The waiters at Delicioux, a pasta restaurant in downtown Keelung, exclusively see me in the act of writing and eating. On any given weekday, except Monday because the pool’s closed on Mondays, I shuffle in, smelling of chlorine and the vinegar/alcohol solution I use to clean my ears. I order chicken pesto pasta, or vegetable pesto, or (if I’m feeling adventurous like tonight) chicken and chili. The food’s not great, but it’s air-conditioned, the menu’s in English, and the seats are comfortable. These are my standards.
I’m trying to figure out why I’m always writing when I eat dinner here. It’s not like the atmosphere is conducive to creativity. A baby is shrieking. The music playing is the entire Taylor Swift discography. I’m exhausted from an after-work swim.
I think it has to do with the solitation*. After work, I hop on the bus. It’s a 15-30 minute bus ride downtown. Then a 30-minute walk to the pool. Then about a 30-minute wait for the pool to open. Then a 30-minute swim and a 30-minute walk back to the bus stop. All of this alone. Solitary. I speak few words and have few words spoken to me. I listen to music or podcasts, but those do not have the same thought dampening powers of activities like watching a movie, or TV show, or reading a book; all things I would do if I had just gone back to my apartment after work.
So my mind is left to wonder in observation and isolation for hours. This is conducive to the creation of character dialogue, plot points, mental self-discovery, etc. Walking along the canal towards the city centre, I make realizations.
Even though it’s usually dark outside after I finish my swim, there are often a lot of people walking beside the canal that leads to the harbor downtown. Mostly older people out strolling for exercise. A few families out with their young kids. Today, while passing them, I thought: if their kid fell in the canal, I could drop my bag and jump in and save them. Then my act of heroism/instinct would make the news and everyone would know who I was. And when they’d see me, instead of staring like, “who the fuck are you? Why the fuck are you here?” they’d smile like, “thank you for saving that child!” Really it would be a win-win for everyone involved. The child would be alive. People would smile at me. And any other black women that just happen to visit Keelung would also be smiled at because people would think they’re me.
No one fell into the canal while I walked by. My thoughts moved on to a recent epiphany. One I want to keep cementing in my mind for fear that over time it’ll be swept away: I should not stay in Taiwan another year. I should go back to the U.S. Why? Taiwan is great. I make enough money to save. I’m safe walking alone (minus threat of dogs and snakes). I’m getting involved in creative communities. Why would I leave?
Why did I come? A friend posted that this elementary school in Taiwan was looking for a science teacher. I applied because I: 1) did not have a job, 2) wanted to travel, 3) did not think I would actually get the job. I had been rejected from numerous other things I’d applied to (including Princeton in Asia which would have sent me to Asia to teach), so I thought: why would I get this job? I applied almost purely as an exercise. I thought I should apply to every opportunity because I was at the point of begging and beggars can’t be choosers. I thought I would for sure get another position at a camp in Washington State doing outdoor and environmental education for the fall season. The same day I interview with the camp, I was offered the Taiwan gig. My mind was in knots. I was planning on going west: (Wo)Manifest Destiny and all that; pursue my dreams of settling the Pacific Northwest. Then I was given this amazing international opportunity. PNW would be there when I wanted it. (Or it would be consumed by a giant earthquake/volcanic eruption, in which case, good thing I wasn’t there, right?) Going to the Pacific Northwest was the safer route (minus the earthquake/volcano threat). The scary route was saying yes to a language barrier, a new culture, and a full-time job teaching elementary school students. So I did the scary thing.
If I had to draw a graph of personal growth over the timeline of my entire life (so far), I would utilize the function e^x.
It’s difficult to describe what’s different. I’ve added a number of activities to my list of experiences: parasailing, playing guitar at an open mic night, river tracing, live storytelling, running a marathon, open water swimming, organizing a writer’s workshop, playing in a golf tournament, trail running. But those are just things really.
