How ya mama n ’em?

Yesterday, was the first day of our classes in this trip to Taiwan. We started the day off meeting up in the lobby to discuss the day’s plans. I and my roommate had secretly been plotting trying to partner up with the two Asia University students that spoke the best English, only to have that plan foiled by the news that we’d be drawing our potential partner’s name out of a hat. (Consequently, she actually ended up with both of them as a partner by some magical fluke, and my partner–although very nice–has yet to string together a complete thought in English, which should prove interesting in doing a research project). We spent the morning at the National Health Insurance Bureau where they broke down how Taiwan’s national health care coverage works with the insurance, the co-payments, and what services are included. Their system make the US look crazy. One of the main presenters even asked us repeatedly in one of the most baffled tones to explain why it was so difficult to get Obama’s health care plan passed, and why it was being disputed in the supreme court. She explained how they worked out the constitutional issues before passing legislation in 1995 for universal coverage, and that it was determined in the question of ‘freedom of choice’ that the quality and the health of the population outweighed the rights of the individual. In the afternoon we had to take a taxi to the department of health. Of course we were given the wrong address and had to walk a bit to get to the right place, but the lecture was also really great and informative. The comprehensive nature of Taiwan’s health coverage kills me. They include so many things that I don’t think we will ever include in our system or at least without decades more in-fighting about morals and freedom and choice. Mental health is included in the coverage, family planning, prenatal and antenatal care, abortions aren’t covered but their not that expensive and the question of their legality isn’t a question because they don’t have that moral debate (moreover they don’t have a very high rate of teen pregnancy because the education here is so effective–and not abstinence only), in-vitro fertilization–covered, elderly/aging care–covered. They even have a remote areas medical teleconference service so that people who live in the mountains or off-shore islands can skype with a doctor about their issues at a center in a nearby city that operates 24 hours a day. If their condition is severe enough, they send a helicopter so that the person can receive care at a facility in the city. They gave us information, thick booklets, that I actually will probably read since their health coverage is what most of us could only dream about. Mind you, their system has glitches, and it’s still a fairly new system, so who knows if it will seem this dreamy 10 or 20 years from now, but for now, it’s AWESOME! We spent the whole day conversing with the students from China Medical University and Asia University. Some conversations were more fluent/fluid than others, and the remaining filled with guessing games, riddles, and hand signals. They were trying to teach us some phrases in Chinese, and we tried to help them with their English. Meanwhile, my roommate taught one of them how to greet people in New Orleans. I don’t think he quite understood what agglomeration of words he was saying, but he said it pretty well–“howyamamaenem?” We spent the evening in the night market. We stopped at Longshan temple and watched people make elaborate plates of food offerings and light long incense sticks and pray to the different statues. They all had different purposes and you went to the one who represented what you needed help with. It was a very elaborate and beautiful temple, of course, with a water fall outside and gigantic fish at the base. I did take a few pictures of the outside, but something always just kind of feels wrong about taking pictures of people while they’re praying so stopped. At the night market we saw all sorts of things and ate what we could. Just a quick run down–fried yam balls, chicken butt on a stick, this drink that came in a bag with a straw that had jelly pieces and was yellow, stinky tofu (absolutely disgusting!), a soup with rice noodles, and then some bubble milk tea. On the way back from the nightmarket, we saw our first very drunk man in public. He was all loud in the subway station, and funny enough, the police didn’t get all hostile with him, they simple said, “shhhhhh!” To which the man saluted, and stepped out of his shoe. On the train, however, his original loud volume resumed and he yelled the few English phrases he knew at us while giving us a thumbs up–“OK!” “I love you!” It was hilarious to say the least. Overall this trip has been and continues to be really great. I mean there are definitely some aspects that need to be changed, that could be changed, and some personalities that don’t quite work for me. I think that sometimes we really need to evaluate why we choose to travel and how we’ll conduct ourselves while abroad. Is it to get away? to learn? to be able to say we did? I for one adopt a policy of trying to see a country from the perspective of those who live there. What do they do? How do they get around? What types of foods do they eat? What do they think is worth seeing? And then I do/see/eat those things and function like they do. Of course, I do sometimes add in some of the more worthy tourist areas even if locals say it’s just a trap. But I guess my greater point is that I can’t understand why someone would travel thousands of miles, spend a lot of money, sit on a plane for obscene number of hours and have crazy jet lag if all they wanted to do was live/eat/function exactly as they would in the United States. I know that there are plenty of people who are luxury travelers: who stay in all the best cushy hotels, with the best service, and  create the most American-like experience they can pay for all while having the luxury of observing the natives in their natural habitat–effectively “otherizing” people while in their own country and placing themselves (consciously or not) above the people they’re visiting. But to that I say, get over yourself and get out of yourself, you’re missing out on a lot of great things-just because it’s different doesn’t make it less than, or suspect (and if we’re being real, more of what we eat in the US is sketchy since a greater percentage of our food isn’t even food but additives). I think anyone who travels really needs to get out of their comfort zone…like really out of it…and try and get as full an experience as possible of how other people live in the world.