Taiwan 002 – Visas, Jobs and Agents…

So you’ve made the decision to abandon everything you hold dear, to throw caution into the nearest dumpster and to head off to the mystic East. In the words of Billy Connolly, you’re about to become “wind-swept and interesting”. As aspirations for life go, this is not a bad one.

This post will deal with Travel Visa’s, Jobs and Agents…


Firstly, Travel Visas.

I am working on the assumption that you are a qualified (Bachelor’s Degree, not necessarily a teaching qualification) individual, with a passport from an English speaking country. Sadly, this excludes Germans, Swedes and Spaniards etc… your countries are not deemed “English” and will not be granted a Taiwanese work permit for English teaching.  The UK, Ireland, the US, Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand… you’re fine.

Travel Visas are going to be dependent on your home country. By and large, most Western countries get a 30 to 90 day visa on landing. South Africans, this does not apply to you. (As is usual SA gets screwed on landing visas.) This site gives an excellent breakdown of the various countries . You should be able to apply for a visa at your local consulate or embassy, and the process will take anywhere between 2 weeks and 2 months, depending on your country, and your situation. You are going to need to furnish a return ticket or proof of onward journey for the visa to be accepted, or for the landing visa to be granted.
Tip: Pay the extra and make sure that your return flight can be changed, and postponed to almost a year later. The standard Taiwanese teaching contract and Residence Permit is valid for a year. If you are sick of the place and want to go home, the ticket can then be used. If you are loving the place and intend returning, well…the ticket can still be used.

Secondly, Jobs and Agents.

Getting employment in Taiwan is perhaps not as easy as it was ten years ago, but it is still pretty basic. If you take nothing else away from this guide, let it be this. YOU DO NOT NEED AN AGENT.

I used an agent when I first came to Taiwan. I not only had to pay for the privilege in my home country, my pay was docked for the first three months in Taiwan. (This was explained as a “probationary” salary, not a deduction. It was only by chance that I discovered that the difference was being paid to my agent.) They promised support and aid, and nothing ever came of it. They basically found me a job….REALLY easy, then took advantage of my inexperience to make plenty of money. I landed up in a horrible little farming town, with a school manager that clearly had no love lost with foreign teachers. It was terrible.

You will find plenty of work available on the various forums devoted to expatriate life in Taiwan. The best one is Forumosa . That site is devoted primarily to Taipei living. If Kaohsiung is more your style, there is a Yahoo group called “Kaohsiung_living”. Check it out.

If you want to work legally, you will need to have a Bachelor’s Degree from a recognised University. It is not required that you have a TEFL qualification, although that might sweeten the pot a little. It is not required that you have a teaching qualification, although that too will make things easier for you. Resist the temptation to use a fake degree. The Taiwanese have begun clamping down on that, and deportation is never cool.

You will need to have a medical test done at a recognised hospital. The names vary according to your city. The best bet is to either enquire at the hospital, or to ask your prospective school. The medical test is blood and a minor physical including x-rays. They will screen for drugs, and they will refuse you your clearance if they find any. If you intend using drugs, and coming to Taiwan, detox before the test. (And think carefully about doing drugs here… it is a capital offense to smuggle drugs and they are really serious about sentencing users.) AIDS and pregnancy will also land you in hot water.

Tip: If you can do it, do the test ASAP. It takes about ten working days to process, and is valid for 3 months, which is basically as long as your visitors visa. You cannot get the paperwork started for your work visa until you have the hospital papers in hand. Getting it done early saves time. (It should cost around NT$ 1200.)

Your school will ask you to sign a contract, and will then apply for your ARC. The ARC is your “green card”… your Alien Residence Certificate. It allows you to exit and enter Taiwan, and is used for identity basically everywhere. It is valid for one year, as is your contract. (Usually.) Your ARC is gold to you. Keep it, don’t lose it. Once you have a school, you are good to go.

Tip: Although the practice is dying out, it was common for Taiwanese employers to include “security deposits” in your contract. Basically, they take a chunk of cash every month, and the money is only paid over to you when you complete the contract… security on you finishing your contract. This is illegal. They know it. You should know it too. If they insist on the clause, or try and take it out of your pay… WALK AWAY. If they get pushy, phone the Foreign Affairs police and report them. The fine is more than they would make off of you.

Once you have your ARC, you will have access to Health Insurance. (More on this later.)Your life here can start.

