It is almost that time. 22 months back, I landed in this alien country, on my first job out of school, forcefully stepping out of the realms of academia, starting to build life up again, from where it seemed to matter. I remember myself two years younger and making decisions in what seemed to be the whim of idealism. I left the US quitting the phd program. Back in India trying put life together again in a hope to find some meaning to life.
Today, I look back at that idealism and have hopefully added some maturity to it. I try to remember the first day I landed here and my colleague Mr. Yolin, came to receive me up from the airport.
A cheerful, hardworking, slightly awkward, middle aged man. Whom, I have come to admire for his alacrity (some may say acquiesce, but i differ) in face of situations he encounters. It was about noon. In my previous flight they had forgotten to include a vegetarian meal. Sufficing to say, I was very hungry. Being a tad bit shy, I kept my mouth shut, hoping for the mercy of the dear Lord to give me food. But the dear Lord, would not be so kind to my shyness this time.
Anyway we got on to a private bus that would take us to our first stop, in Changhua city. It took us about four hours to get there. Although I was exhausted, I wanted to see every road we traveled on. After about an hour, my eyes gave and I fell asleep. I have distinct memories of being blanked out when I got off the bus at Changhua city. All I remember now were people staring at me, as Yolin guided me to another bus stop with a dozen people already in queue. The rest of the memory is but a bright light.
This would be the first and only time I would ask Yolin; ‘how far still to go’. As it would be, I wouldn’t visit this place for another month.
Our next stop, was still in Changhua city, the hospital called, Changhua Show Chwan hospital or Chang Show as people at work lovingly call it. This was where I had my first meal in Taiwan, a cup of warm Oolong tea with bread. I remember, we were sifting through the Family mart bakery section to find something vegetarian for me to eat. Yolin went like, “Oh, you don’t eat meat. So do you eat fish?, Oh, so you don’t eat eggs even, hmmm…”
I can see myself sitting in the corner of the hospital main lobby surrounded by my luggage, sipping the warm Oolong tea, avoiding the curious glances of people (mostly older folk) sitting beside me, as I awkwardly, tried to give them space to sit while still munching on my bread. The tea was provided by the hospital and it was my first ever trial of Oolong tea. I can just say that it felt like a soothing balm to my tired soul. Ofcourse I was busy gorging on the bread we just bought. We were as a matter of fact waiting for another bus, which would eventually take us to my future office in Lukang. We finally took the bus after a 40 minute wait. The way the scene changed coming from Taipei to Changhua city then to Lukang sort of got me anxious. I had given up a position in Gurgaon (a small town in the outskirts of Delhi) at a robotics company and come here, to a place which looked very much the same, if not more deserted, and completely alien. The very first day I landed straight in my office to start the paperwork. I was hoping to see another colleague I had been training with in France for over a month. Only to find out that he was fired a week before I arrived. Crap, was I next? was my first reaction. I was keeping my fingers crossed for the drama that would unfold. I was greeted by a slightly chubby looking Taiwanese with tiny glasses, Will Chen, :). He could barely speak english, but most graciously helped me with the luggage. He offered to help me the next day to get my health examination and any other administrative details sorted out, that needed completion.
It was almost evening and I was all but dead. I needed a warm meal and a soft bed to lay my ass and forget about everything. We dropped off my luggage at the dorm room, my institute allotted for me. Took a shower, and headed out for dinner. Will bought me my first proper meal in Taiwan. After a couple of attempts to hold the chopsticks I finished my meal with a soup spoon. These plastic soup spoons in Taiwan are a disaster. They have razor sharp edges and I almost cut my mouth twice that night eating dinner.
That night the weather was a little cool. I pulled the blankets from my luggage and went to sleep thinking… “And so it begins…”.
I have come a long way from that first day. Still a tad bit shy, but feel like the first set of bricks for the foundation of another aspect of life have been laid. I would be leaving in exactly a month’s time from Taiwan. I have made many friends. In a place where I thought I would leave a mark. I am left with an indelible feeling of warmth and affection that Taiwanese have bestowed on me. I cannot say there is one person I miss the most, I will miss them all.
In the coming weeks, I am hoping to write more about my experiences in Taiwan.