WTF HAVE I DONE?! I can’t read. It smells weird, and why does everything look dirty?! OMG, it’s f**king hot!
At 21 years old, I arrived at Taoyuan International Airport and met my mom’s cousin, her husband, and their baby at baggage claim. I stepped out of the airport and into the humidity. I had no idea how much my life was about to change.
The taxi took us to Hsinchu, a city an hour or so outside of Taipei.
On the drive, I saw jungle where there weren’t buildings, characters instead of letters, and some of the ugliest dirtiest looking buildings I had ever seen. But TREES! I love the trees (Wyoming doesn’t have many).
Most of the buildings outside the cities look like hideous sheds or structures with bathroom tile on the outside. Because Taiwan is a massive jungle with regular typhoons, torrential downpours, and lots of pollution, the buildings end up having black streaks and filth all over them.
For some reason, Taiwanese people want to select colors like white, cream, beige for these tiles. I don’t know who came up with this design and why millions of people chose to follow suit. I must admit the architecture is not particularly aesthetically pleasing.
They do withstand some crazy typhoons, though, so they must be something right! Maybe it’s my white girl brain that just doesn’t get it.
It was nighttime, and the first thing I did when I got to my cousin’s in Hsinchu, was to exhaustedly flop on the bed she had made for me.
I did not know beds in Taiwan are as hard as a rock and I actually bruised my hip.
There I was, in Hsinchu, with no money (my cousin lent me 7000NTD which is about 215USD until my first paycheck). I didn’t know anyone besides my cousin, and her husband whom I met at the airport.
I had no idea how to teach a preschool class of children who didn’t speak a word of English. I didn’t know what to eat, or where to shop. I didn’t know how to order, read, or speak, or how to even use chopsticks properly (took me FOREVER to eat stuff, I made huge messes in restaurants, it was embarrassing #whitegirlinasia).
In an effort not to starve to death, I started eating convenience store food.
On the way to the school where I was teaching, there was a 7-11. I would ask my South African neighbor, who delivered me to work every morning to stop so I could get something to eat.
Taiwanese 7-11s are amazing, like mini grocery stores. And I pretty much ate food from there the first few months I was in Taiwan until someone taught me.
I had exactly zero friends. I made my first friends on Myspace (hahaha, myspace). I found a few foreigners around my age who were also living in Hsinchu and started chatting with them.
One Canadian guy invited me out for drinks and to introduce me to his friends.
He told me to go to the street and find a taxi, but I was basically in the middle of nowhere in some jungle, so that wasn’t going to happen.
My soon-to-be-friend said option number two was to find a 7-11, as they are everywhere, and an employee could call me a taxi.
There was no 7-11 in the jungle either.
I told my cousin I wanted to go out and meet with the guy. They called a taxi and gave me a piece of paper from a pizza place with their Chinese address on it.
I protected and carried that around in my wallet like my life depended on it. And believe me, my life depended on that slip of paper. I showed it to taxi drivers for the duration of my stay with them so I could find my way back.
After some struggle and much anticipation, I arrived at the apartment of my new friend.
In hindsight, maybe don’t just go to the apartments of strange men you meet on the internet your first week of living in a foreign country.
Luckily Taiwan is really safe, and the people I met that night were incredibly kind to me. I still keep in touch with them today.
I’m so grateful to have met them, except for when they made me try betel nut, just because “it’s a Taiwan thing”.
Betel nut is this nut wrapped in some kind of leaf that people chew here. It’s a bit like chewing tobacco but tastes like licorice.
Where chewing tobacco is brown, betel nut turns your whole mouth red, like you’ve just eaten a small child, raw. Like chew, you have to spit, which with betel nut, looks like blood. Lovely, lovely experience.
It was, on Myspace, that I got in touch with a fellow American girl. We moved in together after a short time. She was the first person who took me to Taipei for a party, I think it was my second or third week in Taiwan.
I am still friends with the people I met that weekend, today. I fell in LOVE with Taipei, and the people in it.
Taipei is another story and whole new ball game.
What are some of your crazy first impressions from moving abroad?! Leave me a comment with your stories or links! I love to hear about your experiences!
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