If you are working in a big city, you should be asking for roughly NT$600 per hour. Any less than NT$550 is a waste of time and money. Do not sign up for anything less than 14 hours per week. Resist the temptation to sign up for more than 30 hours a week… at least until you know you can handle it. When you are signing on, make sure that your working hour commitment is agreed on. There are many schools that demand and expect huge amounts of “office hours” to go with the teaching hours. Use your discretion. Or ask the other foreign teachers what they think.Actually, that’s a pretty good idea for any job.

Bear in mind that it is currently illegal for foreign teachers to teach kindergarten students. That said, there are thousands of foreign kindergarten teachers in Taiwan. Just be warned.

If you have any questions on any of the above, or if you are feeling lost… drop a comment in the box, and I will do what I can.

(Next week: Accommodation.)


Taiwan 001 – So you’re thinking about coming to Taiwan…

So you’re thinking about coming to Taiwan.

And you’re starting to realise just how far away and how definitively non-Western the country is.

And you’re thinking that it might be a good idea to find out what to expect. Well, keep reading, and I’ll see what I can do to help you.

I’m going to put up posts dealing with different aspects of life here. (Hopefully, I’ll be able to post them pretty regularly.)

If you have any comments or questions, throw it into the comments and I’ll do my best.



(Next: Taiwan 2 – Visas, Jobs and Agents.)

Stress is for the week…

I’m not going to be rocking any boats or rattling any cages when I observe that we live in an increasingly stress-filled world. (Apologies about the mixed metaphors… I love using them, it’s like having my cake on cloud nine.)

So it seems that our lifestyles are out to get us. I look about my collection of friends, some of whom are relatively well-adjusted, and I see a lot of tired faces. A lot of tired and stressed out people. And it is all our fault. Like the scene from Trainspotting, we choose life. We choose the job, the mortgage and the big-screen TV. We choose massive amounts of credit and we choose to live beyond our means. What they don’t show in the movie is that going straight and living a life of “Joneses” means accepting a giant dollop of stress with every scoop of living. And the vast majority of that stress comes from our jobs.

People (and by people, I mean men) like to say how marriage is an unnatural institution, that staying with the same mate for longer than seven years is somehow counter-evolutionary. And there is a fair amount of debate both ways about that. But what we never consider is the naturalness of reporting to a dimly cubicle in uncomfortable clothing and shoes, there to sit for basically all the hours of daylight. We’ll spend upwards of forty years of our lives working. Forty years! In our instant culture, it’s a number that really has no meaning. How are we to judge at the age of twenty five what will suit our sixty year old selves? I’m in my thirties now, and I STILL haven’t the slightest idea what sort of work I would like to be doing when I retire. What I can tell you is the work that I would like to be doing now. And this I think is the way forward.

We need to plan for the future financially. No mistake about it. We’re living longer and longer, and nobody wants to be a burden to their children. I’m happy to accept that I need to save today for tomorrow. But aside from the financial aspect forward planning is pointless. When I was at school, I was constantly told that I absolutely HAD to do Mathematics, absolutely HAD to study Science, that the skills and logical thought I learned at school would stand me in good stead for the rest of my life. And it’s GARBAGE. It is tripe of the most trite and sanctimonious sort. To this day I have not yet been forced into a situation where trigonometry or calculus have saved the day. I have yet to use ANY of the Chemistry I learned. Mr Ball, Mrs Mendelski… I could safely have made it through my life thus far without your classes.

But the push to advance subjects continues at university. From the moment you enroll, lecturers push for their subject. Psychology teaches valuable life skills, History teaches research techniques and reasoned arguing. And unfortunately, most of the Arts subjects are really rather worthless in the real world. (I’m speaking as a Bachelor of Arts myself.) Any one of the teaching subjects are utterly useless for 99% of the people graduating, unless of course they intend teaching. The Commerce subjects tend to have a higher relevancy to real life, but let’s face it… who wants to study Commercial Law? No… honestly. You might like practicing law, but studying it is a pain in the ass.

