Being here in Beijing is bringing back a flood of memories from when I lived in Taiwan. For those that don’t know or don’t realize how many times I lived in Taiwan, I will give you a brief history of the three times I lived there.
When I was about 18 I was at USU in Logan, Utah enrolled in my first year of University. I had gone to Logan High but because the valley I grew up in was pretty small I had met people from the other two high schools in the valley (Logan High was in Logan, Mountain Crest was at the south end and Skyview was at the north end of the valley). This might turn into a long story actually, sorry. Take a seat, grab a coke and hopefully I don’t bore you.
I had met some people from Mountain Crest High (where Mark went to school) and a bunch of these friends were going to go to Taiwan to teach English for a summer and make some good money and have an adventure. (At that time the minimum wage was $3.65 in the states and in Taiwan they paid $20 an hour) I’d know these people for not even a year but we’d all hit it off and were becoming good friends. One girl in particular (Shari Zollinger who went to another HS over the mountains heading West of Logan) approached my friend Barbara and I one day up on campus and told us that a group of these friends were going to Taiwan and we should go. I thought “yeah, sure whatever”, I thought it wouldn’t happen. I had a semi serious boyfriend and no money and to tell you the truth I had to go home and look up Taiwan on the map. I knew it was in Asia but where I had no idea. I brought it up at dinner one night to my parents and their first reply was “no”. Sure I was 18 and considered an adult and could in reality go if I wanted no matter what they said, but I didn’t have that kind of a relationship with my parents, I wanted their support and their opinion.
There were about 8 of us planning on going over and two girls had already gone over and had an apartment that we could stay in until we got our own place but it was pretty much implied that it had to be fast because they didn’t have a lot of room. My parents said they would think about it and let me know. I let them know that we needed to decide soon because this group was leaving in about a month. YIKES. I think that because two guys were going (who they knew and knew their families) helped but the next day they said they had thought and prayed about it and they thought I should go. Wow, that was a huge shock.
Looking back I think the boyfriend that I was a little bit serious about might have had something to do with their agreeing that I should go. At the time I owned a cute convertible 1968 BMG, I sold it for the amount that my one-way ticket cost with a little money to take over, $700. I already had a passport from going to Germany as an exchange-student, I applied for and got my visa in no time. It all worked out too easily and really quick. Before I knew it we were all at the SLC airport saying goodbye to friends, family and my boyfriend (who I later ended up breaking up with, maybe my parents got what they were hoping for) and set off for the long plane ride to Taiwan. We flew to LA, then Seoul and then Taiwan.
We left for Taiwan around the 1st of May and then went home the end of August. It was the perfect amount of time. I could write a book about my experiences living in Asia. That first time was so exciting; the other times were as well but that first introduction to Asia, all the smells, sites, sounds were such a huge culture shock and eye opener for me. It was non-stop excitement and always an adventure. So far this time in Asia is no different. Maybe a bit more subdued because this time I’m not single, we have kids and Mark is working full time and I’m not working. It’s still something new every day though and I love that.
After getting to Taiwan my friend Shannon (Larsen at the time) and I somehow found an ad for a woman looking for two people to share in rent with her and her sister in an area right next to Taipei called YungHo. The woman was Mandy and she happened to be LDS. Her and her younger sister, Angel lived in an apartment with three rooms and a kitchen. Shannon and I rented a room from her and then started going to all the English teaching schools around our area. We quickly found jobs and if I remember correctly (it was a while ago ya know) we both worked about 30-35 hrs a week. I taught pre-school classes where we just sang little songs with hand signals and they learned the ABC’s and that was pretty much it. I also taught kids that were about 5-6, they were my favorite.
One of my best classes though was a bunch of Engineers whose work paid for them to take English classes. We met in a private room at a restaurant near my apartment once a week. There were about 8 of them, men and women. That was a really fun class. I recently remembered once being asked by one of the women in if I knew any of Confucius teachings? I said no not really but I did know one. They were so impressed that I knew even one. I said yes it was “a man who lives in a glass house, must dress in his basement”. I started laughing but then noticed I was the only one. They didn’t get it and even when I explained (and was asked to draw it on the board they brought with them every time) they didn’t think it was funny. I apologized (but they weren’t offended, they just thought it didn’t make any sense at all) but they just couldn’t understand why someone would have a glass house? That was a fun summer and we met some great people while living there.
My second time living in Taiwan was with Mark. We got married in June of 89’ and the next summer we wanted to go do something; something that would help us earn a good amount of money. While I lived in Taiwan the first time Mark and I wrote on a weekly basis and he loved hearing about living there and seeing all the photo’s. We decided that it would be a great adventure for us and we headed over in April of 1990. This time we lived out near the airport in a really small town called NeiLi. It’s so small that it had one train stop and was actually wedged in between two bigger towns. We bought a scooter and lived in an apartment with two guys Mark had gone to HS with and then another guy from Logan and his wife. It was a 3-story type condo and Mark and I lived on the top floor. It was just a bedroom but we had a rooftop that we put a little blow up pool on and we also could hang out our laundry there as well. By this time in 1990 there were so many people from Logan and surrounding towns that were over in Taiwan teaching English that I think when Mark and I went I could count about 20+ people I knew from my hometown. It was crazy. I think we started a trend.
That was such a fun and carefree summer and one I will never forget. We would get together with our friends that also owned scooters (we were the scooter brigade) and we’d go out to dinner, or movies or just ride around the rice paddies together. We’d stop and take photos of the water buffalo’s out in the fields. It was so pretty where we lived compared to being in the city like I’d done the summer before.
