In three weeks time, I will be celebrating one year in Taiwan. For most people reading this, that will sound either as a long time, or a short time. Either way, I have really come to love my life in Taiwan. There are many things about Taipei that I love and hate, and rightly so. What is life without a sense of duality?
I have learned quite a few things too; not a great many mind you, but enough that I can make the statement that it is at least quite a few things. Some are personal, some are about living in Taiwan and a few others about what it is like to write a blog about Taiwan.
1. I feel more grounded in life here than I did in Ireland
This is not something I expected to happen in Taiwan. Before I jetted off and said goodbye to Ireland, I was in a genuine state of confusion. I have moved abroad before, but that was for the purpose of studying. When I knew I would return after 1 year, living abroad isn’t difficult. At least for me it wasn’t.
It was intimidating to let myself realize that I am going to be in Taiwan for a minimum of 2 years. I was almost regretting my decision, but I knew it was the right one to make.
In Ireland, I struggled to find work that engaged me in any way. I worked in a Chinese newspaper, a call center, a post office and I earned money writing freelance on the side when it came. I had gone from living independently in Beijing, to living at home in Ireland. That isn’t to say I had no support from family and friends. I did and they were always there for me. However, I needed to be my own man again and I knew that I couldn’t do that in Ireland.
One way of showing you just how insane things are in Ireland is to show you an article from the Irish Times that states since June 2016 to now, renting has increased by 12%. I know people who pay close to $1,000 USD a month for a shared flat or house.
Even a lot of the jobs I found and had interviews for weren’t what I wanted to do. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to sound as if I am some snowflake that feels they deserve everything and avocado toast. I applied for scholarships for both China and Taiwan, and I was very lucky to get awarded one for Taiwan. I didn’t deserve to get it, I earned it. There is a difference.
Without much going on in my life in Ireland, I knew I had to make the leap and go abroad. There is nothing special about that though, 17% of all Irish people live abroad anyway. I didn’t run away from Ireland, I just ran somewhere that I felt had more opportunities and a change in life.
2. Living in Taiwan took its time to grow on me.
There was no great rush of emotions and awe at the “orient” sort of nonsense you read in so many blogs and guides about any Asian country. It was a place with people and lives and I was just another person.
Over time, this country has grown on me and I know there are people reading this that will say “give it time and you will hate it as much as the rest of us” and I won’t deny that is a possibility. Most people I have interacted with on /r/Taiwan and /r/China seem to be the most jaded group of people I have ever met and despite disliking Taiwan and China, they still continue to live here and there.
What has made me feel more grounded in Taiwan is a mixture of a few things.
- I have my own apartment and my own space. I might share where I live with others, but it is my own place that is my responsibility.
- I have a job that interests me and I like the people and the work culture that is there.
- Having a scholarship that helps me get my Master’s Degree is a huge boost and being given the opportunity is something that has helped become more grounded here.
- I have a girlfriend here that is just as weird as I am.
- I am not too worried about the future because with a Master’s Degree I can get a work visa.
- Life here feels more comfortable in terms of public transport, the closeness to being able to travel across Asia easily and even traveling inside Taiwan is fantastic.
There are far more reasons, but these are the ones that to my mind when I think about why I like it here. I have my own place, a job and soon I will have a Master’s Degree. In Ireland, I was lucky to have enough money to have a drink on the weekend with friends and living at home, all the while spending most of my day writing CVs and cover letters to companies who never wanted to hear from me in the first place.
I don’t want to say Taiwan liberated me in any sense, that to me is condescending because it was the circumstances in which I live in Taiwan that have liberated me and not this country of people. I have more opportunities and a better life here than I did in Ireland and as such, after being here one year, I feel this is where I want to be.
3. It is sometimes hard to know when I shouldn’t write about Taiwan
A few months back, I tweeted someone who founded a group based around ending the stereotyping of Asia women. In response to reading my blog, the person replied that as a white dude, I shouldn’t be writing about Taiwan. I was blocked and couldn’t defend myself. It was a bit of a shocker if I being honest.
I have always had a predisposition on writing too much about Taiwan and Asia in general. I have seen people write about very ‘orientalist’ stuff that glorifies people and cultures to the point they aren’t people and are more or less concepts of fantasies. That is why I try to not come across as glorifying or criticizing without some reasoning. My blog is from my own point of view and as such, I do my utmost best to avoid a jaded, infantilizing, orientalist tone when it comes to Taiwan, or Asia in general.
To some people, a white person writing about Taiwan is wrong. I think passing judgment on someone who is not ethnically Taiwanese to not be able to understand the complexities of Taiwanese culture and society is in itself wrong.
However, I do struggle sometimes to get past if I am being fair on a given topic or if I am thinking in a certain way because I have put a stick in the ground and comparing Taiwan to my own country or to America. Comparisons can be interesting, but to solely rely on comparisons is also to ignore a lot of the idiosyncrasies that exist in a country. I made that mistake when I compared Taiwanese and American crime rates.
Sometimes a lot of the criticism we make of other places are just our own way of coming to terms with being in a new culture. It might be an explanation, but it doesn’t make what we say any less offensive when we constantly use comparisons to belittle people.
I had my own transition in which I clung unto being Irish to the point that I mentioned it too often. It was a teddy bear or that special blanket that helped me adjust. One of my classmates took notice one day and sent me this at the end of the semester.
It was a bit of an eye-opener and it made me realize that my sense of being Irish was only a defense mechanism for settling into Taiwan. As my father always said, you aren’t truly Irish until you have lived abroad. In many senses he was correct. I find many people when they come to Taiwan, or any other country for that matter, tend to become somewhat more conscious of their own culture because they are being exposed to a new one.
All in all, I try my best, not only when it comes to writing blogs, but also in daily life and in my own academic writing, to avoid be complacent and comfortable in blaming a faceless “Taiwan” for my problems. I still criticize, praise and discuss matters that warrant it. Not everything here is amazing and not everything about is awful. This is a place with people, a government and a society and most importantly. it is complex.
4. Closing Thought
With one year passing by, it is nice to know I have grown in some ways. Coming to Taiwan was a decision I do not regret and I continue to feel more grounded as the days, weeks and months go by. I guess it is little wonder why so many people told me to come to Taiwan and many continue to tell me to stay.
Although, I have seen quite a few friends leave Taiwan since I came, and part of me wonders if most of the people I know now will still be here. It was something about China that was intimidating, in that most of the people that I became acquainted with left.
I am hoping that won’t be the case for Taiwan. Still though, I have made friends with people who have lived here over a decade, so I guess it can’t be true for everyone.
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4 thoughts on “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Taiwan”
Get a motorbike mate. A lot cheaper to buy, maintain, repair, easy to park and it’ll get you to lots of little nooks and crannies up in the hills you couldn’t get to in a car. It’ll free you from the limitations of public transport and it’ll keep you off those deathtraps we call “freeways”. Mind, it will also get you killed if you’re not alert and finely attuned to your surroundings.
Your next step is to ditch the MRT, get out of Taipei and start driving. Here’s a good place to start, not too far away.
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As soon as I get the money to do it. Can’t even get a car loan here.