18 Peaks staircase

I went jogging this morning at Eighteen Peaks, a pseudo-mountain on the outskirts oftown. From the pavilions located randomly along the path you can see the slope of the mountain, happy green foliage, dozens of colorful butterflies, spiderwebs, and, from some vantage points, you can see the mountain range farther inland or the Taiwan Straight that sits between mainland China and Taiwan. It’s a beautiful area, and stopping to take in the views makes it real: I live here. I can live here as long or as short as I want to, but still. This is where I am. Who woulda thunk it?

Taiwanese hospitality blows me away. As I wandered down different paths (wide enough for cars to drive down, but only available for pedestrians and bike riders), I passed by a small pavilion where a guitarist, flutist, and other adults were sitting and enjoying hot tea. I paused my iPod so I could hear the music and caught the eye of one of the older men, who immediately greeted me and offered me a small paper cup of tea. After I drank it and thanked him profusely, he said, “You are welcome.” Not welcome for the tea, but welcome to join them anytime.

That’s how it is. Sure, I get some suspicious stares, or someone will give me the once-over and then turn her nose. But often I’ll catch them looking, grin at them, and receive a kind look in return. Sometimes I’ll feel them staring at me, like I did one day at a stop light. I turned to look at the duo on the scooter next to me, and they immediately waved and smiled at me.

Of course, this allows me to do a lot of staring, too. If they’re going to look at me, I’m going to return the favor; it’s only polite. I’ve never been someone who felt comfortable staring or getting caught looking at someone, but screw it. It’s different here.

That helps me a lot when I’m riding the scooter. If I do something stupid, like… oh, almost falling off because another scooter nearly hits me and I’m swerving to avoid them (idiot), who cares? People will look, but I’m over it. I give people the stink eye a lot when I’m riding the scooter, especially cars, because they’ll cut me off or start to swerve into me. I’m like, “HEY, IDIOT.” They’re going to look at me anyway, so why not make it worth their while?

I’ve gotten a lot better at maneuvering the scooter around and no longer stick my legs out when making a turn. I’ve even driven tandem with Gretchen, which was easier than I expected. You just have to get used to how the scooter balances and adjust for the new weight. I knew I’d aced it when Juan (John, Gretchen’s South African boyfriend) rode on the back of my scooter Friday night. Juan is tall and used to be a rugby player, and probably weighs somewhere around 220. He’s in shape and moves like an athlete, except when he’s drunk. And Friday night he was drunk, so Gretchen drove his motorcycle home and he rode with me.

I think carting a full-grown grizzly bear would’ve been easier, especially because I would’ve made sure the grizzly had a helmet on. Juan forgot to put on his helmet, so we drove back to our apartment, his weight and movements making me concentrate harder on keeping the scooter balanced than I did when I drove with Gretchen. I did it, and both he and Gretchen commended me for my supreme awesomeness.

When we were out Friday night, I met a 22-year-old from New York who had moved here just a week before me but hadn’t yet gotten on a scooter. Lame. He said the traffic scared him, and I essentially told him to grow a pair. Driving a scooter really isn’t that scary, especially not once you’re comfortable with the scooter itself. Most cars move a lot like slugs – slowly, deliberately, cautiously. If they pull out in front of you, you shoot them a dirty look and weave around them. Or you don’t even bother with the dirty look, because cars pull out in front of scooters all the time; we can just go into the opposite lane or in between the cars to move ahead.

It’s nothing like traffic in the US. There’s a reason Taiwanese and Chinese drivers suck so bad at driving in the States; it’s because it’s a completely different ballgame here. Gretchen will make fun of me for using my mirrors or checking behind me before switching lanes: “You’re such a foreigner!”

That’s the thing. Other cultures and countries have different rules. What’s acceptable in the States wouldn’t fly half the time here, and vice versa. It doesn’t make it wrong or right, just dissimilar. It was the same way in the Dominican Republic. I’m thoroughly convinced that most Americans need to spend some time in a completely different culture, in someone else’s shoes. Every country has its racism and bigotry and naivete. But I’m an American, and so my concern is with my fellow US citizens.

I’m going to put away the soapbox before I climb on top of it, but I’ll just say that my experience in the DR, followed by what I’m learning about myself, people and life here, has been an incredible education. I’m proud to be American, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t also want to be a citizen of the world.

From the soapbox to the shower – I can smell myself after my 18 Peaks outing, so it’s time to clean off. Love to all!