Every couple of mornings, when I wake up and yawn and stretch and open my eyes, this wave of shock washes over me and I think, holy crap, I’m in Taiwan.
It takes a few moments to settle in as I look around, while the apartment and my thoughts come into focus. It’s been a little less dramatic as time has passed. I can’t believe it has already been 2 months since Kyle and I donated, stored or shipped everything we own, said our goodbyes, and moved to Taichung. *Clarification: Kyle moved to Taichung for work and I ‘traveled’ here as a visitor, to see if it was somewhere I could call home for a few years.
There was a lot of waiting. Kyle had been approached about this opportunity at his company a couple of years ago. In 2014 it felt so distant, but we both agreed a few years’ adventure sounded rad, and we’d see what the official offer was when it came time. By that point, we hadn’t even been dating for very long (maybe about a year), so who even knew where we would be as a couple by 2017?
Then there was a lot of hurry up. We didn’t have the specific offer until Christmas 2016, so by that point we were practically already packing. Our last night in our apartment was in mid-February and we flew out of SFO straight to Taipei on February 22nd.
As you can imagine, it has been quite the rollercoaster of emotions since we arrived. On a more surface level (but still very important), some of the food is REALLY good – Taiwanese hot pot complete with coagulated duck blood for the win – and then some of it is REALLY… interesting. I’ve liked most anything that isn’t awkwardly chewy. Granted, some foods I’m only speculating on because I just don’t think I’ll ever want to try, say, chicken’s feet. But the dumplings and the soup and the coffee are all incredible. Oh, and chicken heart. Not sure I can bring myself to try the feet, but a barbecued chicken heart is quite tasty.
Going a little deeper: sticking out like a sore thumb and not having the ability to interact with people can be really weird and draining. Taiwanese people are extremely accommodating and know some English, but in Taichung specifically, there’s a smaller population of foreigners and day-to-day interactions for the Taiwanese hardly ever call for anything other than Chinese. I can get by just fine with my handy Google Translate app, but if I don’t have my phone… Let’s just say I’m glad I learned quickly how to order a latte in Chinese. A few people told me before we moved here that people would just take pictures of me because they aren’t used to seeing foreigners. Well, it’s not really like that. That hasn’t really happened except when I went on a jog one day to the outskirts of the city. But it was weird. I thought someone wanted me to take their picture, and when I agreed they came to stand next to me. Lots of confusion for a moment.
Taking in a new culture, seeing new things and feeling surrounded by a whole new world (sorry, now it’ll be stuck in your head for a week) is just incredible. It’s one of the biggest reasons I love to travel. The first time I went abroad was to tour Italy with my high school Chamber Choir. We sang in some Catholic churches around the country, including at the Vatican during Holy Week. I’m not religious, but the acoustics in those thousand-year-old buildings and the idea that so many people had worshipped in them for centuries gave me absolute chills. That experience, along with so much else – endless pasta and wine, the Colosseum, the sweet people in the small villages outside the city, Trinity Fountain – made me realize I want to see the whole world.
I’ve traveled a fair amount (a handful of times to Europe and to New Zealand), but have never been away from home for longer than a few weeks. And I’ve always gotten by on English. I didn’t get to study abroad for a semester or go backpacking after college for a couple of months, so I’m already experiencing a new feeling of detachment from home. I would say the homesickness comes in waves. One of my friends is pregnant with her 3rd child and her other two are growing up so quickly. Another friend is planning her wedding. My parents are looking for a place to retire. This will all have taken place by the time we move back. Of course we’ll be visiting, but flights are expensive and we really want to spend some time exploring this part of the world while we’re here.
Also, I’ve never been to Asia. I know, a lot of people wondered why I would agree to move here without ever stepping foot here before, but I felt that a week-long visit really wouldn’t give me a full understanding of what it would be like to live here. And besides, quitting my job so that I can try to find one in a non-English speaking country made me think I should probably save the money. I love learning about different cultures (sociology undergrad major over here), I love traveling when I have the means, and I knew this experience would be unforgettable. My family was a bit confused and they don’t seem overwhelmingly excited to use a squat toilet, but I think it just takes time to get comfortable being uncomfortable. Trying to embrace that sentiment internally, too.
I’ve felt very lucky already. Because Kyle has friends in the industry who also work over here, we have been introduced to a lot of cool spots. We went hiking in Dakeng about a week after we arrived – something that would have been difficult logistically without a car. Speaking of transportation, we haven’t done anything but walk, ride our bikes, or take taxis anywhere since arriving. I’d love to get a scooter, but for now I don’t need one. We will do as much as we can through public transportation, and we’ll be fine. Just have to say, I miss my Mini Cooper back home like crazy, but I would never want to drive it over here – the driving can get pretty wild.
We’ve gotten to try a bunch of amazing cocktail and beer places since we arrived. I can
add a list at some point. We’ve also been to Leefoo Village, which is a theme park similar in some senses to Disneyland. On my birthday, we went to a small night market, played some games, and ate some snacks. Very much like a small county fair.
There’s the fascinating angle of being an expat, too. There are some interesting stereotypes which I’ll leave for later. I can’t say whether or not they’re true after only 2 months, but one thing is for certain – I’m sure that after a year of living in a completely foreign country, conversations back home are likely to be a bit awkward. I mean, I only really talk to 1 or 2 people on average per day. After a while, I might find myself completely silent around the millions of people who might hear and understand me when I’m back home, OR I’ll talk so much to people who can actually respond that they’ll be sick of me. Sorry guys, it’s probably going to be the latter.
As far as the job hunt goes, I’m looking for a job that can build on my recent MBA, and I’m also not sure I’m a huge fan of teaching kids, which is why I haven’t already settled into a teaching position. The pay is great in comparison to standard Taiwanese pay, and it is definitely the least hassle to get a teaching contract, but I’m just not sure it’s what I want to do. I’ve heard that the wives and girlfriends of expats (clearly most expats are male) just “end up” teaching or playing golf (?), but I’d like to just be a little picky for the first few months… Until I run out of money. I’m extremely lucky and have been given some work by the company I left when I came here, but I am not sure how long that work will continue to come, and it’s a little scary not having that stability. We’ll see how that all goes and if I can find a stable job in the meantime.
Wish me luck…