I vaguely remember that at some point during my elementary or middle school years, my fellow students and I were taught to use a chart which had three columns with the following titles: “What I know,” “What I want to know,” and “What I found out.” I think of it as a simplified scientific method used for essay research rather than the natural sciences (probably one of the most debilitating aspects (or biggest areas of ‘potential improvement’ if you’re a ‘glass half-full’ kind of person) of middle/high school is the compartmentalization of different subjects so that we can’t figure out how to piece them together…a populace that can do math and history at the same time is probably a ticking French Revolution).
In my head I envision myself confirming all of my currently-held biases in future adventures, but if past experience is any indicator the things I’ll get from travelling will be unrelated to the ongoing argumentative internal monologue (is there a word for this?) and instead be some kind of experience which neither confirms nor denies the metaphorical walls and ladders I’ve built up about how things work in the world.
With the unknown still floating around in a point in time somewhere between soon and relatively later, there are a few knowable things.
Here are a few facts I already know about the island of Formosa, a.k.a. the Republic of China, a.k.a. Taiwan:
It is comprised mostly of people whose ancestors came from mainland China, and are thus part of the Han ethnic group. The Han dynasty re-established power in 25AD and unified China in 36AD. The Chinese government relocated to the island in 1949 after the communist takeover, and still claims sovereignty over most of China and Mongolia. It is the 19th largest economy in the world, and is one of the four “Asian Tigers” along with Hong Kong, Singapore, and South Korea.
It has historically been called “Ilha Formosa” because it was named that by the Portuguese when they discovered it (the word “discovered” in this context is getting to be controversial, and using the word “Columbused” would just open up the possibility for more puns than I’m able or willing to see to have shipped to their logical destination).
The official national language is Mandarin Chinese, which has its own dialect. They do not use simplified text, which is more common in China.
I’ve read and been told by multiple sources that the island is fairly “Westernized.” I suspect that when people say this, they mostly mean that it’s easy enough for most people from a ‘Western’ country to navigate. They can access the comforts of home and have a perfectly good standard of living, complete with high speed internet, universal health care, and godless soulsucking postmodern consumerism.
Taiwan has the second-lowest amount of crime of any country in the world, after Japan. This does not take into account the country’s high rate of vehicle accidents, many of which occur on motorized scooters (which are popular form of transportation, unlike the apparently dysfunctional bus system). Like Japan, it’s population is shrinking rapidly due to its low fertility rate, which is 1.11 children per woman, ahead only of Macau and Singapore.
It is possible by train to get from Taipei in the North (the country’s largest city) and Kaohsiung in the South (the second largest city) in little over two hours.
The country’s population is 23.3 million, the vast majority of whom live on the Western side of the island, since the Eastern side is covered with mountains.
An important traditional aspect of their culture involves “saving face,” which from what I can tell is basically behaving in a way that does not dishonor oneself or other people.
That’s the first category. So what do I want to find out? I could simply say I want to determine major cultural differences, but what would they be? In a globalized world, I suspect it’s not always easy to distinguish between a traditional difference between one’s own nation and one’s host country, and a difference which has emerged by means of products, information, and people arriving from foreign shores. Distinguishing between one’s own traditional past and that of the modernized world is a task all by itself, having first to wade through the misinformation about the past, and then having to wade through misinformation which seeks to convert the already misinformed to other idealized, imagined, or excessively critical interpretations of the past. If Taiwan is mostly ‘Westernized,’ then in what ways have the traditions and innate psychologies of the people made them resistant to be exactly like us? (I have argued many times that protecting “culture” without protecting the unique people who live in it is pointless, since I’m operating from the premise that people develop social constructs based on their instincts, and not the other way around, so that culture serves above all to protect a people’s self determination and physical existence….but I guess arguing never really works, and so the only thing left to do is prove it).
I intend to learn more about East religious and philosophical traditions. I want to learn Mandarin, and at least get a taste for the other languages on the island. I want to attempt to empathize with a group of people who have a different way of seeing. Obviously I will want to explore my new geographical area too.
But I also think I’m getting to the point, and possibly the age, where this whole idea of “I want to experience_________” isn’t enough. Sure, I haven’t been there yet, but I also haven’t been to Texas. Getting a new perspective should be my assumed default mode, even if I’m stuck in traffic or standing in line someplace. Lots of people have now told me “You’re going to love it” and “it’s going to be the best year of your life,” and I appreciate it and hope they’re right. There’s also the assumption (and it occasionally comes across as patronizing, though it’s certainly never intended this way) that I’m going to simply come back and fasten the chains right back on my ankles.
I intend to find different chains, really, or perhaps find other wanderers and we’ll invent them ourselves. Ironically they’ll have to be thicker chains than before, since I don’t trust myself to act rationally in my own interest for the rest of my life without something other than myself to worship.
“Marathe had settled back on his bottom in the chair. ‘Your U.S.A. word for fanatic, “fanatic,” do they teach you it comes from
the Latin for “temple”? It is meaning, literally, “worshipper at the temple.”
‘Oh Jesus now here we go again,’ Steeply said.
‘As, if you will give the permission, does this love you speak of, M. Tine’s grand love. It means only the attachment. Tine is
attached, fanatically. Our attachments are our temple, what we worship, no? What we give ourselves to, what we invest with
Steeply made motions of weary familiarity. ‘Herrrrrre we go.’
Marathe ignored this. ‘Are we not all of us fanatics? I say only what you of the U.S.A. only pretend you do not know.
Attachments are of great seriousness. Choose your attachments carefully. Choose your temple of fanaticism with great care. What
you wish to sing of as tragic love is an attachment not carefully chosen. Die for one person? This is a craziness. Persons change,
leave, die, become ill. They leave, lie, go mad, have sickness, betray you, die. Your nation outlives you. A cause outlives you.’
-Infinite Jest (p. 43)