The Secret Life of a Commuting Foreigner

Stayin' cool in Yi Lan.

Stayin’ cool in Yi Lan.

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!

Rainy day bus views.

Rainy day bus views.

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.





Silence is Humbling


A brief Taipei street view.

Apologies, a blog post is long overdue. These last couple days, from the time I landed to this moment, have been a whirlwind a moving, adjusting, and learning. I am like a huge sponge trying to absorb everything around me– the language (of course), the daily way of life, transportation, how not to get hit by a moped… it’s been great, but it also takes a lot of focus. It’s exhausting to use so much concentration to understand the sounds and characters of Chinese floating in the air around you… but it’s so rewarding as the words begin to make sense in your mind.


Ok, I know my phone camera is kind of lame… but these are beautiful hills right outside my bedroom window!

We’ve moved into our Taipei apartment, it is incredibly spacious and only fifteen minutes from campus (cutting my commute down from the previous ~2hours!). It is already starting to feel very homey, and maybe I can start blending in with the locals after two months? (yeah, right.) And the view is nothing short of incredible. Class has been great, I got put into a continuing class that’s already on chapter 6, but turns out I can keep up just fine. Things move fast here, though! My first dictation is today, which means I’ve gotta have 25 characters memorized to be able to write them. Prayers sent my way would be much appreciated. 🙂

My university, National Taiwan Normal University. Pretty snazzy, huh?

My university, National Taiwan Normal University. Pretty snazzy, huh?

The reason I gave this post this title is that the largest adjustment I’ve had is being and looking like an American in a city where I stick out like a sore thumb. I may be half Chinese, but no one here would guess it! So as my grandfather converses with family friends, the waiter, the taxi driver, I sit in silence and nod politely, choking out a “xie xie” as we leave. What a weird feeling, becoming like a small child again, where I can take in the world but cannot interact with it. At home I can make jokes and ask how to get somewhere and compliment somebody– I can’t wait till I can be myself in this new language!

However, there is something very great and very humbling about listening without words. I suggest that everybody try it out at some point. When you can’t defend yourself or explain anything, you simply exist. It further opens your eyes to absorb the world around you. As I listen, I realize that I probably use an unnecessary volume of words at home,  possibly detracting from my relationships with others. Can we learn to do more with less? For Chinese, I guess that is what I’m here to find out!

Overall, I’m stoked to be here, so excited to be with Gong-Gong and my friend Chelsea, to meet more people and to have many new experiences!


Crossing Borders

Dear friends,

I am sitting in the gate waiting to board my airplane. I’ve flown alone overseas before, but somehow this time feels different. I’m headed off to the longest trip of my life so far- two months!

Prayers and thoughts sent my way are appreciated, I’m a little nervous.

However, I know that great things are awaiting on the other side (most especially my Gong-Gong!).

I am going to keep you all updated best I can on funny stories, experiences, photos, and social justice postings from this summer. I can’t wait to see where these two months will lead.

Time for boarding, we are off!

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” -MLK

Martin Luther King, Jr. used a variety of techniques like logos, ethos and pathos to directly impact his audience with the urgency and importance of his cause. He makes it clear how intentional he is about seeing through the path to desegregation, and that he has thought out the goals and repercussions logically and thoroughly.

MLK uses logos to convey his leavel-headed reasoning he has, though dingy, narrow jail cell, and that he has though through his argument and even so believes it to the core. His patience and step-by-step reasoning of his decisions implies  his beliefs are not rash, but thought out. He uses straightforward language and spells out his expectations for his cause. 

Using ethos to invoke the conscience of his audience, King uses allusions to Christian topics to influence his Christian audience, as he writes to church leaders. The majority of the population in the South was Evangelical Christian, like King, and talking about “justice everywhere” is a very Biblical idea that the whites could not deny. It struck their conscience at an emotional point, their religion. The injustice obviously served in hangings and police cruelty cannot be denied. King also alludes to Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and their revered acts of civil disobedience against a pagan king. He knows it will strike a chord with even the most pious, as he compares the Whites to the king who threw them into a flaming furnace for their disobedience.


Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Most dramatically, King uses Pathos to induce imagery of the pain and horrors the African Americans were enduring in the South to fight for their rights. He uses examples of children, asking why they are treated so meanly, and how “you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next.” People have also seen views of their protests from TV, and the images were undeniable. Even the most conservative family would not be able to watch the beatings of other human beings with their families. He also threatens the fundamental ideas of our nation, how our country was founded. Our country emphasized that “anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.” Not only is segregation not right, it’s not American. At this time in history, there are communist regimes rising up elsewhere, and domestic discord would make Americans worry about their country’s future.

MLK uses straight facts, like “There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in the nation. These are the hard, brutal facts of the case.” He isn’t messing around here, and he makes that obvious with his tone. He is not a young, excited activist doing it for the thrill. He is authentic and intentional with every sentence.

Through his through argument and emotionally moved position, he writes a letter from the most dramatic of locations about a movement that will son spread across the nation. His argument proves valid enough to continue to be read by students here today!

Poverty and Relativism

Poverty is relative– Galbraith defines it as when one’s income “falls radically behind that of the community.” So it does make a difference where you live and who your neighbors are. Nevertheless, he claims that everything cannot be relative, if your basic needs are not met, and “it is wrong to rest everything on absolutes.”  An entire population can lack clean water, so they may not be “poor” by the ‘relative’ definition: there are lines that must be drawn that broadly define poverty. But each specific insular or case example must be analyzed as a unique case.

Poverty can go beyond not having enough to eat.

Poverty can go beyond not having enough to eat.

I believe that in the United States, besides lack of basic necessities, poverty also means lack of opportunities. When there is no option but to stay in the current socioeconomic situation, that is poverty. Many consecutive generations living in the same place under similar difficult conditions indicates this lack of social mobility. Small towns with dying industries, or cultural groups not aware of different careers than their parents experienced an impoverished lifestyle, though they already met their basic needs. A relative form of poverty, this might be particular to the current United States.

This is even more true in countries other than the US, where public education is not standardized. Education has proven the gateway to break out of the destructive poverty cycle. Without training the natural creativity and invention, abilities that could break you the impoverished out of the vicious cycle, cannot mature.

Impact List: Let My People Go Surfing

by Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia

My dad got me thinking when he challenged: What books have you read in your life that changed you? After reading them, nothing seemed the same– they smashed a paradigm, twirled around your perspective, opened your eyes and made everything clear.

So now I have to think, what  books are on my impact list? I’m not entirely certain I know yet.

The first one I can think of–I just read it, actually– is called Let My People Go Surfing. It is not really about surfing, and I wouldn’t even say you need to be outdoorsy to appreciate this book. You don’t even have to like the ocean. It is about creating a company, specifically about how Yvon Chouinard created Patagonia not just to create profit or even to make a good product– their bottom line was to do good in the world, to make positive change through every process that the company underwent.

He still works to maintain the core reasons why his company was started in the first place: to produce high quality, innovative products for outdoor activities that they themselves would want to use. And what better way to know if your customers are satisfied than if you are your own customer?

Have you read any books in your life that should be on your Impact List?

Not only does he strive for the best quality, but also for the least environmentally damaging means of producing everything. They set a trend to switch over to organic cotton, and work to treat employees ethically and keep to their own high environmental standards every step of the way: from manufacturing to transport to lifetime of the product.

Everyone should read this book. Even if you aren’t going to start a business, my guess is you are a consumer, and you should know the reasons why seeking out  products from social justice-minded companies is worth it, and necessary for the survival of our planet, and our humanity.

The “Environmental Philosophies” chapter at the back is particularly memorable, because it goes into detail about all the chemicals and harm that every single product produces, often times with carcinogens involved. There are so many environmental and health reasons to work towards natural everything, not using harsh chemicals to treat clothes or to make fancy packaging. It’s not worth it in the long run, and this book will help you see and think long term of your consequences. Everyone should read this book, because our planet should matter to all of us.

So that’s why this is the first book on my Impact List. I encourage you to make your own Impact List, because I’m sure it’s incredible to share  books that changed you. Those are the books truly worth reading, and I’d love to read other’s Impact List books as well!

Social Justice in a New Dimension

Updated June 27, 2014

Dear Reader,

Welcome, and thank you for visiting! Here I’ll be chronicling two journeys: intellectual discovery and explorations through space and time (traveling!). I am recording responses to a Social Justice Class, (MySocialJustice), and my experiences this summer in Taipei, Taiwan. Enjoy the photos, videos, random musings and social justice reflections.

Check back regularly for updates. Sapere aude, dare to know!


Sea Meets Land