You never really know how well you know something… until its gone. At least I think thats the saying, right? Well, for the sake of this entry I’m changing the words to – you never really know how well you know something until someone new comes along and you realise, shit me. I’ve been in Taiwan nearly 10 weeks and I know it pretty damn well.
There I am, at the High Speed Rail Shuttle Bus Stop waiting for the free bus to take to me the bullet train to pick up my actual flesh and blood from the airport. (Although if it were my actual flesh and blood I’d be in serious pain and unable to wait for a bus I imagine… anyway) It’s been nearly 3 months since I’ve seen any of them, and this is not just any special visit. My beloved cousin is coming to live. I managed to wangle a job for him at the same school, and just like me, they needed him quicker than you can say ‘ni hao’. The hype over the week has reached its height and I end up telling the Chinese guy at the bus stop (in Chinese) that I’m on my way to pick up my cousin who is going to be an Ingwing Lowshur (English teacher). I don’t think anything of it. Except – wow, when he nods enthusiastically, I think he must think I’m nuts. I get on the bus. Sit in the traffic. Swear under my breath because I’m late. Run through the station. Buy a ticket (in Chinese). Jump on the train, swear under my breath because it gets held up in a tunnel. Run through the station, jump in a taxi and scream “Wo yow Airport!”
I’m 20 minutes late, and all my marathon efforts and making a ‘Welcome to your new life’ sign on cardboard and squeezing into my bag were in vain. He ends up waiting for me. We exchange a mutual “this is f*cking crazy sh*t” hug, grab a coffee and take 10 minutes outside to absorb the fact that he’s here. A few words in we’re rudely interrupted by loud bangs. We look around; there are fireworks in the sky. Gorgeous red, yellow, blue, purple fireworks on a backdrop of the mountains, sunset and my actual cousin in Taiwan. I took the opportunity to cease the moment, a rare landmark moment in life when everything comes together in sync and screamed “Welcome to Taiwan” at the top of my lungs.
We finish our Starbucks, he finishes his cigarette (which he was and still is astonished at its fractional price in comparison to back home) and make our way back to my NEW apartment. That’s right people. After 8 weeks in Taiwan, a developing phobia of mosquitoes, 2 trips to hospital and bites the size of my head, I took the advice of my dear old Dad, threw out my mattress and moved the hell away from my old room. So far away in fact that it took me 20 minutes north into a new city and into a brand new building with rooms complete with plasma TV’s, hot plates, balconies, court yard gym and best of all, every other foreign teacher at Stanford. As soon as I was shown the room I was in love. It’s like living in one of those fake rooms at Ikea that no one ever really has but always dreams of having, with an amazing view of the mountains and the city skyline. So there we were outside the airport, and I tell the guy (in Chinese) that we want to go to the train station. Joe looks stunned. The last time I saw him was in a bar in London, after a few beers we hugged it out and said ‘see you next year.’ A few weeks later, there we are, on the other side of the world and I speak a load of jibberish to a guy who says “ok” and opens the car door.
It’s not until he says “Soph, did you just speak Chinese?” that I realise how much I’ve learned, how comfortable I am here and how much this really has become my life. In the taxi ride and pretty much over the last few days he’s thrown questions at me that I can answer properly and comfortably. What a funny feeling. I am no longer the newbie. In fact, now I almost feel like old news. My sisters, my parents and my cousins now ask how he’s doing, how he’s settling and how what he’s up to. To some this would lead to a sense of replacement or thunder theft. But for me, it’s lead to a feeling of comfort. My chapters are changing. I’m in the second phase. No longer do I feel like a stranger here, in fact quite the opposite, it actually feels like home. Moving into this building was the cherry on the top of a wonderful, 6ft tall cake made of Nutella and strawberries. The past 10 weeks have been incredible, but my next chapter looks set to top it. I’m now confident at work and don’t feel like a fish (who doesn’t speak to language or eat the food) out of water and have a nice little routine during the week. I still have moments where I think “dude… you’re actually LIVING on the other side of the world”, but for the most part the beautiful mountainous commute, the gazillion scooters, the bright sunshine, the never-ending adorableness of K2A, the obsession with Hello Kitty and Spongebob and abundance of rice has become second nature to me and as the year comes to an end (and Christmas Show rehearsal goes into overdrive) I am still as excited as ever for where I am and what I’m doing.
As Joe unpacks his things into the 3 shelves I’ve cleared for him, he stares at the floor to ceiling display of photos on the wardrobe. “Soph, have you seriously only got that one picture of me where I’m dressed as a zombie from like 4 years ago?” It’s ok I think, we’ve got a whole year.