Monday, September 11, 2006
Slippers (or) Here is Great!!
I went with some friends on a weekend trip to a place called Ilan, which is situated on the eastern coast of the island. This should give you an idea of how small Taiwan actually is: Taipei is more or less on the west coast. It took us less than an hour to get to our destination on the other side of the country. (If you're interested, you can take a look at the map at http://www.tlfq.ulaval.ca/axl/asie/images/taiwan-map-admin.gif. I think it's a pretty decent one.)
At any rate, in order to kill time on what in Taiwanese terms amounts to the longest drive ever, my friend asked me if I had become accustomed to life in Taiwan yet. I answered that yes, for the most part things were ok. It was just the little things, I said, that still made me feel out of place.
"Oh," she said. "Like what?"
"Well, like, for instance, you take off your shoes when you enter the house here. In America we don't do that."
"Oh, I know," said her husband. "You wear slippers inside, right?"
"No," I said. "No slippers."
They paused and looked at each other.
"Then what do you wear?" he asked.
"Our shoe shoes."
"You mean your shoes from outside?" My friend looked troubled.
"Yeah, just our regular shoes. We don't take them off or change them when we go inside."
"Well that's weird."
The truth is, I really can't get used to what I am now referring to as the "slipper culture" here. They have slippers for everything. For example, in my apartment I have:
1. A pair of slippers next to the front door. When I come home, I have to take my favorite pair of Converse off and leave them vulnerable and alone outside the door, take an elephant step in through the door, and put on a pair of slippers. These are my Wandering Around the House Slippers. When I leave again, I must acrobatically and strategically find a way to step out of the house and directly into my shoes, since apparently walking outside in your socks - even if it's just in the hallway in front of the apartment door - is frowned upon.
2. A pair of slippers in front of the bathroom. They're bright pink with pictures of hippopotamuses (hippopotami?) on them. These are my Bathroom Slippers. When I want to use the bathroom I must first a) take off my Wandering Around the House slippers and b) replace them with the Hippopotamus Bathroom Slippers. This is due to another strange cultural phenomenon: the absence of any shower curtain in my bathroom, which leaves the bathroom floor literally in a puddle of water every time I shower. The Hippopotamus Bathroom Slippers both keep my socks dry and keep my feet from making muddy footprints on the floor, in the unhappy event that my Wandering Around the House slippers are not doing an adequate job of keeping my feet clean.
3. A pair of Semi-Outdoor Slippers for the enclosed patio upon which my clothes are hung out to dry. This brings to mind another cultural oddity: people here think clothes dryers are for sissies. It's not that most of them couldn't afford one; they just really prefer to hang the darn things up and let them dry naturally, which in the Taiwanese humidity can take three or four days. It drives me crazy, because not only do my jeans take a week to dry, but when they finally do dry they come out wrinkled and stretched out. And to add insult to injury, I must wear the Semi-Outdoor Laundry Slippers when I am hanging them up.
It sounds silly, but it's really those trivial differences - the no shoes in the house, the no shower curtain, the no clothes dryer - that make me feel homesick. This morning, however, when Ned sent me his daily message on the internet to check in on me, I told him I was missing home and he merely wrote, "No."
"No?" I typed. "No what?"
"Don't go back," he said. "Here is great!!"
I had to laugh in spite of myself. Here is, in fact, great. Even if I do have to wear pink hippopotamus slippers in the bathroom.