Happy New Year!

Holy crap, 2012 already. What in the bluest of blue hells happened to last year? Seriously, it seems like just last month I was sitting in my dad’s living room in Toronto, toasting the arrival of 2011 with multiple whiskies and a Corner Gas marathon on an outsized TV, bemoaning the storms which stranded my amigo in Florida and put the dampers on our NYC plan. So what has transpired since that night?

Well, I embarked on a two-week tour of America’s Mid-West, something I never imagined would happen until I went to Thailand. Chicago, Iowa City, the Twin Cities and especially Madison have earned themselves special places in my heart, although I fear for my health if I ever return to Wisconsin, land of fried cheese and beer… During the course of the expedition, whose primary purpose was re-unions with erstwhile Thailand-based comrades, I re-united with the ex-girlfriend, rejected a job offer in Vietnam and opted instead for Taiwan.

Two months later I was cooling my boots back in Surat Thani for a couple of weeks, celebrating my birthday, then found myself waking up in Taichung. At first my reaction to my new home was somewhat apprehensive, with only two words running through my mind – “Big!!!!”, “Busy!!!!”. The scale of the city took me somewhat by surprise, especially after spending the past year-and-a-bit in sleepy, unassuming Surat Thani. My only experience with living somewhere this manic was Melbourne but that was 15 years previous and I had long since forgotten the skills required to cope with urban life.

My confidence took another blow soon after as, prior to the girlfriend joining me, we split up again. I was a stranger in a strange land, now without much of any reason to be there, not the happiest of times. However, since then things have turned around remarkably I’m glad to say.

My newfound fascination with photography and my reclaimed DSLR led me to start really exploring my new home, my explorations turning up all sorts of hidden gems in the form of beautiful relaxing parks, wonderfully cosy and welcoming cafes and a realisation that the paranoia prevalent in the West when you point a camera at a stranger simply does not exist here. Slowly becoming more and more comfortable in my surroundings I decided that hat his may become a long-term adventure rather than the 1-year break I had planned and this decision led me to embark on the daunting journey of learning Chinese.

Best decision ever.

Within weeks of commencing lessons with my new friend Wendy I discovered new levels of confidence in my ability to survive here. Chinese is a difficult language for Westerners, make no mistake – unfamiliar sounds, tones, thousands of characters instead of an alphabet – but the rewards for persistence are incredible. I took to doing my weekly homework at my favourite cafe, Forro, and soon was on first-name terms with the delightful staff there. They helped me with my Chinese, I gave them some English speaking practice. It’s now a home from home with me visiting usually 5 or 6 times a week (despite complaints from my wallet).

The teaching job itself isn’t bad. I work for a private cram school, meaning that children can’t really ‘fail’ as such and so you’re left with a mixed bag of students. Education takes a back seat to making money so teachers in these places inevitably wind up a tad frustrated but I had already dealt with this in Thailand. At times you’re little more than a babysitter with a textbook. However the job is easy, the pay is good and I’m secure teaching here for as long as I want. In the long-term I have my eye on a university job but that will possibly require taking a year out to study so it’s not something I’m focusing on right now.

So, plans for next year? Well I have several thoughts. First is that I’m not going anywhere – as far as I’m concerned right now Taichung is my home. If things go well then ‘ll be here for the real long term and I’m already formulating plans for when I tire of teaching, plans that would involve me running my own business. Eep. That’s distant future though, what about right now? Well a few resolutions spring to mind:

1 – Improve my Chinese but specifically learn to read and write the 1,500 most common characters by the end of the year. Four completely new characters per day is a daunting but not impossible task.

2 – Get my ass in gear and start a band. I bought a bass months ago but so far have only had one occasion to use it in public. This must be remedied.

3 – Explore more of the island. So far I’ve been largely confined to Taichung, time to broaden my horizons.

4 – Spend more time volunteering. Either with Taichung Paws or other groups, time to use a few spare hours to benefit others instead of pissing them away on Facebook.

5 – Relax. I’ve realised this year the extent to which I allow stress and anxiety to control my life. No more. I’ve quit smoking, cut back on the drinking, time to work on this vice.

That’s it. Oh, obviously things like post more regularly here, read more now that I have a new Kobo, get back to a regular gym schedule, etc, etc. 2012, I have high hopes for you – let’s not let each other down 🙂

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