Tag Archive: travel


That’s Just the Fear Talking

 

The biggest limit we impose on ourselves is fear.

Fear of failure, fear of success, fear of abandonment, disapproval. Whatever kind of fear you have it’s still just fear. Nothing but shitty, sweaty, nasty, smelly, old fear.

It has been controlling my life for entirely too long.

I used to write in high school and junior high. I used to write a lot. I wrote my little fearful heart out. I imagined myself  a writer with my shitty cheesy poetry and little essays. I didn’t think I was the shit then but I thought when I grew up I would be.

Then life happened. Rather, insecurity and lack of confidence happened. I stopped writing. I stopped dreaming. Dreams are for kids, I thought, and it was time to grow up. I changed my dreams and made them boring, plebian, and “adult”. I took the perfectly good dreams I had and ground them right into the dirt like so much trash. I did that and no one else.

What is the measure of  success anyway? Money, fame, fortune? Adulation? A secure job, safe future? Is it a husband, a family, what?  I was told that it was. I bought into it. I still want it and it is still the measure by which I set success.

Considering how high the bar has been set, I have not been successful. I haven’t tried very hard. Actually, I haven’t tried  at all. Because of fear. Failure. The idea of trying my damndest to do something that I desperately want and failing at it is utterly terrifying. I would have nothing left if that happened. I would have nothing left and I would be nothing. Nothing.

Consequently, I have lived my life avoiding that fear any way that I could. My life has been nothing but a series of excuses for not trying the things that I wanted so badly. Never so much as a half-hearted attempt. Because life happens. That was my excuse. Not enough money. No money in the career. The job market is too tough. I haven’t been given the right opportunities. I didn’t have the proper encouragement. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, blah, blah, blah.

What a crock of shit that turned out to be. That was just the fear talking.

Everything that we do in life and everything that we fail to do is nothing but fear.

It’s only been in the last four years that I have learned to face it. It took my life falling apart to face my fears. It only took the most painful experience in my life to realize I had the strength and the courage to face it.

I thought I had. I quit my job, moved abroad, began enjoying so much more of what life has to offer. Trying new things, having adventures, living life.

I  didn’t face all my fears though. Oh no, there are plenty more trying to claw me back down to where I used to be. In my dreams, my fantasies, and my waking moments they haunt me. It is so difficult to change the thought patterns of a lifetime. I have to be alert to it every day. Examine every thought and question it to assure myself that I am doing what I need to be doing. When I get lazy, when I’m not paying attention, or when I just don’t give a damn, I open up the door to fear.

It’s time and long past time that I face it.  I’m staring 31 in the face, and I still haven’t tried to do what I must do if I am to be happy.

I need to go back to school. I need to write. For the first time, I need to try. Try the things that scare me the most. I already look back on my life and wonder where I would be now, if only I had tried earlier. It fills me with a small amount of pleasure and a disgustingly gross amount of regret.  Pleasure, because I’m finally doing the things I want to do. Regret, because this is only the half of it.  There is so much left to experience, to love, to savor in life. So much left to do.

I read blogs written by college students and wonder if that couldn’t have been me had I tried at least a little. I look at successful twenty-young-things and can only admire their determination and perseverance. They have succeeded where I never bothered to try.

I don’t want to be staring forty or fifty in the face and having these same thoughts. I don’t want to wonder if I got hit by a bus tomorrow and it killed me, would I be proud of my life? Would I have lived a full life?  Did I do what I should have done? Or would my life just be a string of all the things I hadn’t tried because I never had the courage to? I already know the answer to that question.

I started writing this post earlier today before I went to an ortho clinic to get a second opinion on my back. Guess what they told me? Go ahead they said. Try the physical therapy, do the steroid shot, don’t waste your time with acupuncture, but what you really need is surgery. So yeah, give it a month, and then come back before the herniation begins to damage the nerve in your spine, and get the surgery.

In a matter of a couple of hours all my talk, my bluster about facing my fears got completely destroyed. Surgery?! Are you fucking kidding me?! I can’t have surgery. Not here in Taiwan! Not now!  NOOOOOOOO!

