A brief report on my trip – and my future in Asia

I won’t bore you with the details of my 16-day trip to Asia, aside from some passing observations and choice details. Let’s suffice it to say that I loved Taiwan. And the Taiwanese. In fact, I loved it so much I will be uprooting and moving there in only eight days. I signed a contract while I was there for what appears to be my dream job. I won’t be teaching (my No. 1 choice), but most of my work will consist of writing and working with the media, two things I love to do. I already have my apartment, only a few steps away from a major university and a five minute bus ride from my new office. And so a new adventure is about to begin.

Jerome Keating, who has been a frequent guest writer here, was kind enough to show me around Taipei and help me choose the best part of town to live. We met nearly every day while I was there, and I was quickly brought up to speed on Taiwan’s history and political oddities, of which there are many. Jerome was an exceptionally gracious host, and a key influence in my decision to go to Taiwan. I met two other readers in Taipei and they, too, assured me this is where I belong.

Every time I go to the PRC, I love it more. My trips to Beijing and Shanghai were unforgettable. My stop in Shenzhen, while not quite unforgettable, was totally enjoyable, thanks in larege part to Sam, who was good enough to spend quite a bit of time with me showing me around.

In Beijing I met a total of 15 readers. I don’t know if it’s me or Beijing, but the city seemed quite a bit different from when I left in 2003. Maybe I was filtering things differently (things can’t change so dramatically over a year and a half, can they?) and not noticing things I’d noticed before. For example, there seemed to be way less spitting (same in Shanghai), slightly more courteous driving (with plenty of glaring exceptions) and a lot more general happiness. Same exact thing with Shanghai. I saw by far the most spitting in Shenzhen, though I have no idea why. Everywhere, the irrepressibility and optimism of the Chinese people was thrilling. Even some of those at the lowest rungs of the ladder seem so hopeful and determined.

In Beijing I was also given a tour of my beloved China Daily, where I really wish I could have donned a Peking Duck t-shirt. They actually have a nice office, and their canteen serves good food for those diligent journalists.

Shanghai was a riot, thanks to an incredibly fun dinner meeting with Shanghai Slim. I really love that city, and wouldn’t mind living there for a year or two. I also met another blogger in Shanghai for some great discussions about living in China, and many other topics. If you want to meet some really amazing people, start a blogging community.

An episode in Shenzhen took the cake for sheer strangeness. Walking through a huge department store with Sam (and I mean HUGE), who do I bump into but one of this site’s most notorious commenters, referred to affectionately by some as “Madge.” Considering how immense a city Shenzhen is, this was definitely finding a needle in a haystack — a needle I wasn’t even looking for. Suffice it to say the encounter was civil enough; I just didn’t feel I had a lot to say.

All in all, quite a great trip. Now I just have to convince my S.O. to go to Taiwan with me. It’s the one huge challenge I’m facing at this time and I can’t be completely at peace until it’s resolved. We’re both kind of in denial of the fact that I leave in a week, the idea of another long separation being impossible to deal with. It is completely unacceptable, and we have to work this out. Fast.

Needless to say, I am eternally grateful to guest bloggers Lisa and Martyn, both of whom outdid themselves and kept things going at an unprecedented level of activity (and quality). You are both invited to post here anytime. When I make my move, I might have to slow down drastically, at least for a while, so please don’t go too far away.

The Discussion: 39 Comments

a very small world, isn’t it?

i might be only a few steps away from imagethief’s office when i visited the kerry center of beijing yesterday

good luck in taiwan (hope to visit there with my family when possible)

September 8, 2005 @ 9:03 pm | Comment

Richard, welcome back.
Ditto about Taiwan, not only true for me but also for most of my students. I’m more inclined to encourage students to go to Taiwan for incountry experience. The trouble is, most of my students who go on exchange to Taiwan will decide to stay.
I fully understand how you and your partner will feel about long separation. My husband and I had similar experience way back in 2001 when I changed job. We lived in separate states for about 6 months. It’s not an experience that we want to repeat. But somehow we coped. So good luck.

September 8, 2005 @ 9:33 pm | Comment

Terrific news, Richard, a dream opportunity!!! But it wasn’t luck — you made it happen.

