HONG KONG AIRPORT: Diary of a Mad Expat, pt. 13

Enjoy my husband’s tirade! Not for the faint of heart!:)

2 May- 3 May: Middle of the night, middle of the Hong Kong Airport

Disclaimer: I’ve hardly had any sleep in almost 24 hours. You are hereby warned about the xenophobic diatribe I am about to go on!

I FUCKING HATE FRENCH PEOPLE!!!! I know, I’ve semi-joked for years that I’m Swiss-German on one side of my family and English-Scottish on the other, so either way, I can’t stand the French. But I’m fucking serious this time. We should’ve let the Nazis keep France, and encourage them to put the French, not the Jews, into gas chambers! Guess what?!?! Worst. Flight. Ever! Yea!!!! So, we’re flying out of Hanoi on an Airbus, right? Get to the airport 5 hours early, because we figured that waiting in the airport is WAY better than spending another minute in that hotel…and we were right! The airport is virtually spotless…beautiful little airport. Really, nice, although it’s small enough that we kept running into the same people. For instance, this French couple (see how I brought it all together?), and their two “adorable” little children, especially their 3 year-old son, whom they let run wherever he wanted to, and to whom they accommodated whenever he screamed, which was about every 2-3 minutes. And there was the delightful mother, who sounded as though she had contracted Ebola while in country (wishful thinking on my part probably). Anyway, we finally check-in and get something to eat, and who’s checking in on our flight? Yep, that same “charming” French family. But wait – we see them check in through the business class desk! Yes! We won’t have to deal with them after….aw, shit! Turns out they’re in coach – two seats behind us. OK, gotta be patient. I’m gonna have to deal with little kids in my job. I can do this! We’re right behind the empty seats where the emergency exit hatches are, so bailing is an option…just kidding. About halfway though the flight, this “charming” and “attentive” mother gets up and starts talking to another French woman across and one row ahead of her, allowing her 3 year-old wander around an airplane flying at 30,000 feet, naturally. I mean what mother WOULDN’T allow their toddler to roam all over what my wife calls “an 85 ton flying coffin”?

In the little fucker’s wanderings, he happens upon the row in front of and across from us! That’s right, the emergency exits! Of course, that “charming” and “attentive” mother is too busy rambling on in a language that sounds like it needs a Mucinex, so she doesn’t notice when her little rodent climbs up on one of the seats and starts to grab at the emergency exit hatch! My wife exclaims, “Jesus Christ!”, half terrified, half appalled at the lack of parenting skills on display. Only THAT snaps the mother out of her self-absorbed stupor, just in time to stop the little angel from cutting our flight a little short, somewhere over the Gulf of Tonkin. My wife, who’s terrified of flying in the first place, but has gotten better over the past 5 weeks, regresses a bit, thanks to this French cunt. But even more shocking is, after that, she let him go again! He ran down the aisle, all the way into business class. When she picked him up and brought him back for good this time, we both were glaring at her, and unbelievably, she returned it as though she’d done nothing wrong!

We were both upset the rest of the flight, and I reported what happened to Hong Kong Airlines once we got on the ground, though I doubt anything will come of it. Nevertheless, I came out of my shock and rage briefly when we descended through the clouds, banked a little to the left, and there it was…Hong Kong again. It made me so happy to see Her again, I actually teared up a little. We’ve been stuck in this airport now for about 6 hours, halfway through our layover, but I don’t care. Now that we’re out of the U.S., and even though it’s only overnight, I can say it: I’m home. Taiwan is next, and I hear it’s closer to Hong Kong than it is to Vietnam. Let’s hope so. And that French family had better be nowhere NEAR that flight, or I’ll shove ’em off the fucking plane myself! Whew! Now THAT’s the snarky sarcasm we’ve all been waiting for! I’ve still got it! On that note, good night, and good luck.

– For images of our trip, please visit my wife’s Facebook page: Mischa Elaine Johnston

TAICHUNG, TAIWAN: Diary of a Mad Expat, pt. 15

Our experiences in Taiwan in my husband’s words…

13 May, 2015 to present – Taichung, Taiwan

I see that it’s been a little over a month since I posted here, but there has been so much to do and worry about, that I simply haven’t had time! It’s been a very stressful, worrying, and emotional time. Can’t say that my sarcasm has come back enough to make this post entertaining, but I’ll do my best.

When I last left you, it was mid-May. I had found my job, but we were damn near broke. Since then, I’ve been teaching, and as you can imagine, it takes up a lot more time than just the time spent in the classroom. There is time before, to prepare for class, and there’s the time after, grading the work the class has done. So it takes up most of my day. When it doesn’t, I’m trying to keep our heads above water. We’ve gotten lots of help from several sources, most of all the director of my school, Crystal. She, along with our recruiting agent, Sandra, have been invaluable to us. Providing us with information regarding the visa/residency process (which is lengthy, costly, and bureaucratic, to say the least!) and money to stay afloat here until we have a steady income.

