Well, after about a month and half in Taiwan I think I’m starting to figure this place out. I still don’t understand 90% of the stuff that goes on here, and every time I make the 15 minute walk down the street to go to class I see something else that makes me pick my head up and think “huh?”. For instance, people wear masks here for 2 reasons; one, because they are unsure of the air quality, and two, because they are sick and don’t want to infect others. Also, some people, especially older people it seems, take umbrellas out with them at all times, as it is apparently a sign of wealth to be pale. Both of those examples were answered by friendly locals who probably got a good laugh out of how out of touch I am with many typical Taiwanese practices. However, that is not to say that I’m not succeeding in other areas of cultural immersion. I consider myself at least a purple belt in chopstick usage, and my ability to converse in Mandarin is definitely improving. I can order a large Americano Iced Coffee from 7-11 in Chinese! I have also been able to make a lot of Taiwanese acquaintances through basketball, which is far more prevalent here than I expected.
One of the biggest, though not all that surprising, cultural differences I have unfortunately discovered is the Taiwanese emphasis on rules. More specifically, that rules are not meant to be broken, or even stretched a little bit. I recently ran into a little bit of trouble for something that would typically be at most a “don’t do that again” in America. I won’t go in to details here, and there were not any real negative repercussions, but this experience did explicitly demonstrate the levity with which school officials confront even minor rule infractions.
However, not all differences have been negative! Things in Taiwan are CHEAP. Especially after traveling to Singapore last week, which will do some serious damage to your wallet, I appreciate the fact that I can buy ten dumplings for 45 NTD (~$1.30). And good dumplings, at that. To conclude, I have definitely made a lot of cultural slip-ups and I’m sure I will make many more in the future, but I am learning and truly enjoying my time in Taiwan!