One thing that is hard for even me to believe is that I’ve been in Taiwan for over seven years. Seven years ago I stepped off a Malaysia Airlines flight and into the heat and humidity of Taipei. It was shortly after 5:00am and I, along with two of my friends, had been in transit for far more hours than even I care to remember. We had left Vancouver about 24 hours earlier, with a layover in LA, so it was nice to finally be at our final destination. I had never been to Taiwan before and I barely even knew anything about the place. I have learned a lot about the culture and the people of Taiwan since I’ve been here, most importantly, I’ve also learnt some valuable life lessons after seven years of living in Taipei, Taiwan.
Common Sense isn’t Common
Long ago I wrote about how common sense isn’t common. As we grow, we learn different lessons from our parents, our friends and the schools we attend. We are taught to look both ways before we cross the road and to always wait patiently in lines. We do things just because it is “common sense”.
One of the biggest hurdles that I encountered in Taiwan is assuming that “common sense” was “common sense” everywhere. I now realize that if I am the only one doing something that I believe to be “common sense”, then it’s me that doesn’t have “common sense”. Life Lesson number one: Sometimes you just have to learn to adapt to your environment.
There is No Status Quo
In the west, a lot of us learn that there is a way that things need to be done and that we should just keep on doing things the same as they have always been done. You do something so that you can get into some school. You work your ass off so that you can get good grades in the hopes of employers lining up to hire you upon graduation. They don’t. After you slave away in a cubicle for 60 hours a week and put in your time, you might get a promotion so that you can now work 80 hours a week. You do this while getting small incremental raises that mostly get sucked up by the tax man.
Why do we do this? Because we’re told that this is the status quo and that it’s what we have to do. There are many reasons why I have been in Taiwan for seven years. For instance, I just spent seven years earning a living doing something that I was never educated to do and most days I wore cargo shorts and Birkenstocks. Life lesson number two: Don’t something just because you’re told you should do something.
Safety Nets aren’t Required
When I first came to Taiwan, I was concerned about a lot of things. Like most travelers, I was worried that someone was going to mug me and take all my things. I was worried that someone was going to break into my place at night. I was worried that I would lose all my money and get stuck in Taiwan forever. It’s the kinds of things that I worried about regardless of if I was in Asia, Europe or South America. It’s simply the fear of the unknown.
You know what? None of those concerns ever materialized, in Taiwan or in any other country I’ve visited (I still feel I was one step away from being mugged in some dark street in Manila, but that is a story for another time). No matter where you go, people are people. There will always be opportunists looking for an easy buck but that’s also true in Canada, where I’m from. If you go out waving your money around, don’t be surprised if someone takes it. Life lesson number three: Go and live life, don’t worry about what might happen.
One of the most distinguishing characteristics of Taiwan is the sheer variety of food that you can find here. One of the most noticeable foods here is something called chou duo fu which literally translates to stinky tofu. I spent forever avoiding it but in the end, I gave it a try. It stinks, it really stinks. However, it actually tastes alright. It’s pretty sour but overall it’s not too bad. Barbecued with a bit of cilantro and peanut powder is my favourite way to eat it.
Apart from chou duo fu, Taiwan is home to fantastic night markets filled with fried, barbecued, boiled or steamed food that you may or may not recognize. The people of Taiwan are very resourceful so they don’t often through out any part of an animal that still has flesh on it. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve eaten some things that made me want to gag. Those things I never put in my mouth again, but at least I tried. Life lesson number four: Just because something is different than what you are used, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try something new.
Life’s Roads are Full of Detours
I went through school, got a job and did the 40-hours a week (or more) thing that I thought I was supposed to do. I spent a lot of time following a road that was ingrained in me all through school and into my early adulthood. I started to take one detour and then another and now I am doing something that I never thought I would be doing. Fifteen years ago, if you had told that I would spend the better part of my late 20s and early 30s in a small Asian nation doing something that was nowhere near what I went to school for, I would have said your were crazy.
It’s easy for you to sit down when you are young and map out the roads ahead of you. Then one day you’ll look in the rearview mirror you realize that the road behind you looks nothing like the road you mapped out. Life lesson number five: Embrace the uncertainties in life and enjoy the detours they give you.
Do Talk to Strangers
When I first came to Taiwan, I didn’t know anyone here except for the two people that I came here with. One of them had never been to Taiwan before and the other had been for less than a year before returning to Canada for a few months, so there was a lot of the blind leading the blind. They returned to Canada a few years later but I decided to stay.
Given certain circumstances, you may not always get to decide who your friends are. As a foreigner in a foreign land, sometimes you might associate more with the people that you can speak with and less because you share common interests. What you may discover is that the world is full of interesting people from all walks of life. Life lesson number six: Get out and meet new people, they’ll make you a better person.
Life Lessons aren’t In Books
It’s a bit clichÃ© to say at this point but you won’t learn a thing about life in books. I’m not saying you should stop reading books but it is probably a good idea to stop believing everything you read. Most self-help gurus are more screwed up than the people they’re claiming to be able to help. Don’t listen to them. Don’t listen to me. Listen to yourself.
Life lesson number seven: Stop listening to the shoulds and need tos, just live your life and be happy.
Even though I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in Taiwan, it’s time for my wife (who is pregnant with our first child) and I to move to Canada. We are looking forward to the next stage of our lives together as we expand our family but I will never forget Taiwan and the valuable life lessons that I leaned from it. Obviously, with my wife being Taiwanese, we will be returning for regular visits to Taipei but it’s time to pack the bags.