Thanks to their efforts, the efforts of others back home, and a budget that we are strictly adhering to, we are at the point where we can live here, breaking even while we complete the visa/residency application process, and paying people back, until November. At that point, we’ll be able to start saving money, and hopefully, a lot of it. Until then however, we’ll be scraping by on the occasional street food meal, local fruits and veggies (which I’ll cover later), and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Things are tight here right now, but we are managing. I’ll be starting summer classes next week. We’re getting used to the neighborhood that we’re living in, and they are getting used to us. It’s a poorer neighborhood to be sure, but our studio apartment is nice, VERY cozy, and (thank god!) comes with A/C, which is an absolute MUST here! Since before the 1st day of summer, it’s been in the 90-95 degree range (Fahrenheit…I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the Celsius scale, but I’m using it here out of self-defense, just like the metric system), with humidity double that of Oregon on a dry day. As a result, any time I walk more than a few hundred meters, I sweat – a lot! More than I have ever sweated in my life, except for when I played tennis in college. The good news is, I’ve lost at least 20 pounds since I got here! So yay!

Also due to our budget, and our unwillingness to borrow any more money, the aforementioned application process for our visas/residency has been pushed back. I have gotten my physical checkup done (passed with flying colors for all those concerned), gotten my work permit, and applied for my visitor visa yesterday. Now all I’m waiting for is to get my visa, then I have to apply for the Alien Residency Card. I might have it by the end of the month. Due to our finances, however, my wife has to go to Hong Kong to renew the 90-day visa on her passport, and I may go with her, depending on whether my ARC has arrived in time. That will buy her another 90 days, which allows us to get our marriage certificate authenticated back home at a Taiwanese consulate, get it translated into Chinese and notarized back here, go to Hong Kong again within another 90 days to apply for HER visitor visa (which she has to do there, since she cannot work here), then bring it back to Taiwan to get her ARC in November.

Not the easiest or funnest way to stay in a foreign country legally, but it is what it is. That particular phrase is one that we have needed to tell ourselves frequently, in a country that has been foreign to us, in more than just name. That is a subject that I will try to delve into next time, which I assure my readers will not be long.

– For images of our journey, please visit my wife’s Facebook page: Mischa Elaine Johnston

Truth Within The Human Condition…

“Truth is unalterable, eternal, and unambiguous. It can be unrecognized, but it cannot be changed. It is beyond learning because it is beyond time and process. It has no opposite; no beginning and no end. It merely is.” ― A Course In Miracles

You, who read this now, may be from half way across the world. We may be separated by decades of age and experience or be from completely different races, cultures, and religions but we can all relate to the ever-present helplessness, fear, and disconnection we feel being part of the human race on planet Earth. But feeling lost, in reality, is a universal truth that connects us all. We share the same journey; to stop allowing fear to chose our lives for us, and end the control it has over our existence.

Most of us believe we need more of some THING to keep this constant fear at bay.  More money, more success, more ‘friends’ and ‘likes’ on our Facebook page. Many of us will do almost anything to get these THINGS.  Some of us dishonor our boundaries and compromise our true selves to feel accepted.  Some even try to conquer their helplessness through intimidation; living a life of greed and unhinged aggression, and taking advantage of their fellow human beings in return for a false and empty sense of superiority.  These facades prove yet another universal connection; WE ARE ALL HELD HOSTAGE BY OUR FEAR.

All these tactics and manipulations are defensive human staples utilized to feel, even for just a moment, a respite from our loneliness and fear. The truth is, fear is not real. Fear is created only by our perceptions. True connection is not something to be attained. It simply is… always whispering quietly in our consciousness while the world rages on, drowning out the truth, and roaring the lies our experiences have ingrained in us since childhood. The greatest lie being that the vulnerability which accompanies connection must be avoided because if anyone truly sees who we are – they will reject us. And there is nothing worse than that.

Pain and tragedy have become what defines most of our society. It is constantly screamed into our consciousness through every medium available. As it increases, it becomes almost impossible to let our guard down enough to empathize and truly SEE or understand the other humans who are all around us, and in the same stranglehold of fear and pain that cripples us.

Almost every sensation we encounter is now based in an instant gratification that stems from our need to distance ourselves from this primal pain the simplest way we know how; DISTRACTION. It is a web that both protects and suffocates which we willingly and gratefully envelope ourselves in. Our phones, computers, and televisions have become the way to live a false life of connection through the safety of disconnection. It’s empty and transitory but it’s easier than seeing the reality of what CHANGE honestly requires from us; facing ourselves, what has formed us, understanding and forgiving those who have had a hand in our formation, and ultimately forgiving ourselves. It is a momentous undertaking and understandably the most terrifying thing any of us can attempt.

It’s comforting to blame the external world for our fears. If it’s the outside world’s fault then we don’t have to take responsibility for how our lives turn out and we’re off the hook from the fact that we avoided recognizing the transformation desperately waiting to be embraced by us. It’s distressing to accept that we have always had the power at any moment to live our lives to the fullest but have chosen to deny it out of fear.