We traveled to church by train an hour each Sunday to attend an English-speaking congregation. This time living there I was more selective of the kind of classes I taught and enjoyed them a bit more. I didn’t teach anyone under 16. One of my favorite classes was at a Bushiban (which is an English learning center) and it was full of teenagers. They were a lot of fun to teach because they just wanted to talk about music, movies and movie stars. They liked to write poetry and then have me critique it. I think I enjoyed it the most because they were so happy to just sit and talk and they really wanted to be there. They weren’t forced to be there. Before the summer ended we had met a family that were moving to Australia and wanted to improve their English and they wanted us to live with them for our last month and we could live rent-free plus they would pay us at the end of the month. They owned their own company and had one of the nicest houses I’d seen in Taiwan. They were very wealthy. We were given our own floor, with a bathroom and laundry room. They gave us access to two scooters because we had sold ours towards the end. All we had to do was speak English with them whenever they were home and we had to spend so many hours a week at home so they could practice their English. They were the nicest family and it was a treat for us to live with them. We earned enough that summer to buy a car and to put towards school that year.
My third time in Taiwan was when Kiah was about 1 ½ yrs old. It would’ve been in 1993. We lived in Taitung, which is in the southern part of Taiwan. It’s about a 6-7 hr train ride from Taipei to Taitung. By this time Mark had changed his major from Sociology to Asian history and he wanted to go back to Taiwan to study Chinese and be emersed in the language and culture. We chose Taitung because the woman Mandy that I had met years before when I went to Taiwan for the first time, invited us to teach at her school (that her and her husband ran). We went over with very little money but she was adamant that it didn’t matter and she would help us out with getting into an apartment, finding more jobs and help financially until we started making enough money to pay her back. This time living in Taiwan ended up being more of a trial and struggle for me and less of an adventure as the other two times had been. There were good moments though but the stress that came from Mandy (which is a whole other story) and our friendship that fell apart far exceeded the good times. I think I learned a lot about “look before you leap” and about trusting others. Another stress was being there with a toddler and not having a car and living in a city (that registers as a village on a map) of 90K and having no public transportation. We ended up buying a scooter, Mark put Kiah on his back in our back carrier thing, then I would sit behind him and hold on to her and Mark. It was stressful but we had to pretend like we were every other Chinese family that drove around with their family on scooters. Some families had up to 5 people on them, we were doing pretty well with 3. We made some good friends while living there and also saw some of our old friends from Utah who lived up in Taipei a couple of times. Shari Z., Reese Z. and Sarah Tarbox took a train down to Taitung and spent Christmas with us. I can still remember having Peking duck for Christmas dinner and being thoroughly disappointed. I’ve never been a fan of duck. Maybe living here in China will change my mind about it. Another memory I have of Christmas day that year was borrowing a friend’s car and all of us piling into it and driving out into the country for the day. On the way back everyone but Mark, Reese and I had fallen asleep. We looked out the window at one point to see a farmer riding a water buffalo through his field. The buffalo was doing somewhat of a trot and the farmer was bobbing up and down. It’s a visual memory forever stuck in my mind. There were some good times but it was more of a learning experience than anything else.
For a long time I could never picture myself living in Asia again because of the time in Taitung. One thing Mark and I always said though was that if we could ever live in Asia working for a company that helped out with the big things, that we would do it in a heartbeat. Here we are, about 17 yrs later doing just. Marks work has been very generous and helpful and we are so grateful to them.
Since living here I’ve thought about each time I’ve lived in Asia and when I started understanding the language or when I felt like I was getting it and that “I could actually do this”. First time was while driving in a taxi by myself from Taipei back to Yung Ho where I lived. The taxi driver asked where I lived and I usually had a piece of paper with the address to give the taxi driver but this time I didn’t. In Chinese I told him I knew where I lived and could tell him where to go. I could say in Chinese to turn right, left and go straight. I could then also tell him to stop when we got to my apartment. It felt so good to be able to give directions, it was liberating.
The second experience that made me realize I could live and get by in Taiwan was when Mark and I lived in NeiLi and I taught at a college (not during the day but at night) to a bunch of kids that were between 18-19. They pulled their money together and paid me a pretty good amount to teach them one night a week. I found the job myself, found out how to get out to the school and then negotiate a price that I wanted to be paid and then teach people that weren’t that much younger than I was.
The third time living in Taiwan, I experienced that feeling pretty much everyday because of how difficult that time was. Nothing about my third time there was easy. I felt from the get go I had to work hard at understanding what was going on and also communicate with people.
This time, my fourth in Asia started out a bit rocky because of Miles having pneumonia and me having strep and bronchitis but it has gotten so much better. Mark is farther along in his speaking than I am. He has traveled her to Beijing quite a bit with work and has picked up a lot each time. Plus I think his brain retains way more than mine does. The hard part for me each time I’ve lived in Asia is that I remember a lot of words and their meaning. I forget the tones and the grammar. I haven’t had my “aha” moment yet but we haven’t been here that long, so I know it will come. I can pick out enough of very simple conversations to understand what is being said, I just can’t answer back. It’s so frustrating though to know what I’m being asked or what the gist of what is being said to me but then to have to answer back “Wo bu dong”, or “I don’t understand”. I haven’t quite learned how to say that I understand but I can’t answer you because my Chinese is crap. Maybe that will be my new thing to learn.