Leaving Taiwan

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I will miss:

1. The people, foreigners and Taiwanese. The sweet tutoring students and their parents that gave me the benefit of the doubt.

2. Cheap produce, fresh tropical fruit and vegetables available at a reasonable price to everyone in every corner of the city.

3. So many transportation options:  bicycle, scooter, subway and motorcycle. Timely trains and cheap taxis all over the island.

4. Affordable rent.

5. Drinking alcohol in public with friends.

6. Having helpful policemen, instead of scary might-shoot-you policemen.

7. Finding a new job relatively easily and quickly.

8. Cheap healthcare for all.

9. Cheap shoes and handbags, easily bought and just as easily disposed of.

10. My expatriot traveler friends who support me in my adventures with suggestions and well wishes. I’ve never had such an incredible support system.

11. Having leisure time to pursue other interests and personal growth.

12. Cheap repairs and handymen.

13. Cellphone plans and mechanic services that won’t break the bank.

14. Clean and prolific public parks and campsites.

What I won’t miss:

1. The food; oily, over sweetened and usually brown and mushy. And funky salty drinks and desserts.

2. The racism, while not malicious, still a great show of willful ignorance of other cultures in the world.

3. The pollution: air and water.

4. Mandarin tones and never being able to adequately express myself and therefore treated like a helpless child.

5. The idea you should spend your whole childhood and young adult life in a classroom or at work.

6. Being stared at in the subway, supermarket, on the street and whispers or shouts of “outsider.”

7. Not having enough public interest in a variety of music in order to encourage outside touring groups to pass through.

8. Having to explain where I’m from, why I can’t speak Chinese and how much I love Taiwanese food out of polite obligation.

9. Terrible patched-up plumbing, trash pickup schedules and nosy neighbors.

10. Fire. Firecrackers set off at dawn on a Saturday. Ghost money burnt on the street choking the whole area with smoke.

11. Natural Disasters. Typhoons, flooding, earthquakes, rip tides and crippling humidity.

12. The constant smell of decay and war on cockroaches.

13. The lack of sidewalks and slippery marble tile shop entrances.

14. Riding a scooter in the rain.

15. How doctors act like you’re crazy for having a checkup and try to rush you out the door.

16. How difficult it is to build friendships of mutual reliance when everyone shows up late.

17. Trying and failing to date in a society that rewards quiet, weak and reserved women.

18. Being told I wear a large everything in clothes when I’m clearly a small on top and a medium on bottom.

19. Having 80% of your friends be foreigner men who turn into alcoholics because they can afford to, and the Taiwanese girlfriends that assure them their behavior is socially acceptable.

20. Only having two career options available to you: teaching English or making food.

21. Squat toilets and a lack of toilet paper and soap in the public bathrooms.

22. That nagging sense you will never belong so you ought to move on.

23. Having it assumed that I cannot order my own food, because I am a white female in a restaurant with a man and/or a Taiwanese person.

24. Everyone I know smoking cigarettes because it is cheap, and choking on smoke while dancing or out listening to music.

Falling

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People prowled the meadow camping area and forested stages in vibrant tie-dye everything, bizarre caveman outfits to incite conversation. Earth Fest, an underground music festival in the forest, was crawling with hippies and wannabes.

This past weekend I attended a music festival outside Taichung, Taiwan on a farm near Puli. It was difficult to reach without access to a car, and it was only through the kindness of friends I made it to and from unscathed.

Much of the music was Psytrance or something psychedelic in nature with long, repetitive, rhythm sequences and minimalist eerie tones. It’s not my favorite music, but it was an excellent excuse to dance with friends in the forest and wear bright colors. Most of all to forget responsibilities.

At some point Saturday night I went on a tree climbing expedition with friends, Will and Micah.  Maybe their girlfriends were there, maybe not. At any rate the girlfriend’s presence was not felt because they didn’t climb and didn’t add anything to the conversation or overall experience.

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Taiwan doesn’t have many pine trees, since most of it is covered in tropical jungle, but of course if you travel to a high enough altitude you see the ecosystem become more temperate and there are a few pine trees.

