Letters for my kids to read in the future, from around the world now

Expat rant

Dear George,

When you grow up I definitely want you to explore the world – experience new things, meet lots of different people, taste, smell and appreciate what the world has to offer. I don’t want you to become an expat though. As a younger man I always thought that at some stage I would live overseas. Probably somewhere hot, somewhere exotic, but now I realise that I don’t want to and the existence of expats seems somewhat shallower than you can experience in your home country. Expats here in Taiwan have always bothered me, because they are so defensive of their decision to live here, insisting that it is paradise so strongly to the point that I don’t trust them, that they don’t believe it themselves, that it is a bit tragic. Ultimately they are not accepted into the culture fully and they will always be a foreigner, despite speaking the language and trying very hard. They are not Chinese in attitude or spirit. To some degree this is not so much the case with women expats who have married local men, not sure why. I went to a bar last night and the English barman insisted the this was home (he’d been here 11 years) and was the best place on earth. He then found company with local girls he did not know and spent the evening speaking to them in English, in an English themed pub. To me that does not seem like he is acting very Taiwanese, that it makes here ‘home’. Friends that have become expats find comfort in the lifestyle. Undoubtably life is easier, the money often goes further and there is less stress which is worth a great deal. But there are compromises for these rewards: culture is inaccessible, the bubble of fellow expats is small, insular and aware of everyone’s business, plus you are away from friends and family – the people who really know you. I sometimes think it is an escape for some people. The oddballs I see in Japan for example. They are walking down the street with a huge grin on their face and a beautiful Japanese girl on their arm, the likes of which they could never attract at home. Maybe I’m missing something, and I’m sure there is a deeper understanding to be had when you live overseas. There is certainly a whole ream of other advantages. Taiwan is safe, efficient, clean, polite with great food and it is hard not to like. Personally I’d rather be a visitor to many places than a resident of few.

I’m leaving Taiwan today and am on my way to the airport in the back of a cab. They have TV screens in the front so the driver can watch whilst he is driving. Like most Asian countries you need your wits about you in traffic here so I hope he doesn’t bump someone off their scooter. Taiwan has the highest scooter ownership per capita of anywhere in the world – more than one for each person. The streets are lined with parked scooters and they swarm at the front of traffic jams at red lights like angry bees.

Some more images to remember Taipei by:

Pearl Milk Tea

Heading out of any town in Taiwan you see strange little shacks at the side of the road that are illuminated by fluorescent strip lights and have a counter. Behind the counter is a young woman wearing lingerie or a bikini, usually looking bored. When I first saw it I thought it was some sort of brothel but found out it is where they sell beetle nut from. This is something truckers and taxi drivers chew and then spit out the red juice it produces. You see it on the pavements and roads.

I’ll write again when I get to Bangkok.



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