I should have started this blog years ago. I should had written all my experiences here. I should had made better record of what I have seen, experienced and thought through all these year. But I didn’t, so now I will.
This blog is not intended to be a record of my life in this foreign place. This blog is so much more, but it is inevitable to talk about being here.
Perhaps, the reason I am writing about Taiwan is because tomorrow is their “birthday”, as they like to say. Or at least that’s how they always explain to me what they celebrate on the double ten-day.
Oh Taiwan! What not to say about you? I have been here with you for seven years. I have done and learned one million things, and yet as times passes by I realised there are still a billion new things to discover from you.
Year 1. Studying Chinese
I was like a baby, become aware of everything. With big eyes to try to observe as much as possible. Paying attention to the details and trying to remember as much as I can, because I wanted to do it again later.
I wanted to show everything to my mom and dad. I knew they would come one day, so everything new I did, I pictured myself explaining it to them.
I perfectly remember this day at the chinese breakfast near the place where I used to live. I ordered a Chinese omelet with bacon and cheese, not because bacon and cheese were my favourites, but because it was the only thing I could say. But it didn’t matter, I was happy with my meal. I imagined my mom sitting in front of me and enjoying the same breakfast just because it was a new experience.
At that at time, my roommate and best friend was Edgar, one of the best friend I had in my life. But this post is not about him. We didn’t know anybody, and for the first 4-5 weeks it was like that. The two of us against the world. The Marco Polos of our time. We had some help from the office-girls in the language center. It was not their job to introduce us to Tainan, but they were our angels. Dora, Ashley and JiaJia. I am still thankful to them for being so kind to us.
After about a month we got to know some other foreigners, who slowly pointed us to the right direction, sometimes reluctantly, sometimes eager, nevertheless it was only on us to succeed or fail in this quest. We began going to classes and soon the adventure became normal life.
First Christmas, first new year, first chinese new year, first spring, first birthday, then summer and just in a blink we were already in Taiwan for 1 year. For me it helped that mom came to visit and help me settle a few things.
After 1 year we had succeeded. We were both accepted into THE UNIVERSITY and were ready to begin. Our acceptance was a little problematic, as we were both not accepted in the department we wanted, but we would start nevertheless and then change to achieve our dreams. Nothing would stop us.
Year 2. First Year at University
We were like a 5-year-old children. Eyes still wide open and still eager to discover.
We went to our first class with high hopes and enthusiasm. We had survived one year of Chinese language and this was now our most important tool to survive. Now I was able to order a little more than just bacon and cheese omelets. Now I could actually make friends. And I was determined to become the best student in the class, make my family, my country and most important myself proud. I could see myself standing tall on graduation day. I was going to be the best.
How long does it take to break a person? Well, the positivism lasted for about 3 months. I was trying really hard but it was impossible to approach the professors, the assistants were never to be found and my classmates cared as much for me as one cares when a fallen twig breaks. You see it on the ground, step on it to hear that breaking sound and then continue your way. Those were my “lovely” classmates and I was the twig. Edgar and I were in different departments, so we started to distant from each other. Sometimes there were days in which we didn’t see one another at all. One year passed and I was feeling lonely and broken. But the show had to go on, it would go on. And I? I would NOT fail. I had cross the world for this I was going to get it. So I transferred university.
Year 3. Nantai University
I felt like a teenager now. I had learned plenty of things and I was pretty much able to take care of myself. Specially with my new life at Nantai University.
It was great! It all started when Darby, from the international affairs office, received me in his office with a big smile and with out many obsticles accepted my application. Once again, I had encountered an angel. And things could only get better.
My classmates were the best. Maybe you are thinking, this is not important, but it is.
When you are the foreigner, the stranger, the different in an unknown culture with a difficult language as is chinese, you need friends. My new classmates made life bearable again and then actually enjoyable.
We became great friends, we supported and cared for each other.
My professors were approachable and the assistants were always there to help. So I was learning, I was acquiring the knowledge and tools I came here for. And soon I was back on the road for excellence. Ok! Maybe not the number 1, but very close. Begin the only foreigner in the class and in the department, it was not easy, but I had the proper environment to succeed.