We chose a tree and in my excitement I scrambled monkey like up the tree. One step, and a thunderous crack later I was back on the ground with an “OOOoooophhhh.”

I fell. The branch had broken under me, my feet sinking before I noticed just like a cartoon character.

It wasn’t a small branch, but a bigger one and even as I fell I didn’t feel a great amount of terror, just surprise. Before, I had felt so certain of my actions, maybe reckless in my lack of fear.

I hopped up quickly, to show myself and my friends I was unhurt. Their faces looked back with wide-eyed owl like concern, and I immediately apologized for scaring them before climbing back up the tree.

  
Climbing trees holds a significant memory from my childhood, one in which I had another fall from a Ponderosa pine straight onto a rose bush. My cousin Gabriel pulled me down the hill in a wagon to receive medical attention from the adults. Something about climbing makes me desert my cautious nature and instead focus on getting higher with a one-minded intensity I rarely experience in anything else.

I love getting a better vantage point and using all my limbs to pull myself up. It’s a completely different animal trying to get down a tree and just as difficult as it was going up. Climbing trees uses common sense, reasoning and probability. Can I reach that? Will it break? Which branch is a better reach? Where do I want to go? Up; is usually the direction I want, but we learn to compromise and move sideways sometimes.

Falling is a natural part of learning, or maybe I should say failing. When you are younger it is expected and a physical short fall on short legs. The reward is great and the risk, small. As we get older there is a stigma, people who fail frequently are pigeonholed as ‘losers.’ In reality these are the people who are learning the most.

I remember my mother telling a story about my brother touching a hot stove. She told him not to touch, explained why and then he touched it anyway. I recall thinking, “My brother must be so stupid. I don’t need to touch the fire to know it’s hot. I trust mom to tell me the truth.”

Our family has a long standing tradition of letting people learn their own lessons, but not when it comes to safety of course. Protecting yourself from bodily harm means you must trust the judgement of others and listen to caution once in a while. This is still a difficult task for me, to trust the judgment of others when they tell me I can’t do something.

When my father visited Taiwan he told me to sell the motorcycle I had, he advised and I paraphrase, “Sell that motorcycle. It’s too big for you, and buy a nicer scooter instead.”

I know my father has experience riding a motorcycle, he knows I have a small stature and he is only looking out for my safety. But I couldn’t sell it until I learned how to ride it. He was right, it wasn’t safe, but sometimes unsafe things are what make us feel most alive. Sometimes learning a skill that scares us, gives us confidence to change.

So I climb trees, and I fall. I learn how to ride scooters and motorcycles, and I fall. But falling is learning. The hard way, but the hard way makes a strong impression and it never hurts as much as you expect.

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Sky is the Limit

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“But it’s also sometimes said the people who work quietly behind the scenes are the most important people. They really do the work and not the noisy ones.”

A quote from a beautiful song called ‘Pushy’ by the musician Lemon Jelly sampling from Harold Williamson’s 1968 BBC series “Children Talking Part 1: Ambition.” It got me thinking about my friend Sky.

She reminds me of my mother a lot, in that she is amazingly productive in her workload, and she took on a great deal of responsibility at a young age. Now, she satisfies this problem-solving fix by acting as an unofficial champion for the Taiwan newcomers.

She isn’t a saint of course, she gets frustrated, as someone who gives far more than she gets back. But her work ethic and selflessness is legendary. In turn she has adopted and acted as a mother figure for more than one of my guy friends. To the point of possessing the title of Sky’s Guys.

She makes them food, bails them out of sticky jail situations and defends these friends with a fierce loyalty, almost blind to their shortcomings. I admire her greatly, but I haven’t been a direct benefactor of Sky’s rescue because it demands a submissive act of admitting ‘my life is falling apart.’

That and the fact I’m a girl, and she only has room in her heart for a few close girlfriends and I am not one of them. I lack the drinking stamina for one, and I cannot spend every hour of the day with people. I am an introvert at heart, and teaching leaves me with no time to myself or the privacy that I crave.

After years of experience in the kitchen she has a natural ease while entertaining and making food. But will occasionally lash out at those she considers outside her sphere, or those she feels are attacking her tribe. Her travel buddies and contacts are her most valuable resource.

