Life after Taiwan


#1

As most of you know, I deeply love Taiwan, its culture, and its people. After seven years in that wonderful country, I left in February of this year to pursue what I believed to be a better quality of life in California. Many of the cultural/lifestyle changes I expected, but a few caught me entirely by surprise as well. In no particular order, here are some observations on life back in the old country.

High Cost of Living

Good lord I can’t believe how expensive everything is. My car payments and rent combined take up about 3/5 of my monthly pay, and the rest goes to food, basically. Restaurants always get to you because the menu says $8.99, but after tax and tip you pay more like $12. I’m slowly learning to cook to keep costs down and have three dishes fairly under-control. Hopefully I can expand my menu in the future. The only thing is that sometimes I’m so exhausted when I get off work I need to decompress, and cooking takes too much energy. I spend over $300 on eating out each month – which interestingly is only a bit more than I spent in Taiwan (NT$10,000 or so), but here that only covers about one meal a day – plus about $50 a month on groceries. I’m not sure if that’s a lot or a little. People have told me both.

Even though my salary now is twice what I was making in Taiwan, my rent is fully five times as much as it used to be. When all is said and done, there’s barely anything left to save.

Social Obstacles

As a fairly social person, it is extremely painful that I have not made any real friends in six months of living here. I just don’t know how to do it. I’ve joined meetup.com groups but haven’t made any solid friendships that way. Living in an “edge city” (a residential area with the population of a city but the infrastructure of a suburb), it’s insanely hard to meet people. Downtown San Diego is about 30 minutes away without traffic, which isn’t too bad, but I never know where to go when I get there since I don’t really have friends around. I get along quite well with my coworkers, but everyone has a family so it’s not like you can just go hang out somewhere after work without planning in advance. (I have a family, too, but my wife is still in Taiwan waiting for permission to immigrate…) I spend most of my time at work or hanging out with my wonderful cats trying to figure out what to do.

While we’re on the topic, it’s very difficult for me to live in a city like this, where there is no central social hub and very very weak public transportation. I am forced to drive everywhere – I love my car, but I hate driving! – and it’s always a very mission-oriented thing. I could hop in the car and wander, but it’s a pretty boring thing to do since there isn’t much discover in suburbia. On top of that, and probably most depressing for me, I haven’t been taking pictures lately because I’m always driving and there’s nothing worth getting out of the car to photograph. Just houses. Rows and rows of similar-looking houses. I miss city life.

Fantastic Work Environment

Every time I come into work, it reminds me that I’ve made the right choice. The pay is decent and it looks like reasonable raises await in the future; the boss treats me with respect; the workload is pretty handleable; and vacation days are a thing. There is very little absurd bureaucracy, and the office politics is more of an “accounting doesn’t get along with HR” than a “boss favors this person over this person” ordeal. Actually, when I went to interview, the CEO asked me an offhand comment that made me certain I wanted this job. It was something to the nature of “I don’t want to hire someone who will just quit within 2-3 years. If you are considering quitting in the future, I ask that you give me an opportunity to meet your expectations as an employer.” That’s something I really can’t imagine the typical Taiwanese boss saying.

The office is fairly relaxed, but people work hard. I’m probably the only person who plays around on Facebook during the workday (it’s blocked, but I have my ways). Everyone else does their job efficiently and leaves right as the clock strikes 5:00. By 5:05, the parking lot is usually empty except for my car (sigh) and my boss’ car. About 75% or so of our office is Chinese (including Taiwanese), so it’s nice to chat about the old country, though we get in trouble if the boss hear’s us speaking Chinese. We are constantly investing in new infrastructure and equipment and care about the appearance of our office to visitors and clients. All in all, I think it’s a great place to work, even though it’s not related to my previous work experience and it’s not exactly the career I see myself in 10 years down the line.

