Coming home from a day of work, I am rather exhausted and unamused by the sudden crowding on the bus. As I flatten myself closer to the window, in an attempt to at least be able to have blurry images rather than someone’s armpit to look at on my commute home, I start switching into autopilot mode. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I now know the stops, the stores, and the timing of my work commute. It was not very long ago that I had to keep a careful eye on the few landmarks etched into my memory so as to not miss my stop.
It hits me suddenly: Taipei has become familiar, a home away from home.
It is at this point where I suddenly need off the bus, fast. The mixture of stale air, poorly deodorized hard-earners, and the realization about the familiar have made me rather unsettled. The jerkiness that is Taipei buses during a busy Friday evening does little to console me.
But what do I make of Taipei seeming my own now that suddenly throws me off? As an expat, it is a feeling that is constantly sought after. The weeks and months spent in blissful agony to make the new seem manageable and routine. Is it all in the actualization that you have truly settled? I have encountered this feeling before, but in the past times the feeling has crept slowly into my spiritual being. Today there was no steady pace but rather a sharp awakening.
I stop my pondering long enough to figure out that my stop is next. Slowly and as sweetly as possible I elbow my way to the front of the bus, pay the meter, and fall out of the bus. After a few quick breaths, I round the corner to my apartment.
Returning to my thoughts, I think about my year in Taipei. It is not that I find living in this city a breeze. I still encounter challenges in my daily routine; although, these seem to be far and few. I still have language issues, but pictures of onions are saved to my phone to help communicate what I do not want on my McDonald’s cheeseburger.
I continue to find it challenging to make it in time for lunchtime at restaurants, which ends at 2. However, most of my lunch places know my order down to drinks and still serve me as I tumble in half awake and sporting partial make-up. (To my credit, I teach most evenings and all weekend. When you add grading and prepping, you can see how my schedule has shifted away from mornings.)
Further, no amount of grocery shopping experiences or laundry tasks has led to my acceptance of these activities as worthwhile. I find them tiring and time-consuming (Taking offers for daily life assistant now). I must say that if all else fails in my life, I will make an excellent bagging lady. My ability to pack a week worth of groceries and supplies into a backpack and two small paper bags has exponentially increased. Bonus points for walking several blocks and not breaking eggs on the bus ride back. I think I might need to update my skills on LinkedIn.
So maybe I have become settled in Taipei, despite what the locals might believe (Cue blond hair and startled face when language barrier arises…or dogs in drag).
It is at this point I start to become anxious; what if I am not ready to settle down? If I was to open Facebook at this moment, my timeline would be filled with new careers, wedding statuses, and baby faces. I am genuinely happy for my friends who have chosen that path, but I am in no way ready for that type of adventure.
I will admit that I have scrolled through Pinterest photos of houses with white picket fences and zoo-themed baby jumpers as they are appealing and eye-catching. But to me, that is all they are: Photos to relate to my friends or to expand my horizons like any other internet search.
This is where a large portion of my friends and my readers will start to ask me all sorts of questions. Don’t you want kids? How do you plan to start a family if you are always moving around the world? Do you have commitment issues? Is this just an escape because you recently left a bad relationship? Of which if I were to let the assumptions behind these questions wiggle their way into my mind, I might actually start to worry, to see my path as wrong.
This is why I get anxious about finding familiarity.
There is nothing wrong with familiarity, but the definition of that word is different for everyone. I actually enjoy having a sense of familiar; a cup of English breakfast tea can set my heart right. What differs is that my familiar is being in new situations, always a little lost and perplexed but challenged to find a way to successful navigate. That is where I feel comfortable and inside my element, whether it is in reading, doing, or exploring. I am wired to take refuge in analyzing, solving, re-analyzing, and solving again. So living and traveling is just an extension of that, a larger playground.
The sense of familiar that many others feel might be more rooted in the traditional model of stability and security. I have nothing against this definition. I just know that this is not the path for me.
Will I have kids? Maybe, who can say? Just because I am not a mother at the moment does not make me any less of a mentor. I am a teacher and tutor. I am surrounded by children and young adults every day, all looking to me for a sense of guidance.
Will I eventually get a stable career or work my way up the ranks? Do I need to? Aren’t traditional means of employment becoming harder to find and even harder to keep? I like what I do at the moment and when I get to a point where I am not satisfied, I will change to a new thing. Fulfillment and paid bills should be enough.
Will I get married and start a family? In today’s world, is that even certain if I stay at “home”?
The best one yet: Do I have commitment issues? Define commitment. I commit myself to my lifestyle and my life choices even if it draws me away from loved one for long periods of time. I commit myself to enrichment and personal growth. I commit myself to learning about the cultures I come into contact with beyond the red or blue choice in passport stamps. We all commit to variety of life decisions and the honor lies in our devotion to the promises we have made. For some, that is a promise to our kids, our jobs, our pet cats, while others are devoted to ideologies, religions, or lifestyles. None of these life commitments make an individual any less prepared to deal with that devotion.
So I sit in my apartment, snacking on Asian variety Doritos wondering why my lifestyle is so hard for others to accept. Moreover, I ponder what my notion of “home” in Taipei means for me. Maybe settling down long enough to learn how to make decent homemade pot-stickers or to see the baby panda at the zoo grow up would not be so bad. Although, once stinky tofu becomes tolerable I am definitely going to be ready to go.