Peichi’s Amma must have decided to put all of the events I mentioned in my last blog entry behind her, though, as she was very welcoming to me as we showed up for Chinese New Year. She didn’t even keep much of a watchful eye over me, as I might have expected. I cannot be sure that she hadn’t carefully noted the home’s entire inventory and each item’s place prior to my arrival.
Amma and I hit it off quite smoothly this time, with few rough patches. The most difficult breach of protocol for me to handle is regarding the “house shoes” that each family uses in Taiwan. Most people know that Asian households require one to take off his shoes on entry. In Asia there is an added step. Each family keeps an armada of house slippers on hand just inside the doorway that each guest is expected to use while inside. You may not opt out of this deal. Yes, the shoes might not even come close to fitting your American-sized feet. Yes, one probably will accidentally slip off halfway up the stairs and leave you to hop back down to find it again. But make no mistake, they must be used.
This part was not the problem for me. The problem is that each household has a place where you are supposed to take off your outside shoes and put your house shoes on. In Japan this is clearly marked by the presence of bamboo mats. In Taiwan, this place is marked by some sort of sixth-sensed hoo-bah, that I apparently do not posses.
I would enter the house from the screened in porch via the stairs, leaving my street shoes outside. At some point after the doorway I would cross the invisible battle line of germ warfare where my “safe” shoes were supposed to come on. I would usually miss this line somehow. When the process was reversed and the house shoes made it past the line, sirens would go off in Amma’s head, and she would come after me, gently rebuking me in short vocal bugle blasts. She was very gracious. I don’t mean to imply anything less.
My most exciting story with the house shoes was when visiting a household outside of the family. As I came in, I started to take off my outside shoes and was informed that this would not be necessary at this place. I looked around for some sign of where the hoo-bah was. It was invisible as usual. I asked to use the bathroom and was told it was down the hall. I gingerly advanced, pausing with each step in case this time would be different and I might actually sense the hoo-bah. They laughed and told me that I would not need to remove my shoes there either. I felt safe.
A few minutes later, I went to view the kitchen and again was told that it was safe. I was very confused. I had never made it this far without using house shoes before. I did not know how to act. I shrugged and enjoyed my good fortune.
After viewing the kitchen, I was ushered to the seating area where there was a plate of fruit. Every Asian household I am invited to has prepared fruit. It is expected. It is wonderful. Americans need to start doing that. I eagerly went to take a seat and eat some fruit. Everyone lunged at me noisily. I had crossed the hoo-bah. I didn’t know. There was not even a pile of shoes. Nothing. I retreated and apologized profusely. They still let me eat the fruit.