Time continues to fly by. My 3 weeks of vacation came swiftly to an end. For the first time in a month, I am sitting in complete solitude, reflecting upon the events of the past few weeks. I am back in Cameroon, a place that felt like a distant dream while I was on vacation. Now, it’s my vacation that feels like a surreal happening. Below are some of my thoughts and observations from these past two weeks, traversing half way across the world.
- When I landed in Hong Kong to take the connecting flight to Taipei, I was overwhelmed with all the Taiwanese people. It’s been years since I’ve been around this many Taiwanese, and there are certain nuances of this culture that I had to readjust. They were loud; within 5 minutes of sitting next to a tour group, I knew exactly who bought what for whom. However, there is a very comforting familiarity listening to Taiwanese being spoken among the women and the Chinese with a Taiwanese accent. Also, Chinese/Taiwanese people are so scared of the Swine Flu. I heard it on the news a lot, but I saw no signs of face mask until in Hong Kong. It was almost funny how many people were wearing it, and not just the passengers, but also flight attendants. When I landed in Taipei, even the people working customs were wearing it. I suppose they are scared by the scar left by SARS a few years ago.
- Since we have families all over the island of Taiwan, each year during our childhood, we had to do a tour of Taiwan over Chinese New Year. And now, each time we come back for a visit, the same process takes place. For two weeks, we visited 5 cities and made our best attempt to see all the families and family friends. The Chinese culture is all about taking your guests our to dinner when they are in town for a visit. So, for two weeks, our itinerary was, “who are we having lunch or dinner with today?” The feasting was non-stop. While the meals in restaurants are fantastic, my sister and I prefer the street food. So in between meals at the restaurant, we would find opportunities to run to the market and have snacks. The food is so cheap and so good; especially when thinking in US dollars. 10lbs. and two weeks later, I have to say the food scene in Taiwan is unlike anywhere else I’ve visited in the world thus far.
- I found more difficulty to say goodbye to the families during this visit. My cousins’ kids are so cute and I’m quite sad I can’t see them more often. The next time I see them, they will be quite big, and it won’t be the same. On the other spectrum, I wish I can visit my 91-year old grandmother more frequently. She is an amazing woman. At 91, still in great health. Her eyes are sharper than my parents. I showed her a group picture of me and fellow Peace Corps volunteers and she found me without using glasses. While my parents are discussing with my aunts and uncles about the meds they take for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, etc., the only meds my grandmother takes is some vitamins. Besides not able to hear very well and bad teeth that prevent her from eating everything, my grandmother still knows exactly what’s going on with everyone and everything. Here’s the kicker: she still runs her little grocery store. The store isn’t profitable by any means, and her kids advise her to give it up. She said, “so I can sit in my chair, fall asleep all day and become dumb? no.” Also, this 91-year-old lady is still trilingual. Grandma is Hakka and that’s her mother tongue. But since she had Japanese education during the occupation, she speaks Japanese quite well. Later, because of business, she learned Taiwanese. Since my mother and us don’t speak Hakka, we communicate with her in Taiwanese. At first we thought she had lost her Taiwanese, but within a day, she had it back. Also, my sister wrote some Japanese phrases she had learned in school to Grandma, and Grandma wrote in return “thank you” in Japanese. I hope I had inherited this superwoman gene and can live well into my 90’s and capable of so much.
- During this visit, I really noticed the power of family. I was amazed how easily the conversations flow with families that I haven’t seen in 4 years and have had minimal contact. Families are like great friends. We can pick up things exactly where they had left off because of the blood connection, and the history of the past. I read somewhere once that traveling/moving abroad is a very selfish endeavor. You have this idea that people are staying the same living their “mundane” life while you are out there discovering the world. Yet the truth is, while we are out there, people are changing, kids are growing up. We miss out on a part of something. That’s the tradeoff we must take as travelers. But in the end, it’s still comforting to know that families are families; they are there in one form or another, no matter where you’ve been.
- While it was good to visit the land where I grew up, I realize I’m quite far removed from this culture. For two weeks, people insulted me for being too dark or too big (both fat and too athletic). My sister said, “this is how they are all so skinny, because if you aren’t, they tell it to your face without hesitating.” Aside from standard of beauty, my values are now very different. My ideologies and values on life are shaped by my experiences, and suddenly, I felt that moving around the world has now made me not fit in – anywhere-. I suppose I just need to find another lost soul to wander the world together.
- This trip also makes me realize that I enjoy luxury much more than ever. I see my two years in Africa purely as an experience, not a lifestyle that I can endure forever. I am willing to take luxury and the stupid problems that people have in modern life and trade the simple life with not much of anything, but also not much of any stupid problems. What can I say. I am simply not saintly enough to give up the material goods of everyday life to help people. I want my cake and eat it, too. I want to be able to have the luxury, and also have the means to help people. Is that bad? Thanks to a discount from a friend, I was able to stay at a really fancy hotel at the airport in Paris. I splurged a bit under the name of my “last night in civilization.” And my god, I felt so at home. I like to think I am a girl who can rough it without running water, and having to crap in a hole, but also one that feels right at home with a down comforter bedding and a marble bathroom that has both a shower AND a bath tub.
- When I got into Paris after Taiwan, the passport line was ridiculous at the Paris CDG airport. At one point, the airport authority came out and mobs of angry, impatient French were yelling at the authorities, causing quite a scene. I secretly laughed and thought that only if these people ever had to live in Cameroon, where waiting for something is half of anyone’s life. Cameroon had certainly trained me well for such situations. The next day, when I was walking to the gate for my plane back to Cameroon, I heard some guy yelling loudly, and everyone was looking toward the direction of my gate. I approached and saw a Cameroonian guy yelling on top of his lung at someone about something, he didn’t have a shirt on, and was being escorted out by airport police. I thought, “welcome back to Cameroon, and I haven’t even boarded the plane.”
So now that I am back, and recharged (I think). Bring on the adventures, Cameroon. I can take you for another year. Aucun problème.