After being in Taiwan for two months I am becoming adjusted to my non-adjusted state. Slowly beginning to comprehend the sheer scale of humanity in Taiwan. And just starting to grasp I know nothing here.
Taiwan apparently is one of the most intensely populated spaces on the planet and in Taipei this is evident, from walking the streets of my neighbourhood at night, to cycling to work each morning and when on the MRT -Taipei’s metro. Human is packed upon human in a politely Taiwanese manner that may or may not acknowledge how frustrating the shear friction of numbers is.
For me the lack of space is a process, as is adjusting to the social and cultural mores of Taiwanese culture. In Taiwan it appears that things are done a certain way and that is how it is done, any subversion of this is either unacknowledged, denied or ignored. I can’t give a huge amount of evidential proof to back this up but it appears that Taiwanese culture runs on meeting certain expectations and it is assumed one will meet those expectations. It is frustrating when you come across it as an outsider especially when trying to get done what feels like a basic thing. Stumbling unaware into Taiwanese red tape is like an angry kitten in a knitting bag…you will become further and further entangled until someone with fluent Mandarin and local comes to your aid.
Recently I had a parcel sent back to the Post Office by a building doorman not particularly fond of foreigners and /or non-Mandarin speakers. To retrieve the parcel from the postal system took four people three days and me bursting into tears in the middle of the post office. Thankfully someone came to my aid and after going back to the building security and talking with the Post Office personal a couple more times the parcel was found.
Taiwanese culture from my initial impressions likes to present a good face, so when it came to retrieving my parcel in some ways it was easier for the post office to say they didn’t have it rather than admit they didn’t know where it was. I also have to own the fact I had no idea to ask the doorman what part of what post office department he had taken the parcel to. I had assumed with my western head it would be easily tracked. It was, but as an outsider and even with the aid of people who have lived here for years, I did not know the right questions to ask nor how to ask them.
The interesting thing for me is though I find this inability to do some things by myself – like retrieving my mail or getting a new sim card because my working Visa is still being processed – I don’t begrudge these experiences though they can be extremely frustrating. These experiences are what make a new country exciting, challenging and wonderfully tear your hair out mind-bogglingly magical. In ten years time I am sure I will look back on the whole how to get your mail in Taiwan saga and laugh. This stuff is expansive.
In Taiwan like no other country I have lived in I need to learn a new cultural interface. Things are so different here, the population pressures and the different cultural articulation of everything makes this a fascinating place to live. Taiwan is not a country you just move to, it is a country you learn.
Image copyright Alexandra (Neesha) Bremner 2011