So I’m living in Taipei, Taiwan now. It was a sudden decision to teach overseas that I have thinking about for the past 20 years. These seven weeks – and the month leading up to them – have been hard and exciting and stressful and interesting. I have never felt so alive.
Although I have learned a few words of Chinese, life is certainly more challenging when living in a country without knowing the language. I thought I was buying milk the other day, but it was actually yogurt. I’ve walked into several eating establishments then back out when I saw that everything was in Chinese with no accompanying pictures. Fortunately, Taipei has a lot of places with the menu in both Chinese and English or in Chinese with pictures so I can at least point. There are also a lot of people who work in customer service positions who speak enough English for us to figure out what I need and for me to get it.
I have waiters and store clerks apologize to me when they know very little English, and we have a hard time communicating. It makes me feel terrible. I am in their country, and they feel badly that they can’t help me. I can’t help but compare it to the many people in the US who get frustrated because people who come to the country from Mexico can’t speak English. Life in a country where you speak little or none of the language is stressful and overwhelming. Every little bit of help I’ve gotten has gone a long way.
I am finally comfortable with the basics of my daily life. I know where to go if I need toilet paper or toothpaste. I have multiple places I can go for fresh fruit or my morning coffee. I know I love tea eggs and dragon fruit, and that they make a great breakfast. I know which bus to take to my school in the morning and which one to take home in the evening no matter what time I leave. I know my neighborhood and love all the temples tucked in alleys or taking up entire blocks with artistry and brilliant designs and the smell of incense. I have taken hundreds of pictures of flowers, Chinese lanterns, and street scenes.
I am teaching again for the first time in about 15 years, but I’m teaching a different subject to a different age group. The learning curve has been steep and fast and uphill. It’s getting a little bit easier, though, and I think I’m getting a little bit better. I’m learning to forgive myself for not being perfect by promising myself that each time it will be a little bit easier and I will be a little bit better. It works most of the time, and I am enjoying the challenge and the kids and the teaching and the teachers with whom I work.
It sounds like a lot of hard and it has been, but it has also been stimulating, fascinating, and beautiful. I am excited about the many things I still have to find and see and learn and do. There are pictures to take, people to meet, and languages to learn – and time is ticking away.
So I must go for now. Until next time, remember to embrace life, be curious, and dream a little along the way.