When you move to a new country, you have no history there, and without history you have no accurate judgement. One of the nice things about traveling to the US was that as soon as we stepped off the plane we had instant history. On the drive from the airport, we knew how far above the speed limit we could drive safely, without getting pulled over, and what other drivers expected of us. We knew what to expect everywhere, and how to talk to people, and what things should cost, and how to behave with good manners.
We spent the first several days with my family, so of course there were all the old stories about relatives and all the usual shared references families have. But even when we had dinner with my online friend Melissa, whom I’ve never met in the flesh before, we could talk about shared acquaintances and how sad we were that our mutual friend Doug has cancer, her good wishes for my uncle and our shared feeling that far too many people we know have been attacked by cancer lately, and also about current US politics, and all the other things people can discuss who have been reading about each other’s lives and viewpoints for years. It was even better when we visited our old friends Ted and Lorry. We got to meet their youngest kids and see their older onesas kids, not just babies. We got to share several years’ worth of rowing stories that have grown in the years since we all rowed together; I could walk into their house, look at some wooden panels hung on the wall and instantly say, “Oh, you took that old screen apart, the panels look great hanging up like that.” I could point at a montage of rowing pictures in the den and tell the kids, “Look, there’s me! And there’s Ted! And I took the other two pictures of your mommy and daddy!”
It’s not just about people; we could choose restaurants and say, “well, there’s not a lot of choice in this town, but if we don’t want something fancy we can go to Appleby’s – it won’t be great but it will be good and filling.” In the case of Oak Ridge, we also knew the meal would taste all the better for the memories of the time we had the best meal ever at that very same Appleby’s, simply because we’d been racing all day and we were starving. But we were also able to choose among restaurants we hadn’t been to before and have a pretty good guess at which one we’d like, or even to look at a town and figure out something of what it would be like to live in. We’re probably less accurate there than on restaurants, but we may well end up relying on that judgement enough to buy land that comes up for sale after we’ve left, based on pictures and real-estate data and our experience of the area.
Here in Taiwan, every day is new. We can’t reliably judge whether we’ll like food until we taste it, or what people’s intentions are because of the language and culture differences. It’s a grand adventure, but every oncein a while it’s a refreshing change not to have been born yesterday.