Thursday, July 9, 2015

Dealing with the "Expat Exodus"...over and over.

**SIDENOTE-- I wrote this entry a few weeks ago, back in June. Between finishing up my older kids classes, exam grading, report submitting, etc. AND starting Summer Camp with my younger kids, it's been a really BUSY few weeks.  I'm SO grateful that it's over. I've been meaning to post this for awhile. My friend Chris from AIT has left since I wrote this -- we had a nice dinner/drinks night out at this great speakeasy-type spot and he's on his way. But I've enjoyed seeing his posts on FB since leaving Taiwan and I think, like I said below here, there's a comfort in that. Remaining connected with expat friends via FB. To know that you're all still.... "out in the world" exploring, stumbling over new bizarre things, revisiting culture-shock in new places, finding your way, etc. Dragon Boat Weekend has come and gone, 4th of July weekend was this past weekend.... so lots more to update on. But I wanted to get this out before any more time escaped from under my fingers.  Here I talk about the pain/fear anxiety that long-term expats may feel going through the "Expat Exodus" - watching people leave. I think, I thought, after awhile I would become "immune" to it, but when you develop relationships and make amazing, fun, wonderful memories-- it's so hard to think of pulling yourself away from those people. Maybe, if you're lucky you won't ever have to... but that's not commonly the case. For me right now I feel torn between wanting to TRAVEL more - to see other countries in Asia, Guatemala, Amsterdam, and possibly Africa - Tanzania- hiking Kilimanjaro- and NESTING - getting some retirement planning/social security, setting down ROOTS in a real home base where I can live and work with a salary that takes money out for retirement. I used to have a job like that, but for the past 3 years... I haven't. Teaching in Taiwan here- I don't get retirement benefits. And at this point.... that's juuuust starting to worry me. I know that I want to nest/take root in New York. But... not yet. So, that's the frustration because, as much as I love and have loved my time in Taiwan, I know that I don't want to settle here... and so, I think there's this anxiety/frustration building in me because it already feels like I've been here for so long. I've just completed my 3rd year. That makes 4 yrs in Asia in total.

ANYWAY, here's what I wrote back in June. Enjoy. Also, here is a pic from Dragon Boat Festival - with Sar after her race. To prove that the weekend has already come and gone!
a gorgeous day to be down by the river for Dragon Boat Racing! Getting into the spirit! 加油 Hess Team!

Happy Dragon Boat Festival weekend! 端午節快樂!
For those of us teachers who still work a 5 day work-week over the summer, a long holiday weekend is a nice reprieve from the regular schedule.  Dragon Boat Festival is one of my two favorite holidays in Asia - along with "Mid-Autumn Festival" aka "Moon Festival". Dragon Boat Festival brings a chance to go down to the river, watch the international competition of dragon boat races, eat zongzi, and 9 times out of 1O you know you'll be guaranteed a sunny day to boot because it is SO HOT.  If you were wondering about the historical legend behind Dragon Boat Festival, here it is -- basically the legend surrounds a poet, Qu Yuan, who was also a member of the King's royal court. He was accused of treason and committed suicide by drowning himself in a river in Hunan Province, China. Qu was loved so much by the local people that they raced out in their boats to save him, or at least rescue/preserve his body. They threw "zongzi" - sticky rice balls into the river so the fish would eat them instead of his body.
zongzi - wrapped up in bamboo leaves

zongzi- unwrapped. This one filled with sticky rice, beef, duck egg, green onion

This time of year - May- my birthday month, and June- can often seem like the best and worst of times teaching and living abroad here. In Taiwan, May is considered to be "SPRING" just like in the US, but in the US we learn "April Showers Bring May Flowers". In Southeast Asia the saying might as well be" "April Showers Bring More Showers Followed By May Monsoons..." It's not really a "pretty spring" like we get back home in New York. It doesn't feel like the "flower buds" are coming out on the trees. It's not a "beach weekend - Memorial Day weekend" sunny weather type-feel either. It's kind of a "purgatory" of sorts -- you spend most of the time hiding out avoiding drowning and waiting for the drier weather. May also brings the end of the school semester- which can be stressful- preparing for graduation, writing final class reports, practicing songs and dances for the "Graduation Show". BUT the silver lining is visible -- once graduation is over- JUNE is right around the corner and you can feel summer camp/time off/an easier schedule in general - is coming soon.

June here- is HOT. a little rainy, but mostly HOT. By this point you can tell it is definitely summer. The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow regarding June is that June is ALSO - lychee and mango month. Mango ice. Mango smoothies. Beautiful sweet lychees. Dragon Fruit. Summer fruits are out and being sold in abundance -whether off the back of a migrant farmer's truck or in your local Jason's or Wellcome. Endless big, fat, "bouquets" of lychees and fresh, sweet mangos along with dragon fruit, papaya, etc. etc...
A "Double Stuffed" Lychee

Look at those FAT lychees. The beautiful, bountiful wares of a migrant farmer and his fruit truck in my neighborhood.

found my first set of "conjoined twins" lychee fruit!

