I packed my bags, sold 90% of my stuff, moved out of my Taipei apartment — so began my journey back to the United States. After two years of being abroad, I couldn’t deny a sudden culture shock, and a joyful reunion with good pizza, Walmarts, and Netflix access. Although I miss the city lights, I embraced the home-cooked meals, the space, and the yards full of fireflies.
After working multiple jobs in Taiwan for so long, all I wanted for this summer in Indiana was to spend time with my sister, hang out on the porch everyday with nothing on my agenda except mowing the lawn and hiking Eagle Creek.
Unable to suppress my workaholism, that plan changed pretty quickly.
Within a week of my return, just barely recovered from jet lag, I heard from my sister, also an aggressive Red Cross volunteer recruiter, that Texas was in need of help after severe flooding over Memorial Day weekend. Unemployed, unoccupied, and having never been to Texas, I decided to sign up. I guess you just can’t let yourself get too comfortable.
So I got deployed as a part of the Red Cross Disaster Relief, where they sponsor and send out volunteers to aid the recovery of disaster-hit areas. After some skimmed-through online training and a pat-on-the-back pep talk about how I should “have no expectations,” I flew out to Austin, Texas within 24 hours.
The Texas state, despite its abundance of southern pride, seems questionably habitable. Throughout the years it has repeatedly suffered either severe drought or flooding. Just as the saying goes, everything is bigger in Texas, including its natural disasters and septic problems.
As I arrived, I quickly realized this was a very self-motivated work environment. And when I say self-motivated I mean no one is actually instructed on what they’re supposed to be doing, and it’s more like a scavenger hunt of responsibilities. Thankfully I’m addicted to the adrenaline of feeling useful, so I either sought duties or created my own.
Although I was assigned to community partnerships, I was told to “wait around” until there was something specific for me to do — volunteerism at its best. So I quickly hopped over to Public Affairs, which is right up my alley. There I felt my many years of refined skills in using media to make people care about things could come in handy.
Then I put myself right to work. I got my hands on a military-grade laptop with editing software and got access to use the chapter’s camera, none of which I brought because at that point I wasn’t sure if we would be staying at a shelter or hotel.
We sought stories about people affected by the floods, followed volunteers on feeding vehicles, and shadowed the disaster assessment team. We were allowed into the houses affected by the flood, and received first-hand accounts of the evacuations when the flash floods first hit.
Furthermore, I got to experience a city in a whole different perspective. Other than meeting the locals and walking into their damaged homes, we were given a day or two off to enjoy the city. There I swam the amazing rivers of Austin, and discovered the city’s loving relationship with nature and water despite the disaster it brings. The delicious barbecue and fried food almost gave me a stroke, but it was completely worth it.
Austin, known for its weirdness, was indeed a very strange city. My short-term impression of the city was that people are shockingly nice, despite the scary face tattoos, handle-bar mustaches, and questionable homelessness. Although the appearance is borderline crazy, the politeness and hospitality exceeds that of the Midwest. Perhaps it’s because of the overabundance of vitamin-D from the blazing sun, or the gorgeous swimmable rivers that feed through the city, providing poets and artists a quick escape from the city.
It’s a proud southern city, decorated with taxidermy deer heads and young southerners who live their art on their bodies. Within the southern accent and gun-lovers, lies peace-loving artists and musicians. Perhaps it’s the harmonious co-existence of hillbilly and hippie cultures, a seemingly impossible feat, that has made the city so “weird” indeed.