Bamboo Butterfly

a journey.

admin On July - 12 - 2013

Somewhere, buried in the archives of this website, are pieces of the puzzle explaining why I went to Taiwan. There are also glimpses of the life I led there. But what exists on this site is just a mere outline of the real story. As I’ve mentioned before, one day I would like to write a book about my time in the country, but I thought I’d share a little about why I moved to Taiwan and also why I left Asia so unceremoniously.

After graduating from university in 2007, I found myself nearing the age of 27 and unsure about what to do with my life. I’d graduated later than typical new graduates, but I’m glad I’d waited to attend college until I was 23. I had some experience out there with real-world jobs and I was more mature than I would have been if I’d graduated at 23. I was armed with a degree in English and a passion and desire to explore the world, to learn about different cultures. I wanted to travel. I didn’t want to get stuck in another boring, uninspiring job — jobs I’d had since I’d turned 18.  Since I’d been a little girl, foreign lands had always called to me. I dreamed of the adventures I could have out there, but never imagined that one day such adventures would come to be.

The panic that I would never travel came to me after completing a study abroad program in Ireland my last semester of college. I was captivated with Ireland, and, by the time I returned back to the states, the travel bug had bitten –HARD. However, I also was caught up in the drama of a failing 8-year relationship.  I knew he and I were wrong for each other but for some reason I kept holding on.  At that time, I also started thinking about teaching in Taiwan.  I remember my ex laughing at me and saying I would never be able to do it. That I’d never  be able to leave the United States and my family behind.  For some reason, those words infuriated me and made me much more determined to start a new life for myself.

Letting go wasn’t easy, but it happened and it was right. For a year, I looked into teaching in Taiwan, did research, and secured a job through a recruiter (something I strongly advise AGAINST). If I’d known better, I would have just showed up in Taiwan to look for a job. But I left the U.S. at the age of 28, ready to begin a fresh chapter, at a time when other people were worried about getting married and having babies.

The first three months in Taiwan were a whirlwind. The culture shock wasn’t that bad. I remember the crowds, the scooters, the blaring musical garbage trucks, flashy stores and trying to cross the street without being run over. I remember learning my first Chinese words and the pride I felt ordering food from somewhere other than 7-Eleven or Family Mart. I found all that exciting. However, I also worked in a horrible cram school in the city of Sanxia, a city in close proximity to Taipei. The school was awful. Foreign teachers were treated no better than dancing puppets for the school owner and his employees.  Many of the students were spoiled and uninterested in learning English. Their parents forced them to attend and it was obvious many of the students hated every moment spent inside. I luckily found a new job at a school in Hsinchu, along the northwestern coast of Taiwan.  I spent the next year living and teaching there.  Students at this particular school were much easier to teach (except the pre-teen and teenage boys, who were especially difficult). It was a good experience, but at the end of the first year, I found myself wanting to escape the chaos of the city. Yet, I’d learned a lot in Hsinchu.  I learned that I could chase after my dreams and make them reality. I was beginning to learn how to face my fears. I learned how to drive a scooter. Using Taiwan as a launch-off point, I visited Thailand and had the chance to get up close with elephants, which had been another of my dreams.

After the completion of my one-year contract in Hsinchu, I was blessed to find a job in Puli, central Taiwan. Puli is a beautiful, mountainous region. It was here where I truly fell in love with the country. My students were wonderful (I was one of two teachers at the school where I worked) and I felt respected, like I was actually making a difference in their lives. Especially the younger students, some of whom went from knowing no English to texting me on my cellphone by the end of that second year.  I made friends in Puli, and continued to visit the friends I’d made in Hsinchu and Taipei.  I spent many days riding my scooter through the Taiwanese countryside and around the mountains. I took a mini road trip on my own, driving my scooter from Hsinchu to Puli.  I explored Puli with new friends. I fell even more in love with Taiwanese food and bubble tea. My Chinese improved — though it never became more than about a three-year old speaking level. But I began to feel connected to the country and, oddly enough, more connected to myself than I’d felt in years.

Everything came to a halt after a return trip from the Philippines during Chinese New Year. It was March and I’d somehow contracted MRSA on an island-hopping trip. I don’t blame it on the Philippines at all as MRSA is something one can pick up anywhere. Sometime in April, I ended up in a Puli hospital, fighting a deadly infection. I was there almost a week, and when I returned back to work, life just wasn’t the same. I went back to teaching but kept battling repeat bouts of MRSA until June (when I secured some Hibiclens soap from a secret supplier :) ). I was worn out both physically and emotionally.  I still loved Taiwan but questioned if my time in the country was coming to an end. I wondered if my getting sick was a sign I was supposed to leave.  However, I agreed to stay on another year with my school and when leaving for a visit home to the U.S. that July, I promised my employers I would return.  If I’d have known that I was leaving Taiwan possibly forever, perhaps I would have taken one last drive in the mountains. Ordered one last vegetarian dish from my favorite restaurant. Hugged my students goodbye. Thanked the country for everything it had given me.

