Category: Living Abroad


Obviously I’ve been horribly remiss in writing last month. If I have to be honest, these last few months I’ve been increasingly tapering off. I haven’t given up on it yet, though.

Just to give everyone a brief update, I’ve been settling in and spending more time on my new job because it’s something I’m developing a strong affinity for and a skill I wish to develop to the best of my abilities. It has been taking up a growing amount of my time.

Second, I went on vacation for a weekend, so I spent a few a weeks obsessing over that. It was awesome by the way. I’ve already written a post or two about it, but neither of them are at a stage that are worth publishing and are in desperate need of editing.

Third, I had  back surgery  last week.  I had high hopes of being back in the blogger wagon as of last week, but I didn’t consider the profound amount of sleep I’d be doing, or my sheer lack of concentration.

Although I continue to exist in a foggy haze, I’ve a few topics I’d like to share with you, beginning with my experiences in Hong Kong and Macau, to dog sitting, to spending four nights in a Taiwanese hospital. I’m hoping you’re waiting with bated breath to read about them too.

Rather than reading about grammar and writing style, and writing extensively, which is how I imagined I’d be spending my recovery, I have instead been reading trash novels and watching copious amounts of Youtube videos (something I rarely do). In addition, I’ve managed to catch up on a few old movies.

I can’t believe I’ve been avoiding watching Ted for so long! My God, that movie is hilarious.

My time hasn’t all been wasted though. I’ve learned about TED talks and the TED organization as a whole, and discovered a v-blogger called illdoctrine, whom I highly recommend. In the course of a day or two I watched numerous videos by him and other bloggers, activists, and various hip hop interviews. I recommend these as worth watching: Machine Guns and Stupid Choiceswhich eventually led me to watching Ted talks by way of this video.

I’ve watched a bunch of crap about hip hop, and got somewhat caught up on the latest hip hop and dance music from the States.  I’m vaguely shocked by how much I’ve missed reading about popular culture in the States, and more shocked with how little I generally know about current events in the world. For the first time in months, I’ve read articles from my home page (the BBC) instead of immediately switching to FB as is my norm.

In the end, I am forced to admit that the only real thing I learned was that I’m lazier than I ever thought it was possible to be, and that I’m not done with writing yet. I’m just taking a little break.

But in the meantime, please enjoy some of the links I posted. And I promise I will do by best to post something up again next week.

I really hope this conversation didn't happen in my operating room....

I really hope this conversation didn’t happen in my operating room….

 

Yes. Jackass. They do. Seriously, this isn’t the BFE for crying outloud.

Finding books in English can be tough when you live abroad.

In Poland, I had to scrounge for books. I read all sorts of crap that I wouldn’t normally read because I was so desperate to get my read on. I spent excessive amounts of time online because I was running out of options. Although some bookstores in Poland sell English books (Empik had an ok selection), I was watching my pennies, and those books didn’t come cheap. Most of their English selection was either from the U.K. or old.

Before I left Poland, I resolved that my next big purchase would be a Kindle. Might as well. I live abroad and hauling books from country to country isn’t feasible. What’s the point of buying a bunch of crap I neither need nor can take? I’m glad I live in a time in which regardless of where I live, with the right technology, I can have all the comforts of home.

Occasionally, I’ll hit the bookstore and spend a ridiculous amount of money on books I’ll probably only read once.

I know of two major bookstores in Taipei that sell English fiction: Page One (in Taipei 101) and Eslite (located all over town). Take my word for it: don’t waste your time on Eslite. It fucking sucks. All their English books are shelved with the Chinese books and it’s impossible to find anything without the maximal amount of irritation. I cannot fathom the logic that inspired this brilliant marketing strategy. Thanks, Eslite, you stupid douche bags. So much for your awesome 24-hour bookstore.

Page One is cool. They have a fair amount of English fiction and are up to date on the most popular authors. If Taipei 101 wasn’t such a drag to get to, I’d go there more.

