Monday, May 6, 2013

Little Lessons

Long title for this latest blog post here.

EDIT:  Long title cut short. This blog entry was supposed to be "Little Lessons, Cute Stories and Breaking Stereotypes" but  being that it's 1:35am.... I want to try to get some sleep. Cute Stories and Breaking Stereotypes coming soon..... maybe even tomorrow!***

But, being that it's been FOUR MONTHS since my last post I figured I'd attempt to make up for lost time. ***

No surprises. Read the title and you know every topic that this entry will cover. Or maybe I'll just talk about my cat? :p



LITTLE LESSONS

#1. LISTENING 

Being an outsider or "waiguoren" - which translates to "foreigner" in Chinese but the actual translation is literally 'outside country person' "outside-wai, country-guo, person- ren". ... in a new environment can present challenges.... smells, tastes, sounds.... but it ALSO forces you to LIVE IN THE MOMENT, to BE PRESENT, and to LISTEN. When you are learning a language and attempting to talk to someone, you can't have your iphone earbuds in one ear listening to music while you attempt, with the other ear, to listen to the woman at the BBQ stand ask you if you want your fishcakes spicy or not. Listening/Struggling to speak - creates a relationship - both you and the person that you are having the transaction with - a store clerk, a neighbor, a taxi driver - are working "together" - stopping and really taking a moment to understand each other. 

"You never listen to me" ..... "that's not what I said" ..... "I told you to buy red peppers, not green peppers." -- We hear things like this in English, or whatever our "native language" is, all the time. Whether it's talking with a family member, a friend, a co-worker.... sometimes we just take the situation for granted. We take the fact that we "understand" for granted and we get caught up in "other thoughts" ... and stop listening to each other. 

LEARNING and BEING PATIENT and TUNING IN to listen to what is being said ... is a really nice advantage to living abroad ....it's almost like a meditation- you are TRULY "present" in the moment and everything is vivid and clear. 

But then, YES- the FLIP side of the coin is, after awhile you get taxi drivers and parents and store clerks who hear you speak a few sentences all together in Chinese and THINK you are fluent... and start talking fast and saying things that you don't understand...  and you've gotta kind of reel it in - slow down and let them know that you don't understand.... and try not to be too hard on yourself for not understanding... yet. I've had political conversations in a mix of Chinese/English with Taiwanese taxi drivers - making me think I was really GETTING THIS .... but then I would go by myself to sign up for a gym membership or bank card and be COMPLETELY LOST and think ... " I don't have this, I'm helpless" .... and then- just the other night- I went to the movies by myself and bought my ticket and popcorn and soda completely in Chinese without any help and again felt good .... it's a process. I think, wherever you are- just know that you know what you know and whatever you don't, you'll learn - especially living in a fluent environment. In the meantime, appreciate the "quiet" ... the time it takes you to string a sentence together or to really listen and respond to a question or request. We don't do that enough in English. I guess that's reason enough for anyone to learn a FEW languages.... and travel outside of "the comfort bubble" more often!

#2 CULTURE SHOCK and SEEING with NEW EYES

In addition to "cleaning out your ears", living for an extended time in another country REALLY opens your eyes to your own country- both the positive and negative. Of course, when you first come to a new country there is that "culture shock". But when I came to Taiwan this year, I was actually shocked to realize that I was experiencing culture shock AGAIN. DESPITE having already BEEN in Asia, in a "Chinese speaking country" - China, for a FULL YEAR, last year. When I went home in April, I was only home for a month, so I didn't think Taiwan would initially feel so.... strange.

But I didn't factor in my expectations.... and everything that was happening in that brief period.

Regarding expectations: I thought, before coming to Taiwan that EVERYONE in Taipei spoke English. My mother's American friend who, is pretty much Japanese by this point- he has lived in Japan for the past 25 years or so - told me that they did! So it was a shock to "have to speak Chinese... " Another shock was that my school in Taipei here DIDN'T offer PAID HOLIDAYS ... suddenly all the little communication glitches with my Chinese boss in Foshan, China and not being in a "big city" didn't seem so bad when my trip to Thailand over the - 9 DAYS PAID Chinese New Year- was paid for. I began to wonder if I made the right move, I couldn't cook in my new apartment because it didn't have a kitchen, despite being in a "big city" and surrounded by people, yes Asian people of ALL sizes, I had NO idea where to shop for clothes - at this point as far as international brands I know there is UNIQLO, ZARA , ARMANI EXCHANGE, and ESPRIT- but NET is also a good Taiwanese clothing chain and there's one other - can't think of the name, not Giordano's- it's another one, on my way to my school near Longshan Temple. So anyway, all this confusion....  and on top of that I was fighting with my- now ex- girlfriend in China - who I had a very complicated/blurred/unstable relationship with in China to begin with --- because we both spoke very little of each other's native language AND she was in the closet. I had maybe 3 days of orientation at my new school in Taipei, I was still getting over my jet lag and then .... we had a huge fight online and ended all direct communication with each other. She took me off her "friends list on QQ" and that was pretty much it. Though apparently on May 1st and May 3rd  -THIS year -just last week she "viewed" my QQ page. I can speak more Chinese now ..... but I can't wonder why. I've just gotta let it be. Keep moving forward. BUT, initially that was a reason for my "culture shock" as well... it took me awhile to get over her. Making friends here has definitely helped to speed up that process. I LOVE the friends that I've made in Taiwan. They are... so nice/down to earth and generally upfront about whatever their worries or concerns are. We talk and share our stories. A lot of them have already BEEN to the USA -- so in being friends, I'm not some strange "foreigner".... we "connect", we're "the same" in some ways..... in terms of experiences, etc.  We've gone to concerts, gone hiking, gone out to dinner, met up for coffee, ... all things that friends in any part of the world love to do together. The advantage is that they speak English very well. BUT, at the same time, this ALSO motivates ME -- and I think should motivate ANYONE living in a foreign country attempting to learn a new language- to learn MORE Chinese. I think it's only right.... it's the right thing to do. Even though they've had YEARS of ENGLISH already ... and I'm only just finishing up my FIRST FULL YEAR of CHINESE classes/learning. Be gentle, go easy on me. :p

