I am an American technology worker who just moved to Taiwan.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

These aren't the droids you're looking for

It has been quite some time since I blogged, quite some time since I've done a lot of things, but the last time I wrote I was on a business trip to the Netherlands and as I now find myself in the same predicament, what better time to attempt to rekindle the fire?

Part of my absence from the blog involves simply not having/making the time to do it, but I am in Europe on a Sunday, and guess what? Time stands still! I think you have two choices of activities: blog, or go to church. Neither particularly productive. So far, this trip is awful. I recently went to the States for Christmas, I think it was a total of 30 hours to get from Taipei to Melbourne, FL and I caught a common cold on the flight(s) over and suffered really bad jet lag throughout our trip. After 10 days we came back to Taiwan. I dozed off on the Tokyo -> Taipei leg and literally woke up with pink eye (aka "conjuntivitis"). It's like I was perfectly fine when I dozed off, and 1 hour later awoke to find my left eye totally crusted shut. I had a 3 day respite in Tapei before continuing westward to the Netherlands. It took about 24 hours in the Netherlands before I realized I had a pretty bad flu. I think I've since lost about 5 pounds and haven't slept past 5AM nor 2 consecutive hours since December 17th.

So, is there relevance to all this bitching? I'm wondering if I've quickly become accustomed to life in Taiwan and simply hate being off "the rock". Is this all psychosomatic? I grew up in a city and swore that I could never live in the country. Then after one of the neighbor kids threw a snowball at my wife and called her a "gook" we moved to some affluent suburban areas to avoid overtly racist people and only deal with passively racist people. Our home in the States is in a small town that allows no commercial development, no cell towers, and nothing is open on Sundays. Idyllic, right? I now find myself in the Netherlands cursing the fact that everything is closed except this one coffeeshop, I mean, place that sells coffee, that doesn't even have wi-fi. The malls are closed, boutiques are closed, I can't get cold medicine or a pair of gloves. I can get a joint though, but that's at the other kind of coffeeshop. Not sure if that's the kind of medicine I need for the flu, might help me put some weight back on, though.

I wonder how I could quickly make the switch from small town life in rural Connecticut to life in Taipei, where there are people on top of people, fruit stands that NEVER close, people riding bicycles in typhoons, and nary a coffeeshop or "place that sells coffee" without a free open wi-fi signal. Now I can't imagine NOT living in a metropolis. Am I flexible in adapting or just need to feel a sense of belonging to whatever environment in which I am immersed? Are those exclusive?

Work has been awful this past week. Not much cooperation. I'm supposed to be able to navigate these waters but I've run out of Jedi mind tricks and logic doesn't work against patriotism. I feel like the tail trying to wag the dog. I've been training my Taiwanese staff in some "business English" idioms and remember discussing "Ace up my sleeve". I don't have an Ace up my sleeve. I’m really questioning the European economy. Nothing is closed on Sunday in Taipei. Products are made, services rendered, money changes hands. I enrolled in an MBA program for one semester and thought it was garbage (sorry MBA people). Part of my motivation in taking this job was to learn things about globalization that could only be gathered by being immersed in that environment. A good (non-Western) friend of mine from the States started preaching some Western-economics doom and gloom type stuff about a year ago, citing things he learned in his MBA program. After 8 months in Taiwan and now coming back to work in Europe such predictions are starting to make sense to me. Western economies are crumbling (most recently Spain) and China is swooping in to buy up the debt. OK, maybe some MBA programs aren't THAT bad.

People in Taiwan are upset that the unemployment rate is above 5%. 5%! I had lunch with a Syrian-born guy Friday who asked, "What is America going to export in 10 years?" Internet content? Created in America but coded in India? The Google Tablet is allegedly being developed in a building a block from our apartment in Taipei. Silicon Valley may be calling the shots but where is the real economic impact? I don't mean to sound all anti-American. I realize that the freedom and quality of life there has opened up a world of opportunity to allow me to see things from a different perspective. I worry about how many others will have the same opportunity in the future.

I am scheduled to be in Europe another week but that may be useless if I don't make any progress tomorrow and I may get thrown out of the building if I say what I really think, but at least I can get out of here and back to Taiwan.