For me and the world, a weekend away seems like a distant memory. Living in Taiwan where the cases are currently at 4 active cases, I feel lucky that I didn’t have to experience quarantine, widespread panic, and a house full of food and supplies “just in case.” Needless to say, Taiwan has done extremely well managing this crisis, even with how close Taiwan is to China – both in proximity and international relations. The experiences of those living in Taiwan are unique to the world’s.
This specifically isn’t to share political and international comments on how I think this pandemic should be handled, just sharing about my personal experiences in Taiwan.
For me, I think I first heard about COVID-19, then coronavirus, sometime in late January. I heard about a case, the first one in the US, in Washington and told a friend as I was walking around the Taipei 101 skyscraper. I really thought nothing of it and it was a passing thought.
One week later, January 30th, the English school I worked at sent out an email stating that there has been 8 cases in Taiwan (all from travel in Wuhan China). And that we had preventative measures set in place to slow the spread. We were (and still are) required to wash our hands in the since before entering, temperature checked at the door, sprayed with alcohol, and wear a surgical mask at all times. I was kind of taken back because there had been only 8 cases, that is certainly not a big number but why was it such a big issue?
I learned later that week, SARS, a similar coronavirus, hit Taiwan hard and there was a specific governing body, part of Taiwan’s CDC, that would take action immediately when news breaks about a potential threat. This was crucial to Taiwan’s success. And this is where things started to change.
Most know that in Asian countries, we like to wear masks. But within that week, all surgical masks where confiscated by the government (I used to buy them at 7/11) and only allowed to be sold at authorized locations.(i.e. Pharmacies and Health Centers). I had a few that I could use but I needed to get more. The lines were ridiculous, waiting around 20 minutes before the pharmacy opened waiting around an hour to get just 2 masks.
The limit at that time was 2 masks a week per person, even foreigners. Other masks were distributed to places that needed them like hospitals, schools, and public servants like bus drivers. They slowly increased the number of masks you can buy, which is now 9 every 2 weeks. This was so important to know because Taiwan was ahead of the curve giving priority to the people who needed them most. I was also think it’s important to recognize that foreigners were also allowed to buy them too showing that Taiwan cares about people, not just citizens. They also sent a ton of masks to the US, think millions, and the rest of the world.
Now, in early February, travel bans were restricted to Wuhan and other places of high infection in China. A 14-day quarantine was imposed for all those that travel to China, Hong Kong, and Macau. And more countries were added as time progressed. I was lucky to have been able to go to Korea for 10 days in the end of January, just before the really infection hit. I remember coming back and my mom pleading me to come home, and I almost bought a ticket. I told her that if it gets worse in a month, I would go home, still not really believing it was a big deal yet.
Schools were on their Lunar New Year break (like our Christmas break) and it was delayed from opening for two weeks. Then, other teachers from my company started leaving. I started to get nervous and understanding the gravity of the situation. More and more people wore masks everywhere they went. The underground subway and all public transit required masks to ride, social distancing was imposed, gatherings over 100 people were banned. Borders started closing down, Korea, Singapore, Italy, Japan, and then in March 19, Taiwan officially closed its borders to all foreigners. Now it was real.
I was receiving weekly updates from the school and daily updates from friends about the current COVID count in Taiwan slowly getting higher, around 300. America at this point started their outbreak, and already surpassed Taiwan just in Washington alone, at roughly 1,000. I was calling my family now more often, weekly, then every other day. I was worried. My mom told me now, it was good choice not to come home. But to be away from family in this hard time was simply awful. My grandma who is now in a retirement home, or as she calls it “foster home,” has been effectively trapped in her room for over 4 months, seeing only some other nurses and that’s it. It’s heartbreaking.
This was my life until June when things started to relax. Its been over 2 months since there’s been a local person-to-person transmission. Large social gatherings are allowed again and things have returned to previrus. But a few things have changed, the tourism industry here is non-existent, businesses have closed, and masks are still required in schools and in public transit.