But that’s not how life works. We never know what will happen next, what awaits around that next bend in the road.

I came home and experienced the worst reverse culture shock of my life. I remember that first week back in Chicago, visiting my brother in Oak Park. I cried as we walked around the neighborhood — everything overwhelmed me.  The amount of wide-open space felt suffocating. I missed the rice fields, the highrise buildings, the dogs, the scooters, the food stands.  I missed my students. I missed the kindness of Taiwanese strangers. I missed the sound of all those foreign voices I wanted so badly to understand.  I knew my family and friends could not truly understand what I was feeling. I’d been happy to come back to the U.S. and see them again, but I felt so very alone. It was as if all that had happened before and where I was now were fighting for a rightful place in my life.  Where did I belong?

I could not drink milk or eat cheese. It took me awhile to adjust to American food again (and to this day I still try to eat a lot of vegetables, fish, tofu and rice).

But slowly, I began to feel like an American again. Taiwan forever changed me — I’m definitely not the same person I was before I’d left the U.S. My “American” views have definitely changed — I’m not ashamed to be an American but I feel I have a different and better understanding of the world around me than I did before.  I had a feeling my time (living) in Taiwan had truly come to an end.

After a series of events, and trying to better my health, I decided I would not return to the little sweet potato-shaped island I loved. I questioned my decision, but trusted God that I was making the right choice.  My boss in Taiwan cried and begged me to come back, I felt terrible. But I knew that another chapter was about to begin and I was where I was for a reason.

There were nights I cried in my sleep, thinking about the country I’d left behind.  Even now, there are moments of fleeting sadness, along with happy memories, when I think of Taiwan.

There are moments where I feel like I want to get out there again and explore the world, instead of being trapped here fighting for my piece of the American Dream (whatever it is). I think it’s different for every U.S. citizen.

But everything happens for a reason, one thing leading to the next, like stepping stones in a pond.

While living in Taiwan, I’d started freelance writing. It was this freelancing that helped me secure a job in the writing world (a career that I’d always dreamed of breaking into), first as a copywriter, and then as a newspaper reporter.  My writing goals are still expanding and changing.  I’m ready to move on to that next step and that next dream but I know in God’s time, I’ll get there.

Without Taiwan, I don’t know if I would have made it this far in my writing career. There are so many reasons I’m grateful to the country and, as I’ve mentioned before, I hope to one day return. I also hope that for the short, two years I spent in the country, I somehow made a difference.

I recently got engaged to a wonderful man who shares my sense of adventure.  Though he’s a Midwestern boy at heart, I hope to bring him one day, as my new husband, to the little Asian country I love and once called home.  Very few people know how awesome Taiwan really is and I hope I one day have the chance to share its beauties, mysteries and treasures with him.

So that’s a very basic overview of how and why it all happened.

It’s been about two years since I’ve been back in the U.S. and though I don’t post on this blog as regularly anymore, I still want to keep it out there for people to see and learn from. I hope that the stories I have yet to tell about Taiwan will always remain close to my memory.


Categories: Asia, My Taiwan

15 Responses

  1. Jimmy Mustion says:

    Hey Butterfly! My wife and I are moving to Taiwn in 17 days to be missionaries and to teach english. This post was amazing. We have loved looking thru your blog this post was absolutely awesome. I felt your passion, frustration, joy and sadness. Thank you for sharing so openly. So in case you doubt it, this blog reached someone. I appreciated it. We will be praying for you.

  2. Isaac says:

    Always enjoy reading your posts, no matter how long or short they are, and I am proud to proclaim that your site has been a permanent fixture in my ‘bookmarks’ folder ever since I discovered it last year.

    Your experiences and travels around Asia are astonishing to say the least, and are fodder for my own wanderlust as well. I particularly like your stories about Taiwan – and for good reason, seeing that I will be attending university there in 2015. I can only hope that I will have as enlightening a time as you had.

    Best wishes for your future, and if all goes well… perhaps you will make a return back to Taiwan with your husband. Cheers.