It was really a hoot to meet you in Shanghai, maybe the next time our paths cross will be on the other side of the straits! ๐Ÿ™‚

Regarding your comments about street culture, I have observed the same thing. I’ve been in Shanghai 4.5 years now, and I’ve noticed some major changes in public behavior. Less spitting, staring, and “halloo-ing”. When I first arrived, complete strangers often approached me to ask for my phone number and if I would be their “friend” (read that “free English teacher”). Now this is a rare occurance.

Subway/elevator/door holding courtesy is better, queue jumping has declined. Even horn-honking has decreased, although, like Beijing, general driving behavior has a long way to go yet. On the other hand, pedestrian behavior also seems to have improved – much less of that “two walls converging to throttle traffic” routine.

This is on top of all the physical improvements to the city, not the least of which is markedly less air and water pollution.

Compared with America’s general tailspin during the same period of time, it’s no wonder I’m really enjoying living here.

I can only think of two public behaviors I really dislike which have not yet diminished much: public nose-picking and baby urination/defecation. Maybe they will be in next year’s “Ten Public No’s” campaign. ๐Ÿ™‚

It takes concerted efforts to make major changes to public behavior, but it’s happening, and China (or at least Chinese cities) are a more livable place for it. Kudos to Shanghainese and other Chinese urbanites for the major cultural improvements!

September 8, 2005 @ 9:46 pm | Comment


I find this website about Taiwan very useful:

September 8, 2005 @ 9:50 pm | Comment

Now THAT’s what I call blatant disrespect.

Glad you got back OK, Richard. Maybe if I go visit you in Taiwan, I’ll run into a ghost from MY past. Now I truly believe in wierdness.

You’re sure making Taiwan sound attractive! And best luck on the remaining issue.

September 8, 2005 @ 10:24 pm | Comment

oops, naughty comment deleted already. Good job.

September 8, 2005 @ 10:25 pm | Comment

Very naughty, Sam! Amazing, how many people like to hang out here and tell me what a monster I am, invoking incredibly obscene language to do so. How odd, that they choose to devote so much time and energy to someone they profess to hate. In some cases, I attribute it to repressed homosexuality.

On a more serious note, it was great to finally meet you Sam, and to enjoy great conversations even after all our disagreements on US politics.

Shanghai, you are right on. There was way less car honking and line-cutting, and it seemed evident that China really is maturing and improving. If it continues on this track, it really could become the global superpower it strives to be. I have never, ever seen such rapid positive change in so little time. And please, make a trip to see me in Taiwan – you and Sam are both invited guests, although you may have to sleep on the floor.

Fat Cat and Bingfeng, thanks for the encouragement. (And Fat Cat, I never realized before that you were female. It’s so interesting; I had visualized you as a guy with some beatnik characteristics. Once again, I realize just how shaky our perceptions of one another in cyberspace actually are.)

September 8, 2005 @ 10:34 pm | Comment

I realize just how shaky our perceptions of one another in cyberspace actually are.)

Yup. I had YOU pictured as about 5’8″, a little pudgy, and sandy-haired. Not even close! Great to meet you, too.

September 8, 2005 @ 10:38 pm | Comment

Standards in China are constantly developing, and while sometimes us sentimental foreigners may think it’s a shame (knocking down old houses to build new eyesores) other improvements are greatfully received.
I still think that SARS had a lot to do with the improvement in spitting, and my guess would be that Shenzhen has the greatest number of migrant labourers coming in straight from the farm, and bringing their countryside habits with them. In the classroom I’ve always noticed more spitting from my countryside students than my city ones.
(Thanks for finding the link to me before I got round to sending it to you!)

September 8, 2005 @ 10:45 pm | Comment

Very interesting post. Hope everything works out for you. I didn’t even notice the improvements you mentioned for Shanghai when I went back there 7 months ago.
What I found is that the city is much more crowded, expensive and trafficjamed than 4 years ago. We do filter out different things:)
I am happy that we may have many more topics to argue in near future:) I have developed an interest to know almost everything happened in Taiwan since 15, and Taiwan is more Chinese than mainland China in some sence.
Give you another chance to bash mainland China: mind to tell the major reason(s) that you chose Taipei over Shanghai or Beijing?

September 8, 2005 @ 11:02 pm | Comment

I still find spitting(people just turn their heads while they’re riding a bike and *phtoot*, another stain on my expensive expensive bike) and disregard for traffic regulations (especially by busses who think themselves as above heeding traffic signals) are way too frequent sights in Shanghai. Hard to imagine what it was like years ago if you consider this an astounding improvement (I feel so sorry for you…).

