Whenever I visit Taiwan, I always wonder how different of a person I would be if I were born there instead of the U.S. I'm sure every American-born person who has ever visited their motherland has had the same contemplation. Since I was 14 the last time I was in Taiwan, I was especially aware of the dichotomy of the two sides of my identity on my trip there this winter break. I became increasingly cognizant of differences in cultural attitudes that I would have accepted had I been born there.
Somehow, I never noticed it when I was younger, but I realized for the first time was how absolutely terrifying driving in Taiwan is. Perhaps because I now drive myself, I was constantly horrified looking out the window of the car. From the backseat, it seemed that we would scrape the wall or other cars in every narrow parking garage and alley. As my uncles sped down narrow winding mountainous roads weaving in and out of motorcycles and car butts jutting out into the road, my sister and I literally clung onto the roof handles on the side of the car (the same ones my parents would hold onto when I drive which would make me roll my eyes).
I had never feared for my life so much in a car, but eventually, I had to assure myself that they were experts in driving there and I just had to surrender my trust to them. With the upbringing I've had, I never want to drive in Taiwan (and Taiwan would probably never want me to either for safety), but I couldn't help but imagine myself being so "skilled" at driving. Even more so, the idea of being a "good" driver in Taiwan was completely conflicting with what I considered good leading me to question the stereotype that Asians are bad drivers.
Another question I mused over was whether I fit in with the locals in Taiwan. I tried my best to appear to understand every Chinese character on the menu when I ordered boba tea, when in reality, I only ordered items that I could read completely. Although I have a pretty good Chinese pronunciation, I wondered if they could see through the nervousness behind my act. Or perhaps my appearance or mannerisms, such as they way I would start my responses with "Oh." My sister asked my dad whether we looked like our counterparts there, and he replied no. Even though I thought I dressed rather plainly, the hairstyles and fashion sense were just different there and the idea of what looks good or is attractive followed a different norm. I tried to give myself a virtual makeover in my head, but it was hard to picture myself with those stylings.
Lastly, by the end of my trip, I was somewhat glad to leave the confinement of the streets of Taiwan. This was a familiar feeling as I would always long for the wide open spaces of Texas at the end of every summer I spent there. Although I would sometimes feel guilty about this since it felt shameful, I came to accept it as a fixed part of my identity. This time it was only two weeks, but I was ready to return back to flat land, houses no taller than two stories, and six-lane highways.
As much as I love visiting Taiwan and reconnecting with my roots, I don't think I could live there. I am definitely not the same person I would be if I had grown up there, and even if I lived there now, I would never be that person. The things I considered to be "better" in the U.S. were not necessarily so by the different cultural standard, and I toyed with the idea of myself having that standard. As I thought about these things, it amazed me how a single decision by my parents to stay in the U.S. completely altered the course of my life and consequently, my entire identity.