We're settled at last. It's been a crazy busy/really relaxed couple of weeks of hanging with the Lo fam while we settled into our temporary home, but we've finally got a bit of time to breathe and to write. For those of you who care enough about us to notice the drop in content, but don't know where we've gone, the answer is Taiwan.
I can hear you ask it. Why Taiwan? For that matter, where is Taiwan? Is it that Chinese island? Or wait, it's independent, right? Fuck it, all I know is that the plastic toys I played with as a kid were made there.
So why Taiwan?
Jannell asked me in the first few days after we arrived, why did you come here three years ago? It's crowded, it's loud, it's pungent, it's bright, you can't eat much of the food, and you couldn't speak a word of the language. So why Taiwan?
I originally came here because I needed something new. I was feeling discouraged at school, and restless in Canada. I felt like if I didn't start learning new languages soon, I would never do it, I would get too comfortable living in the same place and speaking the same language as always. I had a few vague connections to Taiwan and I took the leap. It was an impulse decision.
I guess the next logical question is why did I come back? It's still just as uncomfortable for me, the heat is oppressive, the city is crowded, and my mandarin is still pretty limited.
I think the answer is that we're here because it's so uncomfortable. Canada is comfortable. It's an amazing place, and the more I travel, the more strongly I feel like I could never live in another country. But! It's comfortable. It's hard to grow when you're comfortable, it's hard to get up in the morning and seek something new and interesting when everything around you makes you feel safe.
I never feel completely at ease here. Travelling with allergies is nothing short of terrifying, even if I feel a little more comfortable explaining my allergies now than when I couldn't even say "ni hao". Now I've graduated to 我不能吃麵，麵粉，麵包什麼的 which translates as "I can't eat noodles, noodle powder or noodle buns (also known as bread)," but even with this mastery, I recently discovered that I was still poisoning myself, probably.
It was at a hotel buffet that I noticed it. I wanted to get them to blanch some rice noodles for me at the noodle bar, but I could see how the guy was cooking it and it made my stomach drop. He was blanching the rice noodles in the same water as the wheat noodles.
Of course he was. Why wouldn't he? Nobody in this country or on this continent (wait, is an island part of a continent?) is on a gluten free diet. It makes way more sense to have one giant pot of boiling water to blanch all the noodles in than to have separate water, how did I not see that before? And that's just one example of dozens of ways gluten can sneak into my meals on a daily basis - I don't even try to avoid soy sauce here.
Despite the discomfort, despite the (temporary) language barrier, there's something I really love about this country. Maybe it's the complicated history that I still don't fully understand. Maybe it's the incredible juxtaposition between dense cities and towering mountains. Maybe it's that the people are so nice that even when I couldn't speak any mandarin, people around me in the restaurant would interrupt my miming to translate for me and tell the waiter what I was allergic to.
It's probably all of that and more, but maybe we don't need a reason beyond "it makes me uncomfortable."