All in all, I am lucky to have lived in Taiwan during this time. I know that I am safe and I hope that everyone stays safe. Wherever you are, be careful and wear a mask.
It seems weird to think of myself as an adult. I see on my flight tickets “Mr.” and people call me sir. I have to sometimes tell myself “I am an adult.” But how did I get here and what does that ultimately mean? To me, being an adult means more than just a number, or even being independent. What it’s about is how we think and how we behave.
Adults think. I don’t mean simply think, I mean think critically. Children think too, but its very linear… I think A, I say A, I do A. That is a pretty toy, I want it. There’s not much beyond that yet. When we get older, its not as simple. I want that toy but is it worth it? What’s the quality like? Will I use it more than once? How long will it last? Maybe toy was a bad reference as an adult but you get the picture.
We choose how to behave. There is a famous Buddhist quote: Pain is inevitable: suffering is optional. There is a choice, and we get to choose. We ultimately have control over our emotions. Sometimes, we are given bad situation, and we react. But I believe for the most part we can choose and have control over our emotions. (But there are those adults who haven’t learned this and have temper tantrums.)
In the end, it’s all about perception. How you define it, and what it means to you. This is how I define it. We think and we behave. We make a choice. You are still your age regardless if you are buying action figures or putting a down payment on a house. Whether you are an ‘adult’ is up to you to decide.
你們好， 我叫文友 ，我不會說中文。 (Hello all, my name is Perry and I don’t speak Chinese.)
From leaving my home for the last two years to visiting family and friends in America, these past few months have been a whirlwind to say the least. Now it’s on to a new adventure.
As you may have guessed, I’ve moved to the exciting city of 台北，臺灣 (Taipei, Taiwan)! I am beyond happy to start my new journey with a new language and a new city. It’s vibrant and reminds me of a much more relaxed version of New York. Great metro, hard workers, good hidden spots and dense nature areas to center yourself.
What I’ve learned so far about the city is that even though it’s technically part of the Republic of China, Taiwan has its own unique culture that’s much different. Taiwanese is still a big language here, even though formally the language is traditional Mandarin. One of the motivating factors of moving here was to study Chinese and I thought where better to go then Taipei.
While the move is still fresh, I have discovered a few things about the city and here are my top 3 to make anyone feel like a local.
1. Ride the Bus It sounds easy but surprisingly few foreigners take the bus and solely rely on the MRT to get everywhere. How can you learn the roads when you just are in a dark tunnel? 2. Stand in Line The amount of queuing that happens in Taipei is ridiculous. People wait in line to go up an escalator! Way too organized. 3. Chat With Neighbors on Trash Night In Taipei, there aren’t any trash bins. Everyone just collects it at home and heads to the street when the garbage truck comes. Until then, chat away.
I’ll put up a list of my recommendations to do in Taipei shortly. Until then, stay well. Perry
Ngôn ngữ, người dân, và xe máy là ba thứ mình sẽ không bao giờ quên: dưới đây là những sự cảm nhận về Việt Nam trong tôi.
Xin chào gia đình, bạn bè, và tất cả những người đang đọc bài này. Cho mình xin giới thiệu: Mình là Hiếu, gia đình mình sinh sống ở Mỹ nhưng hiện nay mình làm việc tại Việt Nam. Thông thường người ta sẽ nghiên cứu và tìm hiểu những thông tin cơ bản trước khi chuyển đến một đất nước mới. Nhưng mình thì không.
Mặc dù thời gian đầu mình cảm thấy việc hòa nhập không hề dễ dàng, mình chỉ có một mục đích trong tâm trí: tìm hiểu thêm. Tuy vậy, mình cũng cố gắng để đạt được mục tiêu mình tạo ra. Trong hai năm qua, mình được khám phá những nét đặc trưng về văn hóa nguồn gốc của mình bao gồm ngôn ngữ, dân tộc, và cuộc sống thường ngày.
