Today is a travel day. I'm returning home. I've had quite a lot of time to reflect on Taiwan. I'm sure not sufficient time to file the experience neatly away into the annals of my memory; a lifetime wouldn't be enough. But, as Pat and I began to reflect on the way to the airport, we came to some important points of engagement.
Conversation, classroom lectures, and mountains of textbooks educate me. I'm heavily invested in my formal education, thus far, and I'm greatly humbled to have such an opportunity. In some ways, however, my first extended trip abroad has proven more didactic than years at any university. (We value knowledge so, but understanding is rarely appreciated to its merit.)
So to travel to Taiwan, to stay, to befriend Taiwanese people, to eat the food, experience the culture--in all of this, I was not expecting to be so imprinted with perspective. Much to my embarrassment, I didn't realize all of this until my much anticipated trip to the airport with Pat.
We began to talk about the previous evening's meal, when our fast-friend from Taiwan, Claire and we went out to celebrate our time together. We asked Claire what her favorite restaurant in Taipei is, and when she suggested one with, of all things, a Chinese name, we stared blankly, and asked her to show us the way. We were brought to a small brewery with delicious food and another interesting amalgam of US and Taiwanese influence. Seafood soup with a beer broth, and a teriyaki cuddlefish salad were on the menu for the evening, as was some in-depth discussion of Taiwanese vs. American Education. Through this one meal, all my education of cultural differences finally engaged with practicum.
Claire is perhaps the gentlest of all my friends. Her humble deferring attitude lends itself well to most relationships, and quietly demands both respect and reciprocity. In thinking on her conduct, I've learned a lot. Most religions at least allude to the paradox of the least being the greatest and visa versa. From Claire's offering me a sip of her drink before she had a taste, to her intense concern over our affinity to the restaurant she chose, Pat and I have discovered what collectivism is truly about. I'm able to understand traditional "feminine" roles, and instead of dismissing them as foreign or antiquated, to embrace the power found in humility.
For the above reasons, I'm intensely sorry that I didn't allow my heart to be more open to Taiwan. Perhaps as an effort toward emotional preservation, I guarded myself from investing my whole humanity into this experience, assuming that two months is too short a time to make worthwhile connections. How many opportunities have I forgone in doing so? Who did I miss getting to know?
On the other hand, how touched I have been, in spite of my stoic approach. How happy I am that the least among us has the strength to make me melt. And how excited I am to forge ahead into more mistakes and lessons in humanity.