What You Want to Know:: What I Hate About Living Abroad

Kristine also asked, “Is there anything you don’t like about living abroad?”

To be honest, I’ve been putting this question off because even though there are days when I complain about living here, I do my best not to focus on the negatives, especially when I get to the point in which I am really missing home, friends, and family. So, for starters, that would be number one. I’ve met some wonderful people here – ones that I hope to always be able to visit and/or keep in touch with, but obviously one of the things that sucks about being abroad is not being near to those I care about.

In relation to this, I also feel that I’ve missed out on things throughout my time here, including important moments in my friends’ and family’s lives, pop culture, and, of course, the chance to shop at Target for wonderfully priced colored skinny jeans, which I cannot find in my size here. 😉

However, if I were to discuss Taiwan/Asia in general, it would have to be the ingrained ideas about saving face and how important it is to always make sure that embarrassment stays at bay. While there are things I absolutely love and will miss, this will not be one of them. I can’t find it in myself to accept this cultural idea about always needing to preserve one’s honor and pride in relation to losing face. (And this coming from someone who makes up pseudo-scientific facts just to win an argument! ^.~) Even though there are times when I am so stubborn that it hurts, I do know (eventually) when to apologize and give in, admitting defeat. (And in turn, realizing that this is how to grow and learn in order to move forward in life and on projects. Here, though, if you’re at the top, there’s no arguing about who is in the wrong. This is the same for foreigners; if you are not from here, you are obviously wrong. (Just ask the Taiwanese man we gave directions to, who then drove another 10 feet to ask another Taiwanese person…who didn’t know!)

But more than that, this happens all the time in business politics. I realize that saving face happens in America, too, and pretty much all over the world, but in this country, it’s so much more prevalent in daily life. If you are at a lower level, it’s your fault, no room for argument. The boss/teacher/elder is always correct and rarely ever open to any sort of discussion about what could be better or what may have actually happened. (Ask our older neighbor who, when leaving the store, found out we bought meat there and wouldn’t leave the store entrance until Jeremy got on our scooter and left that store to go to the other one.  Jeremy then drove in a circle and went back to the closer store because it wasn’t worth the extra kilometers, or the lecture we would have gotten later. Or ask every cram school boss who has had a complaint from a parent saying that their child doesn’t like the teacher’s class because the games “aren’t fun” even though all the other kids are having a blast. On second thought, maybe don’t because then you’ll probably get berated, too. Maybe instead, ask teachers, like my friend Jamie, who were fired because the kids “weren’t having fun,” or just “didn’t like the teachers.”) None of these situations were open to discussion, and often there’s not much of a reason either; it’s “just the way it is.”

I have had to say my fair share of “I’m sorry,” statements throughout my three years here, and it’s not fun, nor always necessary, unless you actually want to be fired for “insubordination,” and while it’s taught me [even more] patience and humility (to an extent), I believe that these types of situations do in fact have a trickle-down effect. Having to do this constantly causes any victim to harbor either hostility and hate or fear, which I’m pretty sure is then taken out on other drivers, neighbors, common passersby, or maybe even themselves – whomever seems in the way – especially if that person is at a “lower level” than they are. It’s one of those things that is considered, well, like I said, “the way it is.” It’s the reason my students never speak up in class and sometimes have no reason for why they think the way they do about something. It’s the reason my friend Jamie lost her job. It’s the reason people here feel the need to give you advice about anything and everything – from where to buy meat to medical advice to how to raise our dog, and I think it would take generations to change that. I have tried so long to figure out why things can’t be discussed or worked on or accepted as a difference of opinion, but I have yet to find a true answer that makes me want to accept this cultural aspect, so I keep questioning as often as I can. And while on the opposite end of the spectrum I sometimes think the U.S. can be a bit too outspoken, I am thankful that saving face not something I will have to continue dealing with/doing (to the extent it’s experienced here) for the rest of my life.

So in a [large] nutshell, those are the few things that I do not enjoy about living abroad. But none of these truly outweigh those things that I do love. I just do my best to deal with them as they come along.