Interesing idea on the Peking Duck T-shirt, I’d certainly order a few.

September 8, 2005 @ 11:17 pm | Comment

Lin, I won’t bash China (sorry to disappoint). I had set my sites on Taipei a long time ago based on a lot of email correspondence with Jerome and Martyn and other commenters. Some of the reasons why I leaned toward Taipei are hopelessly pedestrian: I hate to be cold, and both Beijing and Shanghai have piercingly cold winters. I saw Taipei as the best of both worlds, with the kind of climate I prefer, good schools for improving my Putonghua, and certain conveniences I missed when I lived in Beijing — like the ability to transfer money to America so I can pay for my mortgage. I can’t tell you the misery I went through trying to get money out of China to pay my bills in America. And I’ll be near China, able to visit fairly frequently, and be centrally located for trips to Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, etc. These were reasons I loved Hong Kong so much, and I would have considered moving back – if only they would give up that silly Cantonese language of theirs! Taiwan meets all my criteria, so the choice was easy.

September 8, 2005 @ 11:20 pm | Comment

But Garn, everything’s relative. Pre-SARS, the spitting was a never-ending, deafening chorus of “Phoot’s.” Change is in the air – busses still ignore traffic signals, but there’s less honking at them, and pedestrians feel slightly less like moving targets as they step into those crosswalks that are universally ignored. Slowly and steadily, I saw significant progress. (And have you ever heard stories from people who were there in the late 80s and early 90s? Supposedly the floor of just about every building, like the airport’s, was drowning under a thick layer of spit.)

September 8, 2005 @ 11:24 pm | Comment

Richard, I take that as a compliment. Funny thing though, it never crossed my mind that you (and others) didn’t know that I am female. I only recognised there’s a need to declare my gender identity when you and others kept referring to me as “he”. The fact that I’m not a man will hopefully explain some of the idiosyncrasy that you may have detected from my writings.

September 8, 2005 @ 11:32 pm | Comment

well,man,Does China really impress you that much?having read your blog,i think what impression this country makes on you is that the big cities. have you travel to some of the remote parts of this country?and you wouldn’t feel that good if you have.

September 9, 2005 @ 12:20 am | Comment

Wow…I’ll try to pretend I didn’t read that…

September 9, 2005 @ 12:41 am | Comment

Richard, congratulations and best of luck getting yourself packed up and moved in…gulp…eight days. I hope you can convince your S.O. to take the leap with you.

Happy to help with the blogging end of things when you need it.

And I too want that Peking Duck T-shirt!

September 9, 2005 @ 12:50 am | Comment

Delurking for a minute to say, “Welcome to Taiwan!” I’ll be interested to read your posts from here…

September 9, 2005 @ 12:51 am | Comment

Other Lisa, what is the full name of S.O? care to explain to me? tks.
Richard, no offense, I really dont know.

September 9, 2005 @ 1:57 am | Comment

Samdl, I don’t know either. Does it matter?

September 9, 2005 @ 2:08 am | Comment

Oh, Samdl, pardon. I think I misinterpreted what you were asking. “S.O.” is just American shorthand for “significant other” – what we say when people aren’t married but are committed to each other.

September 9, 2005 @ 2:10 am | Comment

Alright, no, I’m just curious. because I always hear people say S.O, what my guess is that this is refering to partner. but I really dont know what the full name is.

September 9, 2005 @ 2:13 am | Comment

Thanks for that, other lisa. I appreicate it.
BTW, richard, Its always nice to hear that you are moving back to Asia, although I hope you could move back to China instead of Taiwan. anyway, all the best.

September 9, 2005 @ 2:18 am | Comment

Richard: It was a pleasure. Hope you get to make some repeat visits to Beijing, now that you’ll be in the neighborhood. Here’s hoping for better air-transport links between Taipei and Beijing.

Bingfeng: You were, indeed, pretty close. I’m in Guomao (although our office is moving shortly, which will do terrible things to my currently pleasantly microscopic commute). Sorry you’re so set on staying anonymous. I would have enjoyed meeting you!

September 9, 2005 @ 2:53 am | Comment

Tell the S.O. that now’s the time to sell the house, before the crash, and enjoy Asia with a bit of extra money in the bank.

