Hello! Or should I say, 你好！
I’ve been having a grand time learning, learning, learning. I haven’t even taken many photos yet, because I’m so busy absorbing everything around me! It’s been time consuming and tiring, but very rewarding.
I have somewhat of a commute to school each day. I am living outside of Taipei, so it’s around 90 minutes for me to get to ShiDa (National Taiwan Normal University). I get a scenic view of more remote Taiwan, part of Taipei’s skyline, and lots of time to think.
Time sitting on the bus is golden. I didn’t realize this until I became a commuter here. It’s time to ponder, think, question and daydream. It’s the quietest and sometimes the best part of my day, honestly. I’ve also been catching up on my Freakonomics listening, which has been great!
Another interesting commuter experience is taking the subway (MRT) the rest of the way to school. In Taipei, there are still very few 外國人 (foreigners) that I see. Sometimes I board the subway train and think, “I may be the only non-Asian person on this whole train,” and be pretty accurate. This phenomenon not just of being the minority, but being a rarity –it’s an esoteric experience. Sometimes I think I make young children uncomfortable, just because I look so different. Seriously. I wish I was making that up.
So as I sit on that bus for ~2 hours every day, this is what I have concluded: being a foreigner in a new land takes joy, graciousness, and humility.
Joy: never assume hostility from the locals, but instead, practice the language, listen to their insight, and most of all, smile. I think there is something lovely and and enticing about a joyful foreigner smiling back at you. Everyone I’ve met appreciates me practicing Chinese with them, and are always willing to smile back, answer my question, etc.
Be gracious. Good manners and respect are pivotal to Taiwanese culture. I love it– young people consistently give up their seats for the elderly, no one pushes, and people clean up after themselves. It’s beautiful. A selfish, pushy foreigner is distasteful to every local on their morning commute. Be a gracious visitor, whether in public spaces, a restaurant, or someone’s home. It’s just good. Do it. You will see the world of difference it makes.
I talked more about humility in my last post. When traveling anywhere, assuming a posture of humility takes you much farther than anything else. Acknowledging that “I need help” and that you really, truly don’t know– how often are we willing to acknowledge these things at home? Maybe we should more often.
Anyway, after a week or so of very rigorous Chinese studying, I’m able to have some menial conversation. Every day on the bus, I look outside my window and can recognize more characters. I learn more words each day, and get to put one more piece into the puzzle of signs. Soon I’ll be able to read everything around me! That feels so exciting! I start exploring tomorrow, and hopefully will get my camera I’m dreaming about! So, more to come very soon. Again, thanks for reading.