Xpats' opinions about Taiwan come in as many different varieties as deep fried pork products at the night market. For every xpat that feels overwhelming gratitude for the generosity shown by our host country people, there's another who considers our Taiwanese companions to be socially fake and two-faced. Where some see a country overflowing with opportunity and freedom for all things Western, others feel caged by the psychic bars of linguistic and cultural confusion.
If my stance on the issue isn't apparent, please allow me to clarify it - Taiwan is one badass supafly chillin' muthafucka.
It is precisely because of the privileged life that Westerners live in Taiwan that I was able to start Xpat Magazine. It was the openness of the Taiwanese people to Western ideas, the helpfulness of strangers and the exceptionally high pay and short work hours of the buxiban foreign English teacher that made this possible.
So today, on our one-year anniversary, I think that it's a fine time to show my appreciation.
Thank you Taiwan. And a 'thank you' to all Taiwanese people--you've been spectacular. Even Moe the mechanic who broke my bike on purpose and then tried to charge me more than double what it was worth to fix it. And the guy who makes me pay me twice as much for a fruit juice as his wife or any other vendor does. You're awesome too. I'm not going to buy anything from you again, but I understand your situation. If I had to grind away 60 hours a week under hot engines or behind a fruit juice stand in the sweltering sun all day just to put some chow fan on the table in my five room house where I lived with my parents-in-law, four children and innumerable giant cockroaches, I too would try to wheedle a little something extra out of the big-nosed whitey who works 20 hours a week, drives a custom motorcycle and lives in a three bedroom luxury suite by himself.
Contrary to popular opinion, though, I don't think my magazine is the greatest mark of the success of my life in Taiwan.
All too often, while trying to not to miss the squat toilet, dodging kamikaze blue trucks and bandaging the exhaust pipe burns on our calves, we forget that living abroad - the life of the xpat - is in itself a triumph.
Living abroad, especially in a culture so vastly different from our own, is a supreme challenge. It's greater than most other challenges because it's all encompassing. From shopping for beans to opening a bank account to asking for directions to the KTV - our lives are filled with exasperating obstacles.
It's a test of self-reliance, as most of us in our first year here are unable to even ask for assistance from the average person.
It's a mental trial to brave the urban wilderness of Asia and forage through the Chinese labels in search of the one that looks vaguely similar to the product you need, and then to not be disappointed when you get home and open it only to find that it's not - even on your third and fourth attempts.
But most of all living abroad is an education in human nature. By living abroad we not only learn about the culture that we're immersed in, we also learn a great deal about our own culture because it gives us a yardstick against which to measure it.
Sure, we all get bitter sometimes. The fierce sun and turbulent, noisy traffic will occasionally irritate even the most seasoned xpat. But before you unload your complaints about Taiwan on that guy next to you at the bar, or your local Internet bulletin board, remember: when your time in Taiwan is over and you're kickin' it in your lazy boy in whatever country you come from, you'll be a better person for it. And during the commercial breaks in your favorite prime-time reality TV show, as you suck back your pork rinds and Dr. Pepper, you won't muse about the things you hated about Taiwan. No, you'll remember that it was a grind, but you made it. You'll remember your triumph.
Then the commercial will end and Survivor will come back on and you'll laugh at the whiney pansies.
"They think it's tough camping on the beach and eating coconuts?" You'll exclaim to your friends. "Ha! They never had to wade through the mixed stink of open sewers and stinky tofu and dodge terrorizing taxi cabs just to get a crappy piece of lukewarm fried pork and then go back through it all just to get peed on by squadrons of three year old minions before running to the bathroom to expel the toxic street meat through every orifice!"
Then you'll poke fun at John from Alabama who's about to get voted off the island.
"Oh poor John. You spilled the last cup of rainwater and dropped the bananas in the ocean. Now you're the most unpopular person in your tribe and you miss your cat. Get the hell offa' my TV you loser. Go spend nine months teaching kindy in Changhua County for a shady gangster boss with three teeth that can't speak English and consistently forgets to pay you. Then you can come and tell me how hard it is to live on a foreign island, you whiney snorkel wiener."
Your friends will laugh uncomfortably and look at you strangely, but they'll get used to it. And when you rant in public they'll quietly tell strangers, "It's ok. He used to live in Taiwan."
And how true it will be.