It’s fun to think back on my travel experiences. Each trip has had its ups and downs, but one really stands out in my mind as my worst - Taiwan.
It had nothing to do with the country or the culture, just the specific situation in which I found myself. Yet today, as I think back on my month there, most of my thoughts are positive and happy. It’s interesting how time can erase or at least diminish bad memories, allowing the fond ones to shine bright.
It was a strange trip for me. I was there with a friend who wasn’t that interested in showing me around. We were staying with her family, and I was new to Asian culture. I was probably a little more annoying than she had expected me to be. I couldn’t read anything or do anything for myself because of the language barrier, and I struggled with the cuisine. I had not done my research, and I’m afraid may have embarrassed her or insulted her culture unknowingly on more than one occasion. There was a lot of downtime, and I just felt like I was having the worst travel experience of my life. It wasn’t fun or exciting… I was bored and feeling very depressed. I got the idea that she wished I hadn’t tagged along. But upon reflection, I really don’t think I could have asked for a better glimpse into the life and culture of Taiwan. As far as I know, she had a pretty traditional family. Her parents were still strict with her even though she was already 35, and regularly criticized her clothing and weight. They lived in a three story row house that smelled of moth balls and was decorated in traditional Taiwanese style. We removed our shoes and put on slippers at the door, every meal included the leftovers from the last meal (and the meal before that if there was any left). And while she was being criticized, all the neighbors showered me with compliments. I’m sure it wasn’t her ideal trip either.
Her grandmother lived in her family’s house. She was a devoted buddhist and left daily food offerings at their home alter. She also rose a the crack of dawn. I spent more than one morning sneaking out of the house as stealthily as possible so as not to catch her attention as I headed to the track across the street for a morning jog. She makes me laugh when I think back. At the time I was so annoyed by her. She was always trying to tell me what to do or how to do it (or so I assume, because I didn’t speak a lick of Mandarin). But that didn’t stop her from trying. I remember using their washing machine one day. Of course all of the dials and buttons had directions in Mandarin, so it was trial and error for me. After my second or third try, I had it pretty much figured out, but accidentally pushed the wrong button. Quickly realizing my error, I tried to correct it, but she had caught me in my mistake, proceeding to stand there and instruct me on how to do it properly. She was always talking to me as I nodded my head uncomprehendingly.
There were a lot of firsts for me. I ate my first rice ball and my first tiny translucent fishes. I used a squatty potty for the first time. I saw for the first time all kinds of marine life on a skewer, barbecued ducks heads, and chicken feet. I tried bubble tea for the first time and promptly swallowed the tapioca ball (this just goes to show that a person can change. I love bubble tea now and welcome those squishy little guys!) I discovered one of my favorite drinks, white gourd juice, and also one of the worst smells I can think of that was supposed to be appetizing. I’m assuming it was some kind of cooking oil. I never did figure it out. And I wish I could return just to eat their mouth watering pastries.
I spent most of my afternoons in the pastry shop down the street. I would sit and attempt to improve my Mandarin, drawing the characters over and over again. I even got the courage once to try to order my pastry and tea in Mandarin. It was the same pastry and tea I ordered every day from the same bakery employee. Yet she stared at me blankly when I tried to order. So, I turned to the page in my notebook where my friend had written my order for me in Mandarin and showed it to her. Yep, that’s what I want again.
Upon reflection, it was really the little things about this trip that make me smile. We spent many an evening riding up the mountain on their motorbikes and hiking though the tropical landscape. I watched Korean soap operas almost every night and couldn’t get enough of them, even though I had no idea what they were saying. I discovered hot pot and stuffed myself to the limit. And my friend’s mom was concerned on a daily basis that I was getting too tan and was not eating enough. She thought my mom would be mad. Hahaha…it’s the little things!