This post was sponsored by Sagebooks. All opinions are mine and mine alone.
We’ve just finished two full days in Taiwan and no lie. I’m done with speaking, hearing, and reading Chinese all around me already.
I haven’t quite hit my limit yet (gimme a few days), but I already feel overwhelmed because I am constantly feeling stupid. I’ve alluded to this in my previous posts about How to Taiwan with Kids, and even though I now grow to expect it, the blow to my ego and competence is still startling.
Also, I currently have a mosquito bite on my armpit and at the top of my butt crack. Since I have only been wearing dresses – these are very determined mosquitoes. THE DISRESPECT.
Did I mention that my feet and legs are swollen and in constant pain that I’m worried I have blood clots but it’s likely because I’m out of shape and not used to movement? I’m also breaking out in a rash all over my body – likely due to the heat. Especially all these bumps all over my fingers? WHICH ARE ALSO SWOLLEN LIKE SAUSAGES? I never bother bringing my wedding ring when I go to Taiwan because I can’t wear it.
Truthfully, though I love Taiwanese food, seeing my family and friends, and the convenience of living in Taiwan, I’m not a person who enjoys traveling – let alone with four small humans in heat and humidity. I’m a grumpy person in my own environment; I’m even grumpier in a foreign one.
So, WHY then do I do this to myself every summer?
As we have established on many occasions, I make poor life choices.
Anyhow, why do I take my kids back to Taiwan every summer (or as many as possible) when there is an entire world out there to visit? (Many of which also would allow my children to speak and practice Chinese.)
Here then, in no particular order, are some reasons why I take my kids to Taiwan every summer:
1) Chinese immersion.
Yes, yes. I still have family here and that is important and I will list it as a reason but I don’t see them much even when we are here because my aunties live in Kaohsiung and a few of my cousins live in Taipei but are busy and have lives of their own.
But, yes. The immersion.
Even if my children are obstinate creatures and insist on speaking English nonstop DESPITE everyone around us speaking Chinese, they are still hearing Mandarin and Taiwanese around them. The signs are all in Chinese. All the labels are in Chinese. Everything is in Chinese. And if they want something, they have to use Chinese to figure it out and get it.
Ways I have forced my kids to use their Chinese:
a) Give them money to buy what they want from a store.
They have to use their Chinese to speak with vendors, read labels or instructions, and interact with other humans.
b) Watch local TV.
Okay, granted there is also a lot of content in English, Korean, and Japanese, but the vast majority is still in Mandarin or Taiwanese and it gives them opportunity to read the Chinese subs if they watch non-English content.
c) Ask them to read signs to me.
This is helpful because I can’t read all the words (or make educated guesses without feeling like an idiot) and Cookie Monster (9.5) especially remembers or guesses well. He reads A LOT of Chinese books (despite skipping over words he doesn’t know) and people are generally more forgiving of illiteracy in children than adults (me).
d) Sign them up for extracurricular classes and/or camps.
Whether it is a class at the local mall or in a more official capacity of Taiwanese camps, they have fluent adults speaking Chinese to my children, teaching them how to do stuff in Chinese, and honestly, I don’t care what they’re doing as long as it’s safe and in Chinese.
E) Send them out with their Father so they’re forced to speak and interact in Chinese.
Hapa Papa can’t speak or read Chinese so if they go out with him, my children have to do all the interacting with the world. Yes, they can probably get away with not dealing with people, but if they want something, my husband will make them deal with it because my husband DEFINITELY can’t.
F) Speaking to family in Chinese.
Not gonna lie. My aunties will probably try and speak in really broken English to my children but after awhile, they’ll forget and give up and just speak in half Chinese half Taiwanese and I’ll be like, UM I CAN’T UNDERSTAND YOU BUT OKAYYYYY and my kids will have to deal with it.
2) See Family
We still are lucky enough to have family living in the area and I try to make sure my kids see them and at least have memories of family if not full on close relationships. I only met my maternal grandparents a handful of times, and even then, I could barely communicate with them because they didn’t speak Mandarin and I didn’t speak Taiwanese.
I understand that even if I did speak Taiwanese, likely we wouldn’t have spoken more because that’s the way the generations work. But still, the option would be nice.
I don’t want my children to forget that they have ties to people all over the world – and that they are part of so many people they never knew loved them.
3) Experience a different culture
Despite us being Taiwanese/Chinese American, we are decidedly not Taiwanese. It’s fun (and confusing) to be surrounded by a culture that is both similar and different than ours at home in America. The kids are confronted with people who look like them – so there’s a lot of homogeneity. But there is a diversity of a different kind here: we see people of many ages and abilities everywhere in the city. Definitely more so than the pockets of sameness in the suburbs.
On top of that, they get to experience a very fast-paced city life. They get to use all kinds of public transportation, learn different types of expected behaviors, as well as eat (or pick at) so many different kinds of food.
One unexpected thing: my older two kids have started to remember their favorite things from Taiwan and they look forward to it every year. It’s really heartwarming to me and I hope we go enough that Taiwan will feel like a second home to them – even when they’re old and haven’t come for a long time.
Being part of a big family with so many kids already makes you a little more flexible than others as a kid because you constantly have to defer or compromise your desires and wants. (Which isn’t always good either.)
Traveling requires a different kind of flexibility. You have to be okay with being clueless and always slightly lost and half a step behind.
There’s a lot of waiting. Sometimes because scheduling conflicts happen. Sometimes because you can’t read vital instructions (or just can’t comprehend them). And sometimes, you never figure out exactly why.
5) Building Family traditions
I understand that not everyone has the ability to go to Taiwan on a yearly basis and for as long as we go. I know it’s a privilege – both in terms of time and resources and cultural fluency. In addition, we give up a lot of other kinds of trips so that we can take this one. I’m sure my husband would rather go to a million more places on vacation but here we are.
However, I hope that when my children are grown (and maybe even not so grown), they look back on our times in Taiwan fondly. That one day, they’ll be grateful for the experiences, their cultural and language fluency, and all the effort and sacrifice we made as their parents so they could live in another country for weeks at a time.
In the span of their extra young years, we have already surpassed the number of times I went to Taiwan as a kid and possibly, as an adult. My husband and I often wonder at the lives our children lead. Who else gets to stay at home all day, watch so many screens, go to Taiwan, and have both parents working from home for most of their lives?
I don’t think I’ve EVER spent that much time with my parents while growing up. And while I learned a lot of independence, I envied my friends with SAHMs and fathers who lived at home vs abroad.
I seemed to have digressed.
Ultimately, I want our yearly trips to Taiwan to be a time of learning and family. An experience these four can share and commiserate and laugh and weep over when my husband and I are long gone and they have grown children and grandchildren of their own.
Yes, it always circles back to mortality. If you’ve been here awhile, are you even surprised? Everything I do with my children involves inevitable death.
Um, I guess we’ll end it at that.