It took me a good couple of hours to come back from that. Thank god I came to some revelations about fear right before I went in because otherwise there is no way in the world I would be handling this news as calmly as I am now. The pain meds helped too, no lie. They numb down every last emotion I’m capable of. I had a scary moment a couple of weeks ago where I realized I couldn’t laugh at some true comedy, I couldn’t cry even when the situation deserved it, and although every thought was crystal clear in my brain and I was sober, I could not summon any single actual emotion about anything. It was one of the creepiest things I’ve ever experienced in my life. Or it would have been was I able to feel it. Mildly perturbed was the best I managed.

Yeah, I started taking less painkillers after that.

Now I’m sitting here and I realized nothing has changed. Yes. I had a minor freak out, but so what? I’m not, I will NOT go back into painkiller hazy LaLa land for another six weeks. I will do my research. I will apply to some schools.  I will get the master degree I have wanted for so long. I will edit, I will publish, and I will write.

I will be successful.

Will you? No excuses. No regrets. Get to it.

 

Advertisements

Taiwan: The Airport of Asia

Yes. It’s true.

It’s a damned airport here. If expats aren’t coming then they’re going. In and out, in and out, day in and day out.

I know that quick friendships and constant moving are part of the ex-pat lifestyle. It is part of what we are all attracted to. The constant jet setting here, dropping in there. It’s great.

But damn. Does everybody have to leave?

Over half the people I used to hang out with are gone, and four more are leaving this  week.

I’ve never made this much effort to make and maintain friendships in my life with so little return.

When I first came to Taiwan  I knew no one.  I made a point of going to every English-speaking event I could find and getting myself out there. You have to if you want to have friends. You really have to give it the best effort you’ve got.  I learned a lot about talking to people. I met hundreds of people, literally. I learned to make friends and acquaintances easily and quickly. I learned how to reach out in ways I never knew before.

But its crazy here, though. The constant socializing and endless stream of new people.

I’ve now  had the experience of running into someone at some party or another, and realizing they know me, but I don’t know them. And then realizing, that we’re already FB friends, but it was so long ago that we met, that little recognition remains. Usually I am the one being recognized. Virtual strangers come up to greet me by name and I have that panicky feeling I should know who they are.

I have now twice had to ask someone if we’re already FB friends, ony to have them confirm we are.  I’ve also had the unpleasant experience of unfriending a few randoms only to run into them months later.  Neither experience is pleasant.

I enjoy it, don’t get me wrong. Meeting new people is exciting . Who knows who you’ll meet, right?

But my god. How often can you have the same “getting to know you” conversation week after week?

I thought it was me for a long time.  That I was strange, or giving off some kind of weird desperation vibe, putting people off.

Then lately, I’ve shared these feelings with some other expats, only to find that they feel the same way! That some won’t even go to social events anymore because they are so sick to death of it. One friend told me Taiwan is like a revolving door. Another, that Taiwan is known as the airport of Asia.

What gives, Taiwan? Is it the constant stream of students and English teachers? Business men and ABCs come to explore their roots? Whatever it is, it seems that after a year or two most don’t want to stay. Maybe its the constant feeling of alienation from the local population, or the sense of being so very, very far from home. I’ve speculated about it a lot and have concluded it’s a combination of these things.

In Poland, I was constantly meeting new people too, but it was different somehow. I had a core group of friends with whom I still talk.  It’s true that many of my friends in Poland have now left there too, but many remain.  My whole experience there was utterly different from what goes on in Taiwan.

This week its nothing but Going Away Party after Going Away Party. It’s nice to have friends scattered all over the world, but it would also be nice to have some friends that stay. Friends I can count on to be around long enough to build a foundation for deeper relationships and deeper connections.

I miss those connections. Not only do they ground me, but they bring me true joy. We were never meant to walk this earth alone.

So my last thoughts on this are, if you’re coming for a year, you’ll have the time of your life. But if you plan on making Taiwan your home, know that you will find yourself reconsidering in less time than you ever thought possible.

Because if you stay longer, your life will soon become a long melancholy line of good byes. The experience is great and not to be missed for anything in the world, but no adventure comes without its bittersweet moments.

This post will be the first of a few about dating abroad as a Western woman. In this post I explore the general cultural backdrop of the dating scene in Poland.

Having only lived in two other countries other than the US, this post will be limited in the scope of its observations. I wish I had the chance to live in at least one modern Western country other than the US to draw some true parallels.

But I haven’t, so…let’s talk about Poland.

Poland, all things considered, is not Taiwan.