Food Selection

There is so insanely much variety of food in Southern California, even though a lot of it is heavily Americanized. One thing that kills me is that there are literally zero good Chinese restaurants within 10 miles of where I live, and when I do go to a decent one, it’s hard to order for just one person. I feel like the waiter is always saying, “I hope you like that one dish you’re ordering because you’re going to get a crapload of it and nothing else.” Lately I’ve taken to Vietnamese and Thai food (which exist in abundance here) as a replacement.

Shopping Convenience

It is hard to explain the way that Amazon.com has filled a hole I never knew existed in my life. I accidentally signed up for Amazon Prime ($100 a year), but I’m really enjoying the free 2-day shipping. Using Netflix is also amazing. Neither of these are “cannot live without” status, but they make a very boring weekend a little bit less so.

Being Near Family

They’re about a 2-hour drive from me. That’s the perfect distance.

OMG the Weather

I’m in San Diego. We haven’t had more than five days above 80 (27 C) all year. Enough said.

Chinese

My Chinese is at a level where it’s not really ever going to disappear, though I am a little less eloquent than I used to be. I still read Taiwanese papers every day and watch Taiwanese TV (www.5ik.tv) but sadly, outside of the few opportunities I get at work there aren’t really any living beings to practice with. My cats don’t speak English, though, so I deal with them exclusively in Chinese. It makes it awkward when they visit my parents’ house and I speak to their cat in English and mine in Chinese… but whatever.

As for my personal experience, it’s been really trying. I’m a social creature and I’ve been deprived of social activity. Most weekends I don’t even actually speak to another human being (just to my cats, I swear this is normal behavior). Being separated from my wife for so long has been the worst, but thanks to the magic of Google Voice I set her up with a US number that we can use toll free to call each other. Still, it’s very lonely. It’s only the last few weeks that I’ve finally started to come out of a depression that has been following me around. I’m taking music lessons and working on a lot of translation projects to fill in the time. I do believe I made the right decision, if just because of my job and being close to aging parents, but it’s been tough. Things will be better I’m sure whenever the mirses finally gets a green light to move over.

Thanks for tuning in.


#2

Yeah. It was hard for me to go back to Britain and I had some teething problems, to say the least. But the good things were:

  1. Better food, although I missed Taiwanese stuff, I had access to higher quality ingredients, as well as more variety of restaurants.
  2. Job opps – I got a job in publishing and they paid to train me in stuff that I wouldn’t have been able to do in Taiwan. I did some UK uni teaching and did another MA and gained access to higher paid, more interesting stuff than I could have got in Taiwan. I worked for Brits in Taiwan, and they are exploitative wankers wherever they are, but they were better in the UK because they don’t have you trapped into their work permit.
  3. Of course, family. I got to spend time with the woman who brought me up, in her final illness, as well as reconnecting with my kid sister and cousins.
  4. Living in my own culture and being able to see art, theatre, music that doesn’t make it as far as Taiwan. I loved going to see live bands and stuff.
  5. Relationships. I met a guy and had a great relationship which although it ended, was still a great experience. I wouldn’t have met someone like him in Taiwan.
  6. And perhaps the most intangible thing: I got more confident. I knew I could move between Asia and Europe with no real negative consequences and that I could handle doing it alone. Id being living in Asia since I graduated and at the age of 34, I wasn’t 100% sure I could manage back in the UK. I’m now in China and getting on fine, but I’ll move somewhere else and love it too.

H, my Chinese went … strange in the UK. I completely forgot how to speak, but I really levelled up my reading through practicing and pleco-ing. I’m doing classes now to try and get more fluent.

Six months isn’t that longer. Hang in there and you’ll make some friends. It is harder when people don’t just want to be your friend because you’re either white or because you’re from the same place, and all the random reasons waiguo people end up friends in Asia.


#3

Interesting about the confidence thing. I guess I feel more confident in myself, too. However, what I really miss when traveling is people asking me where I’m from and I say “Taipei.” “San Diego” is much less interesting as a response.