It’s easy to pick apart someone else’s character instead of turning around the microscope to examine myself. But I write about Sky, out of a deep respect for someone who I believe possesses a striking ability to include and love many people at one time. Spreading the love around to a great variety of friends.

I, on the other hand, select a few people for my limited time slots and dedicate myself to giving abundantly to these few, and somewhat sparingly, almost stingily to the rest of the general public.

aboveIt’s a challenge to be an all-encompassing introvert. Drinking alcohol certainly helps introverts become more extrovert. I still feel after spending two hours around most groups I am ready to go somewhere new or find a cozy corner to talk to just a few people at a time.

So I salute Sky and her sandwich shop of friends, her aptitude for tempting old friends to visit her in a foreign country. Few people could do what she has done, and what she will do.

All Growed Up

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This past weekend I attended an engagement party one night, and dinner party birthday the next. These acted as reminders that, yes, although I often practice avoidance in all avenues of maturity and romance my contemporaries do not waste time finding their own complimentary significant others.

I can now say I know three awesome couples in Kaohsiung in which I enjoy both members individually and as a unit. It gives me something to look forward to, like a barbeque fire on the roof in a typhoon that stays lit despite all odds. At the same time these important moments emphasize the idea that compromise is essential, but only to a certain extent.

We want to find someone that understands how we work. Someone that knows when I say, “I will give you time to pack.” I really mean, “Hurry up and clean the living room or I will cut you.” Alternately when I say, “The dishes can wait until morning,” I really mean it. I hate doing dishes after the meal, and I like doing them when I wake up in the morning.

No one wants to give too much or too little. And it is wonderful to see couples together that have found that balance without bitterness. People that remain friends inspite of the lack of privacy that successful relationships require.

I feel honored to know them, and always that aftertaste, a nostalgic pang like the last taste of wine when you realize your time together as friends is fleeting.

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My friend groups here in Taiwan are exceptionally transient, both the foreigners and Taiwanese because those are the kind of people I like: adventurous, mildly unpredictable, accepting and entertaining. I love them because of these factors and I will miss them just the same when they leave to their ‘Next New Adventure.’

Unfortunately, I have little confidence in our abilities to stay in touch, even with emails and Facebook, Instagram and the rest. Travelers live in the present, and although they reminisce about the past the majority of their energy is spent making new memories.

So I will try to preserve these friendships in writing, adding a safeguard to my memories, some sort of false sense of preserving the non preservable.

K and J I wish you all the best wine in Spain. S and R I will miss our music classes and art talks. S and P I hope you enjoy your trip back to France, your spice collection fills me with great appreciation. If I ever get around to growing up, I want to be just like you.

Temple Business Time

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A few weeks ago I was invited to a Taiwan temple fair for a banquet. This particular temple was honored for business purposes, for example burning incense and ghost money to certain gods that will help a business prosper and ultimately make more money.

Trisha, a friend I made through Couch Surfing meetups in Kaohsiung, is a member of the business that bought a table at the event to support the temple. As the representative she hosted and invited a few crazy foreigner friends to eat ten courses of food and watch the Chinese opera afterwards.

I have to admit even after almost two years in Taiwan passing by temple gatherings, it was surprising to be part of one. I was also exhausted and possibly hungover on this particular Sunday evening.

To create the venue the temples string together multiple rainbow striped tents like an outdoor wedding, then block off a whole street, like a block party. Then there is the makeshift stage that has a percussionist onstage to the side, and lots of cross-dressing mothers with long wigs holding microphones.

But first, the dinner. They started with some thin noodles served with a haunch of pork, then a brown viscous fish soup, a beautifully steamed whole fish, some boiled shrimp (most beloved by Taiwanese), some small individually wrapped sweet rice dumplings with pork filling, herbal soup made with black chicken, some broccoli covered in another syrupy sauce and something meaty and suspicious, and finally a fruit platter. That’s nine, so somewhere along the way I think they served duck as well.

