Four months? Really?

Jings, crivvens and indeed help ma boab. With neither fanfare nor bombast it appears that yesterday marked four months of life and work in Taiwan. To say this surprises me is something of an understatement as I’m still barely settled and haven’t entirely managed to shake the fish-out-of-water feeling which vanished within my first week in Surat Thani. So, why the dragging feeling? Well the bad news is that there are many factors at play but the good news is that I’m getting on top of them and finally – I think – turning a corner.

First stumbling block has been my frankly appalling and embarrassing failure to tackle the language. I’ll raise my hand and admit that this comes down to nothing but laziness on my part. The fact is that Taichung is a largely westernised city and I’ve met foreigners who have been here for a number of years and still can’t order their food in Chinese. You simply don’t need to learn to get by and without either a carrot or a stick I’m not one for putting in the extra effort.

This admission (I only just realised it myself) annoys the hell out of me and the situation is going to change. I must be better than this. So far this weekend has seen me learn some Chinese characters (and revel in the joy of recognising some of them as I passed shop signs), obtain a copy of a well-reviewed Mandarin audiobook and contact a private tutor about possible weekend lessons. Many universities here offer classes but my summer school schedule rules that out until September at the earliest.

Which segues handily into my next stumbling block – the schedule. Now I’m not necessarily complaining here as my intent on coming Taiwan (aside from the main reason which is, sadly, no longer applicable) was to work as hard as possible and save money. With my current school I got my wish and my regular teaching hours are 27.5 per week with an additional 3 to 4.5 hours during July and August. Given the minimal amount of prep required the hours themselves aren’t a problem. However when you consider that my day starts at 13:40 and doesn’t end till 21:10 or 21:40 then you can see how it might get a bit draining.

The main consequence of this is the impact on social life, or the utter eradication thereof. By the time I get home, get a shower, cook some dinner and allow myself to unwind it’s already time for bed. Hell, even if I wanted to go out the city government has ordained that most bars in residential areas must close by 10:30 so I’d have time for a shot of whisky before heading back. As a result my social circle is much more restricted than it was in Surat, a town one-tenth the size of this place. I’ve met good people and the list is growing every week but I miss the close nature of Surat’s ex-pat community, the feeling of mutual support it engendered and the near guarantee that you’d bump into someone you knew every day.

The final hurdle has been the living situation. For the past four months I’ve been living under the radar in a gorgeous apartment right in the centre of town and directly opposite my gym – a huge bonus in my world. ‘Under the radar’ because my flatmate’s company managed the lease and were opposed to any non-employees sharing the property lest we exercise our natural pyromaniac tendencies, thus landing them in hot water with the landlord. She tried to negotiate on the situation but to no avail and last week the axe came down, time to ship out.

For a while I’d known this may happen and this back-of-the-mind knowledge prevented me from settling in. Nary a photo on the wall and my backpack always in sight it was hardly homely, more of a transient’s waystation (albeit a swanky one). Today saw me transfer my worldly belongings to pastures new, reasonably close by and none too shabby at all. The lack of air-con will take some getting used to but I got by in Thailand. However. the problem of settling remains – my new roomie may be moving on soon and there’s no guarantee I’ll be able to keep the lease on. This time I’m resolved to make it more of a home though – I’ve already bought some bits and bobs (and a bed), providing a steady psychological anchor to the place. When I get some time I’ll print some photos and do some decorating in my new room.

Now lest you think it’s all doom and gloom, remember all the posts about what I love in this country and city. This is by no means a whining post, just an assessment of the situation and a pondering of why it’s just not quite right in a few ways. The tea is still delicious, the classes are still fun and I’m slowly approaching the levels of fitness I had when I left Edinburgh almost two years ago. I’ve discovered a love of photography and my guitar playing seems to have almost recovered after years of being placed on the back burner.

This is a good place. I guess all I’ve done is point out to myself ways I can make it even better.

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