Friday, October 05, 2007

Through Another's Eyes

My grandmother is coming to visit us, and I can hardly sleep for the excitement of it all! Aside from Ian's parents, who live in Asia, this is the first family member that is actually stepping out of their comfort zone to visit us. Although I think Asia is an amazing place, I also understand that when most Americans think of going on vacation, they see visions of Paris and wine, Holland and cheese, or Venice and romance -- not Taiwan and the Unknown! Our families (again, with the exception of Ian's parents) are no different. Much of my family regularly gallivants around Europe but almost none of them have set foot in Asia, or have ever desired to! It's hard for me to understand this, as I tend to think the more different a culture is from mine the more fascinating it is. Why would I want to go to England when they speak the same language as me? Where's the excitement in that? I guess I'm just weird.

Partially though, I think the idea of comfortable living existing outside of Western cultures is more readily accepted by people of my generation. There are some older expats living in Taiwan, but not too many people from my grandma's generation. Most of the people I talk to from my grandmother's generation identify deeply with their country. They're proud to be Americans, sometimes fiercely patriotic. I on the other hand, rarely think of myself in terms of being "American." I don't believe that America is the best country in the world where liberty always reigns and freedom always rings. This may sound terrible to some, but I believe many people from my generation are becoming a bit cynical about the whole idea of America being the ideal country, maybe because we're disillusioned with the current administration (I'll keep my mouth shut here because I have no intention of making this a political blog, and I don't want to upset any of my readers who happen to like the current administration). Also, the world is getting substantially smaller. People of my generation have been exposed to so many other cultures and ways of living, and we can no longer easily accept that the American way is always the right way. I actually get quite annoyed when I hear comments like, "I can't believe the way these people live!" or "This country is so backwards!" Now, let me take a moment to make amends to anyone that I may have just offended. No, I don't believe that all Americans are arrogant and ethnocentric, I just think that America tends to shield itself from the rest of the world at times. It's easy to live in America and never think about what's happening in the rest of the world -- I know I did. And no, I don't like President Bush, but I still love Jesus and praise God, I think I'll still get into heaven!

Back to my grandmother and her generation. When Ian and I were preparing to move to Taiwan, I kept trying to get my family used to the idea of us living there permanently. I'm not quite sure if they've fully accepted it yet. They keep making comments about how we're young and having fun right now, not being serious about our careers yet. Sometimes this annoys me, because I take my career quite seriously. But I understand that it's more that they want to believe that we're just having fun right now. They love us dearly, and maybe this is the most that they can let go of at the time. But I'll never forget a comment my grandmother made to me one night amid scattered belonging and open suitcases ( I was getting ready to leave). I lost my temper because I felt that my family wasn't respecting my "vision" for my future, and I defiantly stated, "I'm going to raise my children in Taiwan. I want them to have a broader world view then what they could get here." Then my grandma said, "Do you want your kids to be American or Chinese?" I was a bit taken aback, because the thought that I would ever have to choose never occurred to me. I didn't really think it mattered, to tell the truth. I just thought they should be world citizens, as trite as that sounds. But my grandmother didn't say these words to be spiteful. To her, this was an important question. She's loyal to her country (not a bad thing), and thought I and my family should be too. She was afraid that I was giving up more than I could fully comprehend at my young age, and maybe she was right.

I love living in Taiwan, but sometimes I miss America. The other day I ate some french fries that had mustard and ketchup on them, an unlikely combination in Taiwan! I lowered my face and took a deep whiff --- It smelled like the Fourth of July. During Mid-Autumn Festival when the air was smoky with the scent of barbecue, it smelled like Memorial Day. If a breeze begins to blow, for a second I can fool myself into thinking I'm feeling the ocean breeze coming in from the coast again (I grew up in Southern Califronia, for those of you who don't already know). Sometimes when I see children playing in tiny parks, a minuscule oasis in this urban maze of concrete, I think of the summers I spent barefoot running through sprinklers, and I pity these children that don't know the feel of fresh lawn beneath their toes. This is the America in me that I can't seem to shake, and a part of me grieves the loss of it. And although my children will gain a broader world view and a second language, they will also lose things -- something my grandmother understood and tried to convey to me.

God has a plan for me in Taiwan, and I'm where I belong. And I know that above all things, my citizenship is in heaven, not any country here on earth. But as I prepare the house for my grandmother's arrival, some fears keep surfacing in my mind. Will she have aged since I last saw her? Will I be different in her eyes? Will we have nothing to talk about? What will Taiwan, my home, look like in her eyes?

As I mentioned before, no one in my family has ever had a desire to go to Asia. They all decided to wait awhile to see if we were really serious about living here before they endured the "hardship" of traveling here to visit us. I've been asking myself, what does Taiwan look like through another's eyes? It used to be new to me, but it's not anymore. The smell of incense and stinky tofu in the air is no longer a source of excitement -- it's just home. I can't wait to be reminded of what it's like to be shocked by Asian culture, to experience the surprises all over again through another's eyes!


  1. Hi--we've BTDT, too. First time we lived in China, one of our three sets of parents told us we were wasting out lives and needed to settle down and get real jobs. I was very angry about that for a long time. They have since apologized because they have seen God working in the details that have happened between then and now, leading us to where we are now.

    Now we live in HK and fully plan on raising our children here. They identify more strongly with the US than we do, LOL, which really cracks me up. But they also really love being in HK. They have enjoyed meeting our friends in China, and they are . . . struggling but willing to work with two new languages.

    Make sure that you read Third Culture Kids (if you haven't already). I haven't read enough of your blog to know if you have kids or not. (we didn't in China, do in HK.)

    Hope your granny enjoyed at least some of her visit.


  2. Hi M! Thanks for stopping by my blog. I don't have kids yet, but I'm definitely planning to in the future (hopefully far away future). My husband spent a great amount of his childhood in China, whereas I always lived in the same city in Los Angeles county. Hopefully when we have kids of our own, my husband's experience will come in handy! I'm so glad you commented. It's nice to hear of the experiences of those who have gone before!


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