A Taste of Culture Shock

While I was in Taiwan recently (for a 2-week pre-move trip), I had two quite different days. One was sunny, the other dim and rainy, so perhaps that had something to do with it.

The sunny day: I rode a borrowed bike past the Zuoying train station to Lotus Lake. I went armed with my camera, my notebook, and great intentions of getting some good pictures and some helpful notes about life. I’d heard about the produce in the market, so I especially wanted to get some pictures for my wife, so she could get a reminder of what was available and what the prices were like. I also wanted to see if I could get some more pictures of the temples on the far side of the lake.

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Seeing the piles of fresh produce, I almost wished I needed to buy something. I also got more interaction than I expected when a vendor insisted I let Martin, a 13-year-old with 3 years of English study, practice his English on me. He seemed embarrassed, but we did have a sporadic conversation; he practiced English and I practiced Chinese.

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Me and Martin… and some very fresh poultry

I made it around to the temples where I took some pictures.

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Then bought some postcards at a small store down the street. I wanted to send something to my children. (The postcards arrived at our home a few days after I did, but they kids were still happy.)

The rainy day: I was on my own, partly by my own choice since I’d declined an offer of company. I wanted to explore on my own, though I did have a specific destination in mind. Getting to the MRT and taking it to right stop wasn’t a problem. I exited the MRT station and headed down the road… the wrong direction. But it wasn’t till I’d gone quite some distance that I discovered my mistake.

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That sign doesn’t help me!

Once I got headed the right way, I found the store I’d wanted to revisit. Only to discover (after some time of looking around) that they didn’t have the items I was hoping to buy. Walking back to the MRT station, I was hungry. I’d kept putting off lunch, planning to eat after I bought the things I wanted. Now it was late and I didn’t feel like eating because I was disappointed.

Actually, I was feeling frustrated at my limited ability to communicate and my lack of familiarity with where things were. So I walked down the sidewalk thinking of how I didn’t want any Taiwanese food. I just wanted something American. Something comforting. I knew there was a western restaurant near my MRT station, so I decided to wait even longer for lunch. But by the time I got to the station and didn’t see the way to the restaurant right away, I just headed to the apartment where I was staying and ate a granola bar on the way.

The contrast of these two experiences lends some healthy realism to my eager anticipation for moving to Taiwan. There will be a lot of really interesting, fun experiences. Some really sunny, comfortable days when I revel in everything new. But we’ll also have our share of days when the newness feels threatening rather than fun, and dealing with life seems discouragingly hard. Now I have a first-hand reminder of some ways we’ll need God’s grace
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