Monday, July 08, 2013

Re-Entry Adjustment #2: Guns in the Strangest Places

Note to self: We're not in Kansas anymore.

Actually, I've never been to Kansas, but I'm sure it is lovely. And they probably have a few guns lying around. Where I have been is Taiwan, and although they seem to love guns--toy ones mostly--very few people actually have them. Not even all of the police have them, from what I can tell. Sure you'll see military guys once in a while with machine guns, but they are mostly guarding stuff.

The other day when I went to the hospital there was a little boy standing in the doorway with a toy assault rifle that made all kinds of shooting and exploding sounds while lighting up and shooting sparks. He was pointing it and firing at everyone who walked by or entered the hospital. No one gave him a second look. I've also had a third-grader run into the room where I was working and point a toy pistol (very real looking) directly between my eyes and pull the trigger. When I brought these incidents up to local folks, they couldn't understand why they bothered me.

One thing to remember about Taiwan is that they are not technically at peace with mainland China, so a lot of the youth have to mandatory military duty. Maybe this accounts for why parents don't seem to have a problem with letting their kids play with toy guns. It might also be because there doesn't seem to be much gun violence. In the ten years I've been here I've seen numerous horrific mass gun murders in the US, Canada, and Europe. I've also seen stories about the drug war in Mexico. I don't recall any stories about shootings in Taiwan, other than when someone shot the president, and that was with some kind of home-made gun. I'm sure it happens, but it is rare and the mass murders that seem to be getting more common in the West just don't seem to occur here.

My views on guns are that I like them. They are fun to shoot and they make you feel pretty powerful when you have them (especially when others don't have them). On the other hand, I don't feel that comfortable when others have guns around me. Guns can stop being fun very quickly depending on where you are in relation to who has them. One night I was waiting at a bus stop in downtown Seattle at around midnight when some crazy street kid came out of nowhere and pointed a rifle in my face. The randomness and suddenness of how one's life can be snuffed really hit home that moment as I thought about how I was about to become just another statistic. That incident ended well, all things considered, as I wasn't murdered in cold blood by a gun wielding maniac. But it could just as easily have ended with me dead or permanently maimed.

I guess my point is that a lot of things are fun, but that doesn't mean people should have them and as a society we tend to be okay with regulating them. So I have no problem with the idea of legislation that makes it difficult to own and carry firearms as they are no different from other dangerous objects that are regulated. If there is a difference, it is that they more obviously should be controlled because they are intentionally designed to kill.  So them there are my views on guns.

What has this to do with my re-entry adjustments? Well, right now we are spending the night in what I find to be a pretty sketchy part of LA called Lynwood. It is not too bad, and maybe I've watched too many movies about the "hood," but this place definitely fulfills the stereotype of Los Angeles urban decay. About two blocks from where we are staying there's a restaurant called "King Taco." It is a chain that serves pretty good Mexican food. They are very professional and have a very efficient system going. They also had two armed security guards patrolling the restaurant. One walking around inside, mingling with the clientele and occasionally helping customers find the quickest line or the right place to pick up their orders, and another one patrolling outside. To see a uniformed guy with a huge pistol riding on his hip in a taco stand really surprised me. Seeing the second one right outside the window where we were sitting really made me think. I couldn't figure out if having armed guards at King Taco made me feel safer or more insecure. Their mere presence implies that they need to be there to protect from some threat. It also implies that if the threat manifests itself, there's going to be a shoot out. And what are they there to protect, anyway? Most likely it isn't the customers, but rather the profits of the business.

I'm not trying to imply some kind of judgement about this situation. After all, I'm truly a foreigner here (in the U.S. in general, but most specifically in Los Angeles) and for me to presume to judge what the people here do would be, well, presumptuous. All I'm saying is that it struck me as extremely different from what I'm used to in Taiwan (or in Seattle, my hometown, for that matter), and it is going to take some time to adjust to it. Of course I'm leaving LA in about a week, so I don't have to get too used to it. I'd kind of rather not get used to a world in which it is necessary to have armed guards at taco stands.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Re-Entry Adjustment #1: People Understand What I Say

Note to self: You are now in an English-speaking environment. People, including taxi drivers, understand what you say. Watch your big mouth!

I have just returned to the United States after having lived in Hsinchu, Taiwan for more than ten years. Reverse culture shock was something I expected. I felt it before after spending a year abroad in Spain during my undergrad studies. Now, however, I really feel like I don't know how to live in the U.S. anymore. In Taiwan I always felt like I was in some kind of protective bubble--I was never part of mainstream society, nor ever could be, so I got used to behaving according to a more or less self-defined set of mores.

This is actually causing me some trouble already, as I am used to assuming that blurting out whatever comes into my mind is fine because no one understands me anyway. When riding in taxis in Taiwan my friends and I never even considered that the driver might be able to understand what we were talking about (sometimes we were embarrassed to find out we assumed incorrectly, but not very often). Yesterday when my fiancee and I caught a cab at LAX, I was about to start complaining about all the annoying people at the airport when suddenly the driver started asking friendly questions about our trip and where we were going. After briefly answering him, I didn't say another word for the entire ride. I just kind of froze up. Now I seem to be freezing up whenever I need to say anything in public. What if someone overhears me? What if I say the wrong thing?

Having to learn to watch my mouth is going to be difficult. After all, my big mouth has always gotten me into trouble, even before I ever left the U.S. So learning to control it is a good thing, right?