stop me from going OUT to KTV that night with Ann and her friends and having a GREAT night singing and drinking ... etc.  (-:  While at the hospital they took an X-ray of my skull - saw some swelling/congestion, and gave me antibiotics - the whole shabang! It all came to about $25 USD ... so I guess that's not bad? I don't know. I need to check with my boss and see if there are any smaller clinics near the Guting or Dingxi MRT station... closer to my apartment. SOME of the doctors spoke English at NTU Hospital - in the ER they did, but MOST don't so I don't know how good my chances would be with a smaller clinic- I"ll have to research it and come back and let you know.

Speaking of "congestion" and "breathing" though, more metaphorically ..... recently I feel like a big space has been opened up in my heart and mind and just my whole being and ....I can "breathe" again. I'm ready to love again. To fall in love and feel everything with someone who loves me and wants to do this together - to take the leap and build/share wonderful times together.  It hurts to acknowledge when someone is "not coming back" whether it's through actual death of a person or the end of a relationship. But at some point there comes a time when happiness overpowers the sadness... when you are too caught up in your present to worry or grieve for your past. I can't grieve for Lisa anymore. It feels like there is nothing left inside for me to grieve. The only remaining difficult part that gives me a little pang of hurt still is when I hear a song that she knew or that I learned/listened to with her in China ... that's a little painful, there's an initial stab before I can sing it.. I just need to start associating those songs with ... a new person... and/or learn to sing more Chinese songs. (-;  But it's comforting when you realize that you CAN love again. That moment when you feel that sudden pang of happiness and know that it's possible to do it all again... to LOVE again.... but BETTER ... with more COMMITMENT... and maybe with less of a language barrier issue this time around? I want to.. but it takes two people and so ...  you know... I've got to do some research to see if there is a Taiwanese woman somewhere out there who speaks English and who might be interested...

In general I have to say that I've DEFINITELY seen more lesbian couples HERE than I ever did in Foshan. But then again, Taipei is the capital city. I'm sure if I spent enough time in Beijing or moreso Shanghai, I would see them too. It's not like it is in New York City or Chicago... or Los Angeles though. The lesbian couples here look like the lesbians of the early 1980's. There is a DEFINITE -"Butch and Femme" dynamic. I HATE that kind of thing. That's what always used to get me anxious when I was in my teens and just starting to get comfortable with my sexuality. I felt like I could not RELATE to either being "butch" OR "femme" and it made me question whether I really WAS a lesbian. I finally had to just go back to my FEELINGS ... forget what any girls looked like and focus on what I FELT around them vs. how I felt in general with men. I would feel desire and flirtatious energy with women and just think to myself "yeah.... I really like women". I definitely CAN be attracted to men - John Cussack is amazing- his character in "Serendipity" - totally smitten, LOVE. I thiiiiink I could marry him. Who else? umm you know there's no one else really... no other characters that I can think of. I admire good guys- men who are attractive, do good things in their community, are passionate/competitive about sports or hobbies or whatever, - but that's kind of as far as it goes. There's an invisible line - that I'm sure gay men also have with straight women- that just cuts off the "attraction" at " a really good friendship". It's like a heterosexual man and his male friends. Like a "bromance" I guess? LOL.

but anyway, yes lesbians in Taipei - and in Asia in general I think - because I know this butch/femme dynamic also exists in Thailand too - are very EXTREME looking. It's almost like a "trend" ... like being a "hipster" or a "hippie" in terms of style of dress, etc. I've also heard that sexual roles are VERY defined in these relationships - one person is dominant, the other is passive - but I think it depends on the relationship. SO .... in terms of ME finding a relationship, it would have to be with more of a "Western woman..." with someone who is open to both of us being a little feminine, a little masculine/tomboyish... someone who is confident enough to be flexible and not worry that we don't fit the "stereotype". I think, as a "Western woman" I'm probably more tomboyish in general.... just because in general Asian woman are far more feminine... but I'm not going to bind my boobs and cut my hair and/or wear a tie and boys pants around town and be "ni de nan pengyou". I'm definitely a woman too....

What else? the OLYMPICS - are happening in LONDON! I've tried to watch as much as I can online. It's been hard for me to find live footage so I've mostly been watching re-caps online and reading the news online. I THINK if you go on YouTube you can watch live streaming footage. I'm gonna try.... the USA and China are NECK AND NECK ... SO close with their medal counts.... I home the USA comes out on TOP!