Consequently, I’ve resorted to the old time-honored method of scavenging through my friends’ collections.

Luckily, last February, I made a couple of friends who loved reading and happened to house their own mini-library. Thanks to them, I’ve been introduced to both great new books and old classics I would never otherwise have read. Still, I feel guilty when I hold ten of their books hostage for months at a time.

A few months ago, I was informed that certain libraries in Taipei have English book sections. I couldn’t believe it! My dreams come true. I realized then that the main library didn’t have a metro nearby so I never got around to visiting it. Months passed. Dongmen Station eventually opened near Da’an Park, not too far from the main library. By that time, I had forgotten about the library. I had a borrowed stack of books taking up space at home, and a new stack from Page One that I was ready to dive into. Who remembers the library anymore anyway? Although I spent countless joyful hours at the library in my youth, by my late twenties it had become more convenient to buy books at the bookstore. The temptation to buy the specific books I wanted was greater than browsing through shelves full of authors I didn’t know, and I forgot about the library.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago. I was talking to a couple of friends at dinner, and they suggested the library. I knew I should go. They asked if I wanted to get together and make a trip out of it later that weekend. Well, fuck yeah, I did.

So we all met on Sunday to embark on our dazzling library adventure. By the time we met on Sunday our little group had grown from three to six. I had no idea I had so many nerdy friends. After a Dim Sum lunch we booked it across the park to find the damn thing.

I wasn’t sure what to expect. Do Taiwanese people read? Would there be strange Asian art on the walls? Little Japanese-style tables and cushions? Would they hassle me for not having two forms of ID and refuse to give me a library card? My stomach was a bundle of nerves as I waited with breathless anticipation.

As soon as we walked in, I could smell the scent of old ink and paper. It looked like a library. It smelled like a library. A bunch of irritating kids was running around to my annoyance. Yep. I was home.

We made our way up to the fourth floor where the English book section was housed. The place was packed. Well, that’s strange…I thought.

The floor has a large area in the center filled with chairs and tables, and damned if every single seat wasn’t taken. Tons of people were studying. It reminded me of hanging out in the university library when I was in college. During Finals week. Right before my exam.

We ventured into the English book section. I’m happy to report they have several aisles of pure fiction. I was impressed.

I knew finding the latest and greatest probably wasn’t going to happen, but I found a few new books published just last year. In short order I had a stack of eight books. My friends all looked at me like I had grown another head. “Are you really going to get ALL of those?” they asked. “Well…yeah. What the fuck? A girl can’t read or what?”

As a kid, every time I went to the library I would borrow seven or eight books, often more. I can easily finish a book in a day if I’m inclined to. And right now, I’m inclined to. It’s winter. The weather is crappy. It’s been cold and rainy out. Why tramp around in the rain when I could be reading nice and dry at home?

We hung around for a couple of hours and I started reading my first prize: Sh*t My Dad Says by Justin Halpern. I had it finished by the next day.

For those that actually live in Taipei, here are the facts: Only an ARC is required to get a library card. You can borrow books for five weeks, you can extend the due date on line as long as no one has put in a request for it and best of all…regardless of where you borrow the book, you can return it any location. That’s something the libraries at home should look into.

This, my friends, is the beginning of a new era. If you’ve been wondering what I’ve been doing for the month of January, you have your answer. My head’s been stuck in a book all month. I’m only surfacing now because I need to make a return trip already.

 

The Little Things Remind Me

Now that I’m in my second year of living in Taiwan the newness and shininess of living here has worn off with a vengeance. I realized one day as I was plodding along that life was starting to feel a bit dreary, commonplace, and…well, normal. I was going through the same motions as I did back in the States. I got up, went to work, went out with friends, came home, and repeated.

Where did all the awesome go? The exhilaration of not knowing what was around the next corner, of knowing that each day could lead to an exciting new discovery or new experience?

