Culture Cupcake 1: Ignorance is Bliss

In Culture Cupcake, an antonym I coined for “Culture Shock” :P, I write about my experiences in Taipei—my home since January 2015—about my travels in Taiwan and around East Asia during my year-long AIESEC internship :) I occasionally contrast these experiences with my life in Bangalore, Mumbai, and Jammu & Kashmir.


I am really excited to (finally) begin this new series of posts, something I have been thinking about for nearly eight months! :) After a little over 2 years in Mumbai and some downtime back home in Bangalore, I moved to Taipei on January 1, 2015. This new year in a new city in East Asia, a region whose history and culture I was increasingly engrossed by since 2012 and decided to move to in 2014, has been all that I expected and much more.

IS Message

I started preparing for the move in November and was feeling the I-can’t-wait-for-this-to-happen feeling right up to a week before my flight. I kind of mildly panicked in the that week, but because I have such lovely friends, I got through the pre-big-move-panic without much of an issue. As with nearly all my air travel, drama cannot be far behind a flight :P Me getting my VISA and passport back from the government just five hours before my departure time and dealing with two governments with no common official language deserves a post of its own! More on that later :) I have decided to suppress my OCD for chronology, which killed Summer in Breswana, and post randomly :P

If aliens ever need a crash course in human emotions, all they need to do is to spend a few minutes watching people at airport terminals: the longing for the sight of a loved one at the waiting lines, the joys of reuniting with friends and family, the relief of being back home, the sadness of separation,  the frustration of delayed flights, the anger of lost baggage… As I cleared immigration and walked into a country other than my own for the first time, I was received by Joanne, my AIESEC coordinator, and Charlene, a former Mumbai colleague and a friend of three years. It was of course my first time meeting Joanne, but it felt like I knew her since ages, because I was in near-daily contact with her since August through Skype and email. It really was like meeting “old friends” :)

But that was all the familiarity I was going to get for quite some time in Taipei. On entering the city, I entered InstagramCapture_44710553-eef1-4ca7-85c2-75a1d5a6c913into a world whose language I did not speak, a world whose inhabitants largely did not speak any of the six languages I am familiar with to varying degrees, a world whose cuisine I was unfamiliar with, and a world whose cultural dos and don’ts I had familiarised myself with through a “survival guide” I bought a couple of weeks before the journey.

Although I already knew English was not of much help in getting around Taiwan, I had underestimated the uselessness of my first language. For the first time in twenty-five years, discounting the first few years of course :P, I had truly, absolutely no idea what was going on around me. I was, quite literally, illiterate.

…seeing a library full of hundreds of books that I cannot read has motivated me like nothing else. As bad as my Hindi may have been when living in Mumbai, I could still read and understand it, and engage in a semi-decent conversation, before resorting to an English phrase in between :P The last three months have been the first time in what I can remember of my 25 years that I have been so strongly, constantly, almost embarrassingly reminded on a daily basis of my illiteracy in a language. – A Library Full of Books I Cannot Read, March 2015

This wasn’t all bad, though. I think I may even had enjoyed it to a large extent. I had no idea what people around me in the buses and trains were talking about, what the headlines on TV were, what the radio talk was about, what the sign boards said… Outside of my work (as an English academic copyeditor), it was like, for lack of a better way to convey this, being inside an “inception” dream.  I was the only one in my head, all the time. On occasions, I zoned out of the city, unaware of any of its problems, to such an extent that I had to remind myself that everyone around me was human too. It was unusually peaceful.

Ignorance is truly bliss.

As August closes, I complete eight months in this city. My Chinese vocabulary is growing (painfully slowly), and with each new word I learn, the tint of the rose shades through which I view the city decreases; the more I understand things that happen around me, the more I feel part of Taipei, but more of the ignorance-driven bliss I lose. I am unsure if that is fortunate or unfortunate :)

Househunting in Taipei (More on that in a future cupcake! :) )
Househunting in Taipei (More on that in a future cupcake! :) )

Much Ado About Nothing LogoThank you for reading! In Culture Cupcake 2, I  write about surprising people by breaking “Indian” stereotypes and about one of my most favourite aspects of life in Taipei, YouBiking! <7 Subscribe to be notified of the posts :)

Featured Image: Shilin Night Market, dinner on Day 1.

Living is Easy with Eyes Closed ~ John Lennon

P.S. 100 posts on MAdo :)


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