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...

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