Such feelings cannot stay with us forever. If they did we wouldn’t need any changes in life and life would be full of surprising humor and titillating stories. Still…I couldn’t help feeling disappointed that suddenly my life revolved around dinners, movies, hanging out with friends, and work. Same old, same old. Did I move clear across the planet for this?

However, last week, as I was walking to work, I realized my eyes have been closed to the true meaning of living abroad. It took only one little experience to open my eyes to the wonder of the place in which I’m living. The magic is happening all around me as it has for the last two years, and I’m disappointed with myself for feeling that life has become so dull and ordinary when I’m  surrounded by more than I’ve ever had before.

In Taiwan an “alley” isn’t an alley as we picture it in the States. They’re tiny side streets that are too small to fit a car. Off every major thoroughfare and street, alleys abound. Alleys are where local eateries are often found, good parking spaces, and where most entrances to homes are located. Although they’re often too small to accommodate cars, scooters roar down these bad boys with no fear or hesitation.

I was walking to work as I do every day rain or shine. The ground was damp beneath my feet and clouds loomed over my head. I cut through the metro park that covers the underground metro mall between Zhongshan and Shuanglian at an angle, and headed into a tiny alley to avoid the crowds that inevitably amass near every metro station. I must confess that I often try different routes to work to spice up my day. Every time I do, I imagine I might find a new shop or restaurant that will revolutionize my life. What I usually find are trash, puddles, and a mangy stray dog or two.

On this particular occasion I saw a little girl on my right peeking out of the entrance of her building at me. She was wearing her school-girl uniform and a pink raincoat. Strapped to her back was a little pink backpack, no doubt with a Dora the Explorer or Hello Kitty design stenciled in. She gawked at me and I smiled at her wondering what she was doing when I noticed her mother on my other side readying the “car” to drive her to school. Except that it wasn’t a car because most people here don’t have one. No. Instead, she was digging around in the storage compartment underneath the seat of her scooter looking for a rain cover for the seat, probably.

I had to smile. Such a normal little thing, and yet, because I live in Taipei still so different. Unlike the States, where the kid would be peeking into the garage, lollygagging in the yard, or more likely, shoving his face with snacks while he sat playing ps in the back seat while mom fumbled around in her purse for the keys, here it’s a scooter. It is so profoundly the way of life here that kids hopping on the back of a scooter to grab a ride is the every day. As is watching a family of three, sometimes four, plus a dog puttering around on one tiny scooter. Safe? Oh sure. And completely commonplace. The amount of newborn babies I’ve seen cradled in the arms of their mothers, puttering around behind their husbands on the back of a scooter is ridiculous. The last time I saw this, the couple nearly got into a car accident. Safe? Obviously not. Regardless of safety, it is integral to the everyday, here. This observation opened my eyes. The newness and shininess of living in a new country and city may have worn off, but how could I have forgotten all the little things that are so different about Taipei?

Like the night I went out with a friend of mine to play pool and grab dinner. Aside from one other woman and a little girl hanging out with her dad and his friends, I was the only other woman in the entire place, and the only foreigner around. Women, apparently, don’t play pool here. Ever. How could I forget to mention that the pool hall was on the sixth floor of some rickety old building? Housed in the same building as a club, a number of diners, stores, and god only knows what else. Probably a hostess bar or two. Had not my friend taken me there I never would have suspected it existed.

When we headed out for dinner later to a little pizza place, hidden away in yet another towering building downtown, somewhere on the second floor, I noticed that the check in counter at the restaurant had a little button to call an attendant over. It was labeled “Sing-Call”. Because what would Taipei be without a bit of Chinglish? Every table had a little call button that had to be pressed when we wanted service. Ingenious.

I could give you a list numbering into the hundreds of all the little things that are different. Like how many restaurants close between three and five and it’s damn hard to find food at that hour. Even restaurant workers have to take a break you know.

In addition to those little differences are the glaring oddities. I couldn’t believe my eyes the first time I saw a couple with a stroller walking in Da’an Park. I thought it odd they were out so late with a baby (it was nine or ten at night) when I realized they were pushing their little dog around. In a stroller clearly made for a dog.

