Several hours after I passed out in my dorm room after an afternoon trip to the Tsingtao Beer factory, I woke to a room littered with beer cans, whiskey bottles, bottle rockets and pizza boxes. It was my last night in Pingtung, Taiwan and by all the evidence, it had been a good one. I haven’t written any entries to this blog since before my last week in Taiwan, mostly because I spent that last week having the time of my life. There was the night of eating Peking duck with the only other American in Pingtung that wasn’t a part of TUSA, an artist from Hawaii named Carl. There was one last meal of cheap sushi with Ellen and her Taiwanese roommate, who lectured us on the proper way to eat nigiri (apparently we’ve been doing this incorrectly our whole lives). There was the beer factory tour which concluded in the tasting room and all-we-could-drink free beer. FREE BEER. Let that sink in.
I’ve been home in Reno now for four days, battling jet lag, waking up at odd hours of the morning. It’s much colder here in America. The bananas taste like cardboard and do not make for good xiang jiao niu nai (banana milk). Going immediately into the school grind helped with the adjustment back to “normal life”, whatever the hell that is now. Nothing has changed since I have been gone. Well maybe a few minor details, but America is more or less just how I left it. What is different is me. I thought this experience would not change me, that I was too set in my ways. That couldn’t be less true. I came back a changed person. How could I not?
Those of us who are children of the 90s may remember the Jerry Springer show, and his “final thoughts” segment at the end of each episode. He tried to add some philosophical spin to the madness you had just been witnessing for the 40 minutes prior. His attempts to lend order to chaos were laughable. So I find myself in the same absurd position now, trying to wrap up two months in Taiwan, to give it some theme, an overarching lesson. It can’t be done. At the beginning of this blog, my tone was one of determination, an obsessive drive to “get to the bottom of things”. The truth is, I left Taiwan with more questions and no answers. I have seen things that defy any on-hand explanation. I am completely confounded. Is that an incentive to keep going back to Taiwan? Absolutely.
I do know this much: Taiwanese people are, on the whole, the kindest group of folks you will ever come across. As a guest in their country I was treated like royalty. I have experienced inexplicable acts of love and generosity. One example that comes to mind happened on the last morning I was in Pingtung. I walked across the street from the university to the espresso stand that I visited quite frequently. The same middle-aged woman who worked every day was there and had been serving me my morning coffee for weeks. That last morning I told her (in Chinese) that I would be going to America (wo zai qu meiguo). She said somethings to me in Chinese that I didn’t understand, but I could see that the implication of finality of what I said began to sink into her. I paid for my coffee, thanked her, and began to walk away from the stand. “Hey, Hello!” the coffee lady yelled at my back. I turned around. “I love you, ” she said, in English. She blew me a kiss. “Wo ai ni” I said, blowing her kiss back, with tears in my eyes. I’ve been drinking coffee a long time and swear to Christ that’s never happened to me at Starbucks.
My greatest concern before leaving for Taiwan, and indeed it remained for many weeks while I was there, was that I would leave that country with as many friends as I arrived with. This idea persisted until the last night in Pingtung, when at midnight, Joy (the videographer for the TUSA program) came to my dorm room door. She gave me a card that she made, and we took two polaroids of us together, one for each of us to keep. On the card, she told me how much I had made her smile and laugh. She told me that she had to wait until I was alone to give me the card because she hadn’t made one for all of the Americans. I was touched beyond words; I had no idea that I made such an impression on her, or any of the other Taiwanese students. We hugged for a good five minutes. Taiwanese friends are friends for life. It was a testament to how you can affect another person and be completely unaware of it. To all you Taiwanese students who I met and may read this: you, too, have deeply affected me. I am kinder and more patient because of you.
To the Americans who I just lived on top of and spent two months of my life: you’re the biggest bunch of rotten bastards I have ever met, and I love you all.
To Taiwan: you are my second home, my love, and you will not be able to keep me away for long.
Let the credits roll. Until the sequel…. zaijian.