Friday, January 7, 2011

It's Not New Year's Until I Say It Is: Part 1

Happy New Year Everyone!

I ushered in the New Year in a Buddhist temple in the Northern End of Taipei, high above the city.  I spent the last moments of 2010 meditating, sending myself, you, and all sentient beings love and forgiveness, then went outside and watched a fireworks display from Taipei 101.  I had a great view of the skyline, and while watching explosions of colored fire scatter over the horizon, I felt a fundamental peace that I believe has sprung from practicing being in the moment.

This year is technically Year 100 because in Taiwan the calendar starts from the founding of the Republic of China after the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty in 1911.  (Quiz: what year were you born in, according to the Taiwanese calendar?)

I seem to have hit a sweet spot recently.  The same way at almost exactly two months I skidded into culture shock, at almost exactly four months (as of 12/24) I felt myself relax into my life here.  I've accepted that this is my home now, for all of its annoyances and perks.  My Mandarin has improved, which has made communicating with locals a lot easier, and the meditation practices have helped me take a step back and be more objective about situations that frustrate me.  

I'm not sure if this revelation was the cause of or facilitated by some new discoveries I made.  I've been spending more time near the boys' dorm on top of the mountain, and I found a study center with comfortable couches and a cafeteria next open late that serves my favorite Asian dish: dry noodles with vegetables and meat piled on.  In Beijing I ate a similar dish almost daily, and it is both nourishing and comforting.  In the food court section of Taipei 101, there is a stand that sells beef soup that is incredibly delicious.  The beef is tender and succulent, the broth rich enough to pass for stew.  The slippery noodles are fresh, and the bok choy crunches.  Happiness in a bowl.

It's taken me four months to find food in Taiwan that's both palatable and satisfying, but better late than never I suppose.

I've avoided blogging because I chose not to use this corner of the Internet for negativity.  Culture shock runs the gamut of emotions, not the least of which are bitterness, frustration, angst, self-pity, and depression.  These feelings, particularly self-pity, have a knack for perpetuating themselves ad nauseam.  Now that I've gotten some perspective on my feelings, though, I think it's time for me to elaborate the things I've been dealing with that used to send me spiraling into a Very Frustrating Place that required a combination of Polish vodka, deep breathing, and diaphragmatic sobbing to break me out of.

I emphasized when I began this blog that Taiwan is most absolutely and definitely not China.  I loved China--it was dirty and overcrowded and the Mandarin was sometimes usually incomprehensible, but I didn't care.  I shrugged off the merchants who shouted at me and tried to grab me, largely because the food was sumptuous.  It didn't matter if I had overpaid for a useless trinket.  I had a bowlful of noodles/dumplings/baozi* and everyone else could stuff themselves.  I never ate Western food on the Mainland.  The mere thought of New York Chinatown food made me nauseated.  In fact, when I came back from China it took me a while to acclimate to the Americanized "Chinese" takeout.

Then there were the people.  In my experience, Chinese people love to brag, tell anecdotes, and are generally friendly so it was easy to meet new people.  Sure, they were sometimes brusque...but usually something delicious to eat resulted of my interactions with them, so it was fine.  And in cities like Beijing, there is always something to do.

This lifestyle was not without its drawbacks.  Crime was pervasive; we had to sign a release form that we would never get on the back of a motorcycle.  There were no traffic lights--it was Cross At Your Own Risk.  The pollution was at times unbearable (I went to China in the summertime).  I became extremely homesick (I was fifteen).  But nonetheless, I loved just about every minute of my time there.

Fast forward five years.  Taiwan 2010.

*baozi: similar to a dumpling, baozi is a steamed bun filled with either meat or vegetables.  A particularly delicious variation of baozi is xiaolongbao, which contains hot soup inside (it's basically melted pork fat.  So.  Good.)

...Continued in It's Not New Year's Until I Say It Is: Part 2

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