As for six months… Keep in mind that up until a surprise business trip in July, I had no idea when I’d get a chance to see my wife again. The time between March and July was hell.


#4

Oh, that must be hard.


#5

I will be leaving Taiwan after new years to Cali and well. But it’s going to be in LA. I love living in Taipei, but I miss driving. I actually love to drive, I was racing cars before I had my drivers license.

And work, thats the primary reason I will be going back. The work environment, pay, and culture here sucks for someone who has a lived and worked in the west. For example, my Dad is a one of the founders of one of the biggest companies here, the executives and other co founders have their sons, and son or daughter in law working there as well when they do absolutely nothing and no one can critize them for messing up. They only reason I won’t work there is because I would hate being my dad’s son and employee lol. It’s too much no matter the pay and easy job.


#6

Things will get better Hokk…keep busy on weekends join some organisation. I’ve been waiting to leave for years but each time I’m about to leave I have a reason to stay lol. I am thinking about moving to another capital Asian city but the other choices are mainly unappealing for one reason or another, mostly because of air pollution and expense and bad congestion.
I would love to move back to Europe for a while but I am having actually saving a bundle for the first time in my life. I a safe half my pay check every month and my wife stays at home looking after the kids. That’s nuts.
Risky move to give up that and I finally work for a world class organization. Time for me to do a good job and perform, world class organizations unlike most Taiwanese companies will reward you for performance.
it’s interesting to hear people’s experiences of moving on. I think I have at least another life chapter outside of Taiwan to go, biding my time. But with kids and spouse it always takes more thought.


#7

Hi Hok

Hope your wife gets her immigrant visa soon. Meantime, she can visit before she gets her immigrant visa right?
Taiwanese don’t need a visa to visit the USA for up to 3 months I believe. And a total stay of 2 times 3 months per calendar year I believe?

About cats, my two Taiwanese cats that I brought with me from Taiwan in 99. Both of them understood English, Mandarin and Taiwanese. My mom spoke to them in English and Taiwanese, GF in Mandarin and me in English and Mandarin and Taiwanese. So they were tri-lingual.

My American cat that I have now only understands English. He is too old (8 years old) to start learning Mandarin. Or the Indonesian my wife is trying to teach him

p.s. as for Chinese food, i have NEVER found a restaurant here that served Chinese food that was great.

Only places I have been to that were super and authentic were in NYC and in LA. Where a couple of Taiwanese friends took me to.

But San Francisco? Berkeley? East Bay? Forget it. I have been told there are a few restaurants in Milpitas that are good to great, but I have yet to go there.

Indonesian restaurants here are few and mostly are not that good so my wife has taken to Thai.
I used to go to Japanese restaurants to get my “taste of Taipei” as Taipei has so many Japanese restaurants. But to be honest? The Japanese restaurants that I have been to here as not as good as the ones I went to in Taipei either.

My wife doesn’t like Vietnamese or Japanese food, or Korean food so that is out for us as a couple.
Luckily she likes Italian and French and gringo/mex food like Chipotle and salads. It’s been hard for her to adjust to food in America. Since her love of Indo food is so great.

It was very hard for me for so many years to adjust to food available here in CAlifornia. I always said and say that two things I really missed about TAiwan? The girls and the food. The girls are equally pretty (if not more so) in Berkeley but the food? Ain’t got it here bud, at least not Taiwanese food.


#8

[quote=“tommy525”]About cats, my two Taiwanese cats that I brought with me from Taiwan in 99. Both of them understood English, Mandarin and Taiwanese. My mom spoke to them in English and Taiwanese, GF in Mandarin and me in English and Mandarin and Taiwanese. So they were tri-lingual.

My American cat that I have now only understands English. He is too old (8 years old) to start learning Mandarin. Or the Indonesian my wife is trying to teach him[/quote]

I love that you share my zany belief that they actually understand any language. +1 for you, sir.


