Is there some point, one the flight, where you are in a foreign country and you become a foreigner. Is it when you step on the plane and it is full of people from the country where you are headed, and you immediately become self-conscious that you look conspicuously different then the rest of the passengers, the rest of the citizens of the country that you are conspicusously not a citizen of? A feeling of sonspiciousness that tralils you like your shadow for your entire sojourn in the opposite hemisphere of your homeland. Is there a kind of benchmark when you can say you live here and aren’t just a visitor? Ive heard from other foreigners who have lived in Taiwan for 20 even going on 30 years that there isn’t among the Han Chinese. One is always a Wai-Guo-Ren, with all its perks and irritants.
The feeling that I am living in a foreign country is most conspicuous when I emerge from a friends house, a fellow foreign friends house, after spending the afternoon engaged in the discourse of Americans, and I step out onto the street and everyone is looking Chinese speaking Chinese, writing in Chinese, and everything smells Chinese (Incense and deep-fried soysauce).
I want to order noodles. I see everyone eating noodles, so Ill just say noodles, in my tone-deaf mandarin, and point to the unassuming noodles-eating customer’s plate and say “same”, in my stuttering, half-sure, sputtering, bending, waving, sounds that are vaguely reminiscent of something like mandarin. In the end the likewise bewildered waitress serves me dumplings.
In a taxi, around 230 AM, looking out the window, the dim streets appear to be any metropolis anywhere in the wee hours of the morning. I put on my glasses, and half-lit advertisements become visible, displaying people with joyous smiles of clean teeth and matrimony bliss in a lush green meadow framed by the pictograph Chinese script, a weird mix of an ancient cultural lineage dating back to the times of oracles and hieroglyphs, and modern, subrurban wet dreams.
One day, in the evening, after work, I am walking home from work, walking down a lane and I look to my left as I’m passing along, and I see an open door into a parlor. The parlor has no light except a TV, that’s perpendicular to the door and only the glow is visible to the passerby on the street. Watching the TV in the dark is an elderly man. He is standing, and round his waist, he is propelling a hula hopop. There it is: a man the age of my grandfather watching TV in the dark and hula hoping with the door to the street wide open, as if to say, look at me you filthy world, I am a vastly superior being, what with my age, and on tope of that I am hula hoping, not even noticing the vast amounts of energy being expended because I am immersed in Prime time television.