I tried to talk to the host sitting next to me and my friend Amy on my right, however it was too difficult to communicate seated in front of the speakers blaring traditional squeaky music. Think of music you might consider Chinese, and then think of a polka and it will be close to  the 100 Best Taiwan Traditional Hits mix they put on at all they temples.

Luckily, my friend saw the anguish I was feeling over the music and continued to pour me Taiwan Beer into the small glass cups at the table. A group of temple elders walked around doing cheers and “ganbei” with all the tables that were drinking. Afterwards they had a trio of women in pink qipao walk around serenading each table in turn; the live Chinese violin and cello made the recorded music sound less offending and the result was not as loud.

With the dishes being cleared there was time to watch the opera that was happening at the opposite end of the tent. My Chinese comprehension isn’t good enough to translate the play, but what I could infer from the acting was a family drama. The insolent son, the abusive father, the ruined family business, the protective mother and obedient daughter; all the stereotypes were present and accounted for.

There was acting interspersed with long-sleeve gown dancing and music with an exceptionally loud wood block to punctuate certain movements.

Overall, it was enlightening and served as a reminder of the gap between feeling comfortable living abroad, and really understanding the cultural context that is behind so many traditions. I certainly have a long way to go before even partially understanding why some things are acceptable and others are not. For instance this temple gathering was conservative in nature, but some temple gathering have half-dressed women dancing. Of course, what god wouldn’t want to see more women? But in a culture where women are considered slutty for wearing bikinis at the beach, its a serious double standard.

All countries and cultures have their blind spots, and traditions that are inherently contradictory. That’s part of the reason being in the presence of others’ traditions can be so interesting, and sometimes frightening.

Slideshow of some of the photos I took, hopefully next time I try I will figure out how to add audio of my choice.

Food in my Hood

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I recently found a new Taiwanese private tutor to encourage my neglected Mandarin Chinese studies. My tutor is a 24-year-old graduate student at Wenzao University in Kaohsiung. She is getting her masters in English, and I am her lucky practice student.

Wenzao is known for teaching languages, and for a suspiciously  female-dominated student population. Most of my foreigner male friends date the English student “Wenzao girls.”

Ruhua was a tutor for my friend, and in yet another stroke of luck, she loves food as much as I do. So last week she showed me a few of the famous places in the Yancheng neighborhood.

I often go to the Buddhist lunchbox restaurant with lots of traditional Taiwanese food served completely vegetarian. It isn’t  vegan though, they still have egg options.

We went to a Cantonese-style lunchbox with roast duck and pork over rice. She explained that even though it was comparatively expensive for lunch, 90 NT = $3, she would treat herself because, she groaned, “The skin is so crispy!”

Afterwards she wanted to show me a dessert place around the corner, mochi the glutinous rice Japanese dessert is pronounced more like ‘mo-sure’ in Chinese with another more formal name niangao 年糕.

The fillings she suggested were peanut, taro and red bean-strawberry. I would recommend the taro. Taro is that purple starchy sweet root vegetable so popular in Asian countries, like Taiwan, China and even the Philippines. I still don’t like the sweetened red bean filling. For me beans are more at home in bean dip and enchiladas, but not desserts.

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Creatively Yours

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Taiwanese people on the surface are interested in logical and most importantly high-profit, low-risk solutions to life’s problems. Safety and income are prioritised as more important than happiness and relaxation, especially for young people who are expected to work 60 hour weeks to show their vigilance in supporting their family.

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In my random sampling of friends and acquaintances I regularly make suggestions that I hope they will take time for themselves to relax and enjoy being young. Of course we all have different things that make us happy, but I have a diverse portfolio of interests that make me happy and I try to share some of these with them.

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I am a patron of the arts, a poor patron, but a patron just the same. I like music events, films, biking, running, hiking, photography, reading, writing, baking, cooking, traveling and more recently painting. It’s easy to find a mutual interest, but it is a little difficult to find a way we can both enjoy that interest in execution. They usually want to be orderly and well-planned in advanced, and I want to do things on the fly.

Last Sunday, one of my Taiwanese friends organized an art in the park event. The premise is pretty simple, he went to the museum and was inspired to have a group painting in the park…with feet. He went and bought canvas, paint trays and some kind of latex-based paints. When my Taiwanese friends start a new hobby the start  by going shopping to buy all the “necessary” equipment.

