Saturday, November 11, 2006

Changing Lanes

Many people have heard of Culture Shock. Anyone visiting a foreign country faces a shock to the core in that basic “cultural truths” are out of kilter for them. The daily assumptions of existence are violated in a place where everyone else has different assumptions of existence. There are stages of culture shock that are similar to the stages of grief. Culture shock has a duration that is different for most people by usually lasts no more than a year, though various events can cause culture shock as they become newly discovered over time.
        There is another issue that is less well known; culture stress. This problem occurs when, rather than discovering cultural differences, you are facing differences that are well known but still just too hard to deal with. You find yourself about to face a place in cultural dealings where you know the host country sees these things differently, you understand why thy do, you have learned how to deal with it... but it still causes you a kind of stress like fingernails on a blackboard. Culture shock goes away and turns into acceptance. Yet there are small parts of the cultural differences that you can never seem to accept as correct or right and these events stress you.
        Let me offer and example.
        Most of Taiwan has a culture view of lines, ques, and lanes that is much different than westerners. In a restaurant cafeteria, an American waits in line and takes their turn, never cutting in front of others. In Taiwan the american waiting in line is elbowed out of the way by everyone. The concept of personal space and order in line does not exist in Taiwan and the westerner is often stress by this due to their upbringing that you do not shove into a line to serve yourself until it is your turn. For me, this is a culture shock that I have overcome. I can elbow to a degree, but I am not offended that I have to wait for someone who has elbowed their way in.
        However, I have a culture stress. It has to do with traffic. It is a similar cultural thinking as the restaurant issue. Rather than lines, it is lanes. The lines on the road are somewhat optional most of the time. This too is not a big issue for me now... until it gets to intersections.
        Most of Taiwan has no protected left turns and nearly no left turn lights. Left turns in large cities is a danger. On a recent visit to Taichung I noticed that some new left turn lanes and lights had been added! Yowzers! That is so cool. NOT.
        First of all, understand that when there are three lanes in your direction at an intersection, it will quickly turn to five lanes. The break down lane or parking lane will become a lane. The natural space between cars in lanes is cramped together to allow for a fifth lane. Then, when the light turns green, the five lanes race like dragsters to all fit into the oncoming three lanes.
        The left turn lane adds a new dimension and danger to this equation. The new left turn only lanes were great in my mind... until I was in the middle lane at a read light and there were cars in the left turn only lane waiting as well. As soon as the green light came on, the left turn lane suddenly became the 6th lane to go straight! Now all six lanes are squeezing into thee lanes. Understand that these three lanes are really only two lanes, as the far right lane is really for parking. So, now there are cars parked, people from perpendicular lanes are making through right-on-red turns into our traffic without stopping and all six lanes are now coming into two and a half lanes. Ahhhh! All of them RACING to be the first there.
        What happens in the left turn lane when the light turn Green Arrow Left Only and the car in the front wants to go straight? Well, he goes straight! he has a green light in that lane after all... so as he is dodging the on coming left turn traffic and causing them to stop and go in that dance of the uncertain, those behind our offended must wait. But oh no! The left turn light goes out and is now red and the offender is long gone. No problem. Those in the left turn lane that were robbed of their green light take it in credit against the now red light. A dozen cars slip through causing the on coming straight traffic to join the dance of the uncertain (stop go stop go stop go).
        Oh, the horror... the horror.

-The Haggard

Monday, November 06, 2006

Dancing in the Streets

it wouldn’t happen in the USA this way. Oh, it happens, but not THIS way.

Over the weekend, Sandy and I were invited to a Church that is pastored by one of her english students. The Church is about 30 minutes away from our home and on the sea shore. It is a famous town, we are told, because at one time it was the poorest town in Taiwan and the most densely populated. Now it is a thriving little fishing village.

The Church has a sunday evening english conversation class that is taught by the pastor. That evening, a dozen of the church members sat around the table and practiced their english on Sandy and I by telling us their names, ages, family constructs, and hobbies. They also asked us questions. It was really a joy. They were surprisingly friendly and open.

Afterwards, we were told that the youth were having an evangelistic even on a bridge near by. So, we all hopped in the car and drove over to support them. I expected a little two lane bridge in the middle of town. But once we got there I was greatly surprised!

About 20 youth and young adults were holding a concert with bass, drums, keyboards and more accompanying about 8 singers and they were doing a GREAT job singing the name of Jesus and telling of his glory. They were clearly happy and wanting to share their joy. One every corner of the intersection before the bridge, there were people handing out information about the church and tracts about Jesus to the waiting cars.