And so it is that we emerge newly minted degreed job-seekers, the end product of lots of advice, and with hundreds of hours of “essential” instruction under our belts. And almost immediately, we become barmen and waiters. Besides basic arithmetic and some social skills, we’re doing something your average nine-year old can do. And it doesn’t end there. Eventually, we prevail upon an interviewer that our degree, whilst not really practical in the real world, DOES mean that we are at least “trainable”. And so the forty year office cycle begins. While at work, we will be told to study various courses, to further our qualifications. Do they have real-life applications? Honestly? No. But now we are in the rat-race. We’re jostling with our cohorts, fighting for that promotion, for the corner office. We’re lurking around the water-cooler, we’re drinking crappy coffee and we’re taking orders from someone who has in all likelihood not received the same education we have.

For people from my father’s generation, and the generation before, there was such a thing as company loyalty. This was a two-way street where every employee was taken care of, where the company appreciated the sacrifice of its minions. Sadly, the grey suits and bottom-liners have taken over, and that is not really the case anymore. My generation changes jobs more often than any other. We flit from job to job, company to company. We do two years here, three years there. And this gives us the best opportunity for a chance at life.

(See… I do eventually come to the point.)

If you are unhappy in your work… If you find yourself talking, wondering and worrying about your work on the weekends… If you find yourself on edge at home because there is something going on at work… For the love of yourself, change your job! Find another career, or find another position. But don’t ruin your Real Life for a paycheck. If we work to support our lifestyle, what point is there in allowing our work to kill our lifestyle? Without a life, is there any need for a high-stress job? No. Leave the work at work. Stress is for the week! And the week stops at my front door. When I get home, I change out of the clothes of the oppressor, and into casual home clothes. I don’t bring work home with me. Not because I don’t care about my job, but because I care about my wife and my life more.

Hunched shoulders and last-minute reports are for work-time. Your family and your life are waiting for you when you get home. More than half of your life is given away to the companies and the suits. Why volunteer more? And remember… like every other authority figure in your entire life, your boss does not have “Truth”. Your boss has “Opinion”. And just like every other authority figure in your life, your boss is going to use his position to further his ends. (Think about it…when last did you hear any teacher say the words, “My subject? Nah… you’d be better off taking something useful”. )

At the end of my day, and at the end of my life, I want to look back on my work and be able to smile. Not because I got the promotion, not because I got the plaque on the door. I want to be able to be happy with myself because I did good. Because my job supported my life, and not the other way around.


Friends, Enemies and the Little People…

When I was a kid, I remember reading something along the lines of this. “Only a fool can go through life without making enemies.” I remember thinking at the time that there was something fundamentally wrong with the statement, and that it was perfectly possible to get through life without making enemies. Of course, I was in my teens, and could reliably assume that I knew everything. (Some things haven’t changed, I know.)

Flash forward a decade or so, and I know different. I’ve made some enemies, and made even more “fucquainances”. Thankfully, I have more friends than those categories combined.

You’re wondering what the hell a “Fuquaintance” is…. and I guess that I owe you an explanation. I’m quite sure that I am not alone in stating that there are some people on this planet that seem put here by a higher power. A higher power with a malevolent bent, and a penchant for testing my patience. Fuquaintances are those people that you meet during your day, the other half of the random encounters that define our lives. You’ll know them when you see them. YOu’ll smile in greeting and prepare to exchange banalities and small talk, and you’ll be cringing inside. For whatever reason, fuquaintances are disliked, encounters with them are dreaded and any contact with them is barely tolerated. The sins of a fuquaintance are legion, and petty. They pick their nose in your house. They eat far too much garlic. They stand too close. They always talk to you when you’re late. You know who I mean. Fuquaintances are a fact of life.

The good thing about a fuquaintance is that they are survivable. There is nothing really sinister about them, nothing calculated in their transgressions. There is a little old lady in my building that is a particularly dreaded fuquaintance. Her sin is that she is old, she lives several floors above me, and she takes forever to get into and out of the elevator. Oh. And she seems to keep the same hours I do. Whenever I am running late for work, whenever I am desperate need to get on with my commute, the elevator heads for the 13th floor. There it stays… slowly minutes ticking by in the winking floor indicator light. Finally, it descends, and I am free to step onto the elevator. The next problem of course is that we alight on the same floor. I stand aside to let her off first. I can’t help it, I’m polite that way. (Polite and weak!) This means that I have to walk behind her to the door, have to help her open the door, and have to wait while she shuffles through. An encounter with her adds a minimum of six minutes to my ten minute commute. And I’m a last-minute arrival employee. Which makes her a fuquaintance. You understand? Chances are that you have many fuquiantances, chances are better that you are someone else’s fuquaintance… it’s just an inevitability of life.

