Expat Magazine

Rantlets #5: Unexpected Realizations

By Zach Zine @Int_In_Debt

Ok, we’re back.  It has been a busy last few months for us, but we’re back now.  Let’s get started.

Via: http://ep1.pinkbike.org/p4pb6306145

Via: http://ep1.pinkbike.org/p4pb6306145

When you travel/move abroad you are bound to go into the experience with the expectation of making some realizations.  Some of those expectations are completely expected and predictable.  Certain realizations about differences in culture, realizations about the complexity and diversity of languages and people around the world, realizations about your own relationship to those you left behind and the new people you will meet.  All of these are fairly predictable, at least in some general sense.  But, what about those realizations that are completely unexpected and unpredictable?  Here are a few of ours:

  • We didn’t realize that interjections and other sounds made by people around the world differ so much.  Certainly, when you move to a place as different as Taiwan, you expect language differences.  Chinese and English are about as different as you can get as far as language goes.  But, what we didn’t expect was that even sounds of exasperation, excitement, frustration, etc. would be so different.  In Taiwan, for example, people say things like “aye yo!” when they feel exasperated.  In fact, in Chinese there are a number of sounds, interjections basically, that are totally foreign and odd sounding to us as English speakers.  That is something very different and interesting.  Maybe we should’ve expected these differences, but we guess we must have just expected such a small, emotionally tied set of sounds would transfer across languages.  They don’t.

  • Recently, we were having a conversation with some friends during a long bus ride about how you almost never hear of/see a fight while out in Taipei.  Whether it is a bar, club, etc., it is just rare to hear of people getting into scrums with other people.  That is certainly not the case in Chicago.  In Chi-Town it would be a rare night out if you didn’t see, hear of, or be involved in some kind of fight.  The true question here is; why?  Why is this the case.  After much thought, the conclusion we have come to is that there is a very different ideal of masculinity here in Taiwan.  In the U.S., men are expected to “be men,” whatever that means.  If you are a male, you are expected to play sports, be tough, fight if need be, be a protector, etc.  These ideals, though, are not the same in other places.  In Taiwan, it is definitely a patriarchal culture.  In that way, it is similar to the U.S.  But, here in Taiwan, the idea of what it means to be a man isn’t the same.  Sports are played, but it is certainly not expected.  Males in Taiwan use words like “cute” regularly, which is something that you wouldn’t hear very often from males in the U.S.  Males here are much more comfortable with being close and open with their male counterparts/friends.  It is just a very different ideal, and it is something unexpected that we encountered here upon our arrival.
This sign follows us everywhere.

This sign follows us everywhere.

  • One of the most interesting things we have realized since we began living abroad is the fact that we can almost always tell a foreigner, regardless of nationality, apart from the crowd.  Clearly, some people stick out more than others.  Beyond that, we didn’t expect that we’d be able to tell Westerners of Chinese ancestry apart so easily.  A lot of it seems to have to do with style.  Westerners have a different style and way of putting their clothes together than Taiwanese people do, and that makes it easier to tell apart.  Less obvious, though, is the fact that Westerners/foreigners just seem to carry themselves and move in different ways.  This is something that we have a hard time putting our finger on and/or explaining, but once you see it you will know.  (If you have any ideas, please share them below.)  It is a very subtle, most of the time, difference that can make even the most Taiwanese looking foreigner stand apart.  Who would’ve known you could tell us apart so easily as fellow foreigners?  Not us, apparently.
  • We’ve talked about memories on this site before because they are a powerful and ever-present marker of past decisions, whether they proved to be successes or failures.  But, one thing that we’ve noticed about the sometimes traumatizing and, at all times, new experience of moving abroad, is the fact that you remember the weirdest, seemingly tiny things vividly.  The way the water trickles out of the spout and off your body as you hazily take your first shower in a wet room halfway around the world.  The difficult nature of trying to pin down exactly how to pronounce the words for “thank you” in Chinese.  The buzz of countless scooters cutting through the early July morning blanket that Taipei calls air.  The feeling of absolute calm and yet, also, terrible anxiety and fear in the first couple of hours.  There are innumerable little bits of vivid memory that don’t always fit into the larger milieu, but are beautiful and useful nonetheless.  These small things hold some of the truest and most raw feelings we had when we first arrived, so we are certainly thankful for their unexpected appearance.

  • Money.  When you live in a place for your whole life and use said places money, it just evokes and embodies the idea of money itself.  It pays for food, clothes, entertainment, etc.  It shows your social status, whether high or low.  It’s colors, shapes, and picture become a part of popular culture that inundates you every day.  Therefore, when you travel abroad the money you encounter in those exotic and different places seem, well, exotic and different.  It is, for all intents and purposes, monopoly money that is used only as a stand in for your own.  Outwardly, the “monopoly money” is used, but in reality you are always calculating what it means in regards to your bank account filled with (or maybe not) your own currency.  When we moved abroad, we used and thought of the New Taiwan Dollar(NTD) in the same way.  We used it, but we didn’t really use it.  We used our own currency, the US Dollar (USD), through the NTD.  But, surprisingly to us, after almost two years here, that has changed.  Now the NTD is the money we use.  We think of the objects we buy in terms of NTD.  We only adjust the NTD back to USD when we need to send money home to pay our bills.  In other words, money is something that is completely fungible.  The reality is that it is only a stand in, a symbol for whatever a commodity may be worth in the place it resides.  What does that mean?  Well, that is a completely different economic/philosophical discussion we won’t have here.  (We’d love to have it sometime, though!)

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