I'm currently back on the "East Coast", not currently in the "Far East". My school contract ended on May 18th and I packed up and I left Taiwan on May 23rd to come home to the US for a visit. I'm here now in New York until late June/early July. Mink is back at the Animals Taiwan shelter (aka "Summer Camp") spending time with "old friends" until I return to Taiwan. I'm reallllly missing her though! It took a good week -full 7 days to get over my jet lag here. Post-flight -my ears are still occasionally popping and I caught a little cold from the flight b/c I left the air conditioner/fan on and it got cold... but that's pretty much gone now.
It's nice to have some time at home. I think to my parents,aunts, etc.. I'll always be "their child, their niece, etc..." so, a home visit is nice to trip back, I can still feel like "a kid" still feel "young" despite being 33 years old, tying my own shoes, paying my bills, etc. etc.. Doing things like driving the car to into town ( got scared for a minute b/c I thought my driver's license had expired!- nope, good til 2017. whew!), taking the train down to NYC, taking my friend's Zumba class, playing a game of scrabble with Mom and Dad, etc... it's a nice change. Something different. More "home adventures" to come! It hasn't even been two weeks yet- more family to see, more friends to see. I'm trying to "be here" - to stay present and enjoy the moment(s) .... but it's hard because I don't want to "stay away" from Taiwan for toooo long. I try to check in with friends there on Facebook. I don't want to feel like I'm not going back.... I've left some "insurance" to prove that I'm returning- I've got a bank account there with some money in it, I've got a small suitcase full of things and two pillows that I left at at friend's apartment, and I've got Mink - my cat- I've technically been "fostering" her but the shelter knows that I plan on adopting her ... so she's "off the market" folks, she's mine. However, I'm pretty sure this means that when I go back I won't be able to just drop her off her at the shelter when I go away or take trips home. I'll have to plan a little more in advance. I know that there is "Miya Cat Hotel" in Taipei, so there are options..
New York City is a breath of fresh air... a nice change of scenery.... but Taipei has its charm and curious nooks and crannies full of little everyday adventures down every lane and alley too. I didn't really "miss" any foods being in Taiwan because I could get pizza, bagels, hummus/pita/middle eastern food, amazing fresh fruit, delicious bbq and burgers, etc in Taipei. Probably the only things I really missed, that are just too awesome-can't be replicated were Kyochon Korean Fried Chicken in Manhattan and Roma Pizza's "Fresh Mozzerella" pizza in Park Slope, Brooklyn ... but that's it.
Every year is a chance for new growing pains/opportunities and lessons to learn. But that also includes bringing new people into your life.... breathing fresh air and creating new memories. Taiwan is an incredibly safe country for tourists/foreigners. Taipei, the capital city, is NOT the exception to this rule. It is very safe and hospitable. Taxi drivers, store owners, children ... people will try their best to help get you to where you need to go and to communicate with you, even if there is a language barrier. I've had SO many "Chinglish" conversations with taxi drivers in Taiwan. I love Taiwanese taxi drivers - they make up a good portion of the "cute stories" I've accumulated from this past year.
The first taxi driver story is from when I first moved into my apartment in Yonghe ( a neighborhood on the outskirts of Taipei). After staying in a hotel for a week and going through my school's training I was SO ready to find a place to "settle down". I know a lot of foreigners use "Tealit.com" to find apartments ( and everything!) in Taiwan.... but the "591.com" website is also ESPECIALLY good for finding housing. It is written completely in Chinese- so you will need to use Google Translate or some translation service to read it in English. Sometimes people on tealit jack up
rent prices because it's an English website and they know they are dealing with foreigners but on http://rent.591.com.tw if you hit "translate this page" -- AND have a Taiwanese friend/co worker to help you initiate contact with the landlord,you will most likely find better deals.
So, after researching, working with the person that helps new teachers get settled at my school, I found an apartment. Still jet-lagged and feeling disoriented and a little "homesick" for China (aka still in the very early stages of getting over my ex-girlfriend there) I got in a taxi and headed for my new home. The taxi driver didn't speak much English and I didn't yet know how to navigate down the lanes to get to my apartment (or that "Dingxi jayyun zhan" was the closest MRT stop to my apartment...for the rest of the year I would just tell any driver to drop me there.) During the drive, me and this taxi driver (probably in his mid 30's) tried to have conversation - despite my jetlag and our language barrier. I'm a pretty open, friendly person I think. I will sit and have coffee with almost(Sarah Palin/media "personalities" who really don't do anything, PRC China media censors, and animal abusers not included ) anyone- to share stories, etc.
I exchanged telephone numbers with this taxi driver and we planned to meet up. He joked about "no ring" on his finger and that we should "get married". I thought it was a joke. However, I soon realized that he wanted more than casual coffee. He was thinking about dating and I was just going along with the "joke" (that apparently wasn't a joke) He had a friend get on the phone at one point and tell me that he "really liked me" in English. I think I did my best to tell him that I liked women and that I was new to Taiwan and was not ready to date anyone. (and after about 5 days of taxi rides-with different drivers- from the subway stop near my apartment TO my apartment -about a 10 minute trip- I finally mastered how to WALK from the Dingxi MRT station to my apartment by myself! Independent woman!)