Enemies. These are different creatures entirely. Far from the pleasant/irritating banality of a fuquaintance, an enemy is an active frustration. My teen aged self thought it possible to get through life without making any of these. Of course, my teen aged self was an apathetic sort, more inclined to slink away from confrontation than to take it head on. But we grow up. And part of that process is the formation of opinion and principle. We draw lines in the sands of our psyche, lines beyond which there is no retreat, lines beyond which there is no compromise. When someone tries to muscle past those lines, confrontation is inevitable and lasting. There are certain things that to me are unforgivable… acts which resign the offending party to a lifetime of enmity. Speaking with the new-found wisdom of an impending mid-life crisis (I’m getting towards the “Harley Davidson and comb-over” stage.), the trick is to identify those lines before they are crossed, if only to maintain your dignity.

Making enemies is not a pleasant experience.  Nonetheless, I believe that it is vital to our growth, our mental health. Without enemies, we cast through life blindly, no principles to guide us, reduced to public opinion. Every enemy that I have made has been made for good reason. It’s human nature to believe that. Of course we were wronged, of course we were the just defendant, and they the aggressive party. I think the challenge in life is to accept that sometimes…. just sometimes… YOU are the asshole. Sometimes, it is your fault.

Enemies find their redemption in what they offer to teach us, what their nature shows us about ourselves. They are the darkened mirrors, the shadowed reflections of our inner selves. Think about each of them carefully. There is no point to an enemy that has taught you nothing. There is no point to an enemy for whom you have no reason. Identify what it is that they do or don’t do that riles you, and know yourself better for it. I know, thanks to Sarah and Frank that I have little patience for small people. Small of mind, that is. Petty politicking and shallow manipulation leave me cold. When they come from someone in a position of authority, they are worse. I know it now, and hopefully in the future, I’ll be able to head off any situations before they escalate into hostilities. My challenge to you? Make a list of your enemies. Figure out the core reason behind the altercation. Be honest, nobody else is going to look at your list. It may give you closure, it may give you growth. You may make the miserable bastards useful to you!

Lastly, the Little People.

Not dwarves or midgets or pygmies or gnomes… The Little People are the people that live around you, that work around you, perhaps even work for you. They are the often anonymous people that make your life possible. I spent a lot of time working as a waiter for a series of restaurants. And I was constantly amazed by the ignorant arrogance of a lot of people. (Normally wealthy white kids.) Any good waiter will tell you that the power in the restaurant is NOT the manager, is NOT the hostess or your waiter. Everything rests on the shoulders of the kitchen. Everything. Waiters with a good relationship with the kitchen staff were more successful than waiters who did not, or waiters that shouted. Later, when I managed a restaurant myself, it was obvious to see. Waiters who were polite, who passed on compliments, who said please and thank you, basically acknowledged the kitchen staff as humans and equals, they got great service from the kitchen. Wrong item ordered? Rush job required? No worries. The Little People are on it.

It’s a lesson that I have taken to heart. I go out of my way to acknowledge the receptionists, the co-teachers, the security guards, the “kitchen staff” in my life. Simple courtesy goes a long way. It’s a proven fact that remembering your waiter’s name and using it leads to better service. It’s not because they’re impressed by your memory. It’s because they are pleased to be acknowledged, to be given a face, to move from “Hey you…” to “Excuse me, John?”.  I am not advocating being polite to the Little People out of some desire for better service. The fact that their often menial jobs can have a direct impact on your life is simply a by-product.

I’m saying that being nice to the Little People is in and of itself a good thing.

And nobody wants to be a Fuquaintance.

The Japanese Disasters – The Silver Lining.

It’s the end of March 2011, and like millions of others around the world, I have been watching the Japanese struggling under the burden of an earthquake, a tsunami and a nuclear disaster. I am very happy that the disasters happened to Japan, and not someone else. And you should be too. Fair warning, this blog posting is likely to be quite racist, disturbingly discriminatory and decidedly biased.

In a good way.

