Once of the coolest things we ever did was live with a Taiwanese family for two weeks (when we were in Baton Rouge). That is such a good way to get to know people and learn. But this is not about one of the more important things we learned.
They showed us around their house when we first got there, and in the process showed us the bed in the master bedroom: plywood on cinder blocks covered with a sheet. We tried to get them to take some free mattress sets that we had access to (we were doing some hurricane relief work at the time). They were polite but seemed resistant, and we eventually gave up. I remember thinking, “Man, they must be in some tough financial times.”
But now, I don’t think it had anything to do with finances; I think they just like it that way. Why spend hundreds of dollars on mattresses when you could just cover a piece of plywood with a sheet and lay it on cinderblocks?
In Taiwan, hard is good. Hard is healthy. Spend the afternoon reading in the park… on a boulder. Better yet, take a nap on some rocks. We stayed in a furnished, temporary apartment our first two weeks here, and I thought we were sleeping on a boxspring. I was wrong – that was a mattress, and that’s how they like them. When we went to Ikea to get a bed for our apartment we tried lots of mattresses, and they were basically fabric-covered boxes. They had a few token soft ones – I guess for the wài guó rén.
It’s not like everyone sits on rocks all day. It’s just one of the little differences that pop up every once in a while – like drinking warmed water (and avoiding cold water) even on hot days or having soup with every single meal.