Friday, May 14, 2010

703 Our Parents, Ourselves

703 Our Parents, Ourselves

(Taipei) -- There is no Ellis Island here. There is no place where some pre-minimum wage bureaucrat will stamp your credentials, assign you a name much like but not exactly your own and send you on your way, even if you don't have a way. It's different now, even for people who are visiting. You get to keep your name. And if you don't have a place to call temporary home, you don't get past the guy with the smile and the stamp.

But here, once you are beyond the entryway, your experience will merge with those of your parents or grandparents who came to America without the language, without a feel for the culture and with a bunch of preconceptions, some right and some wrong. Here, if you don't have the language, you're on your own. This is not Hong Kong where the British imposed their ways on the Chinese for a century or so and English shares Mandarin for top billing in language.

This is Taiwan and while they go out of their way to be good to tourists, there are limits. You'd figure that a major bank in the midst of a bunch of decent tourist hotels would have some English speakers. Nope. You'd think one or two of the zillion convenience stores would accept Visa or MasterCard or Discover and maybe even US dollars. Nope. Only the Subway is fully bilingual.

These are people in a hurry. These are people with thousands of years of doing things their way. And while the island is only about the size of Maryland and Delaware put together, there's an awful lot going on here and not a lot of time to curry the favor or good will of strangers. Texas can fit this place in the back pocket of its jeans and not even notice the bulge.

So this is what it was like when mom and pop popped off the boat from in New York after the trip in steerage from Europe. It's like losing one of your senses, most likely hearing. You know stuff is going on, you know sounds are being made, you have no clue what they are.


--You see people here with shirts that say "New York," or "A-Train to Queens" or "Los Angeles" or "Minneapolis." The temptation is great to wear a shirt that says "I'm From Idaho." Impossible to find that around here, at least so far.

--As we've pointed out, you can buy booze, wine and beer on every corner here. The convenience stores have it all -- practically unregulated. But those same stores are barred from selling aspirin, Advil, Tylenol or anything like it.

--Taiwan revolutionized its criminal code in 2003. Many of the changes were based on the American system, including granting Miranda rights to the accused. Apparently, if you stay away from certain parts of the island -- though no one will tell you directly which parts those are you're unlikely to be a victim.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2010

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