There was some frustration and controversy in Taiwan when the Taiwanese Olympic Team was not allowed to fly THEIR flag in London. China was upset and asked the people in London to have it removed and to replace it with the flag of "Chinese Taipei". FYI: Chinese Taipei is the most RIDICULOUS name for a PLACE. EVER. Chinese Taipei does not exist. That's like calling the USA "English, Washington DC". Taiwan is MORE than "Taipei" ... it is Kaoshiung... Taichung ... Kenting ...Taoyuan , etc. etc... so many other cities and areas ALL AROUND the island country.  You should be able to fly your flag if your team is competing ... but China was worried about "harmony" and keeping the peace with their own people and their money and influence sadly won out in the end.

I recently posted on my QQ account - China's version of Twitter/Facebook - that I supported Taiwan flying their flag and I got some unexpected responses - one mainly from Hannah's mom. Hannah... is the cutest, happiest little 5 yr old that I had in my Pre-K2 class in Foshan. Whenever I would take attendance and ask "Is Hannah here?" she would ALWAYS say "I am happy here!". Her mom, Carmen, is a wonderful, sweet woman too ... and she speaks SOME English... but not a whole lot... so it's interesting that we have so many conversations/she leaves me so many messages online. I think she must translate a lot of my English into Chinese. I try to write mostly in English - if I'm writing something a little "controversial" so that's it's not deleted when the Chinese censors come through and look at what people are posting on QQ. I tried to post a picture of the TAIWANESE FLAG HANGING IN LONDON as my QQ profile picture ... it still LOOKS like it is my profile picture to me when I log in. But I think that's deceiving.... because if you just go here which is my profile that the public can see - you see that my profile picture is an old picture I posted a few months ago of the "hands sculpture" from the NTU MRT subway stop. ANYWAY, here below is what I posted as my QQ status and her response and my responses ....

Katy : 台湾国旗应悬挂在奥运会上。自己的球队有竞争。我支持台湾的国旗!
07月27日 23:32来自QQ签名
昨天 20:32通过QQ签名评论(2)转发
  • Hannah( mom? )
    Hannah( mom? ) : taiwan is only one part of China.
    07月31日 09:35回复转发
    • Katy
      Katy : But Hong Kong has its own flag. Also, the people I meet here do not consider themselves to be Chinese. They are Taiwanese. Taiwan is a democracy. The government is different here. There is freedom of speech here and freedom of the press. Taiwan considers itself to be a country.
      08月01日 11:47回复转发
    • Katy
      Katy : Taiwan has a two party democratic government. Not a one party Communist government.The current president here was elected by the people. Your president is not the ruler of Taiwan. It is sad but I think there are many things that the China government does not tell you...
      08月01日 11:53回复转发
    • Hannah( mom? )
      Hannah( mom? ) : i realize the malpratice of one party leading
      08月02日 20:13回复转发
    • Hannah( mom? )
      Hannah( mom? ) : but there so many people in PRC,and part of them are not educated.
      08月02日 20:19回复转发
    • Hannah( mom? )
      Hannah( mom? ) : they havd no idae of politic.they only care about how to live
      08月02日 20:24回复转发
    • Hannah( mom? )
      Hannah( mom? ) : if there are two or more parties in china,PRCwill fall apart soon.
      08月02日 20:31回复转发
    • Hannah( mom? )
      Hannah( mom? ) : it's not the right time to have two party leading.
      08月02日 20:32回复转发

      and so that's been the conversation so far .... I'm glad that she's so open to talking about it
      I enjoy political conversations... just observing the trends, what's been happening and WHY - ahhh my FAVORITE questions/word! You know? It doesn't have to be angry extremist political debate. I think real conversation dies when people get too heated and angry. I LIKE Hannah's mom a lot. She' s a sweet person.... just like Hannah ...and  so I'm GLAD that she's open to discussion and she at least does not appear to be offended by my perspective. I feel like, IF CHINA is "not ready" for a two party system .... they should at 
      least be able to vote for the PERSON that they want in charge FROM the ONE PARTY. 
      I'm sure that there are different trains of thought, a "spectrum" within the CCP party.... 
      just like there is within the Republican Party in the USA. Bo Xilai and Hu Jintao are 

      both members of the CCP ..... but they are VERY different in terms of their politics, where they want to take "the party".

      OK- so I need to sign off SOON.... 1am is creeping upon us here. But I know that I promised posting one picture in EVERY blog from the last one on .... so here's a picture. Some delicious xiao long bao dumplings from Din Tai Fung... AND one MORE picture..... me in my touristy TAIPEI hat!  -I did NOT wear this to Din Tai Fung by the way... LOL.