Since moving back to NYC from Taiwan, I’ve been faced with two very popular questions:
- What was your favorite part about living in Taiwan?
- Did you experience culture shock coming back?
Each time a new person asks me, I realize I still don’t have an answer. I’m resistant to sum up nine months that I lived on the other side of the world into a few choice moments. So when it comes to answering the first question, I always say the people I met + incredible friends that I made.
But culture shock? That one’s a bit harder.
When I got off the plane in LAX for my second connecting flight en route to NYC, I couldn’t believe that I could read all of the signs. Everything was in English for the first time in 9 months! (AHH!) There were people of all shapes + colors, + they were speaking English + Spanish, not Chinese. I had just seen a friend from college appearing next to Halle Berry in “The Call” on the plane. Then my customs agent ended up being from Jersey, so I had a welcomer from “the other side of the river” right off the bat.
+ then NYC was exactly the same.
As much as I complain about the city always changing, + not always for the best, the feeling of being here was no different. That was comforting but also jarring. Jarring because during my time away I had learned + grown so much. I realized pretty quickly that there would be no way to expose all of this growth in a way that everyone would get.
Within hours, I was out for a run. I was taken aback by how many women were running outside in shorts, revealing toned, muscular legs for all to see. This is just not something that happens in Taiwan. Strong legs are not considered “cute.” I rarely saw women exercising at all, unless it was doing martial arts or taking a low-impact dance class in Da’an Park.
Instead, Taiwanese women tend to be on perpetual diets + take diet pills. The not-eating, not-exercising lifestyle is not for me, + despite running regularly I gained 17 pounds in Taiwan. The food is just so different + “healthy” options that I turn to in the States to stay balanced (like, say, a salad) are either non-existent in Taiwan or so cost prohibitive that I couldn’t afford them.
In a country where I already stuck out because of my skin color, I was already bigger than most at a meager 5’5″ + completely lost sight of what I looked like. I mean, I had mirrors, but my visual benchmarks for comparison were so different that I couldn’t see how I fit in.
I’m telling you this as a woman who has never suffered from body-image issues or eating disorders. Yet they are almost impossible to avoid in a country where, “You look a bit fatter today (giggle, giggle)!” is commonly heard at the workplace. I mean, at the shoot when I modeled for the plus-sized clothing catalog, my handlers talked about how big they thought my waist was (for fun, not fitting purposes) in front of me.
I am happy to say that I’m almost back at my fighting weight, but I am still shocked at the ways this size thing has affected me. I went to Macy’s to look for a dress to wear to my best friend’s wedding + was shocked by the size of the mannequins. People in commercials or on TV who I would have thought were too skinny before going to Taiwan look normal to big to me now.
This hasn’t really transferred to “real life” yet. Don’t worry, buddies, I’m not stewing + secretly judging anyone. Mostly I’m just relieved to be surrounded by people who look strong, healthy + nourished!
I’ll get into more of my culture struggles as I fill y’all in on my fall season updates.
In the next few weeks I’m going to be making some changes to the blog, not only changing its look, but also reestablishing my focus. Thanks for sticking with it.