How I measure a successful day here in Taiwan is very different than how I would measure one at home. At home, a small failure such as a long line at the post office or less than perfect service at a restaurant would be enough to ruin my day. Here, I count the small victories and try to ignore the utter failures. An old woman ramming me with her bicycle? No problem. A toddler punching me in the crotch while standing in line at Cafe 85 C? Ain’t no thang. These days, being able to ask in Chinese for more than one packet of ketchup at McDonald’s and actually getting it becomes cause for a goddam ticker-tape parade. It’s fair to say I’ve gained some perspective while in Taiwan.
I’ve also experienced some rather major victories lately. Last Sunday I went out to brunch with a group of other American TUSA students. The first big success of the day was getting a massive plate of fresh fruit, toast, fried eggs and croissant for breakfast and only paying about $2.75 USD for it. On the way back from brunch, another American, her Taiwanese roommate Sonia* and I started discussing Taiwan’s political situation. For the most part, I try to keep my opinions about Taiwan’s DPP (or Green Party) and KMT (Blue Party) to myself. This is mostly because a) my opinions are not well-informed and b) this isn’t my country. But seeing as that I am an American, I tend to have an opinion on just about everything. During the course of our walk back to the dormitory, I said something to the effect of “Given the history, I don’t really understand how someone could vote for the KMT.”
[Side note on Taiwan's politics for those of you not familiar with them, which I assume is most of you and that's ok... basically Taiwan has a very divided political landscape right now, maybe with less vitriol than America's but with the same amount of partisanship. That's all you need to know for the moment to understand the rest of this story.]
We ended the conversation before returning to the dorms. I went back to my room and about ten minutes later I heard a knock on my door. It was Sonia. She said, “Before when we were talking about Taiwan’s politics, I did not finish what I wanted to say.” I invited her to come in to talk. She informed me that her family votes for the KMT. I stuck my foot in my mouth. What followed was an hour long discussion about Taiwan’s politics, differences between Taiwanese and Americans, differences in college experiences in the two countries, etc. I was both ecstatic and relieved that Sonia was comfortable enough to come to me to correct some misconceptions I had and also to open herself up to debate. It was no small thing that she had marched over to my door and given me a piece of her mind. I admired her for that. Definitely a breakthrough.
Sonia seemed to think that we Americans did not want to spend time with Taiwanese, as we tend to stick together when going out to dinner or drinking. I said to her that we all would love to have Taiwanese join us on every occasion, and that we all did not commit ourselves to living for two months in Taiwan just to meet other Americans. I also told her that most of us had been asking our Taiwanese roommates and study partners to join us but that for the most part, they were resistant or too shy to come out. We as a group had become frustrated. Sonia told me that she thought we Americans didn’t smile very much or laugh that often so we must not like the Taiwanese. I told her that was not at all true, and the lack of smiley-facing was only because we are a (comparatively) serious people. I encouraged her to tell her friends to not be afraid, the Americans would love to have them join us from now on. So it came to pass on a rainy Sunday afternoon in a dorm room in Pingtung City that one American and one Taiwanese did their part to fix Taiwan-US relations.
Sonia joined a few of us the next day on trip to Liangshan waterfalls. She said she had never been before. With little hesitation she jumped in the pools of the waterfalls with us, even diving off a small ledge from about 10 feet up into the water. I am horribly afraid of heights, but I followed her lead and jumped too (well, I did eventually). I’ll chalk this one up as a big victory for both Sonia and me.
10 days left in Taiwan. Until next time…