How about the number of times I’ve seen a pet cat on a leash? The poor miserable thing invariably being hugged by its loving owner, glaring over their shoulder at me. I laughed the first time  I saw that. Now I’ve seen it so many times I barely register it. I don’t remember who I was with anymore the last time I saw this. I just remember them exclaiming “Oh look! A cat!!” And I realized I couldn’t even be bothered to react. Eh. Who cares? Just another mangy old cat on a leash. Nothing exciting happening here.

It makes me realize I need to write these little things down more before I stop noticing them at all. In the first year of living abroad, we’re all focused on the big differences, such as the food, the styles, the homes, the language, and everything else that pops out in a glaringly obvious sort of way, but it’s the little things that stick out more and more, as time goes on.

I think I need a fresh pair of eyes to remind me of the crazy place I’m living in.

Who wants to come to Taipei?

Merry Christmas

Taipei city

Taipei city (Photo credit: :: The 2th RoOm ::)

I’ve posted some negative things about Christmas before, and I can’t apologize.

It seems inevitable that each year when December rolls around I get hit with the Xmas blues earlier in the month. This year was no exception.

However, no matter what, as the event draws nearer I’m reminded by how many special people I have in my life. I’m reminded that we’re all just trying to have a good time, and that no one wants to spend the holidays alone.

It doesn’t feel like Christmas in Taipei. Sure, there are random blow up Santas hanging out in certain metro stations. Displays abound on certain streets and its easy to find a santa hat or two. I saw some candy canes for sale the other day. Incredible.

I’ve managed to hit a couple of nice Christmas parties this year, and was reminded all over again, as I am every year, that Christmas is about spreading the love and the happiness. It is not about being gloomy, or depressed, or grinch-like. Who needs that anyway?

Nevertheless, Christmas abroad and away from my family and friends can be a little sad.

However, instead of feeling sorry for myself, I’ve decided to band together some other Ex-pats and go out and enjoy the holidays.

So we’ll be off to dinner and good cheer later on this evening, and no doubt, tomorrow after work as well.

True, my home isn’t decorated for the holidays, but I’ve never been one to put in more effort than I can stand. And true, I’m not buying a ton of gifts for everyone, nor am I expecting to receive any, but we all know that receiving or giving gifts has never been what Christmas is all about.

Its about spending time with the people we care about. While I can’t be with ALL the people I care about, there are a great many here in Taipei that I do have in mind. Although I won’t get to spend time with all of them this year, I know I’ll be with people who are important to me. And we’ll have a good time, having fun, being on our own, and, most importantly, spending time together.

So I just wanted to wish everyone a Merry Christmas this year, whether you’re religious. Whether you’re enjoying yourself. It is important to spend time with people you care about. No matter how lonely this time of year may be, there is always someone out there thinking of you, even if they can’t be there or they haven’t called, it doesn’t mean that you aren’t in someone’s thoughts.

If you’re lonely this Christmas, make an effort to reach out. Don’t wait for someone to reach out to you. I guarantee that you can make someone’s day or holidays just by taking the time to reach out.

Merry Christmas everyone, and happy holidays to all.

Making Friends Abroad

I was inspired to write this post after I read this one on a blog that I follow. The author talks about how she started her blog partly to make new friends. She had everything she wanted except for a BFF.

It got me thinking and remembering some of my own fears regarding moving abroad. Sure, fears of finding a job, navigating new cities, and learning to live in a country where I didn’t speak the language were huge concerns, but my biggest concern was making friends.

It’s something I had never learned to do, you see.

As a teenager I had incredibly low self-esteem and I was pathologically shy. I went to the same school K-8, and had the same friends since kindergarten. I started high school far from home, in a completely new environment, away from my family and friends. It was tough making new friends, mostly because, in retrospect, I never tried. It took a semester or more before I began making friends, and that made for a miserable year.

