In the past month we’ve tried to be a little more adventurous with our social life and language skills. Life has rewarded/punished us accordingly.
For example, last week we decided to make pulled pork. I don’t think we had ever actually made pulled pork before, and I definitely had no experience buying pork shoulder. The supermarket wasn’t open yet, and we knew we had to get this thing in the slow-cooker pronto if we wanted it ready by dinnertime, so off I went to the morning market. We don’t usually buy meat at the market because… well I’m sure it’s clean… but it doesn’t look clean when the vendors are cutting everything on the same surface, handling money, and doing who knows what else, all without a place to wash their hands. So I was a little nervous going in. I also hadn’t bothered to look up the word for pork shoulder (I had already decided not to try to ask for “pork butt” for reasons you can imagine), nor did I even know what pork shoulder looks like (see above note regarding my pork-shoulder-buying experience).
The entire market is open air, but the meat section is on the interior, meaning it’s not super well lit and all the meat juices kind of hang out on the floor in the places where there isn’t great drainage. After writing that, I feel I should point out that it’s not as bad as it sounds; no rotting meat or anything like that. But still. I picked the busiest meat stand because I figured they’d have the freshest cuts. Something, perhaps my look of vague confusion or maybe just my astonishingly white face, must have suggested to the workers that I needed help because one came over to ask what I needed. I’d looked up the word for pork shoulder while standing there trying to decide what to do, so I showed her the character and said it a few times. Blank stare. “Pig, pig,” I said in Chinese, tapping my shoulder. She and the other workers started talking amongst themselves trying to figure out what I meant, as my translation app had apparently failed me.
They started making suggestions to me about what I might have meant, all of which were words I didn’t know. “You want *****? “We have *******. Are you saying ****?” and so on. I just kept saying the Chinese word for pig and tapping my shoulder, and eventually they started making hand motions like a pig walking on the ground. “Yes, yes!” I said. “Pigs walk on the ground, yep! That’s what I need.” The boss asked me to wait a moment while he went to retrieve my pork shoulder, and a few minutes later he came back– with the entire leg of a pig, complete with the foot and toes and everything. Seriously, if he had put that thing down it would have just hopped away all on its own.
I definitely wasn’t taking that home with me, so I looked up the word for a human shoulder and tried that along with the word for pig. The ladies gave me a funny look and asked, “You mean the thing right here in front of you?” I glanced down at the chopping table, and behold, a large pile of pork shoulder! For the record, I didn’t feel like I could assume it was pork shoulder since I’d never actually purchased it before. After figuring out how many jin (Taiwanese weight measurement) of pork I needed, I thanked them and apologized about a million times while they laughed and told me it was no problem at all. Thank you again, kind butcher ladies!
Making mistakes do to cultural ineptitude feels a bit different to me than other mistakes. When you mess up in your own culture, you know it was pretty much just you. But when I mess up here, whether it’s funny or embarrassing or whatever, I realize how small my worldview was before coming here. How tiny our worlds are when we live among our own people and comfort zones and language. I have developed a whole new level of empathy for those who move to the US and don’t speak English or know American customs. Adapting to a new culture is a full-time job!
Hosanna has also been expanding her horizons. Earlier this week, Josh and I were taking a break from studying and playing cards in the kitchen. Hosanna crept away from where we could see her and suddenly I heard her making her “silent noise,” aka the eerie noise small children make when they’re doing something sneaky: absolute silence. “Hosanna! Where are you?” I said as I got up to find out what she was up to. I turned the corner and there she was, about to put what looked like a wad of hair into her mouth for a little snack. (Hosanna is fascinated by tiny objects and their ability to fit into her mouth and subsequently make her gag.) “No, no, that’s not for eating.” I told her, putting out my hand for her to give it to me as I walked towards her. Cute as can be, she shook her head “no” and kept slowly putting that little fist closer and closer towards her mouth. “Come on Hosanna- AAAAAAAHHH!!” The little wad of hair had suddenly started wiggling, and I realized that the long piece sticking out wasn’t hair but a tail!
Hosanna had caught a live gecko and was holding it about an inch from her mouth, ready for her own version of an East Asian delicacy. I don’t remember screaming, actually, but Josh assures me it happened. I grabbed her arm and started waving it up and down as fast as I could to make her drop the gecko. (I am terrified of tiny creatures that move quickly and unpredictably; hence not simply removing it from her hand.) The gecko was actually just a baby, about an inch long, and by the time she let go of him he was little squished and probably had a concussion, but was actually still breathing. Josh reintroduced him to freedom on our porch, while I did some deep breathing in the kitchen and tried not to gag at the thought of a live gecko going down my child’s throat. Hosanna was annoyed by my intervention but otherwise totally fine. Please pray we never have this situation happen with a cockroach; I really might not survive.
So there you have it! Life as a family in Taiwan is so many things… it’s fun, it’s boring, it’s sad, it’s happy, it’s lonely, it’s hilarious, it’s different, it’s boring, it’s an adventure, it’s bringing our family closer together and closer to Jesus, and it’s definitely where we are meant to be. We welcome you to send us an email or blog comment and let us know how you are doing- we think of our family and friends in the US often and are so thankful for you and your encouragement.