I read over the US customs rules and restrictions. I was bringing back a lot of food on behalf of my family. I knew that fruits, vegetables, and meats were not allowed. Dried fruits were allowed, so I brought dried mangoes and pineapples.
My parents also asked me to bring back 魚鬆, or ‘hee so’ in Taiwanese. The relatives in Taiwan gave me four canisters of it. I clarified with them, almost ten times, to make sure that it was allowed. They confirmed it all ten times, so I brought it along with me.
So, I’m filling out the item declaration paper on the airplane. I check marked the foods section and wrote on the back of the page: dried mangoes, pineapples, pastries, ground coffee, and shredded pork/pork floss.
When I passed customs, they flagged me for the meat and I had to stand in a ridiculously long line to get my luggage x-rayed. When the customs officer asked what meat I had, I said that I had shredded pork. She asked me which luggage it was in and had me open it. She dumped the entire contents on the table and threw away the two canisters, telling me that no type of meat is allowed. I re-packed the luggage and claimed my passport.
I came out one hour later than expected due to the shredded pork confiscation. I texted my mom, “They threw away the pork, coming out soon” followed by a “I’m upset.” She responded, “Why u have pork.” I didn’t bother replying.
When she arrived, I didn’t say anything. She saw how infuriated I was, and I told her, “Now you know never to bring pork into the country.” She exclaimed, “There is no pork, what are you talking about?” To which I replied: “The hee so!”
She rebutted, “THAT’S FISH FLOSS, NOT PORK.”
And my anger instantaneously shifted towards myself. Fish floss/魚鬆/hee so was, in fact, not pork floss/肉鬆/ba so. Because all communication had been in Taiwanese, I had solidly deduced that what I was bringing back was the latter. I was so confident that it was pork that I didn’t bother checking each canister when I took them out – there was a gigantic image of a fish and, in large labels, said “fish floss” in Chinese. Fail.
All I needed to do was look at the canister… it was THAT obvious.
My mom and I were laughing about it ten minutes later. After the word spread to the family at home and the relatives in Taiwan, I became the laughingstock. There were also two more canisters in another bag I forgot about.
I definitely need to reevaluate my confidence in my Taiwanese language ability.
So I’m back in the US. I’m incredibly jetlagged and am trying to adjust my internal clock. I still have a ton to write about Beijing and Taiwan and will be doing so over the next few months. In the meantime, I’ll also be writing about other things as I have already been doing.