Starting tomorrow, I will be in Taiwan for one week on a special FAM trip. I am being sponsored by the Taiwan Tourism Bureau and will be traveling, blogging, and writing about my experiences in an effort to promote Taiwan to twenty-and-thirty-something travelers who are less familiar with Taiwan and its culture, cuisine, landscape, and outdoor activities. What I hope to do–in addition to learning a little bit of Mandarin, trying not to get lost, eating something I’ve never eaten before and resisting the temptation to ask what it is, buying something in a street market, taking a picture of something unusual, and writing my brains out–is to discover a place I know very little about. And what I will do, what I will do with all of my heart, is write about this place to the point my pens run dry and the three mini-journals I bought fill up. And I will post, post, post, and submit, submit, submit, and I will make the Bureau proud to have sponsored me on this hopefully-not-once-in-a-lifetime experience but rather, I hope, this first-in-a-lifetime of experiences.
So far, even the experience of planning this trip has been a much-needed lesson in cultural sensitivity. Navigating a website, communicating over email, making reservations, and planning side trips–everything has forced me to reconsider these tasks as culturally-situated, literate acts that are not, as we sometimes forget, intuitive. Instead, they are always, always learned. Take a look at the TTB’s website and the way they are crafting their image, for instance: http://eng.taiwan.net.tw/ Look at the adorable animated figures giggling amicably while they slurp boba on the left-hand column. Look at EVA airlines site, which is currently promoting its Hello Kitty-themed aircraft: http://evakitty.evaair.com/en/ Try booking a hotel room for a night on a website that doesn’t have an English translation: http://www.ueu.com.tw/ (The trick I’ve learned is to tab over a collection of characters and wait for the website link to pop up at the bottom of the screen–they’re written in English!) What do I, as a Westerner who only traveled the States, Europe, a teeny part of the Caribbean, and the northern part of South America, make of these differences? What can I make of them, other than to smile and remember that I am now the foreigner? What can I make of this weird obsession to be the foreigner, to slip into the role of the social “other,” to play as a child just learning to spell all over again?
Honestly, I won’t say I’m not a little bit scared. A little bit worried I’ve become a rusty traveler. After all, this is about as out-of-my-comfort-zone as it gets. And yet, a part of me is thrilled, is jumping up and down while she packs, is jamming to music on her computer while she packs, unpacks, and packs again items of clothing she’ll probably never wear in the week she’s there. (Can I get away with shorts and a t-shirt? Is that too sloppy? Should I wear heels? A dress at night? Ack.)
Even more honestly? I love this. I love not knowing what to wear, how to speak, where to find the bathroom. It’s a thrill unparalleled to anything else I’ve found in this world.
Thank you, TTB and Intertrend Communications, for making this dream a reality for me. To travel and write, to discover the world, to remember my muse….I’ll be back with hundreds of new words for you!
一帆風順 (That’s Mandarin for Bon Voyage….I think :)),