Life began to move very fast. A three month period brought me from Spokane to Kalamazoo, Kalamazoo to Seoul, Seoul to Taoyuan City, Taiwan. I began teaching between a local cram school and university. The weeks began fusing together in a series of nursery rhymes and business English lessons for adults. On the bad days, I question getting a vasectomy years before I’m scheduled to meet the mother of my unborn ginger children. On other days, my eight year-old student named Cecilia will walk into my office, give me the dessert from her lunch box and tell me I’m her favorite teacher. On that same day, I’ll ask older students the definition of “ceiling” and one boy will raise his hand and say, “It’s kind of like a room’s hat.”
Since I saw you last I’ve nearly been killed in traffic twice. Once by a bus, another time by a mother who simultaneously steered her scooter, held her baby, and cut me off while screaming “fuck you,” in a heavy accent. A week earlier, another expat gave me her scooter. It’s a 125 CC model whose engine begins sputtering when I go above 50kph. I love it. Taiwanese drivers are perhaps the most selfish human beings on the face of the earth. Notions like yielding, red lights, turn signals, and even the slightest shred of basic human decency do not exist in rush hour traffic between Zhongli and Taoyuan city.
I began writing realism for a while. I may get back to the Apocalypse and ghosts eventually but for now I’d like to find a way to talk about being delirious from bronchitis drugs and getting lost in a Taiwanese IKEA for two hours. In time, I was woken by an employee after I had fallen asleep on a Folldal bed somewhere in the basement of the complex. Its sheets were drenched in a cold sweat. Or about lighting a wish lantern during a camping trip in the mountains south of my city. The lantern was an orb, constructed from colored tissue paper. A Taiwanese family and a few expats who we were barbequing with wrote what they wanted most on its surface. When I was handed a marker, I wrote, “I want to be a better man,” in the smallest letters I could manage. Then we set it on fire and released it into the night sky.
Since I saw you last I took up Mandarin lessons. I can say basic greetings, times of the day and the names of a couple common barnyard animals. I still only eat in restaurants with pictures on their menus and gesture like a madman while trying to order a coffee in the morning.
I learned the quickest way to meet someone new is to try to be single. She’s the reason I’m learning Afrikaans and saving up money to go to Namibia. Because we’re six years apart we joke a lot about movies like The Graduate, How Stella Got Her Groove Back, and Harold and Maude.
I learned the worst thing you can ask someone who’s traveling is, “What’s it like?” It’s an overwhelmingly broad question that will elicit an even vaguer response. “It’s ok.” Like anything else, Taiwan exists out of finite details. It’s in the fact that each receipt you get has a lottery number on it. Every two months the winning number is given and you could win something like 2 million NTD (66,000 dollars). It’s the pungent stench of stinky tofu that carries in a block radius from any given stand. Or the scantily clad betel nut girls, who sell these leaf wrapped capsules that give you a rush like chewing tobacco. Until a couple years back the women were allowed to stand street-side topless. This was eventually outlawed due to traffic accidents caused by distracted drivers. Taiwan exists in hotpot restaurants, bubble tea, fried dan bing, and the fact that a red head is such a novelty here, I’ve caught a dozen people taking photos of me when they thought I wasn’t paying attention.
Since I saw you last I realized how important my friends, my family and coworkers have been to me over the past several years. And how much I miss you all. There’s the chilli cook off over Superbowl Sunday, the 4-hour galley editing sessions, the readings, the parties, the touch of thick stock from a new WS issue and the Tuesday nights after class where one drink turned into closing down the bar that I’m going to miss.
And I realize now how precious sleep is, and how ridiculous it is to make plans. How much you may overlook while studying an itinerary and how disorganized your bark posts may be after an 11 hour work day. There will be more to come from the only red-headed unicorn in South East Asia in the near future. In the meantime, please let me know what you’ve all been doing since I saw you last.