Rediscovering Taiwan 11 years later

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When I first heard that the fall 2020 semester was going to be online, like many of my peers, I was devastated. However, when my mom suggested that I could visit Taiwan, which was doing relatively well with COVID-19, I jumped at the opportunity and felt that it could be my silver lining during the pandemic. I immediately started to gather documents and look up flights. After months of waiting for my new passports, I was off by myself to Taiwan, the place I had once called home for eight years.

Upon arrival, I was immediately taxied to a family friend’s empty home to quarantine for two weeks. After 14 long days of working on Data 8 homework, daydreaming and cooking while trying to not burn the apartment down, I was finally let out into the streets of Taiwan. Little did I know, many obstacles lay in wait for me. Even little things such as the traffic felt unnerving and took some time to get used to. Compared to the roads in Southern California where cars dominated, the roads in Taiwan were additionally cluttered with motorcycles, which made the environment extremely noisy. With the loud rumbling of the motorcycle and creaking sounds of the subway tracks, I felt as if my ears were going to explode. With time, the bombardment of sounds from the city soon became background noise.

Another hurdle I faced was navigating the Mass Rapid Transit, or MRT, akin to BART in the Bay Area. All of the diagrams and signs were like a complex maze. I was left feeling utterly confused and didn’t know which train I should take to get to my destination. These moments felt both frustrating and disappointing, considering I spent my childhood in Taiwan. How could I have forgotten how to take the MRT? To add insult to injury, I felt even more helpless as I watched hundreds of people pass me while they effortlessly navigated the MRT. 

Ultimately, just as I decided to ask the station master for help, yet another problem became apparent. This time, it was the language barrier. As I spoke only Chinglish (Mandarin Chinese mixed with English) or English back in California, I was stuck in the middle, feeling like I wasn’t a true local or a true foreigner as I understood Chinese. Even though at the end of the day, I was successfully helped and made it to my destination, this linguistic barrier ultimately made me realize that I do not fit in seamlessly in Taiwan anymore.

Although I never ran into that many problems consecutively during the rest of my three-month stay, this feeling of knowing but not really knowing the place lingered. While the scenery, buildings and food were just like I remembered, everything else changed. In the past 11 years, the city had moved on, and now, it was time for me to make new memories and move on too.

Contact Erica Jean at [email protected].