Thursday, December 9, 2010

Well, sitting here in my cold apartment, with the dog snoozing in the chair next to me
and Leah off tutoring, I thought this would be a finally put an update up. School has
come to an end and work is pretty much done until after Chinese New Years,
so I have that odd feeling that I have SOMETHING I need to be doing...but I don't.

I didn't realize it had been so long since we had written an update. So many things have happened. We have only been here for 4 and 5 months, respectively, but it feels like so much longer. We have had so many obstacles to overcome, and they seem to come one after the other. I don't think we understood what "culture shock" really was, and at times, when my frustrations boil over, I still don't chalk it up to culture shock. It's an often prayer of mine that I don't lump together all Taiwanese together when I get frustrated with things here, but it is usually what I do anyway. Culture shock invades every aspect of life, and I will expound a bit deeper as I try to sum up our life since our last post.

Taiwan has been playing some serious havoc on our immune systems. I spent most of November sick, and two of those weeks in bed. After a week with the flu, which I never-ever get, I spent a week struggling through school only to wake up on a Sunday with the worst sore throat I have ever had. This then turned into the worst sinus infection I have ever had. And I am a man who has had a rather storied history with sinus infections. They are like some dirty tramp that comes through town each year between Fall and Winter, sneaks into my widow at night, steals my innocence, and leaves me with her dirty sickness. But, it seems the Taiwanese tramp has been around the block a few more times, because this sinus infection knocked me on my ass for a week straight. It took another 2 weeks for me to completely get rid of it. (I wrote this part earlier, and since I have gotten two more really bad sinus infections),

So, being as I was sick for almost 3 weeks straight with two distinct sets of symptoms, I decided to head the doctor to rule out the SARS or the Yellow Fever or a strange Asian cockroach hadn't laid eggs in my head. The doctor office is quite different here. You are usually in the office with several other patients at the same time, unless you need something super personal attended to. So as I sat in the chair, with several local standing around me, the doctor asks the usual questions about my symptoms; sore throat, hurts to breathe, chest congestion, nasal congestion. He nods, and pull out two 8 inch wooden sticks with swabs at the end. He dips them in some orange antiseptic and makes a motion as if he is going to shove them up my nose. I back up into the chair as far as I can, and make a protesting notion with my hands. The doc just looks at me and says "It'll be OK" and crams both stick up my nose. Involuntarily I took a couple half hearted swings at him, and instantly had tears streaming down my face. This was to the boisterous delight of the locals standing around me. For 3 minutes, I had these sticks 8 inches up my nose, scrapping the front of my brain as my eyes involuntarily streamed with tears. The nurse gave me a box of tissues with a look that said "I can get you a skirt and training bra, too".

So, culture shock is not what I expected it to be at all. I guess I'm not quite sure what I thought it would be, but my constant frustrations never point me to the fact that I am in a very very different culture. I always lose my temper in traffic. I cannot get over the disregard for personal space. I have a bad habit of tearing down Taiwanese for what seems to be silly cultural actions; wearing masks, the giant fake glasses, short shorts with nylons, hypocritical trash issues (the lady downstairs will ream you for failing to separate your trash correctly, but every receipt you get is literally a book), their shyness, and most of all, their intrinsic, unstoppable need to "save face" (mianzi, look it up). This last part permeates EVERYTHING, such as getting an answer at work as to how a project should proceed (if no one answers you, no one answers you wrong) or getting a 500 word email from a classmate telling you to "eat your own shit" for pointing out flaws in their presentation.

This last point leads me to my next bit of news. We have decided that we will limit our Taiwan experience to 1 year, and move to the next year to finish school. It was a tough decision, but MCU is just not an institution I wish to be my future on. Besides the above mentioned problem, which manifested itself in other ways, like students refusing to speak or participate in group discussions or seminars, leaving 4 or 5 of us to carry every class (this did get slightly better towards the end), major plagiarism issues not being adequately addressed, a really skewed grading system, and a few teachers who just refused to teach because they "hate lecturing", I just really questioned where my degree would lead me. I can't say it was all bad, I had a couple professors that were very engaged, and a few classmates I learned a lot from; but in general the whole system was paralyzed by a fear of failure. So, we will either be at The U of Leeds in Leeds, England or The U of Edinburgh in Edinburgh, Scotland next year. For the time being, we are going to work our butts off, study Mandarin, and, hopefully, move to a beach town for our last month before we leave. I have plans of a grand vacation leading to the UK, and I really want to take a long trip through China and make a handful of stops in the US. We shall see, though.

We finally made it to Taipei for a night of fun. We saw the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial, which is one of the more stunning things I have seen here (front gate):

After words we saw a trio of old school hip-hop DJ's at a small club. Good stuff. I have been listening to nothing but J-Dilla beats since then:

Hopefully we won't be so stingy with our updating in the future. Much love from the Far East.