The following year, I moved back home, and began school at a new high school again. Some of my old classmates attended my school but they were not ones with whom I had ever been friends. The few attempts I made at reconnecting with my old friends fell flat. I had been gone a year and at that age that was all it took. We had all gone our separate ways to different schools and different lives. I did eventually make friends, but it took six months or longer, and in truth, I never felt especially close to any of my high school friends. During that time, I had one long-standing friend, and many who came and went. Once high school was over, so were the friendships.

I began college with the hope that things would be different, and eventually they were, though through no effort of mine. Most of my friends made themselves my friends, or became my friends after long association.

I didn’t learn how to reach out until I moved abroad. In Poland, I was lucky because I had my sister and her friends automatically became mine. Through her, I began meeting people. The night after I arrived, I went to a small dinner party with her and met a girl who asked me for my number. She called the next day and asked if I wanted to hit the club.

I didn’t want to go. Wouldn’t it be weird? I thought. I don’t even know her, what would we talk about?

My sister just looked at me and shook her head. I don’t think she could believe what she was hearing. She had to lecture me for some time before I screwed up my courage to go. But go I did, and didn’t come staggering home until five or six in the morning. Damn, that was a hell of a fun night. And that’s how I met my first Polish friend.

Over the next few months I began to put myself out there more and more, although it took the efforts of yet another girl before I tried in earnest. This one I met through work, and again, she had to make the first overture. We went out a couple of times before we began to hit it off, and she introduced me to some of her friends. As time passed, I increasingly met more and more people and grew closer to a number of girls. I attended Ex-pat events with them, the bar, the club, and the park. By summer of 2011, I was comfortable walking into social events where I knew people by sight only.

It turned out that all it took was some courage, a smile, and a willingness to make the first move. Beer didn’t hurt either. As my confidence grew, so did my group of acquaintances and friends. I no longer waited to be approached, nor did I hover at the edge of a group, standing mute, hoping someone would include me all the while feeling sick and ill at ease. Instead, I walked right in. I would walk right up to a group, and at the first pause in the conversation I jumped in. No one ever seemed to mind.

As a naturally shy person, I know we are often concerned with people laughing at us behind our backs, or thinking we’re weird. We’re convinced that we have nothing interesting to say and feel our every move is awkward and stupid. What we often forget is that no one is analyzing us that closely and no one particularly cares. Most people are willing to talk and most people don’t mind making a new friend.

My experiences in Poland gave me room to grow, not only in confidence, but in guts. By the time I left Poland, I was ready for Taiwan. I had a plan of action. I knew how to meet people, I knew how to chat them up, and I was ready to go. I arrived in Taiwan brimming with excitement, adventure, and an eagerness to get myself out there.

Taiwan made it easy on me. Before I arrived I had already scoped out a few groups on Face Book where I could meet people. I found more when I arrived, and joined Meet Up as well. I was introduced to InterNations  when I was still in Poland, so I made it a point to go to the first gathering that came up. Here, meeting people takes a minimum of effort. Any bar, club, Ex-pat event, or even any English-speaking event is enough to get the ball rolling. Actually, if you’re a Westerner, sometimes all you have to do is walk down the street.

The only thing that any of this takes is getting over that initial hump. As an Ex-pat I’m used to showing up to events alone. I’m not going to lie and say it didn’t suck the first few times. It is every shy person’s nightmare. But if I got over it, anyone can. Being alone and not knowing a soul is a common part of the Ex-pat life. Every Ex-pat can identify with it, and every Ex-pat has had to learn how to overcome it. Consequently, every Ex-pat has learned that there are thousands of people out there willing to know us, help us, and call us friend. People are warmer, friendlier, and more willing to be kind to a stranger than I ever imagined.

Whatever your fears are about moving abroad, or if you’re already abroad and feeling lonely, don’t be. The world is at your feet waiting to share the best experience of your life.

All you have to do is screw up your courage and step out the door to meet it.

How have you met some of your friends? What is the most or weird story you have about meeting a friend?

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