Fulbright + National Geographic Research in Taiwan


day 1:: reflection

Updated: Dec 10, 2018

Being Foolishly American & Seeking Refuge in Skate Shops(需要適應新的環境)

Hello internet! It's my first day as a Fulbright scholar and I'm writing to you from Taipei, Taiwan (Xinmending Market) in the midst of a thunderstorm and a soul-soothing jazz listening session.

an alley in Xinmending

It's been a strange semblance of a day so far. For the past month or so, I was extremely confident that my direct flight to Taiwan left on Friday, August 31st at 1:40 pm. It turns out that I am a Great American Fool™ who completely forgot that most of the world uses military/24 hour time and blindly trusted Google calendar's statement that my flight would leave at 1:40 pm PST. So. As I was packing at 12 am on Friday, August 31st, my idiocy suddenly dawned upon me and I realized I had about an hour to pack and get to the airport to catch my 1:40 AM flight.

Miraculously, I made my flight in time (with 4 minutes to spare) and was greeted in Taoyuan airport by a representative from Fulbright Taiwan at 5:25 am.

Couldn't check into my hotel room until 1 pm, so the rest of the day has consisted of adjusting to humid 90 degree weather/unpredictable rain/typhoon season, wandering around Xinmending Market, fighting jetlag, and trying to feel comfortable in my conspicuous brown skin (+ completely restructuring my American liberal college graduate understanding of race, microaggressions, hegemony, and social othering).

The morning calm of Xinmending market was soothing—this area has a lot of texture, a lot of visual and physical layers to it. Enticing alleyways with charmingly overgrown plants. Hole in the wall 小吃 spots that seem to extend deeper than physically possible. Colorful street art. Smooth, skate-able streets. Which made me realize that in the rush of getting to the airport, I left my longboard at home.

Feeling grubby, rootless, and a bit lonely (from my feeble and self-conscious attempts at conversations in Chinese with shopkeepers), I decided that I'd get myself a skateboard so that I could feel like the ground beneath me was truly home again. I checked out a few of the skate shops in the area and it was easily the best decision I've made all day. Conversation started to flow naturally, I became less critical of my slowly improving Chinese, and I made a few friends! So here's to skate shops keeping me sane in my sleep-deprived and overwhelmed state. :)

It started thunderstorming so I finally checked into my hotel room and put on some jazz to sooth my nerves and fill the slightly-heavier-than-usual silence. It almost feels strange to be sitting indoors when it's daytime (I have a tendency to only go home to sleep, shower, and potentially eat), but I'm thankful that the rain is encouraging me to stay still for a second. I have a lot to read, think about, organize, and plan for my research work, but I'm also trying to remind myself that it's equally important to allot time for familiarizing myself with new cultural customs, making new friends, and simply existing.

Sometimes I'm a little too un-fazed by my circumstances. It usually works out in my favor, but other times these circumstances take their toll. There's a lot to balance and consider if I want this year to be rewarding professionally and personally. Sim cards, opening new bank accounts, making friends, figuring out my research logistics and timeline, understanding my finances in another currency on the fly, becoming fluent in another language again so that I can actually have meaningful communication, finding new housing every 2-3 months, staying happy/healthy, making time for loved ones back home, and countless other matters...

So. I'm trying to get myself to really truly accept the idea that it won't be easy to start a new life from scratch. On paper, this is something obvious and logical that my 22 year old brain agrees with. However, I don't think my heart really understands the magnitude or potential difficulty of what's to come. While I was eating dinner alone in a packed restaurant, I started silently crying into my soup (it's okay, it needed a bit of salt anyways). Not sure why—it was the kind of tears that take you by surprise. Maybe it was just general physical and mental exhaustion. Or feeling trapped by the color of my skin. It was okay though, it felt good to get it out of my system.

I spent the remainder of the night skating around the streets of Taipei, letting the familiar feeling of toying with gravity bring my floating thoughts back to earth. :)


#personalreflection #fulbright #taiwan #openresearch #taipei #xinmending #travelthoughts

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Field notes and documentation from my Fulbright year in Taiwan.

This is not an official Department of State website or blog, and the views and information presented are my own and do not represent the Fulbright Program of the U.S. Department of State.