alone in an igloo

I couldn’t escape. There was nowhere to go.

The apartment building, a tower of brick, lay a mile off the ocean. There was no heating. There was no insulation. It was 9 °C (48 °F). The December chill went straight to my bones.

The water was ice.

I’d been in Taiwan for 24 hours, been traveling for 20, and hadn’t showered in 72. And the water was ice. It felt like needles. My skin was turning blue.

I shivered and looked for warm clothes. I hadn’t brought very many. My roommate, a girl I’d just met, was gone for the weekend. I was alone in an igloo. I had no idea what to do.

And so I grit my chattering teeth and curled up on my bed. It felt like a rock. And I cried. What have I gotten myself into?

•       •       •

Thus began my time in Taiwan. I was 6,000 miles and seven months from home. And I was miserable. Really miserable. Honestly. What was I going to do?! . . .

I was going to grow, that’s what. I was going to learn about and adapt to a new culture, not to mention make many amazing friends along the way. I was going to grow so much that my seven-month stay would turn into a year and a half, and, at the end of that year and a half, I wasn’t going to want to leave. Taiwan would have, in many ways, become my home.

You see, the reason the water was ice? My gas tank was empty. The way to fix it? Call Wei-Ming or Yenhsuan or Sueching and ask them to call the gas guy for me. (I couldn’t speak Mandarin; he knew no English.) The way to get warm? Buy blankets and portable heaters, and layer in as many clothes as possible. (The Michelin Man look was in, man!) The way to feel connected? Look with open eyes and an open heart at this new world around me. Absorb everything possible. Find at least one thing positive for every thing negative.

And never give up.

Because, as I would soon see, Taiwan was nothing like home, but, also, everything like home.

Just one way my Taiwanese friends helped me. More stories like this on the way.

The view from my apartment.

Me laughing at Sueching.

Me and Vanessa

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24 thoughts

  1. this is another of your many best writings, words that imprint a picture, one that leaves me looking for more just like it, and creating a wave of admiration in me, for who you are and what you have become. keep writing!

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  3. Hi Jessica, that is definitely culture shock in it’s own way. i remember not having hot water for a week when I was in the ‘spring city’ of Kunming, China. I loved Taiwan from the short time I was there, but now all I have is a distant memory…

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  5. A great post, and you responded in a way that, unfortunately, many people would not…they’d rather just complain and count-the-days until it was over. This is one of my favorite posts you’ve written, especially “Look with open eyes and an open heart at this new world around me. Absorb everything possible.” Not a better plan :-)

    • So glad to hear it, Randall. And, yes, unfortunately you are so right: Many people just complain and count the days. I wrote a post on exactly that topic on my blog, tai tao, when I was in Taiwan. Many of my American co-workers drove me CRAZY because all they did was complain… Perhaps I’ll have to dig that one up sometime.

      Thanks so much for taking the time to look back at some of these older posts!

  6. Although I’ve been in Taiwan for 2 years, I still remember the first few hours here. I stumbled across your blog, and am looking forward to read more about your time in Taiwan. And great attitude you have, I’ve met a lot of foreigners here with the total opposite – so irritating, that even baby Jesus would be tempted to strangle bunnies. Anyway, rock on and maybe you will make it back to this rock sometime. Cheers!

    • Hi there! So glad you found my blog… I haven’t written a whole lot about Taiwan here yet… I had a separate blog while I lived there, but didn’t really engage much in the blogosphere back then. I hope to write more on my Taiwanese experiences as I go along. I *will* say that living there and in Hong Kong changed the way I see the world… And that that’s a good thing!

      I do particularly remember writing a post about a man’s choices when being thrown into a new environment: He can a) sink, b) doggie paddle, or c) find that he belongs in the water — and swim! People who sink go home, people who doggie paddle (towards the finish line — going home) are the ones who would tempt baby Jesus to strangle bunnies (I too have known — and worked with — a lot of those! grrr…), and people who swim are people like you and me (not to brag) who make the most of their experiences…

      I sincerely hope to make it back to “that rock” someday — and soon! I have many dear friends there whom I would love to see. I look forward to checking out your blog! Thank you so much for your visit to mine. :) jess

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