Sunday, July 11, 2004

My so-called blog

I'm feeling blah about blogging. It was bound to happen sooner or later, wasn't it? I don't have much knitting time these days. I don't have the energy to come up with great posts. Blah. I think it's partly due to the big changes that are a-comin'. You know how it is when you know you'll soon be moving/changing jobs/travelling, and you just want to get on with it. I'm so ready to leave Taiwan. Not only that, but I'm so ready to get settled back in Canada and restart things there. I can't wait.

Warning: I'm riding a bummer*

Bill and I were out Friday evening and ran into someone we'd lost touch with a year or so ago. She said, "Oh my god, you're still here! You never left!" Arrgh.

Ah, the expat cycle of love and hate. When a person first arrives, she's idealistic. Within a few weeks, reality sets in, and she's depressed. Common thoughts include "What have I done?" and "How can anyone eat this shitty food?" The first six months are brutal, and many people give up and go home. It's hard to live so tightly packed in an ugly, polluted city where you don't speak much of the language. (Um, duh.) The people who stay either throw themselves wholeheartedly into things (hooking up with a local boyfriend/girlfriend and having a great time, but spending most of their salaries on drinking and partying) or they resign themselves to get through it for the money. (Another duh: Doing it just for the money can kill a person's spirit.) The next year is a blur. Then, either you're married or in a serious relationship with a local person and have decided to stay indefinitely, or you're reworking your finances at least once a week to figure out when the soonest point is that you can leave. As the leaving date approaches, you may become openly bitter and unable to stop yourself from complaining about absolutely everything. You fantasize about what you're going to eat when you're back home and how ridiculously easy everything will be. You don't care if this is really true, and by necessity you block out the fact that you've become used to a lifestyle that you will not be able to afford back home.

It was funny, then, to run into A. on Friday evening. When she arrived in Taipei, Bill and I had already been here for a year. She is a friend of a dear friend, so I met her at the airport and she stayed with us for a few days. On the bus from the airport into the city, she said everything was much nicer than she'd expected. I thought, "Is she high? This place is a dump." (To be fair, she had previously been living in Angola.) I admit that her optimism was hard for me to take, and we soon lost touch with each other. Now she's been here for eighteen months, and she has joined the ranks of the bitter expats. She's leaving in two weeks, and she can't wait.

It's hard to explain to people what this life is like -- and of course not everyone here has had the same experience as me. I don't claim to be an expert on this. I only know that of the Westerners I've met here who have since left, all have become a little bit nasty by the time they leave. It's just too easy to find people who support your complaints. It really puzzled me at first, how a group of foreigners (even the ones who have been here twenty years) could complain endlessly about all things Taiwan, but when you asked them when they were planning to leave, they'd say, "Leave? Why would I leave?"

Up until just a few weeks before Bill and I first came here, we'd been planning to go to Korea instead. A friend of another dear friend had spent a year or two working in Korea, so we met with her to talk and ask questions. I remember exactly what she told us: "I'm really glad that I did it, and I never want to go back." I think that's what I would say about Taiwan. (She did go back, though. She might even be there now.)

I guess I'm just in a down place right now. It's OK: only three weeks left at work, then a two-week holiday, and then I fly back. It's not all rosy, since I'm moving back without Billy (he's staying here till the spring to earn more money). This is stressful for both of us, of course. Mostly I just want to get on with it, to skip July. I want Bill and I to go on our fabulous holiday and then I want Beatrix and I to be teleported to my parents' house; a week later, I want Bea and I to be teleported to Ontario, where I'll find a great apartment within five minutes, and then I want to unpack all the stuff that's been in storage since 2001, and then I want to feel like I'm at home.

* Don't you just love Lynda Barry? (This one's especially for you, xine.)

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