being a foreigner

foreigner

This picture is funny, because I’m pretty sure that sign says fire hydrant.

Here in Taiwan, I stand out as a foreigner. I’m labeled as such, get greeted as such, get special discounts, and above all, get a LOT of attention. There are pros and cons to being such an obvious “guest” in a country, but overall I’ve enjoyed the experience.

Different Standards

Any foreigner is held to different standards. I am essentially a cultural outsider here, and as I don’t fit into the Asian culture, I’m exempt from the normal rules. There are things that would be rude in any country, but I’ve generally found that I get a lot of grace for most things. Foreigners, and especially Americans, are expected to be louder and ruder than the Taiwanese. I try not to be, but it’s a common expectation.

Increased Visibility

So much visibility. I literally cannot walk down the street without getting stared at by the majority of people, and probably hailed at least once. I stand out; not only do I look different, I speak a different language and act differently. Everything screams “FOREIGNER,” and even people who’ve been here for years and fully assimilated will still get stares. Sometimes it bothers me, sometimes not. Depends on my mood and how confident I’m feeling. I recently went to a very crowded McDonald’s, and after sitting at the only available table in the middle of the room, immediately wanted to bury my body in the ground, since everyone was watching me, obviously talking about me, and some were laughing. I’m sure they weren’t being mean, but it is awfully uncomfortable. (Although it more than makes up for the discomfort when you’re walking along the road and someone sees you and mutters, “How beautiful.” Ego WIN!)

Foreigner Bubble

I hate being inundated with media and commercials in the States. Ads and stores are everywhere; you can’t get away from it. I love living in a country where I can’t read the language. Sure, it’s a pain….well, most of the time, but it sure does make avoiding ads and conversations easy. No more accidentally overhearing something unpleasant or stupid. When I go out with my English speaking friends, it’s like we create this tiny English world in the midst of everything else. We’re shut off and isolated. It’s less stressful in that way, but it can be a hindrance to meeting other people.

Random Strangers

So, there’s this thing that happens. I’m not sure what to call it, but it should have a name. Total strangers feel comfortable coming up to us and talking to us or having their kids talk to us just because we’re foreigners. I mean, we could be horrible people, right? Why send your little darlings over to us? I guess they just assume that since we look somewhat friendly, we won’t make off with their children.

This is a brief look at what it’s like being a foreigner here in Taiwan – I’m sure other people in different areas may have different stories. I know some of our friends have been offered drugs, pursued by crazy old women, and told to die. Why them and not us? No idea.

I’ll have more to say on this later.

otter.

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dream burnout/disappointment

As COPs and EDs*, it’s easy for us to overload on planning. But there’s always a point where there’s just nothing left to plan. If you suffer from COP, then you’ve probably done this; planned everything a thousand ways, tweaked it endlessly, and now there’s nothing left for that dream. You’re left twiddling your thumbs, bored and aimless, until one day…BAM. Another grand idea comes along, whisking you off to Planningland. If you don’t stop yourself from planning and dreaming, you’re going to be caught in the never-ending search for the new, next-best dream, the next something to plan and dream about. And you’ll wind up at the end of your life with none of the dreams accomplished. You may even have twenty cats. (Well, that doesn’t sound half bad…) At any rate, dream burnout is easy to get. I’ve done it hundreds of times.

Here’s a piece of advice. Don’t make idols of your dreams. Dreams are wonderful, shiny, grandiose things that are called “dreams” for a reason. They don’t exist in reality in the way we think they will. They never can, because we can’t see the future. 100% of the time, they surprise us in how they turn out. Come on, you know I’m right. Nothing is perfect, and even if we plan out the flaws or dangers, reality always has something we don’t expect. Dreams can’t meet your highest expectations. If you think they will, you will set yourself up for dream disappointment.

Remember, even if you reach achieve your dream life, it won’t always be exciting and infinitely more wonderful than the life you have now. Life is mostly made up of endless days and in-between moments, not the biggest, brightest times. Think back on your happiest memories. When you were living that moment, was it as wonderful as the memory it created? I’ve discovered that often enough, a moment is better in memory than when I was living it. Mostly because I’m not thinking about how wonderful the thing is all the while I’m in it. Find time to create wonderful memories, but remember that life is never a continuous succession of adventure, and watch out for dream burnout and disappointment.

otter.

*COP – Chronic Over-Planner/Planning

ED – Excessive Dreamer/Dreaming

living NOW

Photo Oct 19, 11 58 10 PM

                Always walking forward? Sometimes it’s better to be still.

As a Chronic Over-Planner and dreamer, I struggle with living in the future. While my body is stuck in the present, my mind is far afield in the Wonderland of Tomorrow. Psh. That’s a poetic way of stating a real problem. Let me elaborate. I came to Taiwan in August; an amazing realization of a lifelong dream to travel and live abroad. For the year or so preceding this dream, almost all my waking moments were spent planning or dreaming about life here.

All well and good – moving to another country does take planning and careful consideration. But here’s the kicker; now that I’m here, instead of buckling down and enjoying my current life, I’m already on to the next big thing, waiting and planning and dreaming my next move. WHAT’S WRONG WITH ME??? Oh, I know exactly what’s wrong, and it happens to a lot of people. Life isn’t lived in continuous spurts of adventure and awesomeness. Those most blissful of moments when we are so happy we don’t think of the time, when we’re really stuck in the now, happen infrequently. Most of life is lived in the everyday, small moments when nothing happens. My life in Taiwan isn’t all that different from life at home. Sure, the environment has changed, but I’m still on the computer an awful lot, I still read a lot of the same kinds of books, I even eat the same now that I’ve figured out cafeteria food doesn’t like me, and my schedule isn’t that strange now. I’ve settled into life here, and it’s powerfully easy to let myself fantasize about future adventures in places where I’m sure it’ll be more frequently exciting.

That’s a delusion and dangerous. Once I realized what I was doing all the time, it scared me that I won’t ever be able to live in the Now. I Googled, I went on blogs, I read some books…it helped me at least to realize I had a problem, and that it was legitimate.

So, if you struggle with this too, what can we do? There’s a few things I’ve found that helped me. First off, realizing you have a problem will help you in overcoming it. (<<So not original.) If you can catch yourself fantasizing, you can stop and say, “Ah, there I go again,” and actively try and stop. I also created a gratefulness list, which helps keep me focused on what I have now that is awesome. I’ll include it at the bottom of this post.

Another really good tip is to find what you enjoy and do more of it. In “Living the 80/20 Way,” author Richard Koch makes the argument that 80% of our enjoyment in life comes from 20% of what we do. Makes sense, when you stop and think. What activities make you lose track of time? What things do you get really lost in? When were you last happiest? For me, I have a pretty short list. Eating out with good friends is on it. Blogging and working on my blog is another thing. What are yours? What can you include more of in your daily life that will help you settle into the moment?

This subject has the potential to fill a book, so I’ll save some related topics for later posts. But if you struggle with living always in the future, take a moment to think and realize it’s a problem, and figure out what you can do to stop.

My gratefulness list:

  • I’m alive.
  • I’m saved.
  • I’m living my dream of travel in Taiwan.
  • I have good health.
  • I’m with my best friend.
  • My work is fairly easy and enjoyable (cute kids!).
  • I have opportunities to learn and grow through hardships.
  • I’m surrounded by language.
  • I’m making enough money to save.

What would be on yours?

otter.

(Photo Credit – R.N.)

aboard the sugar train part 1

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Right outside of our school is a (rather) famous tourist attraction. Sugar was a big industry about fifty years ago, and outside of our door is a defunct sugar factory. They offer train rides to the cane fields and a walking tour of the facility. Despite having been here for over six months, we’ve never actually ridden on it before. Last Saturday, that all changed. The tour costs $100NT (~$3.30 US), and included both the train ride and the walking tour, along with a semi-lecture on the different stages of sugar processing.