Warsaw has a huge expat population and with an increasing number of international companies setting up shop in Poland, it will continue to grow. I’m not even going to count all the thousands of kids that come in on the Erasmus program or other educational programs to pursue higher education.

The EU’s influence is slowly expanding in Poland, and with the current open borders, Poland sees many travelers they have not before. They are seeing foreign-raised Poles that are returning home, much like I did, to scope out the scene and the opportunities. More Poles than ever before are traveling and living abroad. When they return home, for better or worse, they bring with them the cultural ideas and influences they have picked up abroad.

Poland is racing to modernize itself and change is in the air. Construction is occurring in every corner of Warsaw, Krakow, and other major cities. Efforts are being made to use EU assistance to improve Poland in a multitude of ways, such as in their treatment of women in the workplace, workplace rights, infrastructure, rights and assistance for the disabled, education, and medical care. Poland looks to the West and it is becoming modern.

But though change is in the air, only so much change can happen in twenty years. It took me a while to put my finger on the issues when I first moved there and longer to understand aspects of the Polish mentality. I assumed, like others with my background have done, that having grown up in a Polish household, I reasonably knew what to expect, culture-wise, when I moved to Poland. Well, that was a big mistake.

I didn’t realize how truly American I was until I moved to Poland. One of the things I embrace about American culture is the culture of feminism. American women have fought the good fight, and continue to do so, to gain equality and acceptance in every aspect of life. From work place rights, diminishing wage gaps, the right of choice and contraception, the rights to equal treatment, sexual rights, the right to not be abused and raped, and financial rights.  The entire spectrum of rights that women in America enjoy…I’m behind it 100%.

So you can imagine the unpleasant shock I got when I moved to Poland in terms of how women are treated.

Poland is very traditional. Poland is very Catholic. Poland is like stepping back into the 1950s in the US. Poland is a land with outlawed abortions, poor sexual education, and limited contraceptive use. Poland still asks women if they are married or planning on having children when women are interviewed for jobs, so that companies can weed out undesirables. In Poland, my students told me, they were blatantly passed over for jobs and job promotions based on their gender and were told that this was why they weren’t hired. In Poland, the issue of fertility treatments is still being debated, with threats from the church being mailed to the government as late as 2011.

In Poland, men are trained to think of women as the weaker sex. They have fancy manners (which I love) when it comes to opening doors, standing when a woman comes into the room, offering her a seat on the bus and all that good stuff.  I have to admit that I, personally, love these types of manners.  I see no conflict with having a man show me the respect I deserve  as a woman, and still treat me like an equal.

Polish men are raised to be the strong silent type to the nth degree. They consider themselves to be providers, heads of the family, leaders in their relationships. Polish men expect to do the approaching when it comes to relationships, they do the courting, they don’t like women to interfere with that role. Polish men are hard.

Polish men can’t give a woman a compliment to save their lives.

In all fairness, not all Polish men are like this. I met plenty that weren’t. I met plenty that I respected, that I thought were not just good human beings but also good men. I met some guys that loved to cook, and I met guys that treated their women like princesses. I knew several Western women personally, that dated or married Polish guys and were happy about it.

So that’s Polish men.

Polish women are strong, sexy, highly educated, extremely competent and amazingly beautiful. They lead difficult lives where they are still treated as the minority, take on the majority of the domestic work, are the primary caretakers of the children, manage the home, and often the household finances, and they look damned good while doing it.

It is no surprise to me that Expats flock to Polish women. Whether is the beauty, the snotty Polish Princess attitude, the sexiness, or the sheer work that Polish women are willing to put into their relationships, it seemed that every Expat guy I met was dating or married to a Polish girl. Many, in fact, moved there to be with their Polish girlfriends, or wives.

The sad truth is that there are many Polish women out there that lose their shit when it comes to Western men. Walk into any bar or club and speak just about any foreign language fluently, and women will be all over you. I’ve heard tons of stories from guys, including my brother about women being all over them in the clubs. I’ve witnessed it on countless occasions. There are many girls that considered having a Western boyfriend as something to be to be proudly displayed in front of their family and friends.  Whether it is the perception that Western men make more money, and thus can be better providers, or simply that they treat their women more kindly, or just the idea that they are somehow strange and exotic, whatever the reason, Polish women go ape shit over foreign men.