Living in another country and working with a variety of people from different countries, also forces you to see your native country with "new eyes". The majority of the teachers at the school where I worked this year are British - from the UK. Living in a democracy and having different political opinions... is one thing. But stepping even further out of that is something else. When the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School happened, it was the first time that I was ever truly embarrassed to be an American. They don't have school shootings in England - or anywhere in the UK OR in Taiwan. Both countries have SENSIBLE, GOOD, GUN LAWS. So, I think it's hard for people to wrap their minds around the "extreme gun loving mentality" perception of the US. So, while watching the news... and feeling SO sad for all of these families in Connecticut- I also couldn't help but feel embarrassed to think that "it's happened again" - after Columbine and Virginia Tech and so many others. To hear my Chinese teacher say "I'm sorry" to me - at the start of our lesson - after she heard the news - knowing that I am an American - ... it was.... hard to take. I didn't want to hear her "I'm sorry" .... because I was too ashamed. It was painful to know that the world could see.... when I didn't even want to see, to know. I really hope that things can change. Who needs an AK-47??? I don't want to live in a country where THAT is a necessity for any "average civilian" walking down the street everyday. I don't want to know that country. I don't think I could live - for long- in that country.

There are lots of reasons that I am PROUD to be an American - the FREEDOM of SPEECH - freedom to dream, to speak, to write what we think and feel as individuals, the Rule of Law, the INNOVATION and CREATIVITY of our companies- whether it is Facebook ....YouTube ...Amazon....Whole Foods.. etc. But it's an easy slide back down to the bottom. We can definitely do better. Capitalism is a nice idea. But more money often = more problems and too much lobbying/filibustering/self interest. There's gotta be a better balance.

Selling out to the highest bidder - whether it's in terms of military contracts, the CIA giving money to a specific political party in the Middle East to "keep the peace" and keep that party in power, selling movie rights to one party totalitarian regime countries- PRC CHINA - butchered/ "re wrote" the  Iron Man 3 movie for their audiences in that country, etc is not the way to go.


Whether you are an American living in Asia, the Middle East, Africa, or somewhere in Europe, I'm sure that your perception of America will or already has been, altered in some way - beyond the traditional "Democrat/Republican" trains of thought. I don't even consider myself to be a stereotype of either one at this point. The republicans frustrate me with their ideas about abortion and guns BUT John Kerry and President Obama have ALSO frustrated me with their lack of knowledge about Taiwan and the ROC as a self-determined COUNTRY. How can you sell the idea of an "Asia Pivot" when you don't know what you're getting into? I think it's good to keep an eye on North Korea and China - but you've gotta know just how valuable Taiwan IS - as a country- to Asia. Sidenote:  I'm happy that the DPP just got an office- just got representation in Washington, DC - giving them more ability to help balance perceptions and allow the US to really know all sides of Taiwan. I just want people to do the right thing and get things done.  It goes back to LISTENING. Nothing is getting done in the US because no one is listening. We MIGHT AS WELL BE a totalitarian state with ONE PARTY RULE like PRC CHINA because in the US everyone "assumes" that they "know" what the other person is going to say.... because the other person is from "this party" or "that party" ...  so yes, taking the time to LISTEN and SEE the world with NEW EYES are gifts that .... EVERYONE should experience. I am grateful for them and I hope I never take them for granted. I don't want them to slip away. The constant back and forth of going between Asia and the US helps to keep everything "fresh" and "open" - everything seems "new" when I land, whether I'm going in one direction or the other .... but I can't rely on that. Maybe meditation? Clearing the mind. I used to do it. One year, back in 1999, I went to this monastery on Sunday mornings with my friend - who was Buddhist at the time. The Chuang Yen Monastery in Carmel, NY. It was beautiful and peaceful. I remember coming out and everything about the day - from pouring a cup of coffee to the sound of the birds chirping - seemed to be done with purpose, intensified. Not to get too "new age-y" but Chakras/Energy Points in the body DO exist. I've felt my "third eye" and my "throat chakra" pulsating/vibrating/ you know like that "pressure" feeling - concentrated energy built up in a spot- on occasion. It's a GOOD thing, I think.

I've attached a YouTube video HERE above and the website address HERE:  http://www.baus.org/baus/about_us/intro_cym.html for anyone who might be in the Mid-Hudson Valley - near the Carmel/Brewster area in New York- and interested in going to the Chuang Yen Monastery. If you're in Hopewell - it's just a short ride down the Taconic Parkway - and down a few country roads after that. :D

and with that .... I'm happy to have come back to blog, I had no idea that it would go in the direction of meditation and plugging the monastery .... but that's where we are and now I'm going to sleep!!!

Cute Stories and Breaking Stereotypes .... coming soon! - sooner than "4 months from now" soon! :p