Cultured Carrots: Caleb Kramer - Memories of Taiwanby Carrot Creative
Carrot Creative is filled with colorful characters. Cultured Carrots is a series that shares the outside passions that inspire the very best work for our clients. This week, Strategist Caleb Kramer talks about his youth in Taiwan.
Carrot: You grew up in Taiwan. How'd that happen?
Caleb: Yes I did. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to answer this question. I’ve actually learned to dodge it over the years, to avoid lengthy conversations about my past. I even have canned answers depending on the scenario, in this case I’ll just say my parents work there and leave it at that.
C: Do you remember how you felt when you knew you were leaving the U.S. to go live in Asia?
C: Man was I pumped! At least that’s how I like to imagine my one-year-old self in the situation.
C: What was it like re-adjusting to this country after you left Taiwan?
C: This is one of those things that I’m slowly starting to realize in hindsight. I left Taiwan when I graduated high school, to attend college here in the US (IU Bloomington). I went to an international school, so everyone was prepped for American university. At that point I was mostly excited for the next chapter, but I don’t think I really understood all the cultural differences that I’d experience. On top of the typical transitions most kids experience going to college I was adjusting to a new country, and more specifically, rural Midwestern culture. Taiwan is much more urban and much more tropical. There are a lot of obvious differences between Taiwan and the US, but there are many more nuanced ones that you don’t immediately recognize as well. Individualism is a big one. The other thing is, I definitely look and sound like I’m from the Midwest, so when I don’t recognize a 90’s pop culture reference, I get the stink eye. All in all though, I’d say the transition has been more fun than not, and last year I hit a benchmark: I’ve now been in the states more years than Taiwan. So I’d say that I’m making progress!
C: What's something about Taiwan that most Americans don't know.
C: When the Portuguese discovered Taiwan, they named it Formosa, which means “beautiful island”. It can be a little hipster; The Wall Street Journal called Taipei Asia’s take on Portland, Oregon. Fun fact: No countries have more 7-11’s per capita than Taiwan. They’re local hangouts where you can grab coffee, buy video games and send mail. Also, two other things: Taiwan isn’t Thailand. And it’s NOT part of China. Don’t buy into the propaganda people.
C: How did locals react to you living there? Was it hard to make friends while in school?
C: I was in a bit of an international school bubble growing up and have a solid group of friends I keep in touch with to this day. A lot of them ended up on the west coast actually. As for Taiwanese people, they are consistently described as some of the friendliest in the world. And they love Americans, especially in the 90s. At one point we had an aircraft carrier in the Taiwan strait to protect the country from China (back when things were a little sketchier).
C: What is your fondest memory of living in Taiwan. Least favorite memory?
C: Outside of the food, the top thing I took for granted was the outdoors. Taiwan has beautiful mountains, hot springs and beaches. We went a lot when I was a kid. I hope to go back and bike around the island one day. Least favorite memory was a 7.3 magnitude earthquake which knocked down apartment buildings not far from where I lived. We had to evacuate our apartment for a month. After that, New York earthquakes don’t scare me one bit. Bracing myself for the impending SoCal one though...Also, not really fond of the stinky tofu, pig brains or various types of animal testicles (old school delicacy at wedding feasts).
C: As a strategist, did living in Taiwan teach you something interesting about behavior/people that you may not have gotten stateside?
C: I think one of the main things I took away from growing up in between cultures was the importance of perspective. We’re all born into one point-of-view or another, and we’re not necessarily trained to proactively step into the shoes of others. It’s definitely not easy, culture, people’s beliefs and behaviors are really effing complex, but I think being forced to move around a lot at an early age made it top-of-mind for me. Which is a great thing when it comes to the work that we do.
C: If someone is going to visit Taiwan for 48 hours, what are must-see stops?
C: Take the bullet train down to Kenting at the southern tip of the island, which is where all the beaches are, but immediately hop on a motorbike, skip the mainland Chinese tourists and drive up the east coast for epic views. Stop at boutique design Hotel de Plus for kiwi juice.
Hit some Taipei night markets for snacks, trinkets and games. If you’re brave, maybe try some betel nut.
Get out of the city and explore some of the outdoors, just watch out for poop-slinging monkeys. Kidding, sort of. Top spots to check out: Yang Ming Shan (Mountain) and its hot springs, Taroko Gorge and Sun Moon Lake.
Find a Chun Shui Tang (春水堂), a chain restaurant that invented bubble tea and also has great food.
Okay, now I’m homesick…