Fireworks, shoes and trash tunes

Hold on

Hold on

Reading about a foreign culture is one thing. Living it is quite another.

Since arriving in Taiwan, I have kept a list of every unique experience I encounter day-to-day. From the garbage system to the continual fireworks, the list is ongoing.

At home, I set my trash on the curb every Tuesday, and it’s hauled away when I’m not looking. In Taiwan, however, garbage trucks travel the streets while playing a melodic tune. The cheerful noise draws everyone outside, where they personally toss their garbage into the passing trucks. It’s a pleasant way to meet the neighbors, as long as you don’t mistake the melody for the call of the ice cream man.

However, if this doesn’t succeed in getting to know the neighbors, then just look at their shoes. In Taiwan, shoes are left outside the home. You can determine your neighbor’s gender, shoe size and fashion sense without ever seeing their face.

The United States is home to people of all races and cultures. While walking down a street, no one thinks twice about spotting a Hispanic woman or a Japanese man. Taiwan lacks this ethic diversity, as 98% of the people are either Taiwanese or Chinese.

Even given those percentages, it’s still odd to endure the stares from locals who are shocked to see a foreigner. However, I now share their surprise. Anytime I spot a rogue Westerner mixed within the locals, which is a rare sight, I can’t help but gape as well.

Though Taiwan may lack racial diversity, it offers an assortment of languages. Most of the people I encounter are bilingual. I have met many students who can speak 3, 4 or even 5 languages. It’s not hard finding someone who knows English; in America, a Taiwanese traveler wouldn’t find a Chinese speaker so easily. Furthermore, most signs here are written in both Chinese and English, which isn’t something you see in the United States.

While people in the U.S. reserve fireworks for holidays, the locals here seem to light them year round. Most mornings, I am awakened by a “bang, bang” right outside my window, courtesy of my neighbors lighting fireworks at 6:00 a.m. By now, I suppose I’ve grown accustomed to the haphazard explosions. It’s not a full day until I’ve heard the pop of firecrackers at my back or seen colors burst across the sky.

With each passing week, I adjust to the local norms more and more. I have developed comfortable routines, but I still have my adventures.

Yes, living this is far better than reading about it.