Now, you might say that you have seen this in the States and elsewhere. But you’d be mistaken...

They were IN the street.

The bridge turned out to be a large 4 lane main artery highway over the harbor. We were at an intersection of 5 roads totaling 18 lanes! The band was standing IN the corner lanes of the road blocking two whole lanes in two directions, giving them the most incredible coverage of the cars and business. I was a little stunned. Wont they get in trouble for blocking lanes on a busy road? the pastor informed be that the local leader (the Shay Zhan, kind of like an american City Councilman) had given them permission to do this every two weeks.

So for two hours every other Sunday night, travelers and shoppers are treated to some rather good musical performances and to some friendly and not overbearing witnesses who are genuinely EXCITED about Jesus. This is a rarity in Taiwan. The worship of idols through local Buddhism and Taoism (and others) is very personal and individual. You never see the local religions having excited and loving praise heaped upon their gods. They are not concerned with advertising the idol’s glory and attributes. Mainly that is because NONE of the idols “love” anyone on earth. They do not forgive, they do not love, they are not concerned. Worship for these idols is reduced to a basic Santa Claus list of “I wants” and “Please help me withs” and “don’t hurt me please” bowings and kowtowing.

These Christians are clearly different and it draws a crowd. Not an angry crowd of motorists! The crowd is of people pulling over to listen, people standing around to hear, and motorcycles that miss their green lite a few times to try and understand.

Oh, Lord, that more Taiwan Churches would show the JOY of the Savior. Perhaps then people could SEE the difference in the Living God.

-The Haggard

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Music to my ears

A while ago, Sandy and I were invited to go out to coffee with some of her Senior college students. They are a great group of English Majors who like to hang out with each other outside of class. They often call us up and ask of we will join them. This coffee shop was about 30 minutes away and on top of the mountain near the town of Sandimen.

Some of the reason I love this culture was seen this night with these students. Taiwan is a friendly culture where strangers will invite you to their homes, out for dinner, and over to their table. There is just a part of the culture that simply enjoys each other. This is odd for me, since I am really an introvert who tries hard to LOOK like an extrovert (the Myers-Briggs test says something about this condition but I forget what... perhaps it just confirms my schizophrenic status). They enjoy the conversation and company of other people’s viewpoint and existence.

What happened after the coffee was nearly gone and the tea was getting cold was amazing to Westerners such as Sandy and I. The natural leader of the group stood up and said that we were going to play some games now. Okay, I thought, some kind of variation of “truth or dare” or “spin the bottle” because that was the only college level game I could think of. Soon they were carrying the chairs out to the parking lot, 9:00pm on a school night, and they were telling us, “we will play some music and walk around the chairs, but there is not enough chairs, then we will stop the music suddenly and people will sit down. Whoever does not have a chair will be sitting out next turn. Then we will take away one chair. Do you understand?” YES! We know this game... we played it as little kids.

I was stunned. They were stunned. They were stunned that Americans would know this game. I was stunned that people THIS age, Seniors in college, were not only playing this game, but that they thought of playing it on their own. We had a blast! It was fun, we laughed, we teased, we will have memories to last a lifetime. I am still stunned.

Can you imagine a group of American College Seniors sitting around at a hang out in the evening and suddenly saying, “Let’s play Musical Chairs!” And I mean that they would say this in all seriousness and not as sarcasm.

As I drive and bike around I see adults playing bat-mitten and table tennis with each other. I see groups of people sitting around parks and drinking tea, or singing songs, or practicing calisthenics together. People walk in groups, they eat in groups, they travel in groups. Just the other day, Sandy and her students began to walk to class and the students where troubled (really troubled) that one of their number was still in the bathroom and might have to walk alone!

Our neighbors who speak no english are always helping us, trying to communicate with us. So different from when an immigrant moves into a neighborhood in suburbia-west.

Has the west lost its love of the neighbor? Have we grown so distrustful of strangers that we cannot “break the ice” with them anymore to convert them from “stranger” to “acquaintance?” Have we become so “mature” that college students must drink alcohol watch porn to have fun in groups, and adults must be dignified and not sing to their friends?

Despite all the Taiwanese lack in knowing Jesus and knowing assurance of salvation (they fear the night so much, they fear bad luck so fully) they are rich in knowing each other and trying hard to de-strange the stranger.