Edgar did not transfer with me and a little while after, he decided to leave and I didn’t see him anymore.
It was a period of many changes but I was adapting. My chinese improved and now I was finally able to actually understand my classes. I could maintain complete conversations and give longer explanatory answers. I was able to understand their culture a little bit better. I was not feeling like a zoo animal anymore, I became part of the city, part of Tainan.
Year 4 and 5. Continuing
I was like a young adult. I was sure I had everything under control.
I stopped looking for new things to discover. All the new experiences came to me by chance, and I never said no to them. Karaoke? Let´s go! BBQ in the middle of the road? Let’s do it. Gear bike? Let’s learn! Guest at a Chinese wedding? Eh, yeah why not! Stinky tofu? Bring it on!
It was also in these years that I started teaching English. Many people who come to Taiwan do it, but not everybody. For me, it is one of the best experiences. As a student, you see a lot of people who are about the same age than you, but how about spending time with children, with adults? I became charged with their energy and their knowledge.
My only regret was that I did not start earlier. I am still teaching now, and I love my students and my classes. Thank you all for sharing a little piece of your life with me.
Regarding university, it was time to start bachelor graduation project. I had to choose my advisor, because the coming years would depend on that. I took a little longer than usual but then I finally started at Prof. Lin lab. He is a high important figure in the university and in Taiwan, and yet his heart is humble. I was oblivious of who he really was, until I graduated, but I was lucky to be his advisee. Now I consider him to be not only my professor and advisor, but my friend. With his help I was becoming the scientist I always wanted to. Experiments, research, methodology, discussions, that was my life. And I loved it. I was in the lab from 8 to 5, and I would have stayed longer, if I didn’t have to teach. I loved my lab. Sometimes I would go back home with some weird smell on my clothes and some other times I had strange stains on my finger that would not wash off for weeks. But I loved it.
Dad came to visit, and since I was a more experienced in the art of living I Taiwan, we enjoyed our time together. That was a nice boost to continue. A little after dad left, both my advisor and the chairman suggested I should stay in the lab and continue with master’s. I took some time to think about it, but if I did, I could finish in only 1 year. So, it was the perfect plan. The topic? Well it was inspired on my pets. If you are curious to know my pets, go to my other blog, Jupiter, the Jubilant.
I started my relationship with Thomas, the love of my life, who not only makes me happy, but completes me. We already together for my bachelor graduation day. I finished as the fourth in my class. I had succeeded. I survived and persevered all these years, and it was only the start. That summer I was invited to Japan for nanotechnology courses. After discovering the nano world, I did not want to leave it.
Year 6. Master’s
I was a mature adult at this point. I knew exactly where I was going and how to get there. I did not only think I was in control, I actually was. Almost nothing was new and just a handful of things would amaze me.
My thesis, as any normal one, had its up and downs, but it was overall going well. At this point I need to thank my friend Miguel, who was indirectly part of this journey and has been one of my mentors in life.
Then it hit me, all the things that I experienced in Taiwan, happened a long time ago. Most of them when I first came. So… Let’s do them again! and I did, I went to those places one more time. With a new perspective it was like I was doing them for the first time. And I understood one things I kept telling me all these years:
Circumstances, depend on the people, a time and a place. The more one tries to understand them, the more one will realise there are too many variables.
It is true! The more one learns, the more one realises we don’t know anything. I would never fully comprehend Taiwan, I couldn’t experience the same thing two times.
I knew this all along, but it was until then that I truly grasped it.
Mom came to visit me again to be with me when I got my master’s diploma. And what do you do with a diploma? You work!
That is what I do now.
Year 7. Another side of Taiwan
I am starting to feel like a baby again. With the rest of my life ahead.
Most of my friends have come and gone. Thomas moved away, and we are struggling the distance but we will be together soon. Nanotechnology PhD is still waiting, but for the moment I am enjoying work. I have a good boss and nice co-workers. I believe I was lucky to find such a good place. I am now experiencing this other chapter of life in Taiwan. Which is absolutely different from just being a student. I will succeed one again, I know I will.
As a person who doesn’t know anything about being here, my only advice is: “Embrace every moment and never stop discovering.”