Because our past seemingly reflects our future, we don’t expect to see things transform and we are often blind to them when they do change. If hope and possibility are not within our Rolodex of life experiences, we don’t recognize the warmth when it finally shines on us. Most of our energy is put into imagining what life would be like if only we had more time and money. Then we’d feel safe. If only we were thinner or more popular. Then we’d feel accepted. If only we had more outside sources of love. Then we’d finally feel adequate inside our own skin.

THE TRUTH IS, if we have the courage to destroy the defensive walls we have built around ourselves, and become absolutely fascinated with our fellow human beings and enthralled with the world of miracles around us, we would finally and truly let ourselves feel the unconditional love that has always been available to us.

If we can forgive ourselves for getting lost in the human condition by letting fear control us, just as everyone else has, we can finally BE IN THE PRESENT MOMENT. Start by realizing that everything is made from atoms. If everything originates from the same energy source then EVERYTHING is really only ONE entity. We are part of an all-encompassing energy presence that embodies all of us. Therefore, whether we recognize it or not, we have always been connected. You and I have never been strangers. We as humans were never separate. I am you. You are me. WE ARE ONE.

All of you are precious to me, and we are not alone in this present moment. We continue our journey towards the collective realization that we are all one and always have been. Peace be with you all!:)

Taoyuan, Hsinchu, and Taichung, TAIWAN: Diary of a Mad Expat, pt. 14

Our experiences so far in Taiwan from my Husband Richard…

3 May to 13 May, 2015 – Taoyuan, Hsinchu, and Taichung, Taiwan

At the time I’m writing this, it’s June 1st. A lot has happened, most of it not really funny enough to be snarky and sarcastic about. This has been a difficult month, no two ways about it. My wife and I have come to the brink of economic destitution, and while it’s not over yet, it is looking better.

We landed in Taiwan on the 3rd. A thankfully uneventful flight from Hong Kong, but I wished we could’ve stayed, but there were too many opportunities in Taiwan to take the risk. Vietnam had been a waste of time and money, and by the time we left, paying for the flight to Taiwan, we were getting down there, money-wise. I just couldn’t put my wife in a hostel – just didn’t feel safe enough to me – so I had to find some decent hotel for as low a price as possible. Fortunately, we found one for a little over $40 a night. The bedroom wasn’t much, but the bathroom was beautiful and spacious. They even gave us a free upgrade on our last night there.

Meanwhile, I was exploring job options in the area, but nothing had worked out. There were a few schools, but they were NOT good. One wanted me to start the same day, without a contract, in a run down school where the American who showed us around referred to the children I was to teach as “dumb”, and “little shits”. NOT encouraging…so I held out for another one that I was to interview for the following week.

Meanwhile, we were running out of options. I set us up to check out of this hotel on the 8th, to one about the same price, but closer to the airport and the high-speed rail station. That one was more like a stereotypical hotel, but still about the same price. It felt safe there, and it felt familiar, and we needed this now, when our situation was getting scary. I had a couple of interviews set up the following week in cities south of here, which meant we only stayed here for a couple of days, before moving on to Hsinchu. By the 10th, we checked out and headed to Hsinchu on the slow train because it was cheaper. We made it, but it was a fucking pain in the ass to take the regular trains. Unlike HSR (high-speed rail), nothing is in English, so we were using deduction and luck to determine what the right train was, while toting two laptop bags, two rolling carry-ons, and a 50-pound suitcase in the sweltering heat. Not fun. Nevertheless, we made it to Hsinchu, to an even cheaper hotel to stay until Wednesday the 13th. During that time there, I finally got a job in Taichung to start the following week. Still, we were getting even lower on money, and running out of time.

At this point, I should go back and say a few things about our experiences during our first 10 days here. Because of our money situation, we only ate what we could get at either grocery or convenience stores, both of which are cheaper than eating in restaurants, and none of our hotels were located near where there was street food. However, every hotel we stayed in did have a free breakfast. Unfortunately, half of them served only Chinese breakfasts, which my wife loved but I cannot do yet.

Anyway, we left Hsinchu on Wednesday the 13th, taking the HSR this time (with ALL of our luggage), and it went infinitely more smooth this time. We got settled into the Grand Hotel, just a 10 minute walk from the school I’d be working at. We were staying there, as it turned out, from Wednesday the 13th until Sunday the 17th…just two weeks ago. Fortunately, through making reservations on hotels.com, I’d only have to pay for one of those nights in Taichung; the rest we’d get for free. On Thursday the 14th, I’d be sitting in on some classes, to get a feel for it, and to talk to the person running the school, Crystal, who will feature prominently in the next few blogs. For now, things are only beginning to improve, and financially, things were going to get worse before they got better.

At this time, there have been countless people, back home, in Hong Kong, Vietnam, and Taiwan, who have helped us in countless ways. I’m not going to name names here, but to each and every one of you (you know who you are), we say “thank you”. You may never know how important your efforts were to us getting where we are going now, but we do, so thank you, from the bottom of our hearts.

Until next time…

– For images of our trip, please visit my wife’s Facebook page: Mischa Elaine Johnston