Returning to Stable Expat Life

Their baggage
was all in cardboard boxes. The plane was delayed,
the rumor went through the line. We shrugged,
in our hopeless overcoats. Aviation
had never seemed a very natural idea.
– John Updike, Flight to Limbo

I returned to Taipei at the end of July; the sweltering heat and humidity had yet to subside as I arrived at Taoyuan Airport to discover that my luggage hadn’t arrived.

A sign at baggage claim had my seat number listed with a different name next to it — I headed to the EVA Air customer service desk to see what the problem could be. I was informed that my only bag — the suitcase that held all my clothes, toiletries, etc. for my new life in Taiwan — had not made my connecting flight.

I had a two-hour layover in San Francisco and United did not transfer my suitcase to my onward flight (never mind that I had to walk across the ENTIRE airport to change planes and I was exhausted because I couldn’t sleep on the Newark-San Francisco flight because of multiple crying children, which added to my bout of jetlag upon arrival in Taipei).Taipei-Street

EVA was kind enough to deliver my suitcase two days later — it took more than 24 hours for United to put it on a flight to Taipei. They also gave me NT$1200 (a little less than US$40) to purchase necessities (United grudgingly offered an apology and said I should request compensation from EVA for United’s failure). I was able to buy a tshirt and underwear at Uniqlo and a cheap towel, deodorant, and toothbrush at the grocery store to help me survive those two days (the towel was most important as I hadn’t showered in 30+ hours). I desperately wanted my shorts from my suitcase as the late-July heat made wearing jeans uncomfortable.

Once I had some clean clothes and a shower, I set out on my adventure to find more permanent accommodations. I knew in desperation I could head back to my previous hostel and save a little money, but I didn’t think it’d be worth the hassle of returning (plus the bed was rather uncomfortable). I managed to find two options rather quickly through a Facebook group. I chose the larger, more expensive apartment in the more convenient neighborhood. We’ll see if I stay long term or break my lease (there’s a clause in it so I can leave early) and search for an upgrade of sorts.

View from my balcony
View from my balcony

Despite some problems with the new apartment (the landlord promised to fix/replace the hot plate a month ago and the washing machine is broken as well), I’ve been happy that it’s the quietest place I’ve been in Taipei (it’s nearly silent in the evening). I also invited a friend from my time in the previous hostel to stay in the extra room so I could save on rent. His friend and business partner even came to live on the couch for a month.

Of course, I haven’t spent that much time doing anything other than sleeping in the apartment since I started working. Not to mention my part-time tutoring to earn a little extra — as I wrote before, the life of an expat is not a permanent vacation. Most of my time has been spent adapting to life in a cubicle farm (what do you mean I have to follow a dress code!?). I realized I haven’t worked in an office in 12 years — that was my first job out of college when I was an assistant editor for a newspaper.

Taipei 101 in the distance from my balcony
Taipei 101 in the distance from my balcony

Adapting to this more stable lifestyle hasn’t been entirely easy, especially since I finished training and now have to work the afternoon-evening shift. It also seems that everyone I’ve known in this city is leaving soon — four friends have either left or are leaving in the next month (and then there are the numerous acquaintances who were only here temporarily to study Chinese — this is a temporary city for many people). I either need to start going out with my coworkers or make new friends in my limited free time.

I’ve also managed to break into the in-flight magazine industry. It’s only a small sidebar article on craft beer in Taiwan, and I have no byline because it was my interview with a beer connoisseur, but it’s still my idea and writing (though it was edited quite a bit for space). You can read it here. I plan to pitch a few more stories before the end of the year to other magazines.

The Pink Panther greeted me near my new office. I have no idea what he was selling.
The Pink Panther greeted me near my new office. I have no idea what he was selling.

Despite the usual hassles and difficulties of starting a new life abroad, it’s the decision I wanted to make. I wouldn’t have been averse to taking a job back home, but I doubt I any job in my field of expertise would pay enough for me to live comfortably. The job I have here in Taipei is a step forward career-wise and affords me the ability to live in relative comfort (although I’m foregoing some comforts in favor of rebuilding my savings for future travels and a new camera). Overall, I think this move was the best decision at this point in my life. Such a move isn’t for everyone — even I have my doubts about it every now and then despite being through it before — but somehow I’ll make it work.

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