5 Years Ago…

Thanks to the wonders of having a Timehop account, I found these old relics of writing buried among other social media history. Join me in unearthing the thoughts of a 22 year-old Jerome and his first step of growing up. By the way, I only made minute corrections to punctuation and other grammatical errors since finding these, so keep in mind that I’ve left 99.9% of the content intact as it was found. Some post-thoughts were added and marked in italics. Enjoy.

你好。This is a story.

Posted on 2011/12/07

Hi.

My name is Jerome. Most of you reading this probably already know that.

Hopefully you also know that I’m in Taiwan. Taipei to be more specific, but you may already know that too.

Well, I’m here writing this blog because it’s almost been 100 days since I first arrived on this island, and it’s been a ride saddled with suspense, fear, happiness, fortitude, loneliness, interest, and even boredom… more or less. I can’t adequately paint a picture for you all of what I’ve done the past couple of months but I think I’m here to try.

It’s likely I may be one of the few people you know doing something outside of the country for the foreseeable future, but don’t go ahead and assume I won’t be back. I will… in due time.

Let me start by telling you my story.

PART I

I originally knew I wanted to teach abroad through stumbling upon another blog about this black dude teaching in Japan. This was at the start of my sophomore year in college as I was just getting through my second year of Japanese class. Some of you may be thinking, “WTF Jerome? You’re in Taiwan right now?!?” Yeah, I know. I’ll get to that sooner or later.

Incidentally, I met a girl in my Japanese class. She was from Taiwan… Taipei to be more specific. Now this is far from being about happily ever after couples, but to ignore this part of the story wouldn’t explain why I ultimately decided on Taipei. It’ll start off slow, being mostly about how we met, my thoughts, and why things happened. I am not particularly eager to talk about such a personal moment in my life, however I think it’s time. I hope for the story’s sake, it doesn’t end up being about her.

Back to the idea of going abroad. I read page after page on his blog about his experience teaching and traveling and being completely immersed in a culture so different from what he was used to. I couldn’t stop until I was caught up with his posts. I knew then that I wanted to do something similar. I was pretty set then. Taking Japanese classes, transferring to a new school after getting my AA, finishing a degree in Japanese/English or something along those lines, then traveling the world helping students learn English. It sounds like a great opportunity to try something new.

So I continued with my Japanese classes with the girl who was from Taipei. She was better than I was at the language. To be honest it pissed me off a little at how easy it was for her compared to me and the other students. I was happy to think that I was one of the better students in the class, but that kind of thinking never had me challenged or thinking anything was difficult. Safe to say I was a bit of a dick about how good I thought my Japanese was for how long I studied it for.

During my last quarter in community college, I was also taking a Linguistic Anthropology class that I thought tied in well with my interests of going abroad. One of the later assignments in the class involved speaking with a native speaker of another language and identifying common words and transcribing them using the International Phonetic Alphabet.

For that assignment, I saw it as an opportunity to talk to the girl from Taipei and maybe learn more about the Chinese language. After spending far too much time thinking about how to ask her, I finally asked her to help me with my assignment. We met after class one afternoon and I asked her about how “mother” was said in Chinese. I asked for several other family words and wrapped up the assignment. I suggested I pay for lunch since she was able to help me finish my assignment.

We ended up at a Thai restaurant a couple of blocks down the road. After ordering we talked about Japanese class and music and I remember thinking I could probably ask for her phone number in a casual way. Later that week we were friends on Facebook and would chat every now and then. I’d always look forward to being able to talk with her, just because it was so easy to talk about stuff.

I remember asking her out to play mini-golf, since we both haven’t played in a while, and I remember how ominous I thought her short answer was.

“Sure.”

PART II

Posted on 2011/12/08

After finishing my time at community college, I transferred to WWU where I was planning to study Japanese. Well, I couldn’t place into the right level of Japanese when I was meeting with different faculty members, so I scrapped the idea of majoring in a language. I opted to take linguistics classes because it seemed like a good transition to make at the time. I was still interested in language, but I didn’t have the time nor money to afford retaking classes in order to fulfill the requirements for higher level language classes. I ended up enjoying my linguistics classes and decided to go through with that major.