September 9, 2005 @ 2:54 am | Comment

Fat Cat: I had a go at you some time ago because I thought you were yet another false identity of someone. I’m sorry about that.

September 9, 2005 @ 3:31 am | Comment

Keir, it’s OK, no harm done. But I do hope that you get out of the open thread now because that little creepy horrible creature is very active in there. It’s not worth a fight. It’s late Friday night here and I’m logging off. Have a good weekend.

September 9, 2005 @ 6:50 am | Comment

many Americans going to Taiwan support Taiwan Independence. Hopefully richard is different, but I doubt it.

September 9, 2005 @ 12:58 pm | Comment

zhj, for now I support the status quo. Whether that will change after I move there, I can’t say. Personally, I’m in favor of bringing the two countries together as one, with the elected Taiwanese leaders ruling, as they have proven their ability to break free of the shackles of repression and govern in a fair and amazingly effective manner. Wouldn’t that be cool?

September 9, 2005 @ 1:28 pm | Comment

“Bringing the two countries together as one”?

Despite what you personally favour Richard mate, shoudn’t this be left to the Taiwanese? After all, they would be the ones who would have to live with the consequences of this decision.

Everyone wants peace but the majority of Taiwanese don’t want China — in any shape or form — and that’s a fact.

September 9, 2005 @ 1:34 pm | Comment

By the way, znj, it’s not just “many Americans” who support Taiwanese indep3ndence, it’s almst every single foreigner that has ever been to Taiwan.

I have never me tone single foreigner, not one, who talks about unification. Not one….and I’m including ALL nationalities, western and Asian.

It’s a shame that so many people who would think to speak on behalf of the Taiwanese and would think to impose THEIR personal view of Taiwanese sovereignty and the status of Taiwan have never even been there.

September 9, 2005 @ 1:38 pm | Comment

I was being a bit facetious… And yes, it should definitely be up to the Taiwanese people. That should go without saying.

September 9, 2005 @ 1:43 pm | Comment

ah, it’s clear to me now. Well, this is how I think about it: Taiwan is not a country, but a province of “China”. In Taiwan, it’s also a province. It’s clearly stated in the Republic’s constitution. I know that foreign Taiwan Independence supporters despise the KMT and anything that smells Chinese, so this clarifies why Martyn is having these views. It’s also not consistent of Martyn to say that Taiwanese should determine their future, while at the same time supporting independence, advocated and supported by a minority on the island. And what about the 1.3 billion people on the mainland who do not want independence for Taiwan, but want reunification with the island? Should they be ignored?

Taiwan Independence means war and nobody should doubt this. If Taiwan ever declares independence by getting rid of the ROC and anything related to China and Chinese, everyone can thank people like Martyn for it.

September 9, 2005 @ 4:25 pm | Comment

And what about the 1.3
billion people on the mainland who do not want independence for Taiwan, but
want reunification with the island? Should they be ignored?

Yes, definitely. Decisions affecting the destiny of so many Taiwanese should should never be determined by populism.

September 9, 2005 @ 4:31 pm | Comment

It’s fair to say that advocating Independence equals populism on Taiwan. If you are against populism, you should reject it on Taiwan as well, especially practised by Chen Shui-bian.

I can already predict what richard will become after moving to Taiwan: hating the KMT, hating the CCP, hating China and feeling sorry for the Chinese people. *sigh*

September 9, 2005 @ 4:46 pm | Comment

Did I ever say I advocate independence for Taiwan? You are an odd duck, zhj! “Sigh.”

September 9, 2005 @ 5:00 pm | Comment

Well, I only hope you will not get converted by Taiwan Independence Quislings. ๐Ÿ˜‰

September 9, 2005 @ 5:09 pm | Comment

That joke you made…I started laughing right in the middle of the thread. Now my (party member) friend wants to know what’s so funny…so I’m going to have to tell him it’s an obscure foreign sense of humour, or else I’ll end up in the middle of the same argument you’re having with zhj.
The struggle against propoganda brainwashing never ends.

September 10, 2005 @ 12:42 am | Comment

Richard, I’m sure you will enjoy it out here in Taiwan. I look forward to meeting up with you again once you’ve arrived and settled.

Of course, now you’ve got to work out how to moderate the inevitable (and already started) interminable arguments about Taiwanese independence on your site ๐Ÿ™‚

September 10, 2005 @ 2:22 am | Comment

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