More and more I'm noticing that the end of April to the end of May brings me some anxiety. This year in particular I almost felt like.... I lost a month or two. Almost like I literally disappeared, I mentally "checked out" because I was so lost in thought and consumed by potentially losing another good friend here. It's a sort of limbo where I have no control of what the outcome will be and I'm just waiting and ...bracing myself.

This = me- during April and May here. Not as much blue sticky tac around my neck but... pretty much. 

I'm talking about the "Expat Exodus". I'm learning- if you're me: there are always tears - usually in the quiet- alone... and prayers. Sometimes unexpected tears may come on your birthday, if you happen to be meeting with your community group that night and are going around doing a group prayer for different things. The saving grace may be that it is a smaller group that night, not everyone is there. But still those tears.. come. Bend you over. Faster than you can keep them in while, embarrassed, not meaning to make a scene, not knowing that this would happen, you try to muffle your voice- bring your mouth to your knees. But what follows may be the consolation of a hand rubbing your back and whispering prayers and another hand holding your hand and praying and the realization that.... these friends are SO GOOD and SO LOVE you and know EXACTLY WHAT you're feeling. They're - two long term- Taiwanese-American and Texan/"Army Brat Germany-raised"-American- expats too. Here because of marriage and family/work and most likely here for the "long term". They have seen people come and go and come and go .... and have cried the same tears. Again, maybe not in this way, maybe not so publicly at 8pm on a Wednesday night in Neihu, but they HAVE been there. If this kind of DEEP MOURNING is the flip side of the PURE JOY coin of connecting with people, that night I desperately wanted someone to toss that coin again and see where it landed. With their prayers and love, I was blessed with.... pure joy. That night, that suffering and all of the little day to day short term sufferings that, as an expat, anyone may feel, is NO match to the long term love and joy that I feel to be surrounded and loved and accepted by such amazing friends here.

So blessed to have these ladies in my life here. <3

Around May is when most teachers decide what they will do for the next year because a lot of teachers here get hired/leave in August and so, by May they are making decisions. I got hired in December, so my schedule is a little different, but still, I know for myself that I am staying in Taiwan through December 2O16.   But I knew for a fact that two of my good guy friends- Chris and Alex will be leaving. CHRIS works for AIT- the American Embassy in Taiwan, and he will be moving to Azerbaijan- I think I've got that right- I was calling it "Ahmadinejad" like that Iranian dictator/president for the longest time!- to work at their embassy next. Chris has hosted Thanksgiving dinner for a big group of his friends at his - amazing, huge, lovely AIT provided- apartment here in Taipei for the past two years. There's eating, drinking, a variety of boardgames and mahjong. He is nothing less than open, kind, hospitable, and really happy to have people over and host. Plus, he's got great timing/wit- he's funny. So it will be really sad to see him go. BUT there is Facebook and potential future adventure trips to Azerbaijian to look forward to. ALEX is another great guy friend here- he's from Philly/Southern New Jersey and so we've got that "East Coast" connection. He went on the Chinese New Year bike trip with me and Sar and Sar's friend Julia this past year and he's just an all around great guy - down for anything - indoor rock climbing, KTV, checking out bands at a livehouse here. He's going to Beijing for a year and then to London doing a Master's Degree - one yr in each country. He's going to China first. He's never been to China .... so it will be interesting and fun for me to see his reactions/culture shock on FB. Ha. :D I'm thinking of doing a trip to Chengdu/Sichuan for CNY next Feb ... so maybe I'll meet up with him then? But either way, I know that there is the potential for future adventures and the consolation of FB connections. Alex is awesome... and he also has a great sense of humor- very necessary to survive in Beijing I think. So, see? He's off to a good start. He's got an advantage when all those elbows come at him in the Beijing subway! Ha. Thank God for wit and swift reaction time!

Two people, to me, seems like a lot to lose in one year already. Last year, I lost Amy- only one really good friend. But still, one TOO many in my book. So.... when I heard that this year it might be moving from two up to THREE people leaving this summer- when I heard that Sar - (a fellow New York/New Jersey snarky, witty, awesome soul who like me lived in China before coming to Taiwan and who I am SO grateful to have in my life here and who I've made SO many memories with here already) was debating on leaving too - whether to go back to her "first love" - Beijing for another year. My mind began racing and my heart sank - like a really heavy dragon boat. Loaded with people. Too much information. I unexpectedly fell into the river. I was throwing my "zongzi" in the water at the fish but I was still being eaten up by.... worry about being left behind, etc.

found a "good luck" gecko in my apartment hallway. Things must be looking up. :)  I love these guys. My bodyguards. They eat any/all the spiders and cockroaches. 