A fair number of disasters and tragedies have beset the planet in the last few years. And in every case, there has been the attendent media circus, the associated finger-pointing and panic. Our global superpower will serve for comparitive purposes. America is the foremost nation on the planet. (Just ask an American.) They have the biggest and best everything, the newest and shiniest everything else. And yet, when Hurrican Katrina dumped meters of rain on New Orleans, they collapsed. Disaster relief was negligent and almost criminally slow. It transpired that the National Guard wasn’t in the correct country at the time. Looting was rife, police retaliation was brutal and the loss of life and property paled in comparison with the game of Pass-The-Blame that erupted shortly after the first levee failed. Absolutely everyone that held even the slightest authority of levees, rain, river management and disaster response was held up to public scrutiny and inevitably crucified in public opinion. Six years later, disaster relief operations are still at work, and the damage Katrina left in her wake stands testament to a nation that has failed utterly to protect its own.

Let’s take a look at the Japanese, shall we?

It starts with an earthquake. One of the top five largest earthquakes in recorded history. It scores a 7 out of 7 on the Japanese earthquake scale, and a whopping 9.0 on the Magnitude Scale. It shakes Tokyo and its surrounds for an utterly obscene SIX minutes. Six minutes! Jump up and down on your bed for a full six minutes. It’s a LONG time. It triggers tsunamis of up to ten meters in height. Coastal areas are basically washed away, and there is nothing that anyone can do to stop it. Nuclear reactors that have peacefully run for forty years are stricken, bereft of cooling, back-up power and containment, they suffer explosions and threaten meltdown.

It’s a cataclysm. A disaster styled on Old Testament purges.

And look at the reaction of the Japanese. Over ten thousand dead, almost twenty thousand missing. Two hundred thousand evacuated from already devastated areas to avoid nuclear risk. There was no blame. There was no finger-pointing. The Japanese shook themselves free of building dust, kicked the water from their boots, and got down to work. There are individual stories of heroism, but I would like to focus on just two stories that I believe sum up the Japanese spirit.

The nuclear situation at the Fukushima plants remains lethal. Thanks to the massive damage of the quake, and then the actions of the tsunami, carefully prepared back-up and emergency protocols were rendered null. The reactors went critical, cooling rods became exposed and fissionable material tasted freedom. One hundred and sixty technicians stood their ground. They kept to their posts and did their jobs. It is without doubt that they received doses of radiation. At the Fukushima 1 plant, fifty low-level and mid-level managers, anonymous and faceless, stood their posts. They prevented a full-scale nuclear event. It is without doubt that they did so while in the full knowledge that they were sustaining potentially lethal doses of radiation. Two workers had to be emergency air-lifted from the plant. Why? They stood in ankle-deep radioactive water in the basement of the number 3 reactor. They were trying to lay cables that would allow for the restoration of power to the cooling mechanism to the reactor. Their personal instrumentation registered dosages of 180 millisieverts. (Enough to give them radiation burns on their legs. The Japanese safety guides allow for only a dosage of 50 millisieverts over the course of a year.) They had not been issued with the correct safety wear. And yet there they stood. Preventing a total meltdown.

The situation remains dire, and it is likely that there will be longer-reaching impacts of the radiation leaks. Japan was saved more damage by a fortunate wind that shifted vented Cesium 137 into the ocean, and not over the land.

The second story is more light-hearted. In the wake of the tsunami (pardon the pun), government relief was stretched and in some areas regarded as being slow. The response? The Japanese crime syndicate… The Yakuza. (They’re the Japanese equivalent of the mafia.) Stating in the press that they could not stand by while their people were suffering, the Yakuza sent seventy trucks into some of the worst-hit areas, filled with a half million US dollars worth of food and water. They stated when asked that their code of honour would not allow them to ignore the situation, not when they were capable of aiding. They did it because they could, and because it was needed.

In what other country are we likely to see this? In what other country are we going to see the same selfless brand of heroism? In what other country are we going to see anonymous sacrifice, and anonymous humanity?In my opinion (and it’s my blog, so that’s presumably what you are here to see) there is no country to rival the Japanese. They responded to the multiple disasters, the massive loss of life, the crippling loss of infrastructure and networks with the same aplomb and single-mindedness that has defined their society. This is the country that birthed the concept of the “quest for zero defect” and I am proud of them that their work ethos extends to their society as well. There has been no looting. Instead, neighbourhoods have made anonymous donations of food and water to those in need. They have pointed no fingers, they have indulged in no political grand-standing. Under intense international scrutiny they have gotten on with the job at hand. Not a day after the nuclear incidents, world media was already debating the wisdom of nuclear power, was already deciding that the Japanese were somehow “tempting fate” by building reactors so close to the coast, was somehow negligent in their usage of nuclear power. This is the same media run on nuclear powered server farms, enjoying electronic communication on a global scale, much of which is nuclear-supplied. This while two men stood ankle-deep in radioactive water, their skin burning while they saved lives at the expense of their own.