Thứ nhất là học và hiểu ngôn ngữ. Trước đây, như phần lớn các Việt kiều, khả năng tiếng Việt của mình còn “tệ hơn vợ thằng Đậu.” Không biết viết; không biết đọc; nói lơ lớ; nghe được ít hơn 25%. Mặc dù, mình là một Việt kiều điển hình, nhưng ước mơ của mình là trở thành bậc thầy tiếng Việt. Trước khi bắt đầu học, mình chỉ biết vài câu như “dạ hiểu,” “dạ không,” và “xin một tô phở lớn.” Vì chưa có phương tiện giao tiếp hiệu quả nên mình chỉ có 3 cách để nói chuyện với gia đình: (1) tiếng Anh, (2) chỉ trỏ, (3) không nói luôn (“khó quá bỏ qua” đúng không mấy bạn). Vì vậy, việc phát triển các mối quan hệ gặp nhiều khó khăn và mình hiếm khi nói chuyện với gia đình.
Đầu tháng 5 năm 2018, mình đã bắt đầu tập trung học 4 buổi mỗi tuần. Hiện tại mình học được hơn 12 tháng rồi, và mình có thể tự tin nói rằng “Mình hiểu tiếng Việt.” Hay chưa? Điều đó có nghĩa là mình giao tiếp được với những người thân trong cuộc sống của mình, quan trọng nhất là mẹ. Mình từng nghĩ mẹ là một người rất là bình thường, một trong những bà mẹ bình thường. Càng học tiếng Việt càng hiểu thêm về mẹ, mình thấy mẹ thật sự là một người rất giỏi, không bình thường chút nào. Điều này là một bất ngờ với mình, vì tự nhiên mình thấy là mẹ giống như người lạ mà mới gặp lần đầu. Hiện tại, mình có khả năng để hiểu lại khía cạnh hoàn toàn mới của mẹ và tất cả những người khác trong gia đình mình. Sao mình không bắt đầu từ nhiều năm trước vậy ta…
Thứ hai là học và hiểu văn hóa của dân tộc. Mặc dù quê của gia đình mình là Bến Tre nhưng khi mới tới VN, mình ở thành phố Vinh, Nghệ An (miền Trung). Đây mới chính là nơi mình được khám phá ngững điểm truyển thống của Việt Nam. Trong thời gian mình ở Vinh, mình từng làm ở trung tâm Anh ngữ và được làm quen tận mắt với sự thân thiện của người ở đó. Ví dụ, nếu mình bị bệnh, quản lý trung tâm tin liền chở mình tới bệnh viện thâm chí còn nấu cháo cho mình ăn. Cực kỳ tốt.
Người dân ở đây đối xử nhau như anh chị em. Cách giao tiếp của người Việt nhắc nhở mình đến nhân tình của thế giới. Phần lớn ai đều biết ở đây có rất nhiều người vô gia cư, nhưng ít người thấy được những người giúp đỡ cho họ là ai. Mình may mắn đã trải nghiệm được việc này khi một lần tận tay đi phát bữa tối và sữa cho những người đang sống trên đường. Đồng cảm và tôn trọng là hai từ mình sử dụng để diễn tả tính cách của tất cả những người dân nơi đây.
Thứ ba là mình cảm nhận được những thứ sẽ xảy ra trong một ngày thường. Quan trọng nhất là thời tiết. Khi nào đi đâu hay có công việc thì phải đề ý mặt trời. Đa số người Việt Nam thường thức dậy lúc 6h sáng sau khi mặt trời lên đỉnh và bắt đầu một ngày của họ. Làm việc vài tiếng và như nước Tây Ban Nha tại Châu Âu, người Việt cũng nghỉ trưa để trốn ánh nắng mặt trời. Mình nhận ra được lý do tại sao mà lại có quán cà phê cứ mỗi 100 mét, đó là để mọi người nghỉ trưa. Học sinh về nhà ăn cơm, nhân viên đi về ngủ, phái nam đi quán cà phê đánh bài, và mình… mình thì ngắm tất cả những hoạt động cuộc sống của họ.