They don’t do things halfway with a litmus test to see if they like it or not. No, instead they will find some online list of “MUST HAVES” and then buy all the things. On the other hand I would probably improvise a cheaper option or wait to buy it later. For example my friend organizing the painting event, I thought he would buy paint and thicker paper and then we could run around on some long streamers.

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He chose to buy the canvas which it turns out was even better because damp feet would probably break through paper. But he was really stressing about having buckets for rinsing feet, and holding paint and I suggested we use some old shoe boxes. Improvisation, it isn’t always pretty or well-thought out or endorsed by websites.

Improvisation and creativity are not really encouraged or taught in Taiwan. My students at school are downright confused when I ask questions that aren’t in the book. But that doesn’t mean some Taiwanese don’t naturally gravitate towards the crazy foreigners that can show them a more laissez faire approach to enjoying art.

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The creativity is there, just under all the controlled actions and procedure driven behavior. Once and a while I am lucky enough to watch a friend or student really exhibit their creativity, without shame or worrying about the time. That’s the good stuff. Witnessing creativity at work is almost as good as participating in it first-hand. It isn’t planned, it’s a little crazy and there is a chance of failure and also the chance to make something entirely new and wonderful.

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The Beat Drops

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If ever in doubt of passion in the world, talk to a DJ about music. In Kaohsiung City, Taiwan the diversity of music available might be limited, but the personalities of the DJs  and club owners are widely varied in their music tastes and motivations.

Theo, a British DJ known as Chamber, has a theory about music acquisition, “The way people, scientifically, psychologically, get into music is you hear a different sound and it might not sound good, but the more you hear it the more you understand it, and it sounds better.”

Chamber hopes to motivate a shift in listening habits and introduce some new music to Taiwan in the process. He spins Underground Sounds, a weekly alternative music radio show on ICRT, the most popular English-speaking station in Taiwan. Also he participates in a friend’s monthly music and art exposition in the park that celebrates rap, graffiti, breakdancing and hip hop culture.

Listening to music is a social act. Someone singing on stage two feet away or in a recording studio 20,000 miles away is communicating a feeling. Music encourages people to feel new emotions, and even empathize with different cultures.

Paula, DJ P-LaLa is one of the few female DJs in southern Taiwan. Not to be confused with the Supermodel-style female DJs groomed for fame and followers, she is motivated to DJ for the music and has been spinning at Brickyard for the past four years. In that time she became an ambassador for Latin music. Her fluency in Spanish, and time spent abroad gives her an advantage mixing Latin and dance music. As a Kaohsiung local she is more approachable for questions about Latin music than other DJs that cannot speak Chinese.

“A lot of my friends did not like Latin music so much, a lot of them didn’t know what Latin music was,” Paula admitted.  “It took me about a year to get a lot of people to show up for Latin music. The  first time I heard people tell me ‘I love Reggeton!’ I was like, ‘Really?’ I got so happy because that’s a slower beat music about 95-100. A lot of Taiwanese people just like the boom boom boom so when it slows down they don’t know what to do.”

New music can be grounds to form new friendships and a sense of community, as Chamber communicated, “Music is very important, because you probably find this as well, you make a lot of friends through bonding over music. You meet people, and you like the same music, and you get talking.”

The business side of the music industry requires that the venues turn a profit. Profit is generated by people walking in the door, dancing and drinking. No profit, no DJ.

DinDin, also a local Kaohsiung DJ, won the Taiwan Red Bull Thre3Style DJ competition last year. He said his former club boss at LAMP told him he could only play popular Electronic Dance Music (EDM), and no Taiwanese music. DinDin and Chamber agreed the Kaohsiung dance clubs often have formulaic policies when it comes to playing music.

Graham Dart and Ryan Fernandez are co-owners of Brickyard, a  bar-club hybrid. In the last five years the music played and purpose of the venue has shifted to balance what Taiwanese and foreigners want to hear, according to Graham.

“We absolutely don’t tell DJs what to play.” Graham clarified that he would give feedback to the DJ later if people were walking out because of the music.