Through it all, the rescue operations continue, the clean ups are underway, and the Japanese are walking the road to recovery.

I am thankful that it was Japan that was hit, and not some lesser country.

I am saddened by the sacrifice and the loss.

And I am humbled by their spirit.






Massive Missive – Getting older means being happier with less.

My Jesus year is done. This is not an official name for some random year, so don’t go googling it.

But until a few days ago, I was thirty-three years old. If we are to believe the Bible, well, Jesus had done pretty much all of his earthly stuff including dying and then undying. I am done with the year though.

This has some bearing on my life. It means that I am unlikely to become the focus of my own religion. It means that as much as I would like to believe it, I, like Brian, am not the Messiah. And there are a host of things that I will not be doing in my life. I realise that now. I’m unlikely to ever run a marathon. (Pause for derisive laughter here.) That rock band that I joined in school? We’re never going to make an album. Hell, given how far away from one another we are now… we’re unlikely to ever play together again. I’m probably never going to go sky-diving. I am most likely never going to own the car of my dreams.

And here’s the funny thing. You’d expect them to grate, to weigh down on me, these unfulfilled aspirations. But they don’t. Instead, I find myself free of them. I am never going to front a band, I am never going to trade riffs with Slash or stand clad mainly in leather in front of an audience dancing to my music. Nobody is going to sing along to my songs, quote my lyrics on their Facebook page or get my band symbol tattooed on their shoulder. Sixteen year old Yeti would be crushed by this realisation. But thirty-four year old Yeti is happy. If I am never going to be a famous musician, then I can stop pushing myself to learn the guitar, stop feeling guilty when a week goes by without me playing the thing. I can chill, learn the songs I want to sing along to, surprise my wife by playing some Leonard Cohen for her. (At the very least, I sing better than he ever did.) Guitar playing becomes a fun activity, something I do for joy, guilt-free.

The same goes for my chances of ever playing sport at a national level. Much as I enjoy thrashing friends at table-tennis, there is no chance of ever playing seriously. Golf? I can safely leave that to the executives and the pro’s. Who cares if I shift my feet in my swing? Who cares that I’m holding the clubs incorrectly, or using the wrong one? Who cares that every now and then I still take a run-up when nobody is watching? I played hockey as a kid. Taking a step or two before the swing just feels good. And that’s what I am getting at. We carry so much baggage. We shoulder so much guilt as a function of our everyday routine. And why?

Let. It. Go.

You’re never going to be a model. Eat the Snickers bar. You’re unlikely to become anyone important politically. Tell the jokes you want to tell. Your photos are never going to win a Pulitzer. Relax and enjoy the view for yourself.

You get what I am saying?

We all do it. Everyone I know has a chip of varying sizes on their shoulder. Some unrequited dream that plagues them, that tints every moment of every day with a disappointed shadow. We get those chips from a range of places. Parental expectation, peer pressure, the media. It is their responsibility, their FAULT for pushing us in directions. But that is what parents do. It is what friends do. And it is all that the media ever does. It is YOUR responsibility for collecting the chips. For carrying them for years. For allowing them to colour your every action.

Maybe it’s laughable coming from someone barely old enough for a mid-life crisis. Maybe I am wrong. I don’t think so though. This year is my year. Succeed or fail, this is the year that I drop my pretensions of lofty ideals. This is the year that I slough the little dreams that I have clung to for years. Dreams that honestly, I am not really even interested in any more. I don’t want to have a glamorous jet set life. I don’t want a fancy mansion. I don’t need a collection of vintage guitars. I have no intention of climbing a mountain, ANY mountain. I’m not going to join Green Peace. I think that PETA is often too extreme. I’m never going to be a religious person, I have no inclination to continue studying religions. I don’t intend ever getting myself an office job again. I never want to wear a tie again.

What I have been doing is looking at my life, and evaluating each of my dreams and hopes on their own merits. There are many that I am no longer really interested in. There are others that are beyond me simply because of my age, location or abilities. There are some that are possible, that can be done, but that clash with the life that lead. I’d love to race cars. With a wife that I intend getting old with, this is not going to happen. You see how it works? There are some goals that I do not intend to compromise on. These are the goals that are still attainable, still possible, albeit with a ton of work and sacrifice. And I think that it is the job of every human being to find those core goals, and then to get them done.

