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Shockingly Shockless

Seven planes, thousands of dollars, countless bowls of beef noodles, two anti-diarrhea tablets and one Great Wall later, I made it back to the US Sunday night after my three week journey through China (and three days of saying my goodbyes in Taiwan).  My mom picked me up from the airport and returned me home.  Waiting for me, courtesy of my sister, was a grilled chicken sandwich with fries. 

The last week has been a nonstop binge of all the foods I missed so much while abroad: pizza, bagels, waffles, Arizona iced green tea (not kidding), cold cut sandwiches, unsweetened bread.  Some meals, like a Greek omelet with home fries and an orange juice, I hadn’t realized I missed.  Only when I looked around at my companion’s plates did I recognize how greedily I had finished my diner brunch.

Between delirious bouts of ingestion, I’ve spent time catching up with friends and family members.  Most notably, my sister convinced me to go to two very strange events: the U.S. Air Guitar championships and “Walking with Dinosaurs.”  Not a bad way to readjust to the absurdity, grandiosity and enormousness of American-style entertainment.

There’s no way to adjust to the spectacle of an air guitar tournament, but adjusting to life stateside hasn’t proved difficult.  The biggest shock to me upon returning has been how infrequently I’ve felt shocked.  For example, unlike most of my peers, I haven’t been struck by how big everyone is (although how much food we eat in one sitting did catch my eye).  Perhaps this is because I returned home for two weeks in November.  Perhaps it’s because I’m pretty big myself (it was shocking a little over an hour ago when I walked into a restaurant and a little American boy assessed my height and gasped much like little Taiwanese kids would).

What has stood out? First, how much we Americans waste.  Taiwan, as my loyal readership knows, enforces strict recycling laws.  Not only do most American cities and states not penalize households for poor waste management, most American fast food restaurants don’t even provide a recycling bin. 

A correlate to this is how much food restaurants and consumers waste.  As consumers, we certainly eat more than Taiwanese.  But restaurants now provide us with impossibly large portions.  I see a lot more food going to waste than I did in Taiwan.

Second, the size of the coins.  American money is in general smaller than Taiwanese money.  Coins are no exception.  On top of the confusion of dealing with smaller coins, a year in Taiwan eliminated my ability to feel in my pockets for the right coin.  New Yorkers aren’t known for their patience, and they haven’t enjoyed waiting behind me on line as I take all the coins out of my pocket to select correct change.

Third, how safe the roads are.  Without consulting statistics, it’s surely fair to say that scooters make roads more dangerous for pedestrians.  For the first time in my life, I returned to New York City and felt relatively safe crossing the street. 

Fourth, the wealth.  Taiwan is a developed place.  If you count it as separate from China, it’s one of the thirty most affluent ‘countries’ on Earth.  Yet the yearly income is less than half of America’s.  This is reflected in the clothing and food quality the citizenry experiences every day.  There’s not a massive, stupendous difference, but the disparity is noticeable.  This is not to say that life in Taiwan is a struggle or there’s no good reason to prefer life in Taiwan over life in the US.

Some of the differences listed above caught me offguard, or at least I hadn’t fully wrapped my head around them even if I expected them.  Others, like walking around Barnes & Noble, were pleasant without being at all surprising.  Now that I can get along stress free, the temptation to forgo studying Chinese will be strong.  I must resist!

In the coming days I will chronicle my three week China trip.  There are many fun stories to share.  If nothing else, writing them down will let me relive the experience years hence.  Any enjoyment you, my dear reader, take from them is gravy. 

This blog (in its Taiwan-focused form) will come to an end after I finish writing about China.  I gave myself a week’s rest after arriving home, promising to write again today.  During my self-granted vacation, I realized that I don’t feel compelled to add much to what I’ve already written about my year in Taiwan.  Chalk it up to a combination of feeling as though I’ve said much of what I have to say and simple tiredness.  If any young, intrepid future Fulbrighters or Kaohsiung expats read this, please feel free to send me any questions at floatyourboat23@gmail.com.

Before we get all teary-eyed, don’t forget more blog posts are forthcoming soon.  Please stop by again to read about my time in China.  There were some interesting parallels between China and Taiwan, as well as some even more interesting disconnects.  T.S. Eliot was right when he wrote that schpiel about returning to a place and knowing it for the first time. 

China is a fascinating subject all by itself, comparisons be damned.  I’ll do my best to relay to you what it’s like to walk the streets throughout different parts of the world’s fastest growing country.