    • admin says:

      Hi Isaac,

      I’m so glad to hear this website has inspired you in some way. Taiwan is a place that many people either love or hate and I found that it grew on me the longer I stayed and the more I got out there to get to know the “real Taiwan” so to speak. Travel in general, in my opinion, helps expand one’s mind (and heart). Best wishes for you too and hope you enjoy your time in the country. :)

  3. Victor Wang says:

    I don’t know how it happens, but every time I read your articles they somehow help me restore the reason and passion to love the island. Living here in Taiwan, all I can see and feel everyday is the dark side of it and its people. Through your words, however, I feel like there’s so much of its beauty I simply choose to ignore.

    Thanks for sharing your stories and delivering the lovable Taiwan. I wish I could tell you how much I’m touched sensing the importance Taiwan has been to you. Looking forward to seeing your book about the life here, which I believe will make a significant difference to many more.


    • Rhonda says:

      Thank you Victor. 你的客氣話觸動著我的心. I’m glad through my words you can see things about your country you didn’t notice before. Sometimes that’s the way it goes … think it’s like that all around the world. There are many things we all take for granted and I know I take a lot of what I have here in the U.S. for granted as well. I complain about the U.S. and sometimes the Midwest, but there are a lot of wonderful aspects about both. And the same goes for Taiwan. Sure, there were darker sides of the country. If I ever write that book (I hope to!), I’ll be sure to include those. I could use the street dog situation as an example of one thing I had a hard time with. But I don’t want those not-so-nice aspects to become the focal point, because the real Taiwan is very far from ugly. There are negative sides to every country but it’s what’s in the heart and spirit of the nation that matters. I could use my perception of some Taiwanese people I met as an example … some of them seemed jaded and unhappy with Taiwanese life. However, these same people showed extraordinary kindness and a passion for their culture that would come out at random times. Taiwan is full of surprises, in its people and in its landscape. From the crowded cities crammed with highrises to the heart-wrenching beauty found in Hualien and in places such as Sun Moon Lake. :) There are indeed many treasures to be found.

      • Chiwu says:

        Hi Rhonda,
        I ran across your blog on ‘bloggers in Taiwan’.
        I too wish you luck on your book! Your site looks wonderful and you articles are very informative!
        I have a few questions if you don’t mind sharing a bit more…
        1.During your research into teaching English in East Asia, you must have also considered other countries in the area. What made you decide to come to Taiwan in the end?
        2.Did you submit your blog to ‘bloggers in Taiwan’ to get listed there?
        3.Did you designed the site yourself or did web2feel did that for you?
        4.Do you own the domain name ‘bamboobutterfly’? I think you are quite lucky if you do.

        I went to university in Hsin-Chu. I grew up in Taichung and know Puli quite well. I like your story about the hair salon in Puli. lol

        • admin says:

          Hi Chiwu,

          Thank you!
          To answer your questions:
          1. Taiwan appealed to me much more than places such as South Korea for various reasons. It seemed like less people were traveling to Taiwan to teach English and I wanted to experience a completely new culture, I’d always been interested in Asian culture. I also had a friend from the states whose parents were from Taiwan who provided some background information for me.

          2. I did submit to Bloggers in Taiwan but oftentimes, many travel directories will come across this blog and add it.

          3. I designed the website myself, starting with a basic web2feel theme.

          4. I do own the domain name Bamboo Butterfly.

          Hsinchu, Taichung and Puli are all very interesting! I loved Puli the most though. The hair salon incident was a very unforgettable experience. :)

          Thanks for stopping by!

  4. guest says:

    good story !

  5. Nina says:

    Hi, I’m really considering teaching in Taiwan and I want to know what schools did you teach in taiwan and what was the salary? I know you said going through a recruiter was a bad idea, so what schools would you recommend? And also did they provide housing, food, etc?

  6. Maryse says:

    Hi Rhonda,

    Your writing is really beautiful, I’ve just stumbled across your website while I was thinking about designing my own. I’ve read a few of your posts and they have intrigued me to think about teaching in Taiwan. I taught for a year in Xiangyang, China from April 2012 – April 2013, so I was able to relate to a few of your experiences. Congratulations on your engagement. I’m sure that one day you will return to Asia even if it is just to travel. All the best for your future :-)

    • admin says:

      Thank you Maryse.
      You should definitely design your own site and share your experiences. I’m sure a lot of people would love to hear about them.
      Thank you for your congrats and well wishes. I never thought I would find myself on this path (getting married) but the good thing is, it’s another adventure! And adventures never have to end. Life is what we make it. :)
      All the best to you as well.

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