I want to be an author. I would love at some point in the future to be able to fill in “author” in that little square on the tax-return. I want to be self-employed. Until that happens, I want to teach. I enjoy teaching. I’m good at it. And it is the only job that I have found where every day IS different, where every single class brings with it challenges and difficulties uniquely its own. I will own a Porsche. Nothing fancy. I just want the car, I want to drive with the top down, and listen to a flat six growl through a mountain pass. I want to see Europe. I want to walk in the Black Forest, and uncover Roman mosaics. I want to see the Sewer systems of London. I want to walk on the abandoned platforms of the Underground. I want to see Moscow. I want to see the Northern Lights. I want to fly a plane. I want a Doctorate in something, but I’ll settle for my Masters.

These are my goals. These are the things to which I am going to work. And yes, it is going to require some sacrifice, and some planning, and most of all… a lot of luck.

But I have my friends, and I have my family. I have time. I believe I have the talent.

I have no excuse for failure.

And neither do you. Drop your baggage. Embrace yourself, your own goals and hopes. And make it happen for yourself.




Massive Missive – The Ideas of March

Apologies to the Bard.

Not really. He cracked more than a few puns in his career, and took more liberties with the language than a texting teen on a cellphone. Of course, Shakespeare’s material was imminently more readable than the traditional “c u l8er m8, good crack 2nite, your gr8!” garbage that passes for communication amongst the IQ deprived. So, the Ideas of March.

They say that things come in threes. Obviously, most people have never submitted short stories for publication. Rejection letters don’t come in threes. They come in droves. All of them politely worded and politically correct, and ultimately, saying the same thing. “No.” In my experience, things don’t come in threes. They come until you stop making them come. Which is why March is looking to be a busy month for my wife and I.

You see, we’ve known for some time that Taiwan wasn’t going to hold us for long. Granted, every time we come to Taiwan, it holds us for a lot longer than we ever anticipate. But even so, the time is drawing near when we will once again be leaving the island. I first came to Taiwan in 2002, an over-sized and pretty much ignorant foreigner with no Chinese speaking ability and no real idea of Chinese culture past a chicken chow mein and bad kung fu movies. I’ll be leaving Taiwan in 2011, an over-sized and still pretty much ignorant foreigner with a smattering of Chinese and a much better idea of Chinese culture. (Still like Chicken Chow Mein and bad kung fu movies though!)

Taiwan is the ultimate comfort zone. If you are able to get beyond the mild xenophobia that exists in Taiwan, you are going to lead an excellent and interesting life. Incidentally, I MEAN xenophobia. The Taiwanese are no more racist or classist than any other nation I have known. And while they might get embarrassed when speaking to foreigners, or feign a lack of understanding to avoid a potentially embarrassing situation, it is far more usual to hear negative comments levelled at the Taiwanese by foreigners living here. One big plus for the Taiwanese is that they are uniformly tolerant of all religions. I have received far more criticism for my atheism in the west than I ever have in the east. Perhaps it is that Islam and Christianity are young religions (As compared to most of the Eastern religions) and are still focusing on proselytizing. Whatever the reason, the Taiwanese are relaxed about virtually everything except work and the traffic.

The “Chinese work ethic” is something that gets bandied about by managerial types over mocha-frappe-choco-lattes and power meetings. And in every case, the speaker has little or no idea of what they are talking about. I am not saying that western people don’t work hard, far from it… I have a father who nearly worked himself to a standstill to provide for us, but by and large, the sheer dedication and amount of hours put in by the average Taiwanese shames western workers. I believe that most of it stems from an inherently Confucian societal work ethic. It can get swiftly frustrating as a foreigner working in that environment. My first instinct when asked to take work home over the weekend is “No.” It certainly isn’t that way for them.

Traffic is, however, the greatest failing of modern Taiwanese culture. Traffic lights are not optional, but they ARE open to negotiation. In a metropolitan area with over 5 million residents, Kaohsiung has some pretty hairy traffic snarls. And scooters, well, they are legion. It is not uncommon to come around a blind corner on a busy road, scooters ahead, behind and around you… only to find some hapless moron driving against the traffic on his own scooter. And the usual suspects are to blame…youngsters and drunks. Youngsters are a particular problem here. Instead of driving a crappy Honda Civic with more plastic skirting than a collection of Goth Barbies, they drive souped up scooters. And of course… there is the issue of hair. The current trend for Taiwanese youngsters is a hair-style akin to a manga series. Spiky, and omni-directional. Said style requires a monstrous amount of hair-gel and time to apply, and thus, they tend to be hideously afraid of wearing helmets. Fast driving and a lack of helmets… well, there is an argument of Darwinism.