After researching my major a bit at my school, I found that the TESOL program was a solid foundation to build on and to branch out my options after I finish my degree. I minored in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, which I believe was a great opportunity to experience first hand what teaching English would be like abroad. Most of the time I was working with Japanese students also in University studying abroad taking English classes. At that point, Japan was more serious of an option.

That same first year at Western I often went back home and still talked to that girl. We ended up making things official on Halloween. I spent the next six quarters in school going back home every other weekend so I could see her. Whenever I had some questions on some Chinese linguistic project I had, she was there to help me, and likewise I was always there to help with her writing too.

It wasn’t until my senior year where I seriously thought about taking Chinese classes and considered other places in the world I could teach. China and Taiwan were interesting options, but I only ever juggled it as an idea. After taking a year’s worth of Chinese and being around Taiwanese people so often — thanks to my girlfriend at the time — I felt more comfortable with the plan. Of course she was always there to support me and look for opportunities where I could teach.

When I graduated, I was still in the mindset that I could really do anything I wanted. June of 2011 was the best month of my life. I finished four years of school, I had a solid idea of what I was doing, and I was surrounded by people who supported me and gave me the strength to move forward.

However it was simply just a month in my life. I’d have loved to say that from then until now was nothing but good spirits, but life and people change.

PART III

Posted on 2011/12/09

After graduating, I spent the next couple of months alone deciding what it was I should do with my degree. I thought at the time I was all about wanting to teach in China/Taiwan since my experience was more suited towards that location than my original plans of Japan. Most of the people I knew were from Taiwan and recommending me to go there; however, now that those people are hardly in my life, choices seem rather fleeting at the time.

In the wake of a breakup a person loses a lot of real motivation for the future. At least that’s how I felt. I probably can’t speak for everyone going through problems like this, but if you identify with me, then it’s one more person who I can relate to.

For most of summer I was busy hanging out with friends to keep my mind off of it. It worked out pretty well as I thought I was over her. I say I thought I was on purpose. In retrospect I was an asshole — not the kind of asshole who’s a dick about everything, but the kind of asshole who thinks that he doesn’t need someone anymore. I’m sure I deserve any kind hatred or angst thrown at me now. I shouldn’t have done the things I did, but it happened anyway.

Well I finally decided on Taipei fully after knowing that the few people I could talk to still were able to help me once I was there. All it was up to at that point was wrapping up my passport and documents and preparing for one of the biggest changes in my life.

Of course, it wasn’t that easy, and I bumbled through everything leading up to finding my current job. I was severely under-prepared for the vastness of what it was I needed to do.

My passport was expired and I renewed it about nine weeks before I was planning to fly out. Of course the government doesn’t take into consideration flight plans, so I had to postpone my flight about a week later than expected. I didn’t purchase the tickets until my passport came in, which was a little over 4 days before I left. I was complaining and being overly anxious about my passport, but my Mom kept telling me I should have done it earlier, or should have paid extra for the expedited service. Instead, my penny-pinching stingy attitude towards paperwork left me nervous and uneasy for far longer than I should have been.

After I sorted out all those things and was finally at the airport, I ran into another road block. This one considerably more worrying than my other issues. Because I bought a one-way ticket, intending to find a job once I land, EVA Airlines flagged me as unable to fly because of my lack of Taiwanese ID. Three hours before my flight, I was expecting to check-in and wait excitedly for my flight. Instead I was concerned with just being able to leave. My friend gave me fair warning of the issue, but I wasn’t in a serious enough mind set to take heed of his advice. I sat waiting for the results of some background checks and supervisor calls and about an hour before my flight I was told that I’d have to purchase another ticket back.

