July 3, 2011

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Living the Far Eastern dream

Who popped your bubble?

Taipei dream girlTaipei's fast-paced life and beautiful women* are attracting many Westerners.

I'm one of those Western guys, who until the age of 25 had no interest and very little knowledge of East Asia. And then I begun to travel, because I wanted to discover new dimensions and ended up in this region - and fell in love with it. I think it's fair to say that there are many European guys like me, who find themselves in a similar situation: You visit, you see it and you instantly love it. The food, the people, the life style, the language, the art, the scenery, you name it! - it all looks so interesting, because it's so different than anything you've seen or experienced before (at least in my case). Growing up in Europe gives you the chance to visit foreign countries within a few hours of drive. And in one day you can pass through many of them, but do you really feel foreign? In my case - not really. If I walk around Bratislava, Vienna or Zagreb without a big DSLR around my neck, I'm almost as one of the locals - it's a completely different experience from being a foreigner in Taiwan. There is no wall between me and them (the wall I am trying to knock down bit by bit ever since I moved here).

But when you come to the Far East, the experience is much deeper and that includes the challenges and the rewards. I'm not sure, how you ended up in Taiwan (or Seoul or Tokyo), but at one point, just like me, you had to make a decision to leave everything behind for good, or just for a period of time, because you thought that it will fulfill your life or give you something you have desired for a long time and couldn't get it back home. Very often guys like us picture East Asia as our of Garden of Eden, where for little work we will earn a lot of money, hot girls will just crawl all over us, people will treat us with friendliness and respect everywhere we'll go, because we're supposedly "rich and handsome" and come from a country where "everything is better" and hence they can only learn from us and never vice versa. The fringe of some of these goodwill ambassadors from the West truly believes in these things and acts accordingly. If you read my blog for a while, you know that I am not a big fan of them. However, they are part of the deal - same as the other extreme of people, that become naturalized citizens, learn local dialects and completely lose their identity and replace it with a new one. I admire them, but only to a certain extent.

However, those of us, who are not driven by white supremacy, nor white guilt (I'm intentionally using those heavy terms), find ourselves in a tricky situation, when we realize that things are not the way we have imagined them before. Fact is, that stereotypes on both sides (Europe/East Asia) prevail in the way we see each other. It must be a very sobering moment for a female Taiwanese traveler, who wants to experience the romantic Paris and suddenly finds herself roaming around the stinky subway trying to find a clean toilet and failing. Same goes for a Japanese tourist visiting Rome and getting his watch and wallet stolen by a pickpocket. I don't think he will return home and share his amazing stories of Italian dolce vita. And let me not start with all those guys who come to the Far East just to realize that life is even harder here. In my case, I know most stereotypes are not true, but somehow it's very hard to let them go, as they make us feel safe. They make me feel safe.

Just the other day my wife and I went to a store. As an interracial couple, we almost always garner attention and so I wasn't surprised, when an uncle in his forties - wearing undershirt, chewing betel nut - asked her "if she had a certain certificate in English" (according to my wife, he was "assuming that since she's with a White foreigner, her English must be excellent"). She replied "no", on which he followed up with "How are you able to communicate with that foreigner then?". She said "I'm just trying my best to talk and practice, that's all." When she later shared the details of their conversation with me, I told her that next time she should say yes, if someone asks her the same question. I explained, that he was a simple man and judging by the question he asked, he sees a very simplified reality in regards to communication issues in interracial relationships. So why popping his bubble, if he feels safe in it? Sure, you can accuse me of stereotypical thinking as well ("assuming that people like him do not understand a complex reality"), but at least I am aware of that and have no agenda to do so, it's pure altruism.