#9

Moving to Taiwan was filled with a honeymoon period, reality, and acceptance and moving back is exactly the same (I moved back in 2008). :2cents:

Moving to Taiwan in my early 20s was a hell of a lot of fun. I loved the nightlife, the varied group of expats, and most importantly, the employment opportunities in government and high-tech that weren’t available at that time at home. However, with these benefits came a poor work-life balance, high real estate costs (was lucky enough to have my Taiwan wife buy and make money on a relatively new condo in Mucha), and a pressure-cooker educational system for the stepkids and kids.

Moving back to North America was euphoric at first. Clean air, temperate climate, great educational system for kids (they came over in middle school and are now in medical and engineering faculties at universities), high paying job (and receiving benefits such as a good pension), and close to extended family. I still wasn’t sure if it was the right decision though. In retrospect, the company I worked for in Taiwan (which was doing very well when I left) hasn’t done as well in the past few years, so i think now it was the correct decision, especially seeing my kids thrive in the university system here.

Moving back does have its downfalls. Taxes are relatively high compared with Taiwan, the people aren’t nearly as business minded as people in Taipei, political correctness runs supreme, and there seems to be a risk-adverse nature to a large segment of the population. My Taiwanese wife mentions it’s “like people are waiting to die,” as she misses the “buzz” of Asia. :laughing: :laughing: However, the experiences gained here, like my experiences in Taiwan, have helped me to gain some valuable experiences that will come in handy for future expat experiences. :2cents:


#10

[quote=“Hokwongwei”][quote=“tommy525”]About cats, my two Taiwanese cats that I brought with me from Taiwan in 99. Both of them understood English, Mandarin and Taiwanese. My mom spoke to them in English and Taiwanese, GF in Mandarin and me in English and Mandarin and Taiwanese. So they were tri-lingual.

My American cat that I have now only understands English. He is too old (8 years old) to start learning Mandarin. Or the Indonesian my wife is trying to teach him[/quote]

I love that you share my zany belief that they actually understand any language. +1 for you, sir.[/quote]

:slight_smile: well my cat is basically a little human ! We go for walks and I suggest “let’s go left” and he will comply if he so wishes, promptly turning left. If unwilling he will either immediately sit down and refuse to move or go to the right and growl and hiss to himself. Who said they don’t understand language? I sincerely believe that they understand language as well as an average two year old human child.


#11

I forgot to add: Everything opens and closes early. What is 7 o’clock… I didn’t even know that existed.

The most baffling thing for me is that stores are open fewer hours on weekends, the opposite of Taiwan.


#12

Having just returned from a month in the UK, I can sort of relate to how you feel.

The only caveat I would give you is that a Taiwanese spouse in the west is not necessarily going to be plain sailing. Of course everyone’s mileage will vary, however my trip back this summer made me realise that it is much easier for a Chinese-speaking foreigner to live in Taiwan than it is for a Taiwanese person with only average English abilities to live in the UK.

You also must be prepared for the day when your other half tells you that she wants to move back to Taiwan. I know this will sound strange at this early stage, however even the overseas Taiwanese who make such a big show and dance of how great their life is abroad all have desires to move back eventually: facebook.com/serenandrew

This is only natural. All of the positive things you have written about family, the weather, food, shopping etc., can easily be applied to life in Taiwan, and of course everyone always looks at their home through rose-tinted glasses after spending some time away from it.

Best of luck!


#13

[quote=“Milkybar_Kid”]Having just returned from a month in the UK, I can sort of relate to how you feel.

The only caveat I would give you is that a Taiwanese spouse in the west is not necessarily going to be plain sailing. Of course everyone’s mileage will vary, however my trip back this summer made me realise that it is much easier for a Chinese-speaking foreigner to live in Taiwan than it is for a Taiwanese person with only average English abilities to live in the UK.