But I digress. I was saying that Taiwan was a comfort zone. And it is. In terms of salary percentage, a full-time foreign teacher is sitting pretty. The average salary for a full-time teacher runs anywhere between NT$55,000 and NT$65,000. (If you’re earning less, change jobs… you’re being taken advantage of.) Let’s call it NT$60,000. My wife and I live in a nice part of town, in a four bedroomed, two bathroomed, twin balconied, furnished apartment. We pay NT$ 16500 per month, including all guard and door fees. (That included garbage removal, building cleaners and security BTW) That’s 44k left over to eat and play with. Very comfortable indeed. We know that our move to the UK is going to result in a big change to that standard of living. Taiwan is a great stepping stone to Asia, and with return flights to Hong Kong starting at 10K, well, there is plenty of opportunity to play.

And yet… we are moving to the UK. Why? And the answer is family.

There is no better destination in life than to be with family. (Assuming that you like yours, of course.) My family has done a fairly good portion of the globe over the last few years, and this move will mean that everyone is permanently on the same continent for the first time in nearly a decade. Which is awesome.

To make our move a little easier, the wife and I are beginning studies in TEFL. Nothing serious, but it would be nice to have a UK recognised diploma that reflects the experience that we have gained over the last 8 years. That entails part-time study over the next 3 months. Which is the same time period where we are trying to

a) Emigrate

b) ship a household full of stuff to the UK

c) apply for jobs in the UK

d) wrap up everything here and

e) arbitrarily relaunch a personal blog.

Yeah. Perhaps that Chinese work ethic has rubbed off a little. Or perhaps I am just a sucker for punishment.

Is it all going to last? I hope so. If nothing else, the next Missive will be a little more personal, and a little more immersive.

If you have any comments or questions, observations or grumblings, leave a comment.

– Yeti

(Written on March 17th, 2011.)

Stamps in my passport. People I have been. Places I have known.

When somebody says that life is a journey, not a destination, they’re only partially correct.

There is a lot of life to be had in the in-between spaces, certainly. Some of my most interesting years are what prospective employers like to call “gaps in your CV”. And it’s quite true, in terms of careers and the satisfaction of pen-pushing employers, the gaps are useless. But to anyone who has had a gap, stood outside of the rat race for a while… the perception is different. Likewise, some of my most amazing moments in life have come not in the journey, but as a series of destinations. Physical and figurative destinations. For a balanced life, strive for both.

I want to be a published author. Strike that. I’ve been published. I want to be a full-time, making-enough-money-that-I-have-no-other-job author. And that’s a little harder. What’s the difference between a writer and an author? An author has contacts in the publishing industry. Which makes me a writer. I have a great online writing group, a wonderful bunch of people to whom I never donate enough time, and I have a Constant Reader in the form of my wife. (Who literally reads constantly… it’s just a case of making sure she gets to my stuff!) This is more than many aspiring writers, and I consider myself lucky.  The destination of Author beckons, and I am on my way there.

But life is about taking more than just one trip, right? And so it is that I have already arrived at another destination. I am a teacher. And although I doubted it, and tried to get back into office work, well… I am a teacher. It was a long road to make that discovery, and involved more than six years of “temporary” teaching. It involved four countries, a six-figure air miles total, and the ability to speak a new and exotic language. (New for me, the Chinese would rightly contend that there is nothing new about their language.  And sadly, given the conservative mindset of the Mainland Chinese, they’d be right.) The journey looms once more, and I am not far from changing countries once again. This time, it’ll be the United Kingdom, where Marmite and Jelly Tots are more easily come by, but the job market is harder to break into.

I guess once you’re through all the preamble, I’d like you to enjoy this blog for what it is; A commentary on the journey and the destinations. A (hopefully well presented) slice of my life, and the invitation to embark on journeys of your own. There will be a few different sections, and I am throwing this open for public consumption. Enjoy, reflect and never stand still.

– Yeti