The word was necklace. It was a word I had introduced to my junior high students the previous week as we used a dialogue about a woman’s lost wedding ring to practice our speaking and pronunciation skills. The boy reached into the bucket of Pictionary words I’d created specially for this review game and pulled out the piece of jewelry one wears about the neck. I asked him if he remembered the word and he assured me he did. His teammates watched anxiously as I started the 1-minute countdown in which he’d have to draw a picture that they could then interpret correctly to give me the word. I yelled, “Ready, set, GO!” and watched his teammates for a raised hand. Then, after a few seconds, the entire class erupted in laughter. I turned to see what was so funny and discovered the boy, in a hurried attempt to draw a necklace with a small pendant had instead drawn what more closely resembled a penis with urethral opening. My wide eyes must have told him he needed to try again, which he did. Seconds later, more laughter–this time, he’d done a rather fine rendition of a vagina. Thankfully, his teammates were able to guess the word, and he was able to sit down without suffering any more embarrassment. In short, welcome to my life, friends.
This has been a hectic past few weeks, which is why I hope to be forgiven that I didn’t publish anything in October. When last I posted, it was mere hours before landfall of the final major typhoon of the season to affect my new home in Taipei. Typhoon Dujuan barreled into northern Taiwan as a strong Category 3 storm on the day of the Moon Festival (Lunar New Year). Nevertheless, that weekend, which included an awesome 10-minute firework show along the riverbank, a wild night-out dancing, and bonding with new friends over beer and horror movies as the storm moved over the city, was easily one of the high points of my Taiwanese experience thus far. Two weeks after that, I made a trip back to Korea to see old friends and was lucky enough to be back in my old stomping grounds around Daegu for the city’s first official drag show. The weekend before this past one was Taipei Pride, which was my first ever experience with a Pride celebration. The rest of my time has been filled with almost universally fun class sessions with my junior high students, dinners and drinks with friends, and long bike rides around the city on cool days. I think I’m doing all right.
I’m not sure what it is about this place, but I just absolutely love it here. It’s far from perfect, of course. I mean, the summer heat is just intolerable (don’t even ask me to come out of my air-conditioned apartment between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m.), good coffee is hard to come by, non-sweetened bread is practically unheard of, and those hordes of damned scooters are cute at first but get really annoying after a while, not to mention dangerous. Nevertheless, I challenge anyone to show me some place in the world that is truly perfect. Even the Scandinavian countries that American liberals practically have wet dreams over have their downsides. At this point, the only other experience I can compare to my current one is the two years I spent living in South Korea. I’ve now been in Taiwan for around seven and half months and I recall that by this point in my time living in the Daehan Minguk that I’d already decided I didn’t care for it that much, not the least because Korea isn’t a particularly welcoming place to Westerners. I don’t mean to say that’s necessarily a black mark against them; I mean, I don’t believe that Westerners are entitled to a red carpet welcome wherever they go in the world, but I do at least want to feel like a welcome guest in the country where I live. While I certainly do feel that way in Taiwan, in Korea I often felt I was little more than a barely-tolerated Waygookin nuisance.
In the end, I stayed in Daegu for two years ultimately because I was too lazy (and a bit nervous) to look for work elsewhere. Remember, I’m from small-town America (pop. 403). I didn’t grow with jet-setting diplomats as parents and, even now, my countries-visited tally is still fewer than ten. I’ve grown way beyond the comfort zone I had even just a year ago and I’m still really nervous to travel to place where I don’t already know someone or at least have a contact. When I made a snap decision to take that temporary job in Douliu City, a place where I had no contacts and knew practically nothing about the work I’d be doing, that was perhaps the single most important thing I could have done to build up my confidence in my ability to make it on my own. In short, I didn’t implode and I didn’t become an episode of Locked Up Abroad. Check and mate.
The past two to three months in particular have been a time of immense personal change. I now feel I have a much firmer grasp of who I am, what I want from life, and what I expect from the people I allow to be a part of my life. My growth on that last point in particular has been the reason why I have officially jettisoned several relationships with various people over the past few months, mostly the already dwindling number of religious bigots I once knew. I get to live this life once, and it’s extraordinarily short, so if a person’s presence in my life isn’t beneficial, uplifting, and/or enriching for one or both of us, then I have no place for that person in it. Sorry if that sounds harsh, but I just don’t have time for people who do nothing but drag me down. I’m a proudly-queer, progressive-minded, potty-mouthed, atheist 25-year-old Millennial. Don’t like that? Not a problem because there are plenty of people in the world who I’m sure are more suited to your tastes. Bon appétit!
As I type these words, I’m fresh off my first experience in an Asian sauna. I swore up and down that I would never, ever go to a place where I was obliged to be naked around strangers. Well, I’ve now eaten those words. Still, I doubt I will ever do something like that in a complete state of sobriety. In just a few short weeks, I’ll be off for another weekend adventure, this time in a place that is entirely new: Tokyo. I guess this means it’s time to dust off my Hello Kitty gear and brush up my Pikachu voice. I’ll be reconnecting with a friend I met in Korea as we explore what is the largest metropolis in the world. In the meantime, it’ll be more of the usual, I suppose. Thanks again for being interested enough in keeping up with my life to read this post. Until next time, my friends, keep it real.