the luckiest girl in the world

qianhua elementary school

View of the school from our office.

I was forgetting something. What was I forgetting? This was important. But . . . Ohhhh. Sigh. The others were waiting for me. I’d already kept them too long. Forget it.

I grabbed my stuff off of my desk—including the portable heater and laundry bag I carried back and forth and back and forth between work and home—and ran out the door, down the cement stairs, over the wet tile, past the sewer vents, through the mud, to the van. I could tell the others were annoyed. “I’m sorry, guys!” I said as soon as I’d slid the sliding door shut. No one said anything. Suddenly I realized why. It was my turn to drive. “Oh, sorry.”

I fumbled for my keys in my purse and moved to the drivers’ seat. The gray sky began to cry as I drove down the hill. It was just as well. The pitter patter was soothing. No one felt like talking.

Once we reached the two-lane highway that ran along the coast between the school and our little town my thoughts began to shift from my irritated coworkers (my meetings with the Taiwanese director were always going late—why OH WHY didn’t we have more than one vehicle?) to . . .

What on earth am I . . . ?

my bedroom

My room. The a/c above my bed never worked.

Suddenly, it hit me. Hot water. I needed a new propane tank. The last half of my shower had been ice this morning. I’d never asked Nicole to call the propane company for me. Damn. I’d have to ask Wei-Ming. I hated to bother him, but . . . What choice did I have? He was always so gracious. He didn’t mind.

I loved him.

When I got to my apartment, I collapsed with my belongings onto my bed. The rain was really coming down now. I shivered and looked at the clock. Was it really already four? In just two hours I’d have to drive back and pick up the others. Sigh.

I forced myself to sit up. There was laundry to put away, my heater to plug in, groceries to get, and . . . propane tank. I pulled my purse out from under my laundry and found my cell phone.

Riiiiing . . . riiiiing . . .


“Hi, Wei-Ming? It’s Jessica.”

“Oh, hi Jessica!”

“I’m so sorry to bother you, but I need to ask a HUGE favor.”

“What’s up?”

“I was wondering if you could call the propane company for me. I ran out this morning.”

Ohhhh. Sure! No problem. You will be there?”

“Yes. I need to run to the store in about an hour, but . . .”

van and dog temple

Our lovely van beside the dog temple, about two minutes from the school.

“I will tell them.”

“Okay. Thank you so much, Wei-Ming! I owe you!”

“No worries!”

“I will see you for language exchange tomorrow?”

“You bet.”

“Okay, great. Thanks again!”




I breathed a sigh of relief. Thank God for Wei-Ming . . . Thank God for a new propane tank!

If happiness means convenience and ease of living, I am much happier in the States than I was in Taiwan. During the two years I was there, I lived in Sanzhi, a small country town about an hour north of Taipei. My apartment had a broken washing machine and no dryer, no oven or microwave, no heating or air-conditioning . . . In a building without insulation made of brick and tile floors, this meant winters were cooooold. (And let’s not even talk about the summertime.)

Sanzhi District, New Taipei City, TaiwanThere were other things I lacked. My own car, a soft mattress, screens that kept mosquitoes out, cheese . . . Too many to name, really. But that’s okay. Because, to me, they are beside the point.

You see . . .

After the propane man shuffled in forty minutes later, and after he left his muddy footprints on my newly-cleaned floor, and after I’d given him his money and we’d exchanged the most basic words in Mandarin imaginable (he knew no English, and my Mandarin was terrible), I can’t even begin to explain the JOY I felt deep inside. I felt like a queen. I HAD HOT WATER!!!

I was, quite seriously, the luckiest girl in the world.


Highway 2 along the north coast of Taiwan

stone arch

Shihmen beach area

stone arch

Famous natural stone arch at Shihmen


Sunset at Shihmen

view from my bedroom window

View from my bedroom window early in the morning. That funny shaped building is a cemetery.