What You Want to Know::Adjusting to the Changes

We’ll start with Kristine’s first question to begin this summer’s “What Do You Want to Know” posts.

“Was it hard going over there and not having the stuff you were used to? Favorite foods, drinks, shows, cars, seasons?”

For starters, there were some things that were hard when I first got here. Kristine mentioned shows, and it was a bit awkward to not turn on the television every night to watch the latest and greatest, but they do play a few of them here every once in a while. If there was nothing on, though, we found ways to keep updated on such shows, thanks to video streaming and Hulu, but cars and foods were not one of the biggest issues. Here in Taipei there are so many great modes of public transportation that it became easy to adjust to walking to the subway system (MRT) and hopping a bus to the nearest park. (However, I would like to mention that I was terrified of the bus system for, like, the first year because I had no idea how the maps worked. Hint: they do not actually form a “road map,” but instead just show you a nicely organized list of all the stops. lol Now they are one of my favorite modes to take!) I must add, though, that we recently got a scooter, which is fabulous for exploring new places that buses don’t go, so while I do love the public transportation system, I won’t lie that I do love having a scooter! 😉

This isn’t technically our scooter; we rented this one on Orchid Island, but I don’t have an image of ours yet, so you WILL accept this one! lol

As for food, I easily adjusted to food here. There are so many excellent flavors, sauces, and different ways to cook one type of food, and it’s so readily available, that I am actually having trouble remembering how to eat the food back home. Haha! In fact, I can’t go out to get burgers anymore. My body literally rejects all the grease… This is the same for drinks. I hate how expensive milk is over here, but supplement that with the unhealthy milk tea here, and I’ve got a winner! 😉 In all seriousness, though, there are so many drink options here that I may feel limited back home, actually – well, except for lemonade. How I do miss lemonade…

Related to that, I also really miss desserts. The desserts here just do not compare to back home. Many Taiwanese don’t like anything too sugary, and, well, I am a processed sugar kind of gal, so let me tell you: the cakes here may look beautiful on the outside, but unless you go to a specialty shop (as in, the manager/chef spent years abroad learning Western cooking methods), they are so not worth it. That is not to say, though, that all desserts are bad. If you find a lovely pineapple cake (more like shortbread), those are great, or I am a big fan of red bean dishes here, too, those are usually delightful. It’s the “faux-Western” cakes that I can’t take.

Now, on the opposite side, Kristine did mention seasons, and for sure I miss those. I have no sense of time here. Every week and month just blend together. I still haven’t adjusted to not having snow for Christmas, or feeling that delightful yet mysteriously crisp air around Halloween. Heck, their Ghost Month comes in the summertime, and I just can’t seem to find that spooky at all. They do have Mid-Autumn Festival, which is nice, but it still doesn’t quite feel like my Michigan Fall back home. I actually think the thing I’m looking forward to the most once I return home is having official seasons again. They push me, give me a sense of motivation, and, like I said, time.

Overall, I would have to say that I adjusted easily to many of those things over here, but that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t scared. In fact, there were days where I didn’t want to leave the apartment – and that actually stemmed from feeling like I would have to have long-winded conversations in Chinese, which was enough to stop me in my tracks. (I wasso not prepared for that!) No one understood my sarcasm or my puns. That part was difficult. But over time I slowly adjusted, gained confidence, and while I hardly have the need to speak Chinese on a daily basis now (they love practicing English here), I don’t mind it when I have to. I’m up for leaving the apartment and heading out, but yes, at first not having my native language on a daily basis may have been one of the hardest parts about coming here. It’s what made me feel like an outsider, and I think that was also what kept me holed up in my little apartment – the idea of rejection. I am the minority here, and some days it is blatantly obvious while other days I barely notice.

With that said, thanks, and Kristine, I hope that answered your question. It leads nicely into the next of yours, so perhaps I will pick up with that one. 😉

If you have a question about something in particular or anything to add to this, please feel free to comment below and let me know what you wanna know! 🙂 Stay tuned for more answers to more questions within the next few days!