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Friday, March 11, 2016

Ten years since Taiwan

I tiptoe around the house in the morning these days because the Farmer-turned-Real Estate Agent doesn’t always have to be up early. Except today.
“Why did you let me sleep in?” he asked, looking rather bleary and rumpled.
“Wha? You always sleep in…”
“Not when I have to be at a training session in Ottawa. In an hour.”
I had just been out on the porch placating a bunch of bawling cows. Their feeders were empty and I wasn’t strong enough to drive the tractor. The Farmer has to put everything he’s got into stepping on the clutch – I tried once. It didn’t budge. Stupid ancient old machinery, its headlight eyes held on with duct-tape.
The Farmer did a quick shower and change and zipped past me on his way out the door to start his truck. Then he noticed the lineup of cows at the fence.
“Gah!” I watched as he stomped over to the shed, climbed up onto the tractor and closed his eyes as he turned the key. Luckily it was mild last night and the engine decided to turn over.
The cows seemed to sense he was in a hurry because they stayed out of his way. Usually they accompany him to the hay store and back to the feeder, running just out of harm’s way, nibbling at the loose bits of hay on the bale in the bucket. Today they stood back and watched until he filled their feeder and returned the tractor to the shed. They mooed softly as they gathered around the bale. He will have to put the second one up tomorrow.
The demands of life on the farm. Some are flexible and will wait ‘til you get home. Others will not. We don’t want to risk a mutiny resulting in the cows jumping the fence and heading down the road, in search of hay. We are still waiting for the other nine cows to give birth this season. I hope they are pregnant, or the bull will be given his walking papers. These concerns are on my mind in March of 2016.
Ten years ago this month, I was living at a friend’s apartment in Taiwan, sleeping on an inflatable mattress on the floor. My bags were already packed and I had my ticket home in my backpack. I was equal parts nervous and excited, for what the future would hold.
Every morning I got up in the mist and climbed to the roof, where I did some quick stretches beneath a potted banana palm. Then I showered and dressed and walked to the subway, which I took to work in the middle of the city of Taipei. Most of the route was suspended above the city, and I watched the busy streets crammed with buses, taxis and dozens of scooters passing beneath us.
Outside my office building I bought my favourite breakfast: a tuna dan bing (crepe with egg, tuna and peanut butter inside, drizzled with oyster sauce) from a street vendor. I ate it at my desk as I worked on the articles in that month’s edition of the English-teaching magazine that I was editing. Lunch usually came in the form of a Bento box and dinner was Thai or Indian food on the way home. Sometimes I went to the gym, especially if it was a bad day for smog. My favourite hangouts were the movie theatre and the bookstore. I spent a lot of time alone, not making eye contact or engaging anyone in conversation. It was pretty easy, because the locals didn’t want me to challenge their English. It was a rather silent, insular existence when I wanted it to be.
A few times during that last month as I lay trying to sleep my brain would fantasize about my homecoming. My sister and I had planned to surprise my family, and I wondered how my daughters would react. I had been gone three years.
On my last day in Taiwan I left my gym membership card and subway pass to a colleague. Several friends gave me a good sendoff (known as a “leaving do”) and helped load the small suitcases that contained my life into a taxi headed for the airport.
I had no idea what awaited me at home. I couldn’t even imagine what life would be like in ten years. The decade has gone incredibly fast. I find myself wondering what blessings and sorrow the next will hold.

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