But Does It Feel Foreign?

A lot could be written about what Taipei is like, and honestly I will get there sooner or later, or even just throw up some photos and allow you, dear reader, to “oooo” and “ah” all over them like a monsoon. To be honest, that just really doesn’t interest me. I like having a more narrowed topic and filling in the gaps here and there. That can be a rant for another day.

While walking around Taipei, I have to remind myself that I am in a foreign country. Sounds strange? On the other side of the globe from my home state of Virginia, where when it is day here, it’s night over there. I roam about the city at moments forgetting just exactly where I am in correspondence to the world around me. As an anthropology major, the phenomena has gotten my brain firing off all sorts of ideas and hypotheses. The problem: I am not experiencing the wonderment of another country. Rather, I have found a strange sense of familiarity with the tall buildings, mostly unreadable signs, and clean, slick looking subways. Even the surgical masks that a few Taiwanese wear does not affect me. Yet, that comes across as a floating feeling, like a dream where everything around you is familiar, and like most dreams there is a moment where you wake up.

The moments of awakened realization typically come when a barrier arises between my integrating with the surroundings and myself. These instances can be anywhere from mildly amusing to fairly jarring. Getting a hold of cash–which will be another post for tips–or having to deal with some administrative process that involves my passport tend to be the thing that breaks the fourth wall and sets me aright. I’m not a Taiwanese citizen and my stay here is a privilege and temporary at that. An administrative barrier then brings my mind to dealing with the consulate to get my visa etc. etc. My first week, despite those encounters, has led me to believe that the rest of the summer should go by smoothly. I’ve grown very familiar with the subway system and think nothing of crowding in with a bunch of other people, holding on to the white handles hanging from a bar near the ceiling of the train. Also, BIG NEWS, I got my hands on a room in an apartment suite by my third morning in Taipei. A living space that is officially mine, not a hostel or a hotel, really gave me a sense of ownership. Couple that with obtaining a library card from Taiwan National Library by day four, you get the sense that I have, in a short period of time, integrated myself with the surroundings.

Until I look in the mirror or a young child points at me frantically. I’m sure the kid had seen a foreigner before, Taipei attracts a lot of Western Business men, especially those who work in technology fields, then of course there is the over saturated English teaching market, which young adults held as the “free” ticket to a foreign country for a year or more. The fact: long hair, beard, piercings, and white. I stand out like a zebra in a pony herd. Sure we all have four legs and what have you but I’ve got crazy stripes that demarcate me. I’ve mentioned integration. The key word, as seen above, is surroundings. I’m comfortable with the environment. What has yet to happen is an overall blending in with the people. Beyond not being Chinese, which really is not the matter being discussed at all anyway, I don’t speak Chinese well at all.

Having completed one year of Chinese at the University of Mary Washington, and coming out near the top of my class, I felt somewhat confident in my communication skills. Well, that has been utterly shattered, as well as my belief in the Integrated series being a superior set of books. While I still feel they are good, it isn’t the best out there. Chinese at Mary Washington is a budding project, yet the school has given this language very little attention. Three classes a week, only equaling up to a few hours, does not, and could never provide, the type of language training required to be proficient. Granted the 101’s of many language classes in the states only meets for that long. If the university expects the program to develop, mind you the interest is there on the part of the students, it needs to- absolutely needs to- be opened up to a full week class. If money is the issue, funnel more cash into it. A recession is happening, money is tight, but a great deal of success can be had out of a good and solid Chinese program! –I’ll stop thumping on my pulpit now.

Either way, my language skills are very week. Classes have yet to begin, and the placement test is literally right around the corner. I spent most of Sunday working on some of the new material I picked up at an amazing 24 hour bookstore!! Maybe over the next few weeks I will get better, but ten weeks is not enough time to do that. For now, it is time to keep working, looking towards the future.

The Panda has Mused.

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One Response to “But Does It Feel Foreign?”

  1. Chrispy says:

    I’ve never been good with languages in any stretch of the imagination and the only time I ever got anything out of the Spanish classes that I took at Mary Washington was when I decided to do the intensive one-year-in-a-semester deal (five days a week). It’s so much easier to retain information when you are having to revisit it day after day, rather than with breaks in between.

    -Chrispy

    (ps: loving that I get to read about your travels, have fun!)