Born Expat

Here’s an interesting first-person piece about being a TCK (third-culture kid), or, as this Taiwan-raised Canadian prefers to say, being “born expat.”

Born Expat
“The value for me, then, of being Born Expat is not to perpetually live abroad, nor to only hang out with other expats. . .but to be able to locate the source of my cultural and emotional identity. It is good to know why I am different, and to be at peace with my differences. I still don’t understand what it means to be Canadian. I don’t think I ever will, but thankfully I am no longer trying so hard to fit in. I can embrace my Taiwanese half.

“I am an expat. This is my culture. This is enough.”

Traffic right-of-way: China vs. Canada

This is our second time coming back to Canada after extended time in China. This time (unlike the first time), slipping back into driving and biking has been easy. I haven’t messed up traffic patterns yet like last time, even though I’ve been biking to work and driving other places for a month now. But one aspect of Canadian — or at least suburban greater Vancouver — that has really stood out to me this time is right-of-way, particularly crosswalks.

Right of way in Tianjin, China is simple:

  1. If you are in the way, you have right of way. Lights and crosswalks are basically decorations.*
  2. Size + speed + honking = in the way, even if you’re technically just on the way.

But in Canada, if you’re in the crosswalk, you’re golden. You’re king of the road. Your apparently inviolable right of way extends as far as the crosswalk stripes. You can take your sweet time. I’ve even had drivers wanting to turn right stop and wait because they saw me approaching the crosswalk. I have to wave and smile every time; I can’t get over it. I’ve yet to get honked at, and I don’t know what it would take: maybe sit down in the middle and start texting?

Anyway, that’s probably the first big impression I’ve had this time coming back (aside from the air, trees, mountains, friendliness, cleanliness, orderliness, tastiness, safety-ness, expensiveness, and extreme-to-the-point-of-unconscious-Orwellian-levels-of-hypocrisy political correctness). And the handicapped stuff. There’s way more accommodation here. The buses lower on hydraulics so elderly and physically disabled people can step up, and if that’s not good enough a ramp folds out! Crazy.

*(P.S. – I should note that this seems to be changing. I’ve seen traffic both improve dramatically and devolve noticeably during our years in Tianjin. So when in doubt, follow the locals, if you dare.)

Related reverse-culture stress and comparative traffic stuff:

Post-China reverse culture stress: You’re Not Special Anymore

Shannon went back to America with her Chinese husband after three years in China, and she’s only just now, several months later, able to start articulating parts of her reverse culture shock experience: “I was continually asked to be an “English expert” in various ways, I was always treated like a guest and was usually the first to be approached and befriended in a new situation. My picture was all over the city – on buses, in movie theaters, on LCD screens throughout the city, even as a life-sized cut-out in my school. I was special, unique, different and rare.

“I’m just not a big deal anymore! It’s a complete and total change from the last 3.5 years of my life and, I’m afraid, it’s going to be one of the biggest adjustments for me.” Read more here: Hero to Zero

We’ve written about our own adventures in reverse culture stress here.