Category Archives: Life Update

One Month Anniversary in Taipei

Today marks exactly one month in Taipei. I can’t believe it’s gone by so fast. Between school and work, I hardly have time to explore the city, but I’m hoping at least my weekends will free up soon.

My big and small observations for the past 30 days:

  • One should never, ever, drink the tap water. My first week here, I got very sick from doing so. Filter it and boil it thoroughly before drinking.
  • It rains in Taipei a LOT. I estimate it has rained 85% of my 30 days here. Days and days go by without seeing the sun or keeping my shoes dry. It’s a real drag and I’m hoping April forward is drier. Carry an umbrella always and invest in waterproof shoes.
  • Studying Chinese at NTU is as effective as you want it to be. I want to be fully fluent in reading/writing/speaking by the end of 2016, and I think it will take a lot more studying and practice outside of class/homework to get there.
  • There are not nearly as many Americans in the NTU Chinese language program as I thought there would be. It’s incredibly diverse. My four classmates are Japanese, Kyrgyz, French (New Caledonian), and Thai. In the class I switched out of, my five classmates were Japanese (2), Korean, Slovakian, and American.
  • New York City’s on-demand economy spoiled me. Push Button, Receive What You Want doesn’t really exist in Taiwan. Time to re-learn brick-and-mortar shopping.
  • International cuisine should be viewed with much suspicion. I’ve not tried any American, Italian, Indian, Mexican, etc. food here, and that’s because everything about it screams ersatz. “American-style breakfast” usually means hamburgers, McDonald’s-style hashbrowns (the fried ovoid-patty kind), and other extremely salty, greasy, heavy foods. Google image search “taiwan+american style breakfast” to see what I mean:

    "American-Style Breakfast" in Taiwan
    Looks like McDonald’s is actually America’s most effective ambassador to Taiwan.
  • Pleco is a(n  inter)national treasure and I can’t believe it’s free. I would gladly pay big bucks for this app. It’s indispensable for learning Chinese.
  • In the U.S., I thought I didn’t like bubble tea. I was wrong all along and I actually love it. Enjoyment of tofu and bean curd still elude me.

Destroy Everything in a Calm and Orderly Fashion

I began dismantling my life in earnest about two weeks ago. In another two weeks, I will begin reassembling it 7,000+ miles away.

I’m leaving New York City for Taipei. It’s been a slow-motion exit, where the inkling to leave flitted across my mind nearly two years ago in 2014.  I can recall seeing a vision of my future that was not taking place in the city. It’s scary to see such a thing, because you can’t know how that vision will be realized. You only know that it means your current situation and any settled-ness and comfort that you have presently will somehow dissolve.

I felt that the least I could do was investigate how I might live in other places, so I traveled to San Francisco, Portland, and Los Angeles. Portland was the frontrunner, but I still didn’t have any idea how to get there. It’s extraordinarily hard to escape the inertia of your life, even when you have the desire for change. Fear of uncertainty and fear of hardship can keep you humming along the same track for a long, long time.

So sometimes it’s a real blessing when your hand is forced and the uncertainty and hardship come directly to you. In July 2015, I was laid off from my job. When an executive at the company broke the news to me, I immediately, reflexively began crying. Then I walked out of there and felt a surreal freedom to finally pursue a number of goals that were never going to be met as long as I worked at that company.

One of those goals was to visit Taiwan, which I did for one month over September and October. It had been a decade since my last visit, and it was the first time that I went by myself. The language barrier and the cultural differences were challenging, but rising to those challenges invigorated me. I was learning constantly, even if it was just sitting on the bus trying to read the stops or trying to order a cup of coffee.

When I returned to New York, I found that absence had not made my heart grow fonder. The growing sense that I was no longer suited for the city escalated into an urgent impulse to go somewhere, anywhere else. I looked at apartments and job listings on the West Coast and even toyed with the idea of moving back to Alabama (I was that desperate). I also applied to the Chinese learning program at National Taiwan University.

When I got the acceptance letter, I thought “OK, this is an actual possibility” but still balked at what it would take to get there. What kind of paperwork do I have to do? Will my job allow me to go? How am I going to find a place to live? What am I going to do with my apartment in New York? Will I lose the friendships and community I so love and rely on? Is this a huge irreversible mistake that is going to ruin me financially, professionally, and personally? I waffled on making a decision until after New Year’s Day, at which point I had less than 2 months to prepare for leaving New York/the country, if that was indeed my decision.

Or, I should say it felt like my decision was being made for me as everything slowly fell into place. I basically hopped onto a Gantt chart that started January 1 and leads up to February 22, registration day for the program and the latest day I absolutely have to be in Taipei in order to enroll. Housing, job, plane ticket, visa, moving arrangements, all of it fell into place. There were definitely moments where I was given over to despair and panic–“I’m ruining my life! I regret this decision!”–but really, there was divine providence in the speed and smoothness with which each task was accomplished.

I couldn’t have asked for a more calm and orderly way to dismantle life in New York. Let’s see how the rebuilding process goes in Taipei.

P.S. This blog is no longer about ice cream. I broke up with ice cream around November 2015. We still hang out sometimes.