Another funny story was when I was sitting in 7-11 one day ( you can do everything in 7-11 in Taiwan fyi: send/receive packages, add money to your cell phone, ... I'm sure laundry service will be coming next!) this group of 12-13 year old Taiwanese kids, a mixture of boys and girls, walked by and looked in and saw me sitting there. I was feeling silly so I waved at them and made the "call me" sign with my hand. They waved back and laughed and smiled and walked by. But then I was really SURPRISED to see them COMING BACK. One of the boys came into the 7-11 store with two other girls following him.He came up to me and said "Can I have your telephone number?" It was really sweet .... I asked him where he was from ( in Chinese) and in English he said "I was made in Taiwan.... ( at this point the girls laughed and teased him) and he corrected himself saying "I'm from Taiwan". He told me that his friends dared him to come in and ask me. I thought that was really brave and cute (but no, I did not give him my telephone number. We both knew it was a dare, a joke). Taiwanese kids aren't "afraid" of foreigners. I think, especially in Taipei they're definitely more used to seeing a variety of different people - given the number of expat teachers as well as mixed families in general- biracial kids-mostly Asian/Caucasian that I've seen, that live in the city.
Lots of cute, every day exchanges... being a "foreigner" can have its advantages in conversation. Being an "outsider" to what's going on can make you an "insider". After going out to dinner with some friends one night, I shared a taxi home with a good Taiwanese friend and she asked me if I was coming back to Taiwan. and I said "Of course!" and then I added in Chinese ( even though we both speak English VERY well. ;) ) "Wo xihuan Taiwan ...." ( "I like Taiwan", "Wo ai Taiwan" is probably closer to the truth though. :) ) after she got out of the cab, the driver repeated to me "Ni xihuan Taiwan ma?" ( You like Taiwan?...) and we got into "Chinglish" conversation- combination of my broken Chinese and his broken English- that ended up being about Taiwan independence and how he thought President Ma can't be trusted and how, as countries, China and Taiwan are more like "England and America" ( his exact words in English). (I would say more like "England and Ireland" given that Ireland is an island country, closer to the size of Taiwan, and England/Ireland have the same proximity/close to each other, as China and Taiwan, but either way- yes.) I'm not sure if I would have had this conversation if I was Taiwanese/"looked Asian". So it was a real treat for me. I loved that he was so passionate about his country and I loved being able to have this conversation with him.
I remember waking up every Saturday morning - leaving my apartment at 9am to go teach a class at 10:10am I would pass an old man sitting outside of this little restaurant in my neighborhood, we greeted each other with a "Zao" ( "morning!") and a head nod. That was our Saturday morning ritual... a nice start to an early day.(luckily my early Saturday morning class was an amazing class, great kids... they made waking up early so worth it. If they could do it on a Saturday- and still be so interested and energetic- I could do it!)
However, The MOST interesting, sweet taxi driver story that I have from this year was when I was going to Thailand over the Lunar New Year Holiday in February. I needed to get to Taoyuan Airport. Taoyuan is a city not too far outside of Taipei. There are many ways to get to the airport. You can take the High Speed Rail (train) from Taipei Main Station to Taoyuan and get a shuttle bus to the airport ( probably the cheapest and easiest option) ... but on this trip I was leaving early and I didn't check the schedule. SO I took the MRT to Xindian and I was going to take a shuttle bus from there to the airport.... but I missed it. I didn't want to wait around so I took a taxi ( knowing that it would be about 1000 NT ....about $35 US dollars.) I don't think that's tooooo bad ... but if you don't have to pay that much, it's always better not to. It was cold in Taiwan in February. That real damp kind of cold. I was wearing fairly light clothes because I knew Thailand was going to be HOT (and it was). I had a shor sleeved shirt on and a big shawl/scarf to cover my shoulders/upper arms. During the 45 minute taxi ride the driver and I talked about his family (he has two sons - one is in America, I forget where though) and my family and what I do in Taiwan..., etc basic broken English/Chinese conversation. I wished him a "Happy New Year" and when I got OUT of the car he GAVE me his COAT. He told me "I don't know if I will see you again, if you give it back to me or not. Don't worry..." I told him that I couldn't take it. He told me don't worry, it's cold. and pushed it around my shoulders. It was very sweet. Sadly, I lost his business card....but I left the coat at my old apartment and told my landlord to donate it. I'm sure somewhere out there is another pair of cold shoulders (maybe not now, because it's a hot Taiwanese summer but definitely once January comes around again) that will appreciate it. This is a picture of the coat. It's really nice and it has a hood too.I've NEVER had ANYONE just "GIVE ME their coat because I looked cold/was cold. It's something that you don't forget .... and something that you want to do for someone who you see in need. Staying warm, well-fed, loved/supported,healthy ... it's something that we take for granted especially on those
days when we're "feeling bored" and caught up trying to "keep up with the Jones' ( or the Kardashians)" and just can't wait to.... (insert big dream here). It's nice to bring it back to the basics every now and then. What really matters.
speaking of what matters..... I shot this picture of Mink just before I took her to the shelter when I was getting ready to pack for my trip back to the US. She is NO fool. She knew EXACTLY what was going on.I am the coldest person in the WORLD for taking this picture and having this image of cuteness/sadness burned into my memory and STILL leaving her at"summer camp". She is .... the best.