Friday, 27 September 2013

Reflections of Formosa

This has been a hard post to write as it has been a few months since I initially left the isle of Formosa otherwise known as Taiwan. While I was living there I had started to get a little bit tired of finishing late at night and living in the same small town for two years. I mean I liked it there but I found myself having the same old conversations with drunken disgruntled expats, walking down the same grey drab streets of concrete highrises and eating in the same restaurants over and over either because they had a menu at least barely readable in English or were open late enough after I'd finished work... and because they sold beer...

My experiences in Taiwan are always going to hold a special place in my heart I think. I didn't make the effort to see half of the things that I wanted to see there but I did see some really special things. Highlights for me include looking over the Central Mountain Range from the north peak of Hehuanshan on a rainy Monday afternoon in April and climbing Seven Star Mountain in Taipei's Yang Ming Shan National Park twice as well as hiking the Xiaotzukeng trail from Houtong to Jioufen and seeing the Pacific Ocean on the descent at the end of the hike.

This is quite a reflective post for me and it has been a while since my last - a trip to Taitung back in February but the things I think I'm going to miss most about the defiant little dragon of a country is the people that I met there, for all the right and wrong reasons. I think you meet a lot of people when you are an ESL teacher which is a career path I've found myself stumbling along since early 2010. Firstly I think that my students are the thing I miss the most. While I have new ones in a new country who are equally lively and very entertaining I just think there was something idiosyncratically cool about the rapport that had been built between myself as the teacher and my old students. I spent two years with a great group of people who at times baffled me with their quirky ways and to say the least I wish them all the best for the future. My employers were also pretty cool and worth a notable mention as they were (still are) warm people and gave me a lot of their time. I just found that the working conditions in a "buxiban" or cram school as they are also known didn't really suit the lifestyle that I would have otherwise led. I left England all that time ago and have found myself working either pretty long or unsociable hours with not really much time to travel and see things. A reason that was a major factor in me leaving my position in Taiwan and looking abroad for new opportunities was the rut - as I see it - that I see other expats fall into when they stay in the same place for too long. A lack of holiday time was also a factor and the issue of it being unpaid as a norm in Taiwan did nothing to encourage me to stay. Talking to other expats - certainly not all of them - in the town that I was living in often became dull and the more beer that flowed the less that it made sense to me as to why they were living there. Many of the guys were unhappy and seeing as many Taiwanese people are very reluctant to speak English where I was living it meant that I had very few enthusiastic conversations. I did manage to have plenty of good chat with a few people such as my adult private students and other expat friends that had managed not to fall into the trap of becoming miserable bastards and feel content that I didn't grow to become ignorant and grumpy.

I guess in a sense I'm glad that I have lived in Taiwan and managed to gain somewhat of an insight into a very interesting place but that I am glad to have finally moved on and realised that my time in the world is somewhat limited and that the one thing I want to make sure I do before I'm too old - or fat - is to see as much of it as I can that is feasibly possible. I don't want to fall into the trap of befriending a bunch of miserable bellends in the future who do nothing more than drink and complain about living a different life than they would have "back home" when in reality I think they would find something to complain and in a way be happy being miserable about no matter where they were. That said, I think I'm starting to feel bitter about the bitterness that I experienced from these people in Taiwan but by no means were these the people from Taiwan. I think living in Taiwan and dealing with Taiwanese people brings with it a whole new set of challenges. In a sense I didn't really feel a part of society or much warmth from local people all that much. In a sense though I feel that that sounds negative when I don't mean it to be. Living there over the two year period that I was there felt like I was valued to some extent in a professional capacity - in that I could do my job and teach - but didn't feel wholly accepted as an individual in a foreign society either. Writing this makes me feel as if I could experience these feelings in any country or society in Asia that I might find myself in and I'm not entirely sure that I'm conveying my meaning to the degree that I want to...

 In sum, I think that I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to live and work in Taiwan and the ability to return and visit during holidays but that I also feel it natural to leave and continue to progress on with my somewhat calamitous climb up to the next rung on the ESL ladder. I have no idea where I'm going to end up in the long term but at the moment I'm pretty content with where I have been and where I'm headed... Peace xxx

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