I am all about continuing education. I like the fact that a person such as myself can take classes at a local college or read books to learn new and exciting things I am interested in.
Living abroad is sort of like informal continuing education, except for the simple fact that you don’t get to choose your classes; you just walk out your door in the morning and your courses just seem to magically get selected for you.
I have learned oh so many things in the past 10 months that it all seems a blur.
· Working in 95* heat each day is do-able, however uncomfortable it may be
· Even though they are ergonomic, squat toilets are just something I may probably never grow to love
· Hanging out to dry six loads of laundry a week is not as bad as it seems (once you get everyone in the family to hang up their own, that is)
· 7-11 is a godsend
· When it comes to food… never say never!
· Even though people from different cultures have wacky ways of doing things, all people are essentially the same
I have recently acquired a few more lessons to add to my list and they revolve around the ever-beloved automobile.
Up until about a month ago, we have been limited to bicycle and public transportation here in Taiwan. We would bike about 5 miles one-way to the supermarket each week and attempt to get enough food for four people into two bike baskets. The entire affair would take roughly 5 hours of our weekend time (including of course stop overs at cafes, Thai food restaurants, etc…) The bottom line was that although it was great exercise and family bonding time galore, it was becoming drudgery and an entire day of precious free time was shot.
So… we bought a really cheap 20-year-old Honda Civic and we are now ‘with car.’ For some odd reason, I thought that having a car would make me like shopping more, but alas, I still really loathe it.
What IS nice however, is that it now takes me only 30 minutes to go grocery shopping and I can buy laundry detergent, paper towels, and toilet paper all in one trip.
(Please insert mental image of strapping those items onto a bike with bungee cords.)
We can eat at our favorite Thai restaurant whenever we want now, and running to the market for a missing item is a breeze.
Of course, there IS a downside to all of this… driving.
I love my bike for so many reasons, like…
· My super cool, fancy pants handlebars that make me feel like I am flying an airplane
· I can weave in and out of traffic
· I never worry about parking
· Great exercise
· The list could go on forever….
What I am getting at is this: There appear to be very few enforced traffic laws here in Taiwan and driving here is sort of like Vegas… you may get lucky or you may lose it all.
There are all of these weird traffic rules that no one seems to obey like:
· Stop if the light is red
· Don’t turn right on red it there is a cop (which there NEVER is… seriously, I have seen roughly three in ten months.)
· Don’t turn left on green, unless there is an arrow allowing you to do so
· Even though there are literally millions of scooters, just ignore them and they will go around you
· When in doubt ALWAYS make a U-turn ANYWHERE you want, especially in the middle of oncoming traffic
· And the mother of them all is…. PARK WHEREVER YOU WANT!!!!!!!!
As a side note, when it comes to driving, I have yet to see road rage, the flipping of 'the bird', or honking and yelling in anger. Everyone simply drives and amidst the chaos it all seems to go rather smoothly.
Last night after going to our favorite Thai restaurant and parking wherever we could jump a curb and squeeze in, we headed to a stationary store in the middle of Shan Hua. We parked in an actual parking space next to the store parallel to the main road (you know the kind you have to turn into) and proceeded to go inside the store for about 10 minutes. When we emerged, we found that a car had actually parked horizontally right behind us and completely blocked us in. There was a rather large hedge in front of us, so going forward was not an option. A tad miffed, we decided to stand by the car thinking that for sure the driver would come out any second and move the car. FIFTY minutes later, a middle-aged couple slowly sauntered across the street after eating at a roadside restaurant and made a measly “Oh, did I block you in? Sorry.” wave in our general direction. By this time it was 10:00 at night, the girls were asleep in the backseat, and I was so beside myself I was speechless.
Before I moved to Taiwan, I had read several books on culture that spoke of ‘Saving Face’, or rather that in Taiwanese culture it is important to not embarrass someone or in turn be embarrassed. How I see this played out on a daily basis is that if there is a problem, you don’t talk about it directly with the person in question because you might embarrass them or yourself. Say, for example, you are late to work everyday. Instead of your boss talking with you directly about it, you might just receive an email or at the next staff meeting your boss might make an announcement that some unknown people are late to work and he is aware of it. You are not told to your face that you are late, because that might embarrass you.
I might be going out on a limb here, but last night after having almost an hour to contemplate why in the world someone would knowingly block us in and then act like it never happened, I began to think that maybe you can get away with a lot here because no one is going to say anything to you for fear you, or even worse, they might lose face.
Oddly enough, I am not saying this is bad or good; it is just oh so very different from how we handle things in the U.S.
I mean think about it, in the U.S. you can say or do anything you want, no matter how incredibly rude or disrespectful you come off, and go about your merry way with zero regard for others. I honestly don’t know which is better. Of course I know which one is more in my comfort zone, but I am not so bold as to think the Western way is the best way.
Again, this is just another course I did not sign up for in my ever-growing transcript of continuing education.
Am I learning, growing, blossoming, and all that jazz? You bet!
Is it painful, uncomfortable, and downright unpleasant at times? No doubt!
I do have frequent moments of clarity when I truly appreciate all that I learn and experience in the simple course of a day. And I do realize how incredibly lucky I am to be on this adventure with my quirky little family.
As I continue on my quest to be ‘The Cup Mostly Half Full Poster Girl’, I await the next course with bated breath… sort of.