But aside from these cases, I'm mostly trying to question stereotypes, my own and the ones of others' (especially when bloggers write articles on the issue). I tend to be provocative at times, maybe getting few enemies along the way, but I feel that's the price you have to pay, if you want to evolve, mature and eventually become a wiser person (which is one of my goals in life). I'm clearly not yet stereotype-free (who is?), but at least I'm working on it. My wife and I have vigorous debates about Taiwanese and European ideas and practices - stuff, that probably wouldn't be PC enough for this blog, but we never overstep certain boundaries. She popped many of my bubbles, after I moved here, but I love her more and understand her better day by day. Most of us, before we move to the Far East, know, that we won't find docile geishas serving every of our needs, we know that life in a big city such as Taipei, Tokyo or Beijing won't always be exciting and awesome, yet we still hope that we will find snippets of these stereotypes here - that's the dream, that keeps us going, when life gets tough. At least that's what keeps me going.

I've made the right decision to come here, even if times are tough and many things are different than I have imagined them to be. I've always wanted to live in a big East Asian city and work in an international company - now I can say, that my dream came true. In addition, I have a beautiful wife and many new friends and the job gives me respect and admiration by the dear ones I have here and back home in Slovenia. But if you'd asked me, if I was happy, I couldn't answer you with a clear and straight yes or no. My mind is not clear yet, I'm still not 100% here, but I know that I'm long gone from where I came from, long gone from the lives of the people I was part of. I'm sure I'm not the only one with this struggle. My question is: When did you pop your bubble and how did you manage to carry on?

[My TAIWAN LIFE page][Photo by MKL, 2011]

*Before you accuse me of being a creep, the woman on the photo is my wife.


  1. Bro I think every where we go we have this problem of stereotyping. (but I have to say it's less stereotyping here in Malaysia - that's probably we have learn to live with multiracial for the pass 50 years)

    My advise is that you may need to focus on why are you here on the first place and stay on that route and I'm sure you will find inner peace and less feeling insecurity.

    My second advise is I think you have been too worked out by the hectic life there and that may add lot of stress to you. It's a beautiful world there but because your too stress and you suddenly lose that momentum? Hahaha I'm just guessing but that's how I am when I'm in stress and tired all the time... Nothing in front of you seem beautiful.

    I'm not sure I'm giving a positive advise but I think it's important you stay cool and you will see clearer what's a head of you.

    Cheers :)

  2. @Netster: Bro, thanks for the brilliant reply. I agree with you wholly. I am very stressed lately and lost that traveler's hear and eyes I had. I still think Taiwan is beautiful and won't stop recommending places to visitors, as I still remember how much fun I had traveling around this place. But life and work is a different thing, big responsibility and stress. But I really hope that this is just a phase and once I get used to it, I will relax a little. And I really hope you will come and visit me, so I can show you around, hehe..

  3. If I could go back in time to about 22 years ago (when I would have been 20), I would have wanted to spend a few months living in a place like Taipei just to experience living in a foreign environment. But alas I did not, so I'm sort of making up for it. When we visit my wife's family in the Philippines every several years, I try to make it my goal to spend several days in a different Asian city in the region. I like to think it is good for my kids too, because it gives them exposure to a wider world that will hopefully stay with them and encourage them to embrace travel and cultural diversity when they're older.

    I gather in your situation, now that you're basically settled and going through the daily grind of commuting to a job and working your ass off, Taiwan is becoming to you what it is for the people who have lived there all their lives. Then again, it would probably be like that anywhere you decided to live and work in your field.

    As for happiness, of course we're never completely happy all of the time. We have moments of happiness that we tell ourselves makes the unhappy moments bearable. And we're both fortunate that we have great ladies with whom we can share those happy moments.

  4. Awesome blog post!

    I do think there are stereotypes on both sides.

    As I explore East Asia more, I've become more "travelled" and realize that a lot of stereotypes/differences aren't true...yet on the otherhand, I've encountered some that are.

    The interesting thing is that I've come to view some of them a bit differently though and ask WHY they might be true due to background cultural differences.

    I think it was on your blog actually that I discovered the Grand Narrative blog (?). I found it highly interesting and educational and have since then stumbled across a few other similarly more "sociological" blogs.

  5. Can I jut say first, my favorite thing about this post is the "*"! Cracked me up and will hopefully shut the haters up.