Nói chung, mình đã hiểu được cuộc sống của những người cực kỳ thư thái. Việc này liên quan đến tiền và nhịp sống, cái gì cũng từ từ với lại không cần mau chóng, làm theo tốc độ riêng của họ. Đó là một trong những lý do người Việt luôn luôn trễ hẹn (lý do mình cũng vậy). Mặc dù nhiều người nghĩ điều này như là làm biếng, nhưng nó chỉ đơn giản là để tiết kiệm. Tiết kiệm thời gian, tiết kiệm tiền, tiết kiệm sức lực. Vì vậy, mình có cảm giác là họ sẽ luôn luôn tìm một cách làm nhanh nhất nhưng chưa chắc có hiệu quả.
Cuối cùng, trong hai năm nay mình hiểu được sự quan trọng của cuộc phiêu lưu đi tìm nguồn gốc mình. Đi vòng quanh và trải qua các giác quan của Việt Nam;
động cơ quay của xe máy đua; sự ngọt ngào của cà phê sữa; mùi hương của không khí ô nhiễm; sự ẩm ướt ở trên chiếc áo; nhận thức về rác trên đường phố;
Trải nghiệm bằng thính giác, vị giác, thị giác, khứu giác và xúc giác, mình được hiểu thêm về dân tộc của gia đình, thậm chí còn thấy được một phần con người mình.
Mình thấy rất may mắn vì được đi khắp vòng ba miền của Việt Nam. Mình thấy rất may mắn vì được làm quen nhiều người bạn thân. Mình thấy rất may mắn khi được có cơ hội để về đây. Mình yêu Viêt Nam.
This month marks my one year anniversary with Vietnam and wow has it been a wild year. I made amazing friends, traveled around south east Asia, gained wonderful new experiences, and learned a lot about myself and the world around me.
In the beginning, when I first moved here, I essentially came with three other people, arrive all within a month of each other. And for the first 6 months of living in Vietnam, those people have given me unparalleled support to try new things and have pushed me to live outside my comfort zone. We were all stuck together; living in this city with no English capacity. We relied on each other and that’s what cultivated such strong relationships. These once strangers have become one of the main reasons I have profoundly loved my experiences so much. We call ourselves a family because we have become one. Sometimes it really isn’t about where in the world you go, but it’s more about who you had surrounded myself with.
The bitter time came; one-by-one we all needed to say our farewells and take our leave in order to continue on our incredible adventures. The day when Raychel decided to leave me, I don’t know what happened, but I cried. It was eye opening to see how fond I have grown for these people, the center, and absolutely wonderful city. Then a month later, as I was leaving and headed off to the airport, I was crying as well. And not the type of crying where you look cute as you are seeing off some friends, the type of crying that is unexpected and takes over: can’t talk, can’t walk, all you are is a babblingidiot. Over this year, I am so grateful having made everlasting friends that I adore and continue to connect with. Every person that I have connected with has all taught me something valuable.
Being in a new country, knowing that time is limited, there is an silent, yet strong urge to capitalize. And, for me, that means exploring as many new places as time (and money) allows. There are too many highlights to share and with so many incredible people. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have been able to travel around the whole Vietnam & even more outside the country. I get nostalgic thinking about all the wonderful (and miserable) trips I had.
These last 12 months, I have been looking for any opportunity to travel and see more. Now, I’m looking through my photo albums and remembering all that I’ve seen: lanterns with Raychel, went hiking with Ngoc, cleansing temples with Sydney, endless meat sticks with Kyle, frigid waters with Mom, and squirt guns with Tammy. What amazing memories that will last a lifetime. These memories? I wouldn’t trade for anything. I realized that traveling is more about gaining experiences rather than taking photos of landmarks.
