settling in

August 22, 2017

Though it's only been 24 hours since I've been here, it feels like I've already been here for a couple of days - time expands and contracts like a slinky according to your experiences, and especially during times of adaptation or change, it stretches and stretches. So far, I've done mostly logistical work, housekeeping items, organization, and the sort, but here are a couple of observations along the way:

The first thing that immediately came to my attention was the prevalence of face masks (the ones that surgeons wear during operation) used by everyday people here, which has undoubtedly led to its destigmatization. Since I've rarely seen people use them in New York - or even in America as a whole - whenever I see masks being used, it's my natural inclination to associate it with surgeons, hospitals in general, and contagious illnesses; the underlying connotation exists because of how frequently we see these items together. However, just realizing that there is a cultural difference makes me realize how important it is to deconstruct things and try to understand them not from our pre-established associations, but also from their current context. In other words, if I were to see someone on the streets in America wearing one, I'd probably try to not get too close in fear of contracting something, whereas in Asia, it can actually be seen as a fashion statement: I've seen pink face masks, black face masks, jeweled ones, etc. I'm sure users also see some other benefits like increased coverage from the sun, but I wonder if it's a cultural difference as well - due to a more conservative society, do people prefer to show less of the face? There is a huge psychology behind fashion; if interested, here's one of my favorite podcasts by Invisibilia that talks about how clothing has the power to transform us and the way we act.

Some more one-off items:

  • I live in Kennedy Town, and my view outside my window is a vast expanse of greenery. The mountains are beautiful and make me want to go climb them - it's amazing how even though a metropolis has been constructed, the nature that surrounds the country has been preserved.
  • Food is so cheap here! Especially in relation to how much rent costs (comparable to NYC), the food is almost half as expensive. Housing in Asia is generally quite expensive, which has led to an emergence of entire businesses, for example, shadow banking - I believe this also stems from value systems: how temporary vs. permanent goods are valued, in combination to the importance of status. There's also a huge discrepancy with the prices of branded/luxury goods (Coach, LV, etc.) in America and Europe vs. Asia.
  • Again, food is so cheap - today's brunch was less than $6, including tea, tax, tip, etc.

    • (which makes one of this semester's tentative fears, gaining weight from dim sum, that much harder to avoid)
    • Another interesting observation is that in some restaurants, it's customary to wash the utensils and bowls with the tea for hygienic reasons
    • And the check was given before eating the meal, but the money is collected afterwards

Until next time!