You also must be prepared for the day when your other half tells you that she wants to move back to Taiwan. I know this will sound strange at this early stage, however even the overseas Taiwanese who make such a big show and dance of how great their life is abroad all have desires to move back eventually: facebook.com/serenandrew

This is only natural. All of the positive things you have written about family, the weather, food, shopping etc., can easily be applied to life in Taiwan, and of course everyone always looks at their home through rose-tinted glasses after spending some time away from it.

Best of luck![/quote]

Is that only people from Taiwan or people from other countries too who feel this attachment? I remember this Taiwanese girl I met here in the U.S. Who said to me “tommy we are Taiwanese , we must return to Taiwan”. Sort of like salmon who must return to fresh water.

Does Taiwan inject you with some genome that compels you to return?

I know I have this compulsion.

My two Taiwanese cousins may be an exception. They have zero desire to move back to Taiwan or even visit.


#14

It’s typical homesickness, I think, but sort of calcified over time to a point of completely losing rigidity. But Milkybar, I think we’re kind of the opposite. I left Taiwan very, very regretfully and would love any opportunity move back. My wife on the other hand really wants to live somewhere else. (She’s only been out of the country probably four times her entire life.)


#15

Sigh. I hate these threads. They remind me of the fact that yes, there is a better world out there. For some.

I must say it: I have no feelings of nostalgia, no homesickness. I do miss my family but everyone’s married and has family and stuff of their own, so we wouldn’t be on top of each other all the time and seriously, we do not need to. But if I do not say that I am heartbroken for the beauty and peace and bla bla bla of the ol country… I am a heathen, but I do not feel that way. I am out and I have a life here.

But that life here is threatened by work conditions -which are getting worse. And the political threat that looms, but that is another story and not as immediate. I simply cannot imagine a life elsewhere, I am too used to this little bubble of comfort we call Taiwan. Plus, as an economic migrant, I am mostly unwanted elsewhere.

It is hard to uproot yourself after taking root here and I admire those if you who have done it. Some have it easier, as they have somewhere to return to. A place to be. But even then it is hard to build a new life up. As Hog said, making friends, establishing human contact -heck, even going to a store- becomes a challenge.

But what is, is and as we say in Spanish a echar pa’lante. Keep on trucking.


#16

I like everything else in Taiwan, apart from the working culture. I just dont like working for/ working with Taiwanese. I’m thinking of moving to mainland. For all the problems, there are companies there that are forward looking and ready to invest in staff.


#17

As a social person, I’m sorry to hear that that it’s hard to meet people. I’m sure you already know that Americans are very outgoing in general, although it takes time to develop anything more than a superficial relationship. As a male, one thought is that you immediately have an in with others if you play sports. Pick up basketball, soccer, ultimate frisbee, disc golf, etc is a great way to make friends with locals. I’ve always used sports to find a social circle in any new city I’ve moved to.


#18

I really have to agree on this. When I first moved back to Taipei, I had issues trying to meet friends outside of eating/drinking buddies. I wanted to meet some people that had the same sports interest as me. Thanks to the forums, I met some great friends that will last a lifetime.

Are there no photo clubs in the area? I’m not really educated if people get together and go out and shoot, but I know if it were me, I wouldn’t mind some company to chit chat in between shots.

Good luck!


#19

Taiwan is hard to shake off.


#20

I’ve been in Taiwan since last year and recently was offered the chance to take a job elsewhere, which I will be doing within a few months. The package is too good to pass up, and I know I would regret it later if I didn’t take it, as much as I have grown used to Taiwan.

I’m sad to leave Taiwan so soon but I’m glad I came here and experienced life. I remember reading this forum before coming and getting some good advice from it. I made friends pretty quickly. Didn’t get to all of the places around the island that I hoped to go, and might not have time. But there’ll always be another time to visit when I’m in a better frame of mind to enjoy the island more.

Have some great memories here and yes, Taiwan will be hard to shake off.