Not really turning Taiwanese after all…

Although the way this week has gone, you'd think I would be.  Just since Wednesday, I've gotten acupuncture from a Chinese doctor, a Chinese massage , and went to a Buddhist/Daoist temple to watch Taiwanese folks play strange instruments and light whole fistfuls of incense sticks so that the gods will bring prosperity in the New Year.  (Oh yes, I almost forgot:  Happy Chinese New Year.)

The acupuncture was probably the most interesting part, actually.  The reason I went was that I'd been having some trouble with my right knee.  Sort of odd that I'd be having trouble NOW.  I mean, you'd think I'd've had trouble before, what with the marathon, the tennis playing, and all that bike riding I was doing.  But then I got really busy for a few months last fall, and stopped doing much exercise at all.  Then, when I tried to ride my bike again, I got shooting pains whenever I tried to pedal with my right foot.  I couldn't do any leg pressing exercises at the gym, either.  It just hurt too much.  So my roommate had gone to this doctor for his back, and said it worked well.  So I went, and he spent about 10 minutes poking and prodding in my knee, finding out where it hurt.  It didn't seem to me like any particular point hurt more than any other, but I guess he felt something significant.  Ten minutes later I found myself sitting with my pants pulled up above the knee while he positioned two spring-loaded needles for insertion.  I looked away (I hate needles) so all I felt was two little taps on my knee.  After the second one, obviously SOMETHING started working immediately, since it felt like something had exploded in my knee.  This is not a good feeling, let me tell you.  This sensation went away after about a minute, however.  Then the doctor put these white marshmallow-looking thingies on the needles and set them on fire. They looked just like the little things we used to use on portable stoves in the Boy Scouts, although I can't remember what they're called at the moment.  Anyway, although I felt some heat from it, it wasn't anything significant.  I had to sit there with my knee held motionless for the next 30 minutes.  Then they took out the needles, rubbed some stuff on my knee, gave it a good firm massage (more on Chinese massage in a bit) , put a bandage on it, and let me go.  The next day I went to the gym.  I hesitantly tried out one of the leg machines.

No pain.  NOTHING.  WHEEE!!! (Ben is happy,)

On Chinese massage:

I'd had it done once before, but that wasn't a complete deal like this one was. My friend Elana took me to a high-class massage place Friday night.  Wow.  (No, not THAT kind of massage. Get your mind out of the gutter.) First, you go in and you sit in a comfy chair while they soak your feet in warm water.  Then, while your feet are soaking, they take your glasses off, throw a towel over your head and massage your scalp and neck for a bit.  Then, they give you some pajamas and send you to a changing room.  After you change clothes, you go lie face down on the table while they work you over from head to toe.  This is a relaxing experience, even though Chinese massage is much different from Western massage.  You see, in Western massage they mostly just massage the muscles.  In Chinese massage, they do that, but they also go for the pressure points.  While this does have the end result of relaxing you, the means to the end HURT.  A LOT.  There were several points in there where I was wondering exactly why the masseuse was massaging my spine.  Or my shoulder blades.  Or my elbow.  (Funny bone, anyone?)

Once its over, you understand why.  I wanted to go to sleep right then.  It was one of the most relaxing experiences I've ever had.  And for only NT$1000, which is about US$32.  Well worth it.

On Chinese New Year:

So far, it's sort of over-rated. This is partly because I'm not in Taipei.  I accepted the invitiation of a Chinese family that I'm friends with to accompany them to their hometown of Douliu, a town in the south of Taiwan.  Unfortunately, they don't really live IN the town, more like outside it.  WAY outside it.  In the countryside.  Where NOTHING IS HAPPENING.  Although to be honest, nothing much happened in Taipei last year that I can remember, either.  But at least there were parades and stuff to go see for the first day or so, and I could go sightseeing and hang out  with the other bored foreigners.  Here I'm just sort of trapped in a house with nothing to do but talk to the family.  While this is good for my Chinese, it is not good for my sanity to be trapped inside for four days straight.  In Taipei, I'm used to seeing different people and places throughout the day, so it's sort of a "sub-culture" shock to be here in the countryside.   So far, we've only left the house twice in 2 days.  I arrived here Saturday night (Chinese New Year's Eve), and the next morning they took me to the temple to light incense and pray to the gods (Buddhist and Daoist, the Taiwanese are very ecumenical) for prosperity in the coming year.  That was sort of interesting from a cultural and anthropological point of view, but not much was actually going on, just lots of people milling around talking with fistfuls of incense sticks in their hands.  The rest of the day was spent back at the ranch.  Today was a little more active.  We went out for a few hours, which was a relief.  They took me into Douliu where we went to some sort of traveling exhibition about animals.  It was a pretty simple affair, but then I was raised with the Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo within easy reach, so I guess I'm a bit jaded.  At least it was a diversion.  Then we went to a park and threw a frisbee around for an hour or so, after which we came home, ate dinner and lit some fireworks and sparklers.

The reason I say I'm not really turning Taiwanese is the way I've noticed myself reacting to the hospitality here.  They've been really, really nice, by their standards.   Which is part of the problem.  As an Americans, I generally like my space, both physically and metaphorically.  When I am eating, I do not want anyone (ok, hot girls excepted) crowding me.  Taiwanese people (I think Chinese people are generally this way as well, but I've never lived in the mainland) are very physical-contact-oriented  with their friends and family.  While I do appreciate their friendship, and while I should by now be accustomed to the different culture, this is something that I still have a hard time dealing with.  Yes, you are my friend, yes, I want to talk to you, but I don't want to be touching you all the time, so GET OFF MY  LAP.

This also extends into the concept of personal time.  I generally need to have some time to myself during the day.  Failing that, I'd like to spend the day with constantly changing groups of people.  Since there's only one group of people here to hang out with, I will periodically go and sit down with a novel or my Chinese books for a short while when I get too overwhelmed with Taiwanese-ness. (Or I'll go write an e-mail.  This works, too.)   I'm afraid I have inadvertently offended my hosts by doing this, since this conception of "alone time" is not something they are familiar wth.

So it looks like I have not yet perfectly acclimated to Taiwanese culture and society.  I am still an American, albeit a well-traveled one.

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