Sunset from my front porch

language exchange friends

My language exchange friends (from back to front: Rox, Sueching, Long-Long, Wei-Ming, me, Yenhsuan)

52 thoughts

  1. Oh Jessica! I’m just loving these thoughtful posts that you manage to write in a sort of a series. So subtle. Yet so meaningful. You know what is best about you? You write and then you end it. You leave the thinking to the reader. Too many people lose the trick when they go about writing even after their work has been done. They want to feed everything to the reader :)

  2. This was one of my favorites Jessica. It was so true, so evocative for me. I loved the pictures and especially the map for perspective of the geography.

  3. That’s a very well-written post, Jessica. I love the short story, and the pictures too. The sunset from your porch is stunning!

    And yes, Subh was right, the subtlety of your post makes it even more interesting when your readers try to get the meaning on their own. Sometimes it is good to come up with aphorisms, but often the best story telling is the one that leads readers to create aphorisms of their own. So, well done on this! :-)

    I just had a thought on this topic a couple of days ago and tweeted about it. I came to the conclusion that the moment you take life for granted, you start losing the essence of who you really are. One who takes life for granted finds it difficult to appreciate what’s given to them, much less to care about others’ suffering. If only these spoiled Australian kids ever went to Cambodia or Ethiopia, or just saw what’s going on in there on TV, I am sure none of them would have ever wasted their food. When people cannot find balance in their life, there’s always evil in both scarcity and prosperity.

    If we just try to delve deeper into life, we would understand that many things in our life are blessings. Not only food, even hot water, like in your case, is a blessing. Thank you for the gentle reminder in this post. Keep writing stuff like this. Surely you contribute to a better world by doing so. Many blessings and much love to you ♥

    • Yes, and I think that that’s what I was trying to get across. We take so many things for granted… But, when we find that we are without those things (easy access to hot water, for example), are we really any less happy? NO!!! In fact, we are even happier because we realize and are appreciative of what we took for granted before.

      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, Subhan. Your comments mean a lot. :)

    • Thank you, Ally! You are very sweet. You learn a lot when you live abroad, and your perspectives are changed—that’s for sure.

      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. :)

    • I second that. A changed worldview is the most valuable thing I gained from my experience abroad. I’ll never look at people around the world (including in my own home) or even basic commodities like food and water the same again.

      Thank you so much for commenting!

  4. I look at your photo’s and think, yeah I could give up hot water and washing machines for those views, those photo ops, but in my heart I know day to day, doing a job living a life, that wouldn’t be the case, but OH!!! I so want to be there :)

    • I worked HARD in Taiwan, no doubt. And yes, the day-to-day living—struggling to communicate, feeling like you stick out, mosquitoes, etc.—get old after a while. But you learn something, too. You learn about yourself, and about what’s really important. What you take away from those experiences—including beautiful sunsets and views—is priceless and totally worth the sacrifice.

      Thanks so much for your beautiful comment!

  5. I really enjoy learning about cultures I’m unfamiliar with and especially when Americans look at their own culture and way of life from outside of the fish bowl. If more people took the time to live and work in other countries, more bridges could be built that lead to peace and mutual understanding.

    • I completely and totally agree. Getting outside of the U.S. was the best thing I ever did. That’s part of why I started this blog—I wanted to share some of what I learned. If only more people were listening…

  6. wow. you had a gorgeous view from your room every morning. jealous! i love the layering of those mountains in the horizon. its incredible how God can make these large formations of rock, appear so gray, layered, and soft from afar.

    when i visited/volunteered in cambodia in the past, we too lacked hot water. i cannot stand cold showers either. you’re not alone! (and worse, cold showers that come from a stand alone basin of water and a cup that you have to pour atop your head, with all kinds of insects flying around, and the electricity that goes out when you’re in the bathroom if there is electricity there…)

    i like how you write about these inconveniences/struggles that you faced there, in great detail, then contrasted them with these lovely photos that only taiwan has to offer. =)

    • Thank you, Sophia. I visited Cambodia and can imagine what you’re talking about. You definitely had it rougher than me. (Although I think it gets colder in Taiwan. In the wintertime it was FREEZING.) How long were you there?

      It’s funny: I didn’t even think about the contrast of my words to the photos. But you’re right. I guess it just points out how much you can learn/gain and how much a country has to offer if you can get past some of the “surface” difficulties. It’s so worth the “sacrifice.”