So US citizens are allowed 30 days in Taiwan visa-free due to the relationship between the two countries. However because I had a one-way ticket, the flight was flagged as I wasn’t a Taiwanese citizen therefore I was unable to use a one-way ticket to enter Taiwan on a Visa-Exempt permit.

With less than an hour before my flight, I was told that I’d have to make another one-way purchase dated before 30 days after I departed the US. Tickets on such short notice were in the ballpark of 1000+ USD, at which point I was just anxious to get this whole ordeal over with. The staff at EVA were apathetic in their effort to help during what I felt was an urgent nightmare. I hurriedly made my refundable purchase (with a fee of course) and was allowed to check in with about 20 minutes left before my flight. It was easily one of the most stressful, tense, and wearisome moments that I’ve ever experienced.

Thankfully, the flight was quite the opposite.

PART IV

Posted on 2011/12/13

The flight itself was much more pleasant than I expected. The last time I was miles above the ground, I recall hating every moment of being in the air. The seats were uncomfortable, the food was tasteless, and there was hardly any professionalism to the crew on board the flight. I also remember being nauseous and irritable. But in comparison to that flight, this one was damn near perfect. I watched three movies and barely remember worrying about how long the flight was. Kung Fu Panda II, Fast Five, and this Chinese romcom called “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” were the three movies I watched in the time I was up in the air. Food wasn’t half bad at all, and I got at least three cans of Ginger Ale since no one else seemed to want any.

I landed in Taipei greeted by customs and immigration officers. After the incident back at SEA-TAC, I was still apprehensive that I wasn’t going to be able to actually enter Taiwan, despite physically being in the country. Things worked out okay though as I wrapped up my paperwork at the airport and awaited my ex-girlfriend’s roommate to help me get to where I would be staying until I found a job.

My initial reaction to using Chinese was that of utter shock that I was using something I learned in school not even half a year ago. What I remember most was one of the taxi drivers asking me if I wanted to go anywhere, and the only thing I could remember saying was「不用。我等我的朋友。謝謝。」 (No need. I’m waiting for my friend. Thanks.) At least that’s what I think I was saying.

When my friend finally arrived it was about 6am and I was still wearing my coat since the temperature was comfortable in the airport. As soon as I exited the airport doors, I was hit with a wave of humidity and heat capable of drenching my clothes in my own sweat. I rushed to take off that coat of lava from my skin as I tried to adjust to the harsh difference in climate.

On board the bus to the main city, my friend handed me a bottle of water which was a nice change from the parched throat and the constant sweating state I was in. I think I finished it before we even left the bus to transfer to a subway station. I was really confused at how to do anything especially with four total bags of luggage on me. I opted to just take a taxi at which I would pay for the trip for the two of us to get to where I’d be staying.

The taxi ride itself felt like I was sitting in on someone else’s life. I remember looking out the window and seeing hundreds of people on scooters going about their daily life, while I was in the middle of transitioning through mine. I kept thinking about how unimportant it was that a person like me could be traveling in a taxi right next to them while I was also thinking of how drastic of a change it was for me to have done this.

As soon as I began to pick apart my thoughts, I got off at what was a McDonald’s. Completely caught off guard, my friend guides me across the street to what would be what I called home for thirty days.

PART V

Posted on 2011/12/21

The first more or less 30 days seem like a complete blur in hindsight. I’ll try my best to piece together what it was I did and how I felt at the time, but for honesty’s sake, I’m not sure how accurate I can be since that was over two months ago now… Time certainly keeps ticking.

Within the first week of arriving I knew I had to try my best to find a job as soon as possible, yet I wasn’t fully prepared for everything I had to do in order to fulfill every requirement at each step. I was clueless at first. I had a friend warn me about some potential issues about health check-ups and visas. However, in my eagerness to arrive, I overlooked how truly important those things were. I also felt like there was so much more I had to do first before I was finally able to (The original content stopped there. I can only assume that I was going to say “…finally able to get started working.”)

