The line between living local while being a foreigner living in Asia…
Okay, so I’ve been looking for a certain kind of peanut butter here in Taiwan. You know, the “all natural” kind that makes you feel better about the whole idea of actually eating peanut butter. I bought some a while ago and it was incredible but now I am out and it’s nowhere to be found. So, what do you do when you are out of “the good peanut butter” in Taiwan? You go to a small town about 25 minutes away by MRT (kind of like an underground, or a subway) to buy this delicious, creamy, nutty phenomenon. Last weekend I got on the MRT and went with a friend to this huge Japanese department store that has ALL kinds of things that I could never afford (like Coco Mademoiselle Perfume and Lacoste Winter Boots) but conveniently on the 1st floor, you will find a little “international store”. Like most international stores anywhere in the world, prices are high and often doubled or tripled. So, if you’re like me you do a couple of strolls around the grocery store in order to “access the situation”. The first stroll around is the “I wish I could by this” along with occasional “ooooohh they have that here!?” and then you go back for a 2nd stroll around and that’s the “okay I actually need this”, stroll.
For me living as a young single woman in Asia, my grocery list is not too long. It looks kind of like this..
– Peanut Butter
On round two around the store (the “okay I actually need this” round), I spotted the peanut butter. There were many, many different kinds PB waiting to be contemplated over and/or chosen. Peanut Butter made its appearance all the way from Europe, America, and even had the island’s very own local representation.
The dilemma: What’s it gonna be? The cheaper option would be to buy the peanut butter made in Taiwan, but…I went with the American peanut butter. One jar of JIF PB costs roughly 140NT (almost 5 US dollars) Out of all of the options set before me, in the end, JIF won. (I mean, who DOESN’T want to buy peanut butter that claims to be the #1 Choice of Choosy Moms…because Moms know everything!!) I not only left with my peanut butter and a few other things that I am now regretting, but I left thinking
“Why do I even buy the imported stuff?”
More recently I have been thinking about the difference between living in another country and really living like the locals of the country versus living in another country and still being a foreigner. I will always be an American. I was born in America and was raised by American parents. A few weeks ago I was talking with a very trusted and wonderful friend, mentor and experienced missionary on the field (like over 15 years) and she was saying “Ya know what, you will always be an American and that is something that you cannot change “. (I mean, unless I gave up my citizenship or something like that) My friend then went on to explain that it’s really okay if I don’t eat Chinese food everyday or drink green tea at every meal. I think my struggle comes down to this: I don’t want to be someone who lives in Taiwan, but creates a little “mini America” to stay comfortable, satisfied and familiar.
Know what I mean?
In my heart I SO want to connect with the Taiwanese people here and I truly believe that God has placed some incredible Taiwanese friends in my life! I love the Taiwanese culture, I love the family oriented-ness, the warm culture hearts, the food, the language and the convenience (this is not an exhaustive list, there are many things to love about Taiwan!) However in the end, I think I am still going to buy “the imported stuff” not because I don’t love the culture, but because I like JIF Peanut Butter. The questions I have asked myself recently are: “Is it okay to live with a little but of familiatity…and how much is too much?”
What have I come to in all of that questioning? Familiarity is definitely okay. What is not okay, is if I only choose to live in the familiar. If this is my choice, I would TOTALLY and COMPLETELY miss out on the beauty of this nation that God created and I would TOTALLY and COMPLETELY miss out on getting to know people who God created in HIS image. The choice to stay in the familiar and not embrace the unknown would result in a huge loss. Why? Because I feel like it is in the unknown and in the unfamiliar that we find adventure, risk, trust, stinky tofu, and sugary peanut butter that may be a mistake but how would I ever know unless I gave it a shot? The loss being, the opportunity to trust God in both the small seemingly insignificant things, and in the greater things that will come.
So here’s to a little bit of familiarity today. Maybe someday I should switch to the Taiwan brand of peanut butter…But for now, I’m stickin’ with JIF….but if JIF ever becomes my familiarity idol, I’m switchin’ it up.
Anyone out there live overseas and have this same struggle? If so, what’s your “imported stuff”?