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otter.

just do it

dance1

Going somewhere? AT 150MPH! HUZZAH!

How many of you are like me? You are major dreamers, major planners, majors in figuring out how to live and do better without doing it. If you are a Chronic Over-Planner, raise your hand. Even in reading all these fantastic books about change, dream jobs, dream lives, more with less, and so on, I am still just waiting, not doing! I’m reading about a better life, not having one. I’m reading about how I should just sit and write, but I’m not sitting and writing. I’m reading and my brain is going, “Yay! THIS is how I should do it. At last, a solution!” But guess what? There’s always another book to read. There are lots of books out there now about how to get off your tush, out of your bad job, out of the drudgery of life and into something marvelous that will be an adventure every minute of the day! </sarcasm> Okay, so maybe I’m being a little harsh. I mean, these books are fantastic. The advice is good. But for the over-planners and chin-in-the-palm dreamers like me, I can spend the next two weeks reading all these books and won’t have accomplished much of anything.

It takes doing. Like Nike, man! “Just do it!” If I had to sum up all the advice in all these books, that would be it. Most of us know what we need to do. For us over-planners and dreamers, we’ve planned and dreamed everything about everything. Even if we don’t have all the steps laid out yet, we have the first one. You do, right? If I want to be a blogger, what do I need to do? Blog. Write. Post this article. Simple. I can worry about just exactly how awesome my blog will look when I get that new software, how I need to work on my photography skills until they’re stellar, how I need to have a full two-month plan before I type a single thing, but in the end, the first step is to write.

So here’s me, writing. I did it, Nike!

otter.

New Year, New Life!

Chinese New Year just passed, and since I didn’t do much in the way of, uh, “actual” New Year’s resolutions (read: none), let me do this instead. I’m going to share the most exciting thing in my life right now; the re-directing of it.

First of all, a little personal background. Up until recently, I was having a really hard time figuring out what to do in my life. I had some ambitions; be a writer, travel, be an editor, work for myself, and so on. These plans were nebulous at best, hazy representations of what I considered “the good life.” But they were based on expectations I and others had placed on myself. I , like the majority of other people, have always thought of work as, well, work. Something not very enjoyable that nevertheless had to be endured in order to make money and survive. I wanted to work in something fun, like writing, but, let’s face it, writing won’t pay the bills if you’re not an instant best-seller. So I knew I’d need something more, let’s say, professional, in order to survive. Something I could say and people would be impressed with. Something high-end that would fit in with my idea of successful.

Enter in a couple of books (thanks especially to my mother who got me into this first one). First, we have 48 Days to the Work You Love by Dan Miller. I won’t go into too much detail, since it would be better for you to just buy it, but the book takes you on a 48-day journey to find what you’re “born” to do. Sounds cheesy, right? Well, it’s not. It makes you think about your best talents and how you could work in that strength, and also helps you realize that your dream job is plausible and possible. I had to write a list of dream jobs, and a couple of them were really obscure, like “tea-taster,” or “full-time blogger.” Obscure, yes. Impossible, no. At the very least, this book broke me out of the mold of having the “perfect” career and focusing on only the money.

Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life. ~Confucius

Wise words, friends. So, I have my list of dream jobs. Have I narrowed it down? Not yet. I’m still young, I’m in no rush to find the rest of my life. It might make things a little less stressful, but I have a problem with over-planning and living in the future anyway.

Now, enter the second book; Living the 80/20 Way by Richard Koch. If you’re not familiar with the 80/20 principle of business, do some research. Trust me, if you’re new to this, it will CHANGE YOUR LIFE. (*cue dun-dun-dun) His first book was strictly for business people, but this one focuses on applying the principle to your life. Much better for people who are bored by statistics. I feel like this book is a good runner-up to 48 Days, because it helps you get to your dream job and dream life in practical, minimal steps. Read them.

Am I excited? Oh yeah. I’m still spending more time planning than actually doing, but I think I’m on the right road to the future I want.

Huzzah, world! Here comes a crazy white girl!

otter.