You find these women everywhere. Bars, clubs, and every Expat event you could imagine.Why were they even there? An Expat event is for Expats, one would think. Seldom, would you find flocks of Polish men at these gatherings, but Polish women?  My friends and I always knew which ones came for honest culture exchanges (there are those that do) and which ones came on the prowl. It was so obvious. Upon being introduced to a foreign women these ladies would not acknowledge us at all and size us up with calculating eyes, or briefly speak to us and then immediately home in on any men speaking English. The sluttyness of their dress, their provocative manner, circling around the men like choice pieces of meat; they might as well have carried a sign.

That makes it tough for Western women. If you don’t want to date into the local culture, then options are limited. And the options that are available are fascinated with the locals, and most emphatically, not with you.  If you’re a typical Western woman you’re pretty casual in your dress, relaxed, and are trained to wait for a man to approach you.  Girl, you gotta learn to ruthlessly compete.  

You might think that this works both ways. That local men would be just as interested in Western women, but it doesn’t.  Some are. Most are not. Many Poles consider Americans and Brits to be sloppy, fat, slovenly, lazy, and just too damned uppity to deal with.  There is no doubt in my mind that many thought of me that way.

The Expat lifestyle, by its very nature is transient, and not especially conducive to forming relationships.  Many men and women just aren’t in a place in their lives where forming strong attachments is a good idea. Why bother when you’re only there for six months or a year? Short term dating and friend with benefit arrangements I’m sure you’ll be able to find.  But if we’re honest with ourselves we can admit that most women don’t want that. They’re tough to maintain without feelings getting involved.

So, yes,  it’s difficult being an Expat woman. No question about it. It’s a lonelier road then you might ever imagine.  For women, it boils down to your values, and how flexible you are about them.

Me. I’m not flexible at all, and I don’t want to be. I shouldn’t have to be. I won’t be.

Every Expat woman out there has their own take on dating abroad and these are mine.

I would love to hear some of your stories.

I’ve been going back and forth on whether I should publish this post or not.  I wrote it several weeks ago when I was in a particularly shitty mood, and since then it has been drafted and redrafted into something beyond all recognition.  It isn’t like me to bare my soul for the whole world to see. In fact, it isn’t like me to bare my soul for anyone to see.  I’m almost 100% certain that publishing this will be a move I regret. 

Screw it. 

I accept the challenge and the risk.

What do we have to sacrifice for our dreams?

Some people say it’s nothing. Others that  it’s everything.  There are people out there that believe they can have it all, and there are people out there convinced its impossible to have it all. And there are some people out there that think we can’t have anything. Screw those guys. They don’t know how to get their happy on.

I want it all. Nothing less will do.

But living my dreams has not been without its sacrifices.  It’s an inherent part of wanting too much, I suppose.

And I want too much. I always do.

So let’s take a close look at the dangers and consequences of wanting it all.

Friendship: Friendships fade over time. We’ve all been there. People change, they grow apart, they lose touch.  There is no easier way to lose touch than moving away. It doesn’t matter that we live in an age of Facebook or Twitter. Human nature doesn’t change. Out of sight. Out of mind.  Isn’t that how the story goes?

“We’ll stay in touch over FB!” “I’ll miss you sooo much!” Not for long as it turns out.

Relationships: Romance.  Sex. The idea of finding a romantic attachment here in Asia is even more laughable than it was in Poland. And I did laugh about it there. I laughed so I wouldn’t cry. Because for this woman of the West, slumming it with a man who sees me as less than an equal is completely and utterly intolerable and unacceptable.  It was all just so impossible, annoying, and depressing in Poland, and in its own way, it’s worse in Asia. Why is it so hard to find a decent ex-pat man?  Many of the ones I meet are into local girls (some will flat-out tell you that the reason they’re out here is “yellow fever” which is indicative of such a despicable and shallow  character I just want to punch these men in the face), or, and this is a completely valid reason I understand, they are  living too transient of a lifestyle to consider a relationship.

There are two problems. One, is that the dating pool is just too small. And two, the ex-pat lifestyle, by its very nature is temporary, and for many, aimless.  I’ve met tons of men out here but tons of men I could date? That’s another story.

What about the locals, you ask? That answer deserves a blog post all of its own. I’ll write about it later when I’ve had time to collect my thoughts.

As for sex, well. It has been so long I’ve nearly forgotten what it is to mean something to a man. Or for one to mean anything to me.

