A Traveler Who Found Her Sanity in Taiwan
When I was eighteen, my mother took us to France. We traded Portland for Paris for nine days during the winter break of my freshman year of college. After a beautiful dinner on New Year’s Eve, we marched with an enormous crowd down the Champs-Elysees toward the Arc de Triomphe. Moved by the festivities and the romance of the moment, I decided to kiss a stranger, unbeknownst to my mother. When the exchanges of good wishes, mulled wine, and champagne were done, I looked up to a gray sky illuminated by fireworks and thought: “I’ve made it.”
Nine years later, I cherish these memories, but much has changed. I no longer see Europe as the pinnacle of living abroad, nor am I entranced by the mirage of Western exceptionalism. Instead, I’ve come to learn that some countries are most hospitable when only visiting and often times not even then. In hindsight, I should have figured as much when a Parisian taxi driver greeted us at the airport saying there were “too many Africans in France.” And yes, my mother and I are black.
Since then, my journey has taken me east, and Taiwan is currently the beautiful oasis from which I watch the rest of the world struggle with its various issues. In the catastrophe that is the year 2020–from Trump, to police violence, to Covid-19–this island nation has been a stronghold of serenity. It’s hard to imagine a place I’d rather be at the moment, sheltered and secluded as I am from the worst of the world’s ills.
So why Taiwan?
I’ve been out of the U.S. for nearly four years, and during that time I’ve lived in Denmark, Kenya, Cambodia, and Vietnam before coming here. Each country has its perks and idiosyncrasies that make them worth visiting but Taiwan is a place where the years fly by. As a developed nation, it has reasonable visa requirements, and besides missing a few special snacks, everything I might need or want is readily available.
To the south I have access to stunning beaches and warm weather throughout the year, while nearer to Taipei, I can experience seasons with the winter temperatures occasionally dropping to around 15 degrees celsius (59 degrees fahrenheit, Americans). Not cold, per se, but cold enough I might don a sweater with the wind chill. Meanwhile, a modest mountain range runs vertically through the eastern side of the country, offering natural escapes for the adventurer in me.
But most importantly, since coming to Taiwan I feel safe–in every sense of the word. With a low crime rate, no guns, and a tolerant culture, living here has reduced or eliminated many of the stresses that are concomitant with living in places like the U.S., the U.K., or countries that have yet to legalize gay marriage or abortion. (Both are legal in Taiwan.) I’ve also felt there are more opportunities for me here than back home. And while it’s true that teaching is the main profession for foreigners, I’ve met plenty of engineers, restaurant owners, students and others who have found their niche.
Tellingly, I’ve seen many non-white foreign educators and professionals that, like me, were ensnared by the comfortable life afforded them here. That’s probably because in Taiwan it’s safe to assume qualifications will be taken into account before skin color, a guarantee my own country can’t provide.
That’s not to say that racism doesn’t exist here-it does. Racism is a global phenomenon and this country is no exception. However, it doesn’t have deadly consequences here and is less of a barrier in professional situations. You’re more likely to encounter it in personal interactions, and most racism in Asia stems from ignorance, not racist institutions or outright hate.
Despite everything though, my interest in exploring Europe has not diminished completely. I visited Serbia and Bosnia just last year with my boyfriend–who’s from there–and was once more enchanted by the food, temperate climate, geography, and historic towns and cities. In the same vein, I still have a soft spot for Portland and I’m proud to be from our weird little neck of the woods. But my love for all those places is a one-sided affair. I have always struggled to be treated fairly or just be heard to varying degrees. While I certainly stick out here, I can at least say I’m not criminalized, endangered, or disenfranchised because of the color of my skin.
In the end, I have never felt safer or saner than in Taiwan. As borders remain shuttered to Americans and the world prepares for a second wave of the virus, I’m content to while away the weekends on a Taiwanese beach, mountain, or in one of the numerous rivers of this peaceful country. Alternatively, I can head to Taipei for some dancing and non-social distancing fun, thanks to the government’s superb handling of the pandemic. Whatever happens, I have no intention of leaving anytime soon. My heart is literally and figuratively very much in Taiwan.