I decided it was time to leave Taiwan about three months ago. I gave my job the requisite 3+ months notice, not realizing those three months were going to fly by. But they did and before long, I found myself in Taipei without a job and the days counting down to my flight off the island. It worked out pretty well that my last weekend was also my birthday, so a birthday party masked the difficult going away party.
The night began perfectly. I met Richard Jones and Steve Lambert, two very close friends, for a going away barbecue at our favorite all-you-can-eat-bbq restaurant. The drinks were flowing, the stories were being shared, and the camaraderie was in high spirits.
After we were well fed, it was then off to On Tap to celebrate the birthday. All my good friends were in attendance and we drank and celebrated 26 years of my life. My friends Yoyo and Jenna purchased a cake for me that had a picture of me on it, along with a naked body and an enormous penis sticking out of it. All I can say about that was it was interesting blowing out the candles!
They also prepared a farewell book for me where all my friends signed it and made a note of the good times we've shared over the last three years. The book was touching and will go with all my other treasured keepsakes that I have collected over the years. With that, the early birds returned home to retire while the rest of us took off to Roxy 99 for a canonical stopoff to any foreigner's night out. My nights began in Roxy 99 so I only saw it fitting for them to end there. And for those that know him, the rainbow guy made an appearance just for me (or I like to think so).
The next day was filled with last minute chores and meetings. I met some close friends of mine at a small dumpling restaurant for a goodbye dinner. They gave me a very funny t-shirt that said "lick here to add me as a friend" and an arrow points to my chest under the shirt. The lunch was divine and I saw some dragon dances outside, which was a goal of mine since I first arrived in Taiwan.
Later in the evening, I met some good friends, Steve, Mike, Yoyo, Jenna and Singing, for one last dinner at Din Tai Fung. I had long planned it that I would have a dinner here and then get on the bus to the airport, and that's what I did. I had all my bags with me. I arrived at 8.30pm, just like I used to do when I was a student and got to know all the waitstaff there. They sat us at the large table on the second floor where I used to have the Wednesday gatherings with the owner and his friends. We laughed and chatted about things as if we would always be around that table. They teased me because I ordered 3 baskets (30 dumplings) of Xiao Long Bao. We stuffed ourselves and spoke of plans to one day travel around the globe to see each other again.
Outside the restaurant, I said goodbye to the waitstaff I have come to know so well. I then said goodbye to Singing. I then said goodbye to Mike and Steve. I got into a taxi with Yoyo and Singing and we shared a cab to the bus station which was on the way to their house. On the way there, I joked that we couldn't start a conversation because there was no time to finish it. It was funny, but sad as it was also true.
We arrived at the bus station and unloaded my stuff. I gave Yoyo and Jenna a hug and said, "let's go to Roxy 99 next weekend!" They started to cry. I told them to get going or I would start to cry too. They got into the taxi and drove off. With that, I got on my bus which took me to the airport and early in the morning the plane took off and I left Taiwan behind me.
The island itself is behind me but its spirit is with me forever and always. She is a darling of an island, a secret tucked away in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It doesn't even cross the radar screen of most people, but to those that take the effort to get out there, they find something magical, real and intoxicating. I spent three and a half years in a place I only intended to spend one year in. Three and a half years and I made some of the most memorable experiences of my life.
I learned how to ride a motorcycle. I went whitewater rafting. I became momentarily addicted to the hot springs. I ate snake and pig's blood. I learned Mandarin. I taught English. I climbed the highest mountain in Northeast Asia, in the snow. I camped on a volcano. I swam with whale sharks. I watched a guy box a cobra. I rode the death railway. I bungee jumped off a building. I gambled in Macau. I ate dim sum in Hong Kong. I dove with Bull Sharks. I climbed the highest mountain in Southeast Asia and then rappelled down the cliff side. I saw gold waterfalls, giant bamboo, towering mountains, endless gorges, sweeping cliffs and dramatic oceans. I spent Chinese New Year with family. I got shot at by fireworks. I ate barbecue in Seoul. I drank expensive wine in Singapore. I hunted with an aboriginal blow dart. I dated a Taiwanese girl. I went to the top of the world's tallest building. I rode an elephant. I petted a tiger. I paint balled. I went surfing. I climbed mountains. I fractured my wrist. I drove my motorcycle around the island. I met some of the most amazing people I have ever known.
And this last part, the friends, they are probably the greatest contributing factors to my happiness in Taiwan. The people are Taiwan more than the cities and the mountains and the bike trips. The friends I have made are by far the most incredible people and I will miss them terribly. From the folks at my training group to the friends that bade me farewell, and all the crazy cats in between, you have made the last three years something to toast to.
So there you have it. Not much more to say now. Three and a half years. Taiwan, you were too good to me. I love you.
And you, my readers. I started this blog not really knowing what it was going to be or what would happen with it. To be honest, I started it so that I wouldn't have to keep writing those mass e-mails to everyone. In the end, it has become a time capsule, a written record of my life abroad. And you have been there, for all of it. Good and Bad. Thanks for reading what was for the most part unedited chicken scratch on the Internet. I hoped you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
But the journey doesn't end here. I have an ambitious goal ahead of me- three months of traveling actually. And it's all being recorded on my new blog. You can read about it here at twoitchyfeet.wordpress.com. I'm looking forward to seeing you over there!
From your American-in-Taiwan, (maybe someday again, still looking for a Taiwanese wife!) Michael.