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Things in Taiwan You Just Don’t See in the U.S. (and I Can Live Without)

1. Certain Street Food – Ok, I know street food topped my list of things I’d love to see stateside, but there are some that I hope to never see, or smell, again. I can dispel the rumors of dog and monkey meat, but bad enough were stinky tofu, pig knuckles, pork blood congealed in a tofu consistency, squid cut open and splayed on a stick, poor little turtles sans shells…no thank you! Of course, these would probably be on the top of my husband’s wish list, so to each his own. That is the beautiful thing about street food; there’s something for everyone and you can still eat together without getting your food from the same place.

2. Dog’s Bollocks – There’s a stray dog problem in Taiwan. That’s actually where we got our dog, through an organization that brings rescues over to the U.S. There are plenty more where he came from, and the problem persists because they are all intact, meaning you see a lot more balls swinging free over there.

3. Explicit Content on School Field Trips – When we went to the Taipei Museum of Contemporary Art, the main exhibit was of American artist David LaChappelle’s photographs, filled with nudity, violence and graphic sexual content. There are reasons behind it – much of his work deals with celebrity and sensationalism and a culture full of drama and destruction – but is it appropriate viewing for groups of junior high kids? The day we were there, a field trip was under way, and it would never happen in the U.S. of A. without consent forms and warnings and probably an age limit imposed. I debated which of my lists that should go on. On one hand, they are clearly not as uptight about sexuality over there, and maybe it’s a good thing not to make it so taboo. On the other, at the risk of sounding puritanical and prudish, I wouldn’t want my son to go to school and see something like that without me being there to discuss what could be very confusing and bizarre imagery (though I’m sure I’ll be the last person he wants to talk with about stuff like that). The kids didn’t seem disturbed, mostly giggly and titillated. I bet kids see a lot worse on the Internet these days. Man, when did I become such an old fuddy duddy?

4.The Filling of Empty Space – Americans like their space. In Taiwan, there is none, so there’s a tendency to fill it if some is made available. If you are crossing a street in the States, it is illegal for a car to enter the intersection until you have safely left the crosswalk. In Taiwan, you are lucky if cars don’t run over your toes or heels as you are coming and going. Elevators and subway cars are often packed beyond the maximum capacity. People took cuts in front of me in every line I stood in because I was trying to leave a respectable bubble of personal space around me. Apparently, it was an invitation to go ahead. Everybody tailgates when driving for the same reason. It must be a cultural result of living on top of each other in such dense, cluttered little spaces that they don’t need the bubble, but I couldn’t wait to get back in mine. (Though since being back in my car for work in San Francisco, I sometimes wish traffic flowed like it did in Taipei. Nobody gets offended or honks aggressively or flips anyone off. Somehow the close calls and craziness work without inspiring road rage. We are all so self-important and easy to anger over here.)

5. Inadequate Safety Measures – Besides the everyday scenes demonstrating a general lack of concern for safety standards (like whole families riding on scooters and no place for anyone to wash their hands at food stalls, for example), I think this hotel “Emergence” plan best sums up the country’s attitude toward risk management and disaster preparedness. This photo is of a glass box containing a white rope and a flashlight near a ring screwed into the wall by our tenth floor window. Basically, good luck, you’re on your own.

6. Lucky Hairs – I  couldn’t snap any photos on the sly to illustrate this point, but oh man, this one gets me. In Chinese culture, if you have a mole with a hair growing out of it or long hairs growing in an unusual place, it is considered very lucky and is left to grow wild and free. In America, you get those suckers removed and I’m down with that.

7. Whitening lotion – You always want what you can’t have, right? In the States, bronzed tan skin is sought after, but in Taiwan, the fairer the better. Women carry umbrellas on sunny days to avoid catching any rays, and even little girls are taught to do so at a young age. A healthy habit to not end up with skin cancer, but it can be taken to an obsessive level, as all beauty stores carry lines of skin lightening cream and you can have cosmetic surgery to bleach your skin. I definitely don’t need any help in that department.

8. Living at Home Until You Marry – This is actually pretty common in many cultures I have visited, but in the States, most kids move out after graduating and are on their own after college. As an independent person, I preferred it that way, but I hear more kids in the U.S. are moving back into their parent’s homes after college. It will depend on a lot of things, I’m sure, but we will most likely be encouraging our little guy to be on his merry way to self-sufficiency upon graduation and finding a job, not waiting around until he ties the knot (we’ll see…I already get a little sad thinking about it, but my husband is counting the days until we have our freedom back).

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