On Class Day of Princeton graduation, the program pamphlet included 6-word reflections of seniors’ experiences. I don’t remember any of the ones I read, except one: “I am now comfortable being uncomfortable.” At the time, I moderately sympathized with this statement. But one year later, I know feel I’ve lived it. I’ve put myself in situations that high school or even college Erisa would’ve shied away from or only done within a group of friends. Perhaps I’ve overcome some of my anxiety, reduced the amount of irrational stress I used to imbue many moments of my life with. Obviously there are still many instances of me freakin’ out in life, but I guess I’ve learned to tune down the volume on that AM radio of anxiety (I’m sorry for that expression; that was the lamest thing I’ve ever written. And I once wrote the sentence “Materials stretch as we pull them,” in a college physics report…). I’ve resolved that even if experiences go horribly, I will: 1) learn something, and 2) get a good story out of it. This attitude has allowed me to do many things I’ve always wanted to do, but didn’t have the emotional strength to do. For whatever reason, being in Taiwan pushed me to take risks in the direction of my goals.
I feel like had I been in the U.S. this year, I would not have had this rapid shift in mindset. I’ve mentioned this before, and lament that I have no real way of testing this hypothesis, but it seems that by putting myself so far outside my comfort zone, I made it easier for myself to be comfortable in what I would have previously considered to be uncomfortable situations. My zone of comfortability** extends with every step outside it.
So why leave Taiwan if I believe all (or at least most) of this transition came from my being in Taiwan?
Because Taiwan’s not my endgame. I don’t want to be here forever. I’ve never felt like I wanted to. I talk to foreigners who’ve made plans to stay indefinitely or who plan to travel around but don’t ever want to go back to their home nations, and I cannot imagine not living in the U.S. I love traveling and experiencing new cultures, but I’m not one who wants to make those experiences permanent.
The U.S. is my endgame. I now see Taiwan as my test tube. Such personal development and growth incapable in vivo, has been attained in vitro on this island. I cannot even really describe what I want to do with my life in words; my desired future feels more like the sensation upon waking up from a dream and remembering nothing about what actually happened. Rather there is just a feeling associated. There is nothing concrete in my future, like: be a published author, or, run for Congress. Rather, I know I want to be involved in the creation of things, in the connecting of people, in the betterment of society by way of the mental/emotional wellbeing of all members of society. Lofty, abstract shit like that.
Can’t I do these things here in Taiwan? Yes. But I’d have to learn Chinese. A small challenge – I think – compared to the larger fact that regardless of if I spoke fluent Mandarin and lived here for decades and had children here and became a citizen, whenever someone would see me, they’d see a foreigner. No one would ever see me and assume I was a Taiwanese citizen. What ability/right do I have to critique and try and change a culture that is not mine nor could ever really accept me. I have a friend who plans to stay in Asia for quite a while, and stay abroad indefinitely. As an education innovator, he wants to have an influence on the educational market that he sees has the most potential for impacting the future of the world: Asian (particularly Chinese) youth. I feel similarly, but reached a different conclusion: With the skills I have, with the skills I want to obtain, with what I want to do with those skills, I want to be in the United States.
I have learned such valuable skills and life lessons here (like don’t go jogging with jangling keys in your pocket or dogs will literally bite you in the ass). I’ve had experiences I will never forget (like that time I thought I was going to die of rabies because a dog bit me in the ass). Taiwan has been a test tube. An incubator. But it’s time to hatch (I am so sorry for that. That is worse than that time I wrote: “AM radio of anxiety.”) To be born. To rip out of the gut of some unexpecting space jockey Alien-style. It’s time to take these skills and experiences and apply them to lofty, abstract goals in the U.S.
*I’m inventing this word. Shakespeare did it, and thanks to him we now say words like ‘bedroom.’ ‘Solitation’ is the noun form of ‘solitary.’ I know that ‘solitariness’ is already the noun form of ‘solitary,’ but it doesn’t sound as good. If I used ‘solitariness,’ I feel like the sentence would need to be written: “I think it has to do with the solitariness of these activities.” I think it would sound weird if I just wrote: “I think it has to do with the solitariness.” I can’t explain it. But that’s how I want to write it.
**Another new word. Deal with it.