Life in Taiwan

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I left Taiwan July of1995. It was the end of a two year and nine month stay.

If you have never lived in a foreign country or at least travelled for a long period in one, then I think you should. I am not saying that because it is easy. In Taiwan, on top of cultural problems, there was the bad air pollution, the awful traffic, small crowded apartments, no real bread (one of the things I missed most while I lived there), heat, humidity, etc...

The cultural problems were never huge, but they made friendships frustrating and though my Mandarin was good, it was never good enough to express exactly what I felt. And in any good relationship, communication is everything. I had many Taiwanese friend but not really good ones.

Plus there was the fact that I could never belong there. Not Chinese, I would never be accepted as Taiwanese, no matter how good my Mandarin or Taiwanese (Taiwan's other major dialect, Taiwanese or Fukien, is closer to Cantonese than Mandarin, and I knew very little) was. People would always be surprised that I could speak any Chinese at all and would always be asking the same few questions that are always asked.

My decision to leave was based on all those little pressures which I knew sooner or later would drive me crazy.

But I still think it was one of the most incredible experiences I ever had, and worth any discomfort that I underwent, culturally or physically. I stayed as long as I did because I liked the Taiwanese very much. They are very friendly, and open. I admire their entrepenurial spirit, everyone there seems to start their own business at some point.

You can get up early and go out in the city and see people doing Taichi, older women learning ballroom dancing, old men playing Chinese Chess in the park. At night there are amazing markets packed with people and filled with all sorts of strange and great tasting foods. There is always something to eat somewhere in the city no matter what time of day.

I admire the fact that they are anything but apolitical. The last election I was there for had an 80% voter turn out. Everyone seemed to be discussing the issues, everyone was interested, often passionately, maybe a little to often violently.

There was a great community of foreign students and English teachers. We probably complained a little too much, but I learned a lot by meeting people from all over the world: Europe, Korea, Japan, Indonesia, Australia, etc...

I myself studied Mandarin; taught English a while before I discovered that I was a lousy teacher; worked in a small trading company starting out as a data enterer and ending up as a manager of sorts.

All that made it worthwhile. You learn a lot about yourself when thrown into a completely different world. Among other things, I discovered I was American. And that is why I left.

Read on to see where I left to...

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