After experiencing it in bits and pieces over the past few days, full-force culture shock has officially hit me. I spent most of today curled up in our bedroom with a copy of The Other Boleyn Girl, scared to venture outside even to the cat cafe. I can’t pinpoint exactly what was unnerving me, but I think it is because I knew that if I opened the door, I would once again be hit with irrefutable proof that I am no longer in the United States. As long as I was inside with my novel, I could pretend to myself that I was in–if not the U.S.–some place where I am not illiterate.
In planning for this move, I expected to be somewhat discombobulated during my first few weeks in Taipei, but the fact that I am still comes as a surprise. After all, my parents grew up in Taiwan and I was raised in a community where first-generation Taiwanese-Americans dominated as an ethnic subgroup. I can understand Mandarin even though I can barely speak it, and I have a decent secondhand knowledge of Taiwanese etiquette and culture. I’d only visited Taipei four times before and the last two visits were separated by fifteen years, but I enjoyed each trip thoroughly and was melancholy when I had to leave.
The funny thing is that now I am settled here for the time being, Taipei seems more foreign to me than it ever did before. I think part of it is jet lag, because I have been getting about five hours of sleep per night for the past six days. And I miss my life in New York City. I don’t mean I want to hop on a plane and go running back to the city. But I feel as life did not really begin for me until after I had moved to New York. My closest friends are people I met after college while I was working or attending graduate school in the city. I met Ron and started my career there. Those things mean even more to me because, like countless twentysomethings before me, I had to struggle to stay in the city after graduating from college. So right now I feel like a computer that has had its hard drive deleted, and I need to slowly download new data before I feel fully functional again.
I told Ron about the reason for my pathetically uneventful day and he said it might be because I miss having control over my environment. For the time being, I need to ask Ron to do things like write down our address in Mandarin and its pronunciation in my notebook just in case I forget it. I feel like I should just ask him to write a “If Lost Please Return to…” tag in Chinese and drape it around my neck.
Anyway, enough of my whining. The good thing about experiencing culture shock is that it is a perfectly normal reaction for most expatriates, and the sooner I go through it the sooner I get over it. I have a scholarship from the Ministry of Education to study Mandarin and it will be gratifying to feel the language barrier melt away. Plus, it’s hard to feel dour when a kitten at the cat cafe decides to sit on your keyboard and guest blog:
Here’s a picture of a kitty from the cat cafe. He is not the one who just guest blogged, but he is the most hyperactive:
This sculpture of a scholar stands at the entrance to Shida I will be using most often. The Mandarin Training Center is behind me to the left.
Taipei’s subway system is only eleven years old and is so clean and secure that stations have potted plants hanging in them. Unsecured! This is the Taipower Building station near our apartment: