That WiFi Life (Tainan Week 1, Part 1)

Blues skies in Tainan, Taiwan.

While I have never been the type to have strong political leanings nor one to follow religiously most popular American TV shows and throw in exact quotes in everyday conversations, when it comes to everyday situations involving the treatment of others (namely—and selfishly—me), boy, someone hold me back, because I cannot, as admittedly a personal weakness, deal with one glaringly frustrating issue among otherwise normally functioning humans in society:

Lack of awareness.

Caution necessitates that I insert a disclaimer here and say that I undoubtedly do not claim to have a God-like awareness of every, let alone most, situations in life. Simply put, every now and then, I need to vent my frustrations over things that, because they honestly cannot be changed, reveals my own inability to bear the inevitable, but frustrations that also should serve as potential reminders or lessons to anyone who bothers reading this that I truly believe that life should focus more on expanding one’s thinking and consideration for others. What I mean exactly, you will see.

First, WELCOME BACK to my blog to those who used to follow me and have since likely forgotten about me until you received an email about this new blog post after four months of silence. Or welcome to new readers—I’m glad you can join me on this rant.

I am currently studying Chinese in Tainan, Taiwan, and will stay until the end of August, when I have to move back to D.C. for grad school. As I write this, it has only been three days of classes, and about a week of being in Tainan, and I already have so, so much to both say and comment on regarding experiences with locals and the program in which I am participating for a total of eight weeks.

To start, while I have had nearly two years total of experience living in Mainland China, I still faced difficulties adjusting to life in a Chinese-style university dorm in the midst of Taiwan’s tropical summertime weather (i.e., extreme heat). If I were to blog daily instead of weekly, then I would be able to go into much more detail, but since cultural (mental) adjustment tends to involve negativity, I suppose it’s best to limit such details. For now, let’s just say I couldn’t help but overreact to my dorm room’s lack of cleanliness upon first moving in last week, prompting an immediate trip to a nearby convenience store to get basic cleaning supplies to make the room somewhat more bearable. While dirt will forever remain in places I don’t dare to think about, there isn’t much else I can do.

My first few days frankly were rough, mostly because I couldn’t help but compare this experience to the one in Shanghai, where by contrast, we were very well taken care of, thanks to a well-organized program and an obviously experienced team of staff members and professors.

This time around, there were simply too many “small” details that inevitably determine, in my eyes, a program’s reputation, readiness, and foresight into what it truly takes to bring 29 students (some literally just graduated high school) around the world to live for two months. Again, because some of these details may seem minor, I’ll highlight just a few to be spread out in their respective posts to keep things relatively short, starting with:

Internet Access & SIM Cards

OK, so some of you older followers of my blog likely will not be surprised to see this as my first example, and precisely because Internet access to me is, when possible (not possible, for instance, in remote villages), as important as eating. No exaggeration. So given that the Taiwanese government does not implement the Great Firewall, nor does it have a reputation of slow Internet (in fact, Taiwan makes it entirely too easy for visitors to have cheap, unlimited 4G), I naturally assumed the program would at least let fellow students know about the option I ended up choosing: buy two 30-day SIM cards with unlimited 4G, where the only things that could be considered inconvenient are the relatively higher price of $30 USD per month—which is already a fantastic deal—and the need to change phone numbers halfway through the program. Nonetheless, having unlimited 4G meant I could connect to my phone’s hotspot on my laptop, thus overcoming most connectivity issues. Plus, these cards are provided at the airport arrivals hall. How much more convenient can that be?

Some more background: Our dorms do not have WiFi (THE. HORROR). While each room does have an Ethernet cable (to date, have no idea where it is in my room), most people nowadays use laptops (namely, the Macbook Air) that do not have the Ethernet port, and since WiFi is quite prevalent in the U.S., rarely do people also already have Ethernet adaptors.

What ended up happening was, during the three days of mostly useless orientation sessions, students were offered a single option: Buy a SIM card for $10 with about 1.2 GB of data from telecom representatives, who first provided complicated contract forms completely in Chinese to American students still struggling with how to use 把 correctly (albeit just a few lines needed to be filled out); then let them figure out how to charge it themselves when they inevitably run out of data in a foreign country.

Oh, and then when they get to their dorms or go into any building with WiFi access, try to figure out those messes out.

So for the first few days, while everyone else struggled to access the Internet, and from now until the end of the program while others struggle to keep their data usage in check, I’m over here freely using as much as I need and want. When it comes to those who know they need adequate Internet access to function (versus those who don’t care nearly as much about the wonders of the World Wide Web), how is this not the better deal? At the very least, how was this not offered as an option?

What was even more frustrating was when I spoke up about this to our resident director, he dismissed it as being too expensive. Sure, it may be for some people, but for me and anyone else who might want, I don’t know, a second option, this is a fantastic deal.

2) When Orientation Goes Wrong

*cue dramatic music*

Part two coming soon, when I can take another break from burying myself in Chinese. It feels good to be back.

(In case you’re wondering, positivity and pictures will both be coming after these rants, which need to be aired out before anything else, hehe).