Today is the anniversary of setting foot in Taiwan and starting my studies of Mandarin abroad.
I felt for most of that time that I was dreaming, and sooner or later reality would come crashing down. Its fine to have a piece of paper saying you’re invited to study at a school half-way across the world, but it’s quite another when you find yourself walking through customs wondering if someone will pull you aside and explain that it was all in jest. Yet that never happened, and after surviving hostel living, giant spiders, and miscommunications, I spent two glorious months in a city full of lights.
The weather was so tremendously hot that it tints my memory of that time as being a particularly lethargic experience. A good part of my time was spent walking around committing sights to memory and enjoying the tropical weather. My favorite recollections are those of learning Tai-Chi on the school roof-top, and climbing elephant mountain in time to see the sunset.
I had the opportunity to make friends with temperaments just like mine and some, with the complete opposite. It really opened my eyes to all the paths one life can take, and how lucky we are to enjoy the moments when they cross with another. Try as I might I could never capture the moments in a way to make them solidify in my memory but that’s what journals, writings, and pictures are for. I’m glad others were proactive enough to take pictures of events I cherished but thought better than to ruin by experiencing it through a screen.
In fact throughout all the highs and lows of that time, I felt reassured that as exciting, or drawn out my time seemed, I was merely preparing for the next step, It’s as if I was collecting jewels and gold pieces to be safely stowed away. This gave me assurance for the future and enabled me to be optimistic, a virtue sorely need in dealing with life’s dilemmas.
Another lesson I learned was to make time for studying and self-evaluation, taking from The Count of Monte Cristo “the application of the axiom “Know thyself” is in our days substituted for the less difficult and more advantageous science of knowing others”. I appreciated the time I had to be on my own, while sharing so much of it with those I cared about.
The friends I made were wonderful, and I found Taiwanese people in general to be friendly and universally cheerful. In the first few weeks many of the youth I met helped me to get around Taipei and would physically walk me to the subway stations if I needed it. In the evenings we would hangout, and I would become a guinea pig for famous foods that looked questionable and offended most of your senses. They were extremely kind to me and I look forward to when we meet again, and talk in their own language.
Fast forward 10 months, and you find me here in Beijing, almost at the end of my second semester of studies. The sheer masses of people makes it a vastly different experience than Taipei. I definitely enjoy living here; I find it tenacious, requiring me to be in earnest and energized at all times. I’ve grown with my Chinese immensely and am hopefully past the growing pains of language learning. The highlights of Beijing are many, starting with classmates that more resemble a caring family, and the independence of mobility allowing me to go to Harbin, Tianjin, Guilin, and Xi’an. I’ve met personalities you only read about in stories, and have been whisked on last minute adventures to climb the great wall and explore small towns.
The biggest change for me here is instead of being the one to leave and not come back, is to watch as others go.
I’ve taken over the position of “the veteran” and though it sounds a bit fatigued, it actually sends a slight thrill down my spine to think I’m now at a stage where the strange has morphed into the familiar. Whatever comes next is sure to be a challenge, but I look forward to it. I’m also very glad for all those who have helped me along the way and have been silently supporting my escapades; I will see everyone very soon!