And, yeah, thanks. I know I can walk into pretty much any bar tonight and get laid if that’s what I want. Obviously a one night stand isn’t what I’m looking for.

Career: A decent career.  How can I get me one of those abroad? It seems like it is impossible to get away from teaching English, which, frankly, is a profession I’m beginning to loathe. I don’t hate my students. I don’t even hate the life that much. It definitely has its advantages, especially when the money is right. However, I am just too damned smart to waste my brain like this.  Call it arrogance all you like, but its nothing less than the truth.  The amount of mental stimulation you get as an English teacher is next to none. Were it not for my daily crossword puzzles and this blog, I am convinced I would have sank into a vegetative state from which I could never recover.

Thankfully, all is not so bleak on this horizon. I am taking baby steps into exploring other options. If they don’t work out, I’ve realized nothing else will do but to return to school.  I can’t even explain how good this makes me feel. Finally! A light at the end of the tunnel. A direction. Something my life has been missing for much too long.

I was talking with a friend the other day and realized that more than being Polish, or being American, and definitely way more than being an English teacher, I identify the most with being an ex-pat. It’s a title I’m comfortable with and proud of.  Want to feel special? Be an ex-pat. Want to be cool? Be an ex-pat. Want to be sexy? Be an ex-pat. Want to be brave? Be an ex-pat. Want to have the most awesome life you can possibly imagine, with new, crazy, life-altering experiences every single day? Be an ex-pat!  The most boring crappy day of your life as an ex-pat will still be a hundred times better and more exciting than anything else your shitty home life can offer.

I love it! I can’t say anything else about it. The life of an ex-pat, it’s a hit of adrenaline more addictive than anything else I’ve tried. And I get to take it every single day.

So what should I do when the loneliness  and emptiness come roaring out of the darkest corners of my soul to smother me in a sad desperate melancholy from which I might never come back from? What should I do when I’m walking down the street and out of the blue my eyes flood with tears because suddenly I think: Damn. What the hell am I doing here? Is there even a point to any of this?

What should I do when I’ve been invited to the most awesome party life has to offer, but the party always ends with me alone?

At what point do my dreams become nothing more than a series of diminishing returns?

I’m 30 damn years old. And I’m flitting around from place to place, enjoying myself like few others will ever, in their wildest dreams, get a chance to. I am so fortunate. I am living the life.

It is nearly everything, but is it quite enough?

These last couple of years have seen a lot of new experiences come my way. New countries to visit, new cultures to learn, new cities to explore.

It has been the journey of a lifetime and I’m thrilled that I gathered my courage to finally do it.  My biggest regret is that I didn’t do this straight out of college.  I wish I had the willpower and courage then to do what I’m doing now. I wish I had started telling myself “yes” instead of “no” a helluva lot earlier.

But I didn’t.

And so instead of being a globetrotter like so many expats that I have met, I’ve been to five countries in the last two years and lived in two.  And that sucks dammit!  I should have been to 20 countries by now! Or more!  What happened to a life full of travel?!

I get that you think I should stop whining. No doubt some of you are thinking I live a charmed life and I’m ungrateful and I don’t appreciate how awesome my life is. And that’s OK. Because that means you’re jealous and that makes me feel good about myself.

But get this: My blog…

…has been to no less than 57 countries in the past two months. 57! You can follow its journey with this little link here.

The little shit! It’s gone nearly everywhere I wanted to go. Its even gone to places I never wanted to go.

It has visited 57 countries on six continents. That’s right. SIX continents.  Secretly, a part of me feels happy that Antarctica has denied my blog visitation rights. But then another part of me feels sad.  The chances of my visiting Antarctica are vanishingly small, so maybe it would be nice for my blog to visit. But not just yet. I’m not sure I could handle it just yet.

So, yeah, it’s cool. My blog. Living the life I was meant to live. I’m sure it enjoyed roaming the jungles of Malaysia and Vietnam, and standing on the steps of the Parthenon in Greece. Sipping coffee at a café in France and thinking snotty thoughts.  Creeping around off the coast of Africa somewhere, no doubt getting involved with smuggling blood diamonds.  It is just the kind of thing my blog would do. Shady bastard.

I should be doing those things. Not my blog.

When it comes back, and smiles its little sheepish smile, I’m going to take its cheesy little garden gnome and smash it against a wall. Then I’m gonna punch it right in the face.  And it’s gonna feel good.

%d bloggers like this: