In the past month, I have found myself twice trying to explain to people why we still live in Taiwan. I guess it is a little odd to choose to live in a country that is not your country for such a long time. I mean, five years is half a decade. I think everyone, ourselves included, expected us to move to Taiwan for two years and then either move back home or move to another country. I don't think anyone, ourselves included, expected that five years on, we would still be here with no plans of leaving.
So how did it happen?
I was first asked this question over summer by my husband's beloved aunt. Her daughter is considering a field in education, and I was talking to her about teaching abroad. My husband's aunt asked me a question I didn't immediately know how to answer: why do you like it so much over there? Instantly, when she asked this very reasonable question, fleeting moments of our life and my life in Taiwan flashed through my mind, but I was at a complete loss for how to put those fleeting moments and images into words, especially talking to someone who had never been to Taiwan before. I think I just said something along the lines of: Taiwan's great!
The second time I was asked this question was over beef noodle soup with some people who are brand new to Taiwan and our school. They were somewhat surprised to learn we have been here for so long. I realized then that we have become the veterans. With the exception of a few people, we are the ones who have been in Taiwan the longest. I myself was floored.
How did that happen?
How did five years pass by in the blink of an eye?
It was somewhat easier explaining it to our new friends. They, after all, have some context at least. We are going into our third week of school. They have been in Taiwan for almost two months now. They are also somewhat familiar with the world of international teaching.
Still, trying to explain why we are still here involves so much.
The truth is this: there is no easy or neat answer.
I guess it's simpler to start with the practicalities.
I am a teacher. Being a teacher in America is hard financially and emotionally. In fact, for me, I now consider it off limits. I respect myself too much to endure that again. Some people may think I am being overly dramatic, but all I can say is unless you lived it like I did for 5 years, you just cannot know. Here, I like going to school. I love my kids. I love our time together. That matters to me so much more than I know how to explain.
There is also the fact that, in my current circumstance, the profession of teaching is more humane. I don't have to be a slave to my profession. I have three times as much planning time built into my day. I can eat an hour long lunch undisturbed. I can leave work at work. Here, I have time for dinners with friends, ladies nights, tennis, running, scoot adventures, dates with the husband, writing, photography, travelling, cooking, reading for fun, sleeping well, movie nights, and many other things I dream up. I know from first hand experience that time for life's pleasures is an essential component of a life well lived.
Then, there is the financial security we have come to cherish. In the last 12 months, we've been able to pay off more than $45,000 of debt. We have saved and traveled and enjoyed life. I don't exactly relish the thought of moving back home and giving up our current situation in which 90% of our annual income is true disposable income. I also don't relish moving to another country or school where our current lifestyle won't be possible, which is a very likely scenario.
Then there are the other small things that, upon reflection, don't feel so small after all. Things like safety and socialized health care. Last night, I went on a walk by myself at 10:30. It was a pleasant temperature outside and the stars were out. There was a slight breeze and the leaves were starting to fall from the trees. I noticed this while walking back to my apartment from ladies night, so I decided to just take a solo stroll. I wandered down dark streets and around a deserted lake. I was safe. Here, women can be so much safer than back home. Last last last month, I went to a walk in clinic. I saw a doctor, who trained in America and spoke perfect English, within five minutes. He checked me over and deduced that I had a sinus infection. He gave me three prescriptions, and all of it-- the visit and the drugs--cost me $5 USD.
Other practicalities include weekend jaunts to Japan and Hong Kong. They include my scooter, which I spend less than $10 USD a month filling with gas. They include the grocery store where I fill up my cart with real food rather than nothing by processed food. They include never worrying about being a random victim of gun violence because people here cannot have guns.
These practicalities matter.
I've had people scoff at me when I list these things and essentially accuse me of greed and anti-patriotism. I am not going to apologize for wanting a better life for myself and my husband, and I am not going to apologize for leaving my own country to find it. I wish I could have found decent work and money and safety and health care in America, but I couldn't. In truth, it's Taiwan that gave me all of those things.
Beyond the practicalities, there are other reasons why I am still here.
These things will be harder to put into words.
It's how landing at Taoyuan Airport feels like coming home. It's how the sound the high speed rail trains make when they are about to leave is so familiar. It's how the people at my favorite restaurants know my name and what I like. It's how many students are excited to be in my class because they have been looking forward to it for sometimes years. It's how we get together with friends after a summer apart and just pick up right where we left off. It's how I feel when I am scooting through the high mountains of Taiwan, flabbergasted that somehow, life led me to this moment. It's how the flavors of Taiwan have become some of my absolute favorite flavors. It's how each year, we have the opportunity to meet and make new friends and experience something fabulous with them as we navigate this expat experience. It's how I scoot down the road during rush hour traffic and nothing about it feels bizarre or strange or scary. It's how the sound of a Taiwanese thunderstorm sounds like one of the most beautiful things in the world.
It's how Taiwan has seduced me with a million small moments.
Those are all of the things that popped into my head when I was talking to Sean's aunt. Still, this is not a sufficient explanation for why, five years into this experience, we are still in Hsinchu with no plans of saying goodbye.
I guess, in a nutshell, the simplest explanation is this:
it's not time and we are not ready.
And, weirdly enough, this lotus pond by our apartment is another one of those Taiwan things I am just not ready to part with. But, you can see why, right?!