I have been living in Taiwan for 13 days now, but it feels like a small lifetime. Every action is exciting yet exhausting which makes the days feel twice as long. For instance, ordering black coffee. A simple task, but it sure is difficult when I can’t remember how to say hot in Chinese. Add to the mix that the cashier will ask me questions outside of my order which I don’t understand. I smile and nod and hope that we are on the same page. When the task is done a surge of relief and pride floods my body which leaves a permanent grin on my face. I think “damn, I just ordered coffee in Taiwan; I can do A N Y T H I N G.”
Thanks to Summer, a rep from Dewey International, a lot of moving logistics were settled in a matter of days. I have an adorable one-bedroom (kitchen-less) apartment that is a 10-minute walk away from my school, and my Visa application is processing. My favorite memory of Summer is riding on the back of her scooter during P O U R I N G rain. We arrived to our first apartment building and my pants and shoes were so soaked they sagged heavily off my body. As I clumsily slipped off her scooter, she turned and said “when you hold me, it’s like you’re a koala and I’m your tree.” Oh. My. God. Summer is just the first person on my long list of “Taiwan-Super-Stars” list. Next is Jenny.
Jenny is a 9th grade English teacher at my school. This angel gave me a ride to Carrefour – a popular home goods store that is similar to Target – to buy all the boring necessities for apartment living. She patiently helped me translate and shop for goods for over three hours. Jenny even offered sage advice of which option is “higher quality” and “worth the higher price.” In addition to free rides, she gave me stylish coats to combat this brutal winter (50-60 degrees F with occasional heavy downpour), a comforter, pots/pants, and cups. I think we’re going to be great friends!
Lily is Principal Peter’s wife, a teacher at Dazhu, and now my Taiwanese mom. I once said I was cold and the next day she brought me three coats, pair of gloves, jeans, scarf, and apples. The gifts haven’t stopped coming to this day. She is my tennis coach, my ping-pong partner, my Chinese teacher, and my personal tour guide. At this point, she is everything to me. We went to the Dazhu Night Market – where she purchased everything/anything I wanted – she asked me to tell my mother that “my heart is taken care of in Taiwan.” How precious. I already know that before I leave, I have to do something extra special for her.
During these 13 days, my interactions with students, teachers, parents, and strangers have been telling in terms of cultural differences. Teachers think my background/ethnicity is so interesting and “exotic.” Some have asked, in a curious, non-insulting manner, why I don’t look like a traditional American. You see, I’m Latina. I’m short, black-haired, dark-eyed, tan, and thin but slightly curvy.They expected me to be taller, bigger, and though they didn’t say this, I’m pretty sure they expected me to be white. I gladly explained that I am a first-generation American and that my biological parents are Spanish-speakers from Central America. However, I am American and a lot of Americans are like me: not white.
When I showed them a picture of my family a teacher asked “why is everyone’s skin and hair color so different?” Again, another opportunity to discuss another normalized aspect of American culture: divorce, step-parents, step-children, and adoption. I explained that my mother remarried a white man who adopted me, which explains all the various skin tones, hair textures, and sizes. Family isn’t defined by blood or genetics, but by commitment to love and protect one another.
I feel a great privilege to represent Americans today: D I V E R S E. I want to break stereotypes and expand horizons, and I think my mere non-traditional presence is helping. That being said, no one asks to take my picture, unlike Peter who has strangers wave at him all the time. (He’s 6’3, white, blue-eyed, and from Texas. He’s a good ol’ American boy.)
Next week, I will begin to teach 45-minute classes, and I’m quite nervous. Creating my own curriculum has been such a challenge so I truly hope the materials I’ve created click with the students. I also hope they learn how to say something beyond “hello” and run away giggling. I mean, it’s really cute and funny but I want to get to know these kiddos!