When arriving at a new place, two of the first hurdles you must overcome are language barriers and jet lag, For the first few days it feels as if your body is thrown off track, what's night is day and what's day is night. And forget about everything you thought you'd learned about Mandarin before you got here, you don't understand a single thing that they're saying!
I wake up in the middle of the night to the sounds of growling coming from the streets below. I rub my eyes, sit up in bed and look out the window, peering eleven floors down, to see a pack of wild dogs roaming the streets, looking for a fight.
Oh, the joys of Kaohsiung, I think to myself.
I contemplate the possibility of throwing something at the snarling pack, but I realize that eleven floors up is a long way down, and who knows where a random object might land, like on the upturned face of one unsuspecting local. The last thing I need is my own pack of angry Taiwanese ganging up on me, the silly waiguo-ren living all the way up on the top floor.
But what am I thinking? The people here in South Taiwan are actually pretty hospitable and laid back. Not to mention the fact that I don't really have anything in my possession I can afford to throw out of a window at 4 am.
In any case, I realize that it is way too early for me to try and process such random thoughts of superficial in-consequence, so I shake my head, lie down, and I fall back asleep to the humming sounds of early-morning mopeds and growling street dogs.
Sometimes it feels like I am in an alternate universe, where the buildings and streets vaguely remind me of Hawaii and the people look like the people back home.
But the words that I hear are foreign to my ears and the words that I see are indecipherable in my mind. All too often I find myself feeling both mute and illiterate.
And yet, through my inability to communicate in ways that I am familiar with, I find myself having to get creative, speaking with my hands and face, or listening intently with my eyes.
I know now that if I can't find it, I can sheepishly motion to the clerk, asking, “Where can I find a toilet bowl plunger? Yes, a toilet plunger.”
Or if I don't feel like eating pig knuckle again, a flap of the arms and a loud 'Bok-BOK!' gets me shredded chicken on a scoop of rice. Of course, the lady over the counter tells me, “Ji.” I stare at her blankly, “Umm, Ji?” And then slowly I get it, “Oh, okay...” I nod enthusiastically, “Yeah... ji!”
Here in Taiwan it's really true that a smile and a laugh goes a long way. It can even get you an extra piece of sausage on your lunch plate, along with your ji.
There's also those times when I realize I shouldn't presuppose. Like when I passed by a street window filled with roast ducklings and crispy roast pork.
As I walked on, I kept that street corner in mind, and when I went home, I pulled out my Mandarin phrasebook and conquered the words for duck and pork, “Ya” and “Ju”.
I smiled to myself, I was finally ready to speak to the natives.
When I went back a few days later, I stepped up to the window and waited for the duck-man to acknowledge me.
But when he nodded in my direction, fear took over, so I just reached around the glass, pointing at my items of choice, and said, “Duck and pork.”
My mouth was watering hungrily and I was too embarrassed to try and make myself understood. But in clearly pronounced English, the man asked me, “You just want duck and pork?" I blinked. "How about rice?” he said.
And what about my sleeping habits now? Well, thankfully the dogs were no longer outside tearing each other to shreds this morning.
But I was still shocked awake by the sound of 'Eye of the Tiger' blasting through loudspeakers.
I lay there in a deep sleep, only to hear through the thick darkness...”DUNH, pause, Dunh dunh DUNH, pause, Dunh dunh DUNH, pause, Dunh dunh DUUUUUUNH!”
I sit up in bed, this time wondering if I'm in a movie running up stairs, or if my mind just decided to start playing a soundtrack to my life.
I rub my eyes and look out the window, peering eleven floors down to the streets below. I get up just in time to see a big covered truck barreling down the street, loud speakers blaring.
But fortunately for itself, the truck plows off into the distance, moving too fast to be hit by any random objects thrown from a top floor apartment window.
I'm JR. I come from a long line of adventurers, some were nomadic explorers of the sea and others wandering cultivators of the earth. Ultimately, this legacy of drifters has deeply affected my view of travel. Read more...