    As for your question, I'm not sure.. When I moved to the states when I was only 16 on my own, so by the time I was adult and moving first to Spain and later to Nicaragua I was so prepared for this that it didn't hit me to hard. If that makes sense.

  6. You know me, sometimes I am just too honest, actually, I don't need to share ever detail, but it's funny that I always can't help to be honest, haha. As for my case, I thought that Ogisan actually was a bit rude, because I didn't know him and he always assumed that my English should be good. But everyday I have many struggles to communicate with you, try hard to make you understand the complex situation, I always feel my limit. If I know that I would marry a handsome westerner and need to speak English everyday, I promise I would try my best to learn hard.

    Before you had the hopes to stay here and worked here, I already have worries, especially when I realize that you European really have good environment and living qualities. I always have struggles to see you feel stressful, upset, sad, and uncomfortable here. I often don't know what to do, only could try my best to treat you well. Although you told me many times that you want to succeed here, you're not the person who would give up easily, you have expectation to yourself and you want to achieve something. I know that, just somehow I still feel sorry for you, because you left a good environment which is like a human heaven, but landed here to be a compressed normal person.

    I really hope that we can make it, and please always remember that I will support you always.

  7. Likewise what you say, I'm also someone who doubt stereotypes, 'cause to me, none of the concepts of understanding is the truth, 'cause I've not yet found out any of them can be told universally "good" or "right" and I don't think issues alike this can be judged to be "good," "bad," "right," or "wrong."
    No matter how big and beautiful (or maybe they are small and ugly I don't know) those bubbles are, any bubbles are not the truth to me.
    So I feel glad when my bubbles are popped, 'cause it means I'm getting to realize the looking of the real world.

    Hope my words are clear enough... just passing here, seeing your question and thinking maybe I can try to reply it with my opinion, but I don't think I've already been totally clear about what I have thought about and been through as well. Besides that, please, if my words arn't proper or I'm disobeying any rules of this place, let me know anytime. I enjoy your blog. Thanks for posting them to share them with we all. (Betty)

  8. Hi Nino! I hope all is well with you :) I hope you're not letting some of the challenges or stereotypes get to you too much. There are always stereotypes and always people who will judge inappropriately....and there are always challenges in life too.
    I think Netster gave good advice: know why you're there in the first place.
    There's also a lot of good that comes out of challenging times - not only does it make you stronger as a character, but you also learn who your friends and loved ones are because those are the ones that stand beside you at those times without being asked.

  9. Going overseas was, for me, a great decision and one I do not regret at all. Even when I was working insane hours in a patenting firm in Japan last year I enjoyed the freedom of being able to explore an entire country and culture that was unfamiliar to me.

    If you had at any point asked me if I was happy I too would not have been able to answer. Perhaps the nature of happiness is that it is hard to see it in the present, but easy to see once it is past.

    However, at some point you have to settle down. The sad, aging, frustrated figures one sees populating expat bars around the world are proof of what happens if you do not. For myself, though, this has not been possible yet.

  10. @Tommy, Bekah, Lily, Carina, Betty, Karen and FOARP: Thank you for adding so many interesting points to my post, I really appreciate it :)

  11. Hi there, I'm a Taiwanese immigrant in the US, finding myself wandering into your blog in a sudden attack of homesickness. I had taken many things you wrote about Taiwan absolutely for granted and never thought twice, before I moved out of the country with a romanticized idea of an adventurous life in the western world. Many years later, all the excitements, challenges, setbacks, triumphs, and uncomfortableness transformed into a much efficient existence I would call that's just the way it is. Then, there are nights like this when I seriously miss all things Taiwanese - the night markets, the scooters, and the friendly people who sometime forget to bring a keen sense of social grace. It begs the question - where is my home? Perhaps, it does not lie in my youth fantasy, nor lofty ideas. Perhaps, it's just a place where I'm truly relaxed and feel welcome. Hope you will find home inTaiwan.

  12. @Anonymous: Thanks for the very well written comment. Guess once you are stuck between two worlds, you lose that true sense of home, but you gain the best of two worlds.


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