On the eve of my departure I think back on the year that has past. I arrived in Taipei, Taiwan with my girlfriend on 15 December 2012 scared & excited. I knew not what Taiwan would hold for me, but I knew it would hold something. I set off for Taiwan to learn and explore and I definitely did.
It’s hard to say goodbye. It always is. But now it’s harder to say goodbye than it was a year ago in South Africa. I knew I’d see my family and home again. I’d be back. But Taiwan is different. I don’t know if I’ll be back, and if so, when? The people and the memories seem ethereal, like it never happened and leaving here would be like waking up. The departure feels permanent.
I’ve formed close bonds with this city, my students and great friends. But what will this all mean? Being a part of this community: the breakfast stall vendor who’d prepare extra pieces of egg pancakes on Friday because he knew we’d be coming for our usual, the estate agent who mistakenly started calling me Derek when I first met him and would continue to do so every time I saw him outside our building, or the Jehovah witness who I met within the first month who I’d see all around town friendly bowing as we recognized each other.
Then, suddenly in rapture I disappear.
It feels odd.
It feels like I’m losing something. But what is it? Perhaps it’s the potential for more. Those future memories that are waiting to be formed in some special moment. It’s addictive to live abroad. Most days are new and fresh. A taxi ride anywhere becomes a chance to stare at the countryside. There are many memories here. More so than time allows.
In that sense it’s hard.
I would not equate the loss of a loved one to the leaving of a year spent abroad, but as fateful messages go in times of turmoil I encountered one recently in an episode of Downton Abbey (spoilers ahead if you haven’t watched past season 3), where the Ms. Crawley, Lady Marie and Branson were discussing the love of the ones they lost and in the sombre mood Ms. Crawley remarked with a slight smile her on face, “Aren’t we the lucky ones”.
In that moment it was profound.
There are so many questions about my time in Taiwan that will go unanswered for some time. The most important: “What did this all mean to me? What I did I learn? Where will this year fit in the grand scheme of things?”
Creating your own narrative before it’s written can sometimes be dangerous, but it’s hard not to in this case. I feel like my time Taiwan is like the prequel/backstory to something far greater. That’s why there some anxiety in leaving it behind. Like being afraid that you might’ve opened the stove too early on those perfect scones.
I’ve learned a lot: how to be a teacher, to live outside my comfort zone, to interact with colleaques, to face fears with less hesistance, to appreciate the care and love my girlfriend gives, to realize that the world is way bigger than it seems, to embrace empathy across all spectrums and much, much more.
But, even though I’m sad to say goodbye and I feel like I’ve not explored enough of myself and Taiwan, I know what I’ve experienced is priceless.
I am the lucky one.
I fly tomorrow. I’ll probably shed a tear and it’ll be the same way I arrived, but this time I’ll be a different person and I’m so grateful for it.