Second excerpt from my Asia travel journal

Ayi = my aunt (my mother’s sister)
Yifu = my uncle (Ayi’s husband)
Hsinchu = the city they’re staying in (they normally live in San Jose but are in Taiwan for a year, which is what prompted our visit)
Taiwanese = spoken widely in Taiwan, but primarily by the older generation; Mandarin is official. (Erik learned Taiwanese but not Mandarin from his parents — that’s unusual for someone our age.)

From my travel journal, Saturday 24 September 2011, 6 AM in Taiwan (3 PM on the 23rd in CA)

Slept about 8 hours. By the time we got in last night, we were so dead on our feet, I think we all [me, Erik, my sister and her husband] fell asleep in Yifu’s car in the short drive to the apartment from the Hsinchu train station (our last destination of the evening; we stopped in to buy tickets for Hualien for Monday and Tuesday). I tried to hold out but my eyelids just dropped and dropped until I was jerking awake at red lights and then nodding off again immediately. Once we got inside, the lights and the knowledge of being home revived me long enough for a shower and email, but I was in bed and asleep by a little after 9. When I woke I felt the same readiness to get up as I had the day before: body just done being asleep.

Yesterday was a long day… I left my pedometer on CA time so it reset the count around 3 PM (midnight home time); all I know is we walked about 2.5 miles by noon and another 2.5 in the evening. We did indeed set off shortly after 9 in the morning, walking through Ayi’s neighborhood to the bus stop. The bus was green. It had little pale-green jacquard curtains at the windows and pale-yellow cotton covers over the tops of all the seatbacks. (Erik’s mom suddenly got a context — not just her taste in fabric, but her penchant for covering everything with it!) The windows were covered in shade film, there was a calendar and some little pictures (of a goddess?) taped up on the walls near the driver, and there were little buttons on the ceiling — for stops — instead of a pull-cord. But otherwise it felt much like any US bus. Oh, but it was clean, and in front of us there were two ladies chattering away happily in Taiwanese (Erik translated a bit).

Hsinchu local bus

Inside a Hsinchu bus

The bus took us through Hsinchu, past some parks and a university or two. I looked at our fellow passengers and thought about national character and culture. It struck me the feeling of safety I had on our last visit to Hong Kong might not have been due only to my ability to blend in — nor my being taller than most people, as I’ve often joked. It could be that Asian (or Chinese or Taiwanese) culture just trains people to be respectful of one another and of the common good. In the States I sense that old people are perceived as a burden, especially in public; here, not only are there more of them moving about the streets, but they’re given deference.

It’s not just the elderly who get respect, either. Whenever I ride the bus or BART at home, I feel that everyone is distrustful of one another — even antagonistic. Here, I feel like people are mostly just letting each other be… but when someone is in need, others are ready to help. At the Yingge train station a middle-aged man jumped to his feet to direct us when Ayi asked him a question, and he was most apologetic (buhao yisi! = “I’m so embarrassed” or “forgive me”) when he couldn’t answer the question completely.

Am I idealizing when I say I feel much more togetherness underlying the population here? It wasn’t as much in evidence in the ticket lines at the train stations, where people were clearly more impatient (though this wasn’t as overt as it would have been in the US), nor in the rush hour train when everyone was packed together, but it still seemed present. And everything is just cleaner and better cared for here; I cannot imagine cloth covers on a US bus, and yet the ones here have Velcro fastenings — I would guess they’re regularly cleaned, and no one steals them (at home it seems that everything that’s not bolted down just disappears eventually, whether it’s useful to anyone or not!).

I like the way it all feels. It’s nice to feel safe and comfortable. I forget, sometimes, how wary I’ve conditioned myself to be.