I hurried off the metro this Friday, stepping out of the Tamsui station into the rain. Larger puddles soaked through my shoes, reminding me that I had chosen my more professional and unfortunately less water-resistant flats for this night at Taipei’s famous dance group, Cloud Gate Theater. Anticipating my occasional problem with directions, I had set aside an extra hour to find my way to the theater, choosing to work longer the following week to ensure I arrived on time for the performance. I would later come to find that this extra hour was vital, not only in helping me make it to the performance, but also in giving me the opportunity to meet a new friend and explore the friendships that form out of the words we choose to define us.
I have considered myself a 路痴 (lùchī) in the past, learning the term that describes a person with a bad sense of direction soon after my arrival in Taiwan. Aside from being an excuse, however feeble, for inattention to my surroundings, the word often serves as a uniting identity — calling yourself a “road idiot” can elicit a laugh or an affirmation from another person, opening up the conversation by easing into a weakness or vulnerability. 路痴 is a call for companionship or assistance — it is an invitation to walk together, one strengthened by the risk of someone getting lost. Since my arrival in Taipei, I thought I had “recovered,” adjusting to the bus system much faster than my home transportation. I even wrote an article regarding my improved sense of direction, so I laughed when I realized that while trying to reach the theater, I had taken the wrong bus.
After walking back to another bus station, drenched shoes and low-battery phone in tow, I reoriented myself. But upon my arrival at the base of the hill atop which Cloud Gate sits, I decided that I would accompany my identity as an American with the bashfully reclaimed moniker 路痴. I walked over to the nearest person, a girl my age who seemed to be going the same direction. I introduced myself in Chinese, requesting that we walk together so I wouldn’t get lost again, and she invited me to walk beneath her umbrella despite the minimal rain.
We continued speaking as she climbed the hill, describing our experiences in Taiwan and the unpredictability of the weather. After learning that we were both college students, we started discussing our goals during and after university. Our conversation about art drifted into music, and we started exchanging band and song recommendations, parting for our seats when the theater opened.
After the performance, we walked down to the stage with the other visitors. I drifted over to her again, taking her smile from a distance as an invitation to continue speaking. I asked her if she was taking the MRT back home, again citing my lack of skill with directions. She agreed to travel together again, and on the metro ride back we became even more animated in our discussions, describing our cooking experiences and laughing over how difficult it is to choose a favorite of Taiwan’s many delicious fruits. We exchanged numbers before parting ways, bearing genuine, enthusiastic smiles as she stepped off the MRT.
We often speak about identity on a larger level, describing ourselves in terms of the words that we feel define us the most. But even the smaller terms through which we describe ourselves, especially the ones through which we describe our vulnerability, can create opportunities for new friendships and shape the way others perceive us.