  7. Little stones make big mountains
    Little steps can cover miles
    Little acts of loving-kindness
    Give the world its biggest smiles

    Little words can soothe big troubles
    Little hugs can dry big tears
    Little candles light the darkness
    Little memories last for years

    Little dreams can lead to greatness
    Little victories to success
    It’s the little things in life
    That brings the greatest happiness

    – Author Unknown

    Just thought I’d share this with you.

    For you it was having hot water. For me it was reading this post of yours. Its true that happiness is contagious and it doubles when we share it with others.

  8. Similar feeling I have since I left my country 8 years ago, the lack of “things” made me pursued a “better life” yet deep inside sometimes I feel something is missing… Home for a gypsy like me is anywhere and nowhere but were we find peace from time to time…

    • Yes… There is no doubt that “things” *are* important. They sure do make life easier, and we get tired of going without them. But “things” are not what make us happy. The happiest times of our lives are…? I guess that’s the question I’m trying to figure out.

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting, Daniel. :)

  9. It’s definitely easy to take our lives in the US for granted. We have so many conveniences, and we don’t often recognize them until they’re gone.

    Great photos, by the way!

  10. Superb post, beautiful thoughts. The pictures are amazing. Thank you Jessica for liking my post. Warm regards, jalal

  11. Looks like a wonderful wild coast for part of Tawain. Yes, you do have a great view from home…not typical probably for many Tawainese.

    • Yes, it was a nice view. And you only get those kinds of views if you live on the coast. Had I lived in the middle of Taipei, I wouldn’t have been so fortunate. Have you ever cycled in Taiwan? It’s really quite popular there. I was always wishing I had my bike when I lived there.

      Thanks so much for your visit and comment!

  12. Thanks for letting me camp out in your blog for a little while today. I had a great time and tried to leave my campsite as good as when I arrived. I’ll be back in a couple of weeks!

  13. Haha, I like the angel comment. I may or may not have to steal that! And man do I like the blog. Nice to see another Chunk themer out there too.

    I look forward to the next instalment… And don’t worry, I won’t steal the angel line ;)

    • Hi! No problem if you do steal the angel line. I just might have to ask for royalties. Lol… So glad you like my blog. I’ve been meaning to get back by yours, too, and to respond to your message! So sorry it’s taken me so long. Life… There’s always so much to do!

      I love the Chunk theme, too, and am hoping to personalize it a little more with the help of a friend soon. I’m not fully satisfied with my fonts… One little step at a time. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  14. Pingback: oh, taiwan | shift
  15. I love the perspective you give in this post… I sometimes wonder why so many of my great memories and feelings of happiness I’ve had are when there is little around, making the ‘little success’ so wonderful. It does not take too much to be happy in life – family, friends and a wholesome perspective in life works well. Love the photos!

    • Indeed. It’s something that became quite clear to me while I was abroad. Sure, some things about life were more difficult while I was away, but those things were in no way related to my overall happiness or well-being. In fact, it was something of a triumph to me to realize that I didn’t *have* to have those things, which so many people equate to happiness, in order to be happy. It was, in a way, freeing…

  16. Pingback: blessed | shift
  17. I just read your comment on The Seeker’s Dungeon and was eager to see your blog. This was the post that caught my eye.

    Reading it brought up my own memories. I remember going on an Indian tour with Amma in 1995. It was rough. Riding in the bus on Indian roads is hard. Sleeping in a room with 100 other people is hard. The hot weather was hard. One day though the program was in a VERY fancy hotel. I felt like a ragamuffin walking into the bathroom but was certainly going to take advantage of it. When I saw it had WESTERN TOILETS I started crying, crying in relief, crying with pleasure. Who would know a clean, and dry, western toilet could become so special.

    Another memory was about showers at the Amritapuri ashram. Like most of India, I suspect, all of the water is cold, so a cold shower is the norm. I bought a small propane stove though and each morning I boil 2 cups of water to put into my bucket bath. Warm water for a bath. Heaven!!!!!

    I look forward to reading more of your posts.

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