On a more personal note

Trip Start Feb 26, 2006
Trip End Sep 16, 2006

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Flag of Taiwan  ,
Tuesday, March 7, 2006

I didn't think it would be possible. However, it seems that I may very well be adapting to Asia.

A great deal of this may have to do with the fact that Eva's family appears to have embraced me. At least I think they have-- they don't speak English, so I can only assume that their smiles are those of acceptance and warmth and not a polite reaction to my brash American ignominy. Having Eva by my side provides me with a guide I know intimately, who guides me through this strange and vastly different culture with a gentle hand and an enthusiastic spirit. I have her to explain the more bizarre aspects of this culture (For example, "Eva, who are all those women who sit at the side of the road in miniskirts, encased in glass boxes?" They're not prostitutes-- they're Betel Nut Girls)

However even with Eva's guidance, culture shock scenarios still abound. For example:

- Don't flush the toilet paper down the toilet. Fold it neatly and put it in the wastebasket next to the toilet.

- Don't drink the tap water. Drink from the water dispenser. You have a choice of very warm or very hot. Cold drinks are bad for your health, you know.

- Garbage trucks that play ice cream truck music.

- Nearly everything that is typical of Taiwanese food has some kind of sugar in it, although those things you expect to have sugar in them often do not. For example, you bite into a lovely puff pastry from a bakery expecting a mouthful of cream and you get spicy pork. I bought some "cheese" saltine style sandwich crackers and got a mouthful of sugary cheese-colored paste.

It has become a bit of a pet project-- when I stop myself from making judgments about why, for example, these crazy people eat sweet cheese crackers (don't they know cheese snacks are salty?!), I then look for clues in the culture to explain why the culture developed that particular taste.

Taiwan (and indeed most Asians) are not cheese or dairy consuming (in fact the milk you buy in Taiwan is often reconstituted from powder, and then often sweetened with sugar). Although they do not eat cheese, Taiwanese do love cheesecake (in fact there are high end specialty boutiques which produce only cheesecake.) However if it's the rich and sweet New York style you're thinking of, you'll be disappointed. These cheesecakes are much lighter, and are only very lightly sweet. Perhaps the Taiwanese feel that with so much sugar in their pork buns and barbecued sausages that eating sweet deserts would be too indulgent.

Certain other aspects of Taiwanese culture are a little more difficult to adapt to.

I've already had three run-ins with the local medical scene, with 67% success rate (and a 33% run-in-fear rate.) Allow me to elucidate.

Taiwan medical success story 1:
At Eva's insistence, we did not get our vaccine for Japanese B Encephalitis in the United States, because the cost of this series of three injections costs about $550. The immunization lasts for three years. Once in Taiwan, we found an American board certified doctor who administered the vaccine which is actually manufactured by the Japanese government, but is not approved for use in the US. This series of two shots (plus two annual boosters, which confer a lifetime immunity) costs $45.

Taiwan medical success story 2:
I left the US before I was eligible for my twice-a-year dental cleaning. Visit to Eva's local English speaking dentist cost $20. This is usually covered under Taiwan's national healthcare, so her mother was shocked that I would pay so much money for a dental cleaning. If only she knew.

Taiwan medical Run-In-Fear story:
A mild fever and pink eye landed me in Eva's local ear nose and throat clinic. I should have walked away the moment the receptionist asked me how many days medication I wanted-- "Two or three?" I told her that I think I should see the doctor first. Her response: "The doctor will just ask you the same thing." We paid our $10 visit fee and walked into a room similar to the one that The Joker received his face transplant in, with similarly frightening medical equipment laid out on a stainless steel table. Clamps, ratchets, stainless steel tongue depressors. I think the cotton swabs were stainless steel as well.

There were two antique examination chairs and the equipment table in between. A screaming child occupied the chair next to mine. I explained my condition to the doctor and he sprayed an anesthetic into the back of my throat and swabbed my nostrils with menthol. He then instructed me to massage eye and he illustrated by pushing his finger into the corner of the infection. To my subsequent horror, he then moved that same finger to massage the non-infected eye. When I asked him about medication for the infection, he said "How many days do you want? Two or three?"

I was then shuffled over to and was instructed to sit in front of another stainless steel contraption, this one with a phallic tube protruding from the front, about the length of a toilet paper tube. After several noisy spurts and stops, steam began to issue forth. The nurse instructed me to "Breeze, ten centimeter, mouse open." As I sat there, breezing the vapor, I wondered how many sick mice breezed into the same tube before me.

I decided to take two days of medication, which contained several packets of anonymous pills and a jar of unlabelled brown fluid that I think may have been not entirely unlike cough syrup. I took none of the medication.

My illness cleared up two days later. So I suppose I did manage to adapt to the environment after all, in my own way.

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