You're NOT allowed to leave until I leave. That's "the rule". For everyone.  In my head. But in reality it comes down to two things: #1.PRAYING trusting that God has a plan- knowing that you are God's as much as I am and that we all have life lessons to learn- unfortunately sometimes not in the same location, AND #2. PERSUASION/ADVERTISING - if you have a friend in limbo, not sure if they will "stay or go" and they have booked a week long trip to Beijing in late May to go and see and help them to decide-- maybe you might send them a FB message listing all of the reasons why it would be both more practical and more awesome to stay in Taiwan for another year rather than go back to Beijing? OR you might leave a subtle but still somewhat snarky comment on her/his Instagram photo taken in Tiananmen Square? about the Beijing smog you can see in the picture contrasting with the gorgeous blue skies back in Taipei happening that same day. THEN you might get smacked in the face by KARMA/GOD for your snarky comment-- because the universe/God throws a wrench in the plan - obscuring the obvious notion that no one would want to live in all of that smog- by delivering your friend a week of gorgeous BLUE skies in Beijing - perfect for biking the Great Wall and exploring Houhai Lake and the hutong neighborhoods. Fuck. - pardon my American. But seriously you think- Now what? Gorgeous skies, big historical city, memories from 3 years living there in the past, a perfectly working VPN to access FB and Instagram. Surely your friend is gonna pick Beijing over Taipei. ALSO - note that KARMA/GOD sends you and Taipei a full WEEK OF RAIN at the same time BEIJING is getting SUNSHINE.  Again, I blame it on my snark and not trusting God.  So... you brace yourself and think.. well... I guess we know where this is going. 

Growing increasingly impatient- Hating to wait until your friend gets back to hear someone else- most likely Leo, because your mouth can't get the words out and your ears can't handle to hear it, so you know it's not gonna be YOU- ask "the: question "How was Beijing? When will you LEAVE to move BACK there?" wanting but not wanting to hear her answer and at this point thinking to yourself "FINE. JUST LEAVE." 

Only to find out.... that your friend has decided to STAY in TAIPEI - Taiwan for this next year. It was a shock to me. I felt like the deck was stacked against Taiwan. But obviously God has his reasons for keeping her here and she has her own too. So, I am SO happy that we get another year to explore, laugh, make memories here etc.  Despite our connections, we're all independent souls wandering this earth and tomorrow isn't guaranteed but... God, it's sure nice to have people that you love stick around a little longer than you were expecting them too -- especially since we are BOTH New York/New Jersey people. I don't know anyone else here who knows New York the way she and I know New York - (meaning the city, the "south", not "Albany/Buffalo")... it is home. for both of us. I feel like it's so rare to find a New Yorker living/working in Asia and I'm so grateful for the gift of her presence and all the memories we've made here already. Plus, knowing that we both have the same "home" to go "home" to whenever either of us choose to....whether to visit or to live, is really cool. To put it simply. 

So now that THAT albatross has been lifted from my neck, all the comings and goings for this next year have been "decided", I am feeling so much more free and ready to enjoy the summer here. KTV night and dragon boat racing coming up this weekend, Leo's PH.D graduation ceremony next weekend, a tentative weekend group trip to Alishan soon, beach days at Baishawan in July... etc. 

Life is good. Life is SO FULL. But still, I am feeling.... a pull, as far as me, myself my time here. I know that I have another year. One. Until December 2O16.... or possibly May 2017- depending if I stay through the next graduation-- I would be back teaching an L1 class then, starting September 2016 and wouldn't have the pressure of "hosting" graduation -- teaching L3 graduate class.  I want to travel more and maybe get different types of work experience? Maybe do a stint as a sheep sheerer in New Zealand at a WWOF before heading home? who knows. I'd love to do a road trip around the US--- and I want to return to New York. At the "end of the day", I really really really really really want to return to New York. So, those are the two wants that I'm caught between- more traveling and nesting in New York. BUT I'm ready to stop living in Taiwan. I'm growing impatient with myself.... staying still here for too long. I've loved my time in Taiwan but it's a gut feeling that is really pulling me. So, see? it's really unfair for me to hold people hostage/expect them to stay for... to wait for me. I get it. It hurts to see people leave, but I get it. At the end of the day/night it all really comes down to prayer -- and persuasion. 

** So that was my May and June. I have to say, in comparison, July has been a real blessing. My older kids class is OVER - their finals taken and graded, their academic reports submitted and sent home. I get out of work between 4:30- 2 days per week and 5- 5:30 3 days per week now- as opposed to 6:30 or 7pm. So many things - Qipao Night/Leo's Graduation, 4th of July trip to Rainbow Village in Taichung, TWO KTV nights, AND  speaking of "rainbows" - Marriage Equality has happened across all states in the US after the Supreme Court ruling. Ah... I will TRY to do better at my updating.  

NEXT - OVERDUE POST is my visit HOME - in APRIL-- Joy's Wedding and meeting up with Amy! Stay tuned.  :)

Sunset from The Empire State Building. NYC.  April 2015.

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