Within a handful of hours of arriving, I met my friend’s mother who would help me with a crash course of Taipei. She was able to get me a transit card and some sandals as a welcoming gift. It all went by so quickly. Maybe it was the lack of sleep, but I hardly remember experiencing those moments. It’s more like they just became blurry memories, since it’s really hard to recall each moment.

The both of us went downtown and we walked past Taipei 101 and into the nearby mall. I remember bits and pieces of being utterly exhausted walking around but still fascinated by how new everything felt. I still couldn’t tell you how long I was there, or even what I was talking about with my friend’s mother, but I distinctly remember how satisfying it was to finally eat a real meal when I arrived. I kind of remember what it was I ate: rice and a chicken leg for lunch, along with some Japanese food at the mall for dinner.

A couple of days later I tried walking into a few schools with my resume in hand and submitted them for application. I was dressed in shorts and a T-shirt — probably why I wasn’t able to find any luck that way. The next week I came more prepared dressed for success. I heard back from two schools after submitting nearly a dozen resumes and applications. At which point I was suggested to go to a hospital and get a medical examination in order to progress through the hiring process if hired.

I struggled finding the recommended hospital downtown. I remember barely scraping by enough Chinese to ask one of the people on the street where the hospital was. Luckily, or not I suppose, I went completely around it three times and missed the building by only a few meters… At least that’s what I felt like they were trying to tell me as I glossed over and hardly understood what they were telling me. I was horribly embarrassed by my obliviousness to a giant hospital in the middle of downtown Taipei.

Once I was in the hospital, I was overwhelmed with how foreign everything felt, despite being like any other hospital, and exactly as foreign as one would expect by being in a foreign country…

Again I had to resort to using my limited Chinese to ask for help in figuring out what I was supposed to be doing. I eventually figured out I had to get passport pictures taken and pay for examination fees as well as finishing some light paperwork. In the midst of nervousness and anxiety, I decided I should ask for help. I asked a mid-aged white gentleman about what I was supposed to do. He turned out to be a seasoned veteran in the system and knew all the in’s and out’s of the process. He helped me figure out my plan and wished me luck as we said our goodbyes once we finished the steps.

One of the things I had to do was get my blood drawn. Never before in my life have I had my blood drawn, and I was extremely anxious about losing blood that way. I didn’t eat much prior to going to the hospital in the morning, so I felt moderately weak already. I distinctly remember the feeling of the needle pressed against my skin and the tip puncturing and entering my veins. I couldn’t look at my arm nor the doctor — I simply stared at one of the pillars in the middle of the room.

We (meaning that nice foreigner from earlier) kept in touch for the first few days I arrived as he was sending me some advice via email, but not long after that he stopped replying.

After finishing up what I needed to do at the hospital, I was told that in ten days I would be able to pick up the results and give them to whatever school is interested in hiring me. However, I received a call much earlier than that where they required I arrive at the hospital earlier in order to improve my measles vaccination. According to my blood work, I was “due” for one.

My ex-girlfriend was in Taiwan at the time and I asked her to help me figure out what to do. When we arrived at the hospital she said the staff told me to head from location to location within the hospital to meet the doctor who will administer the shot. The shot itself wasn’t nearly as bad as getting my blood drawn, but it wasn’t pleasant either. I winced slightly and felt a uniquely painful sensation of feeling the vial of antibiotics rush into my arm through this tiny needle.

A few days later I got a call from a hiring manager about an interview at a school a little further out from the city. I went out and met with the school director and observed a class for the first few minutes — after which I would speak with her about the school and the classes. Our discussion hardly seemed to last long and afterwards I was back on my way home. Still feeling worried about not having a job I kept at it and sent a few more resumes to other schools.

It was on my second Wednesday in Taipei that I received a call about an offer extended to me. I was awesomely proud and happy! Even the day after the good news one of the other schools gave me another offer to teach adults closer to downtown. Yet, I felt obligated to continue with my first offer out of respect and desperation.

In retrospect, I should have gone with the adult classes…

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