Through thick and thin, teaching has made it possible for me to continue exploring. It has been a cornerstone and foundational throughout my time here in Vietnam. I couldn’t write a year in review without mentioning teaching. For me, teaching is a new experience and wildly different than what I thought it would be. I thought how hard could it be: I already know English. Boy was I wrong. I have a huge new found respect for teachers. Lesson planning and cutting things up for an hour only for a 10 minute activity. In the beginning and first classes, I remember how nervous I would be for every class and how I would stress about going up to present.
In hindsight, I clearly overthought the gravity of the situation. I believed that everything I that I said and did had a direct impact of student’s life. While I was right… it ain’t that deep. I was too concerned with how the students thought of me and less concerned of how and what the students were learning. I started off teaching lessons that were teacher-based, now moving toward student-centered. What I realized over the past week is that I really do care about my students success and their growth with the English language. I take pride in being a teacher (which is hard because I am not properly trained to be one). I am happy to be a teacher for these next few months, but it’s not a job that I will be doing say 5 years from now.
Next for me? That is something that is still to be determined. I’m not sure what the future holds exactly, but I know one thing for sure is that I am still mobile and not ready to settle down yet. Maybe I’ll be a city near you next.
Cheers to another great year, wherever I am.
When I was first moving out, I so strongly remember the feeling of excitement. I was happy to be on my own for the first time. No rules, no regulations, and no more sharing a room. And what we are blinded by, at that age especially, is the flashing lights and a conglomerate of emotions. Often what is forgotten is all that we have and that which is given up on our exit out of the nest. For most, like me, that was experience occurred when taking the journey to college.
I was reminded of that exact feeling when I left America to continue my adventure, post-graduation, in Vietnam. Excitement and nervousness; filled to the brim with giddy feelings and butterflies. (Exhibit A: my first few posts here.) And I was blinded by my own emotions — like I often am. To be clear, having excitement about a new adventure is never a bad thing. The mistake is allowing the feeling to completely take over. And that’s what happened. Caught up in the bliss of expedition, I lost sight of what I was leaving behind.
Over the past three weeks, I returned to America for the first time in nine months. It was definitely an interesting experience. When coming back home, the place felt like nothing changed. Everything was just on pause while I was gone. Same old buildings, same old people working at the same old restaurants. While at the same time, there was so much of that city I have yet to explore. My realization of living away dawn on me when I went on a hike in the fresh mountainous air. I remembered how much I love being with best friends, how much I missed the stability of a life in America, how much I missed living close to family, and (most importantly) how much I adore cold weather and sweaters. At this point I was questioning: should I just stay home?
It’s ironic to hear; numerous of people have said when they live abroad that they couldn’t imagine returning to a nine-to-five work week in the stale town they grew up in. That’s exactly what didn’t happen for me. When I came back, and I saw how much I craved the things that I don’t have. Reality struck. I guess the grass is always greener, huh?
It’s amazing the perspective you gain while going abroad. While the town I grew up in hasn’t changed, I have and my outlook has. Bringing in this new mentality gives me a whole new meaning to being at home. Now, as I reevaluate where I want to be, with all that I have discovered (and to answer my own question), I continue to recognize that Vietnam is the place I want to be. I have said it time and time again, it’s not traveling to new places that excites me, its experiencing different cultures and people. I’m not done with these unique interactions. This time, as I have returned, I have not and will not forget all the great people and places of the past. While I will always keep in contact with people I love, I’m staying here in Vietnam… but I’ll be back soon.
Updates will come more frequently (at least I hope),
At some point in our lives, we will be alone: driving in the car, talking a walk, or living in a new country. It’s inevitable. But being alone and feeling loneliness are different. The feeling of loneliness can often accompany being alone, but being alone doesn’t always cause loneliness. And the feeling can happen anywhere: living alone, moving somewhere new, and even while surrounded by friends. I have come to realize that the feeling of loneliness is unique when living abroad.
It seems redundant to point out that when living abroad, you are literally miles from family and close friends. But the point that is often missed is that the physical distance equates to a temporal distance as well. While I’m awake, all my friends and family are fast asleep. Meaning that when I miss my friends and call them, it’s often in the middle of the night (ngl, I forgot and it has happened a few times). On top of that, being abroad can be harder to make friends. There’s a cultural and language barrier on top of all of the typical friendship making barriers.
It’s a special combination: distance, time, and culture that make you feel truly alone in another part of the world.
But you know me, I’m a glass full kind of guy and wow what an incredible experience it is to feel these emotions. It challenges you to learn to be comfortable doing to do things on your own. It teaches you how to try new restaurants alone, go to movies alone, and have dates with yourself. It pushes me to overcome my fear of talking to strangers and making connections to people I otherwise would have never met. Lean into the discomfort as my friends would say. We may feel alone, we may feel loneliness, but we always have other people supporting us.
I write this not to discourage others from going out, I say this to invite people discover these new experiences, despite doing them alone. (Also to express my feelings in a healthy way, rather than wallowing and sleeping all day). My advice? Let yourself feel the full range of you emotions but don’t allow yourself to wallow in despair. Find passions and achieve greatness (cheesy I know).
Its a question as an English teacher I ask fairly often to my students. It struck me that when the students asked “and you?” I have been responding with superficial answers. I think it’s time for some self-reflection and to remind myself to find purpose in what I’m doing.
I recently spoke with a friend who is taking strides to live with purpose and reason, which really resonated with me. This isn’t meant to be some ultra-deep altruistic philosophic meaning of life. I simply mean to critically think about simple decisions made in everyday life. Is the extra 10 minutes of sleep really worth it? Should I really watch the next episode? What is something I could be doing with my time?
Living in Vietnam has taught me many things, one of which is the luxury of free time. Day in and day out, I walk by the same people working for hours from dawn to dusk, barely having time to catch their breath. Here I have the time to get a head start on things I really want to do. So I ask myself should I really be spending it propped on my bed wasting my day away?
To be frank, I have been really struggling with finding motivation for doing regular daily tasks. You know, the things you want to get done but have really low priority. So to get my butt into gear. Rather than wallowing in pity, I’m setting some small goals goals for myself to hopefully get a slight edge on life:
1. Wake up and get up at a regular time. Luckily, I have trained my body to wake up everyday at 6:30. The problem is that I struggle with getting out of bed. I will strive for getting out of bed at 7:30 and getting tasks done.
2. Eat regularly. I have a bad problem with not eating appropriately having 4 meals one day and only one the next.
3. Drink water. Time and time again, I have read articles and posts telling you how important water consumption is yet here I am dehydrated daily.
These are just a few things I plan on doing, but would love some feedback on how to find more motivation to do the things that need to get done.
Home sickness comes for most people within the first few weeks. For me, it hits after a few months. Today is my three month-aversary living in Vietnam and it still feels like I arrived yesterday.
While have adjusted to living here: finding regular places to eat, figuring out a schedule, and avoiding getting hit by traffic daily, there are things that I miss about America. Here is my simplified list of all the things that I don’t have living in Vietnam:
Spending time in a mall – living in a smaller city, all the shopping places are boutiques and a grocery store. Food – of course, there is a different cuisine here. The melting pot of America isn’t so prevalent here. Where are my tacos, poke bowls, and burger joints? Happy Hour – drinking beer is common here but there’s not a designated time where friends meet together to go out.
Heating and Cooling – our apartment doesn’t have heating, so now in winter, we blanket up. Sidewalks – the sidewalks here are made with tile that is now old and broken, making it difficult to walk anywhere. Baking – in our apartment, the stove is gas only and there’s not an oven to bake with. That means no baked chicken, desserts, or roasted veg.
While I miss these things about America, I miss more often the people who are there. While I have friends here, you miss those people you instantly click with. I’m still happy to be here but have an itch to go home already. The grass is always greener on the other side.