DJs are in the unique position of being familiar with a wide range of music, but only being able to share the part the audience is willing to hear. After all listening is optional, a conversation and not a lecture.

Audiences can be persuaded to like a new sound. Old popular songs played before something new can get people excited. These excited dancing people are more likely to enjoy the new song that follows. The “educational” beats can only be played if they are tolerated by club management. Even if the audience responds enthusiastically there is no guarantee a DJ will be asked to play again, there is an emphasis on giving people what they want to hear and only the most easily digested music.

Alex, DJ Apeshit to friends, is both Taiwanese and British. An electronic DJ specializing in hip hop, trap and drum and bass (DnB), he started DJing in Shanghai before moving to Kaohsiung five years ago. For him, playing music Taiwanese are familiar with is sometimes necessary.

“Taiwanese culture, once they like a song they’ll play it ten thousand times,” Alex said. “It has to be something that’s familiar to them otherwise they will be like, ‘How do we dance to this? This is awkward.’”

Alex compared DJing a new sound to “walking on ice, you can get past it if you don’t stand on the ice too long…because if you do it for too long they’ll be scared.”

He arrived at the height of the Lady Gaga and “Party Rock Anthem” pop music craze but the trend has shifted. According to Alex now there is a lot more electronic house, progressive house and some trap being played.

The Mansion, a new club in Kaohsiung, opened in January this year. The club spokesperson and promoter, Tanya Rose said the club will play electronic, house, techno and hip hop.

“The DJs are chosen based on different credentials. Mostly experience and type of music they play.  The Mansion focuses on electronic and hip hop. Commercial music is also important because it is familiar to most, and helps people feel comfortable. I believe when we feel comfortable, we can begin the process of relaxing, releasing, and reaching a state of happiness.”

One difficulty playing non commercial music is the language barrier. “I think it’s the language barrier that stops people from checking online for the new music,” said Paula. A few years ago she translated “dubstep” into Chinese for readers on Wikipedia, but she said few people read the page. Without Chinese translations acquiring new music knowledge can be difficult for Taiwanese that don’t already speak English.

DinDin described one music request he had while DJing, a person asked for hip hop and then protested when he played it. “This isn’t hip hop it goes (bzhhhhh.) That’s called trap! They didn’t know what it was called.”

Lack of diversity in dance music can affect the live music scene as well. With only three live music venues The Mercury up north, and ROCKS and Black Dog in the south it is unlikely people in Kaohsiung will try listening to new music if they don’t have a vocabulary to tell friends about it.

Paula thinks most Taiwanese people get new music from popular culture, celebrities and movies, and pick the music they go to see by its perceived popularity and not its sound. She recalled going to a Delinquent Habits concert with under twenty people attending.  Maybe it was a promotion issue, and maybe the lack of popularity for hip hop in Taiwan at the time.

“If you introduce people to music they have never heard before and they love it, it can change their lives. It’s a lot more than just making money at a bar. It’s worthwhile, but that’s missing from here,” said Chamber.

If audiences hear the same music, they will request the same music and expect the same music. Hong Kong has a healthy variety of music, Taipei has begun to appreciate more genres, and Kaohsiung can too. It starts with a request.

Lovelocked Twenties

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Most of my friends are in their twenties, some early and some late pushing into their thirties.

In Taiwan I have Taiwanese and western friends, but most of my friends have western sensibilities because of their interest in English speakers and their culture. Therefore I only meet the cross-section of Taiwanese society that is willing to endure my stinted Chinese or speak with me in English. Everyone has a limit to their reach into all venues of society, as a woman I will never be welcomed into the men’s bathhouse.

My Taiwanese associates are more frequently in serious relationships, or pursuing one earlier in their lives than their western counterparts. I think part of this has to do with the innate communalism of their culture, “I can never do anything alone” mentality. Also Taiwan parents encourage children to settle down by the end of their twenties, the partying and ‘finding yourself’ era prevalent in the west is unacceptable.

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Relationships, friendships and otherwise are a keystone to being twenty-somethings. Despite our ages and backgrounds the nesting instinct hits hard in the twenties and for those expats attempting to flee responsibilities it can create a conflict. I want to be part of something, but I also want to be free.

