Friday, August 27, 2010

Stranger in a Strange Land Taiwanese American.

What does this mean? Though I've been a part of many Taiwanese American organizations and it's a statement I've made all my life, when I really think about it I have some conflicting attitudes. Am I more Taiwanese or am I more American? Should I identify more with the location where I grew up or the background of my parents? What makes someone Taiwanese or American? Food? Language? Culture? Mindset? A little bit of all of the above? Does it even matter? If I were to say that I grew up eating steak and hamburgers, only communicate in Arabic, a Buddhist, and that I grew up in Peru, would I be considered American, Saudi Arabian, Indian, Peruvian, or a freak of nature? (It's 2:50am and I'm jetlagged; my rhetorical/hypothetical questions are probably inane and make no sense so bear with me.)

Here's a summary of my life: I was born in Taiwan and moved to the US when I was 6 months old. I moved from Michigan to Arizona and back to Michigan and graduated with a Bachelor's from Michigan State University (Papa Chen also went to MSU.) I stopped using my Taiwanese citizenship after obtaining my US citizenship to avoid the military draft, and I visit Taiwan roughly every 4 years.

Every time I visit, I can't help but feel like a foreigner. Here are three reasons why:

1) My Mandarin is TERRIBLE. I mean, heavy American accent terrible (If you've seen the movie Pearl Harbor and remember the scene with Alec Baldwin reciting "Wo shi i ge Mei Guo Ren," you can envision how bad my accent is. Reference) I grew up reading and speaking up until I was 10, and after years of sporadic use and switching to speaking Taiwanese at home my skills diminished rapidly and I can now only understand bits and pieces and speak even less. Though my Taiwanese is better, it's barely past conversational so I can get around if I have to but I can't say I'm overwhelmingly confident in my abilities to communicate. However, my English is top notch...Super OK! Number one!

2) Outside of politics and food, I have no particular interest in what is going on in Taiwan. I don't really care for Taiwanese pop stars and their music (because I have absolutely no idea what they're saying most of the time,) Taiwanese fashion (the styles are all over the place, from mimicing Japanese fashion to American styles with awesome Engrish...though that's part of the charm of Taiwanese fashion,) and I'm not particularly attracted to the way Taiwanese girls present themselves (fobby hairstyles, porcelain skin, bodies of 13 year old boys, etc.) I know I sound like a hater, and it's not like I'm anything special compared to others, but my tastes are very much "American."

3) I've never been to Taiwan for fun. That's not to say I don't have fun when I'm in Taiwan, but each time I've gone to Taiwan it's been to visit my grandparents with my parents. The only time I had time for fun was with Jon Lee when we took glamour shots back in 2002 Reference. When my Taiwanese friends talk about going to Loveboat, Luxy, other nightclubs, and so on, I have absolutely NO idea what they are talking about. My family is in Tainan so each time I visit Taiwan I barely spend any time in Taipei. I spend all my time hanging out with relatives and going sightseeing with my parents. For example, I finally went up Taipei 101 today. On top of all that, I am the only boy on my dad's side of the family. I have a boy cousin on my mom's side of the family, but he's about 6 years younger than I am. So most of my time in Taiwan has been spent in Tainan where all I've done is hang out with my grandparents, parents, and my girl cousin's with my sister.

Combine all three and you have a language barrier, a passive interest in popular culture in Taiwan, and no point of reference for experiences outside of tourist locations/historical landmarks. Sounds like a foreigner's experience to me. My attitude and taste in culture is very "American" and I feel like an outsider looking in when I'm in Taiwan. If I had relatives in say...Germany I would probably feel the exact same way because my experiences would most likely be similar.

Maybe the next few days will provide me with a new perspective and new experiences. I'll still proclaim myself to be Taiwanese American...but with much more of an emphasis on the American. I suppose it may soon be Taiwanese American Australian, once I figure out what it means to be Australian...


At August 27, 2010 at 12:00 PM , Blogger Amy said...

welcome to my confusing world of taiwanese+america+[insert british commonwealth country here]!


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