I have a short list of couples in which I respect both parties. One American couple in particular has become my standard for a functional traveler relationship. They coexist well as a unit and as individuals; they have shared interests and independent interests. One of them might be at one party, while the other is in another country. Solid.

With that exception acknowledged I have to admit most relationships I witness feel forced. They want it to work so badly, and they don’t want to be alone. Relationships can be formed out of necessity, a need for intimacy and comfort. Creature comfort is important to all of us. Compromises can be expected.

I classic case is my Taiwanese girl biking friend. I spent most of spring and summer going on night bike rides with her, seeing her at many social events. Boom – enter vague Australian boyfriend. I haven’t seen her on purpose in six months, maybe because she seems dumber and I can’t respect her anymore because so much of her self worth is tied up in her relationship.

Nothing remains in her for me to relate to, she doesn’t bike anymore, she no longer goes on solo adventures, and I have ceased to invite her to parties because I know she will bring him. I will say she is still one of the sweetest girls you can find, and she is making an effort despite my radio silence. Too little, too late I’m afraid because when I don’t communicate with people frequently I lose belief in their existence. Especially, in the cases that I feel disappointed and want to forget people. Why dwell on past disappointments?

My third example is a tragic non-couple, forgive me for waxing poetic in my ambiguities. These two individuals are veteran travelers, friends, but with one-sided romantic love in the case of the man.

He told me about going from loving her at home, and then reuniting and loving her abroad. “Sometimes she wants to give me all I want,” and so it continues, strung along over decades of friendship. The free spirit and loving friend, both are independent, but incapable of the collaborative effort required in relationships. He sees someone else, his placeholder girlfriend and she parties on in a different city with other men. Then they are drawn back together magnetically by their shared history and friendship.

This is the mess we navigate in our twenties, abroad or at home. My hope is not that everything is perfect, but that I can learn something and be left with a lasting impression. This works, and this doesn’t. Try on the next shoe.

Falling

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I love autumn. I love the sweet sadness less sunlight brings. The vulnerability of smelling the dry grass and crushed leaves turning to mulch on the sidewalk.

There is a promise of colder weather and hardship, juxtaposed with an abundance of harvested food and holidays. It makes me recognize that time has passed without any remarkable improvement on my part. So I start setting goals for a new year to come; a clean slate on the horizon of January.

I don’t think I am at my happiest in fall. Rather, it makes me more quiet and reflective compared to my social summer self. Which means it is great for writing, it inspires self doubt and self improvement. It is the season of poets scribbling cryptic notes on lined paper and feeling lonely, wearing black jackets and drinking hot drinks.

It has a coziness to it, the heavier clothing cocooning you and also isolating you from the outside world. Scarves, I love scarves whipping about in the wind.

For me fall also means family, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Being evaluated for your shortcomings and loved despite them. It means being around people who know my history without needing an explanation.

However, it also means people who have known me my whole life holding me to an old standard. No doubt something I once said out loud. But I have changed, just like they have. Hopefully for the better, but who can measure that anyway.

Most progress is measured in a feeling you are moving forward in some aspect of your life. Maybe just making a lot of mistakes and learning from them, you can always chose to put a positive spin on mistakes. It worked for Edison, and he’s a pretty cool role model.

My potential and perspective shifts each year. I hope my beloved relatives can take personal growth into account.

Materially speaking my progress report is short. I haven’t gotten married, bought a house or had a child. For which I am grateful to be so unsuccessful. Sometimes success is marked by celebrating the dozens of things that have gone right, and sometimes it is celebrating what hasn’t happened. A triumphant lack of tragedy and suffering.

I might have more scar tissue and freckled skin from this climate, but I also feel more mentally well adjusted. The people I have met this past year have shaped me, and I am thankful for that. The reminder that I can serve some purpose in the workforce, and also enjoy myself in a social setting outside those parameters. I can like all the people I want, in all the different groups.

The cold will have us declare loyalties and allocate resources, who is worthy of friendship and who isn’t? Just like Game of Thrones reminds the world, “Winter is coming.”