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Tuesday, July 3, 2018

What's your story?

Hi there. I’m an Aries. Therefore, it’s safe to say I’ve been through a number of dramatic changes in my life – all self-imposed. You see, I’m what they call impulsive. I act on impulse. It’s in my nature to pursue my ideas before I have thought them through.

It’s how I ran off and got married, at 19, after six weeks of dating the boxing instructor at the gym where I was teaching aerobics.

My impulsive nature is what led me to move to Taipei, Taiwan in 2003.
Both of these decisions led me down paths that dramatically changed my life. But I have no regrets. Good things came out of rash decisions. I have been lucky.

Everyone has a story. If you’re like me, you write them down. I have been compulsively writing my life story every week since I was about 12 years old. In 2003 I started writing a column about some of the crazy things I experienced while living in a different culture in Taiwan. Those stories were printed twice a month in The Kemptville Weekender.

People started following my stories, and writing me letters with questions. They wanted to know about the food, the language, the cultural differences, and the living arrangements. Rather than responding to their emails, I answered by writing a column. My experience in Taiwan seemed to boil down to three main elements: the traffic was nuts, the food was mysterious, and the culture was a bit stifling.

In Taipei City at rush hour, two lanes of traffic can become four, before your eyes. Scooters are forced up on sidewalks and you have to look both ways before stepping out of a shop – never mind crossing the street.

Taiwanese food is very Americanized but the traditional Chinese fare can be a bit scary. You never can be sure what you are eating. My trick was to ask what part of the body this dish would improve. For example, if they say the food will give you better eyesight, chances are you are eating something with the eyeballs intact. If they say the dish will give you a clear complexion, you are likely eating pig skin or chicken skin. It’s a pretty easy way to find out what is on your plate when it isn’t immediately identifiable.

Taipei hosts 4 million people in an area the size of Ottawa. This makes for some very cozy living conditions. People give up their sense of personal space – or maybe they never had it in the first place. They look in your shopping cart to see what you bought. They stand right up next to you on the bus or train – I mean you can feel their bodies pressing up against you. I guess it’s just a fact of life in an overcrowded space. But it is something I never got used to.

I never felt unsafe in Taiwan, - perhaps because I was a gwei-lo, or “white ghost”. It’s bad luck to mess with one of us, so I was left alone. It’s a great experience, to live in another culture. I think everyone should do it, at least for a few months. Learn about what makes other people tick, and you will learn about yourself at the same time.

Back in Canada, I became reacquainted with an old family friend – a professor and colleague of my mother’s at Kemptville College. We spent a year entertaining, carpooling and coordinating our five teenaged daughters and barely had time to get to know each other. Finally, after a year, he proposed. A few months later, I became The Accidental Farmwife – once again documenting my daily life in a weekly column.

My columns have been published online and in two books and I have followers all over the world. I get emails from people who are fascinated by my experience, and people who are going through a similar experience.

My life is not that extraordinary. We all have grand stories to tell. The trick is to tell it well. Record the moments using all your senses: sight, sound, smell, hearing and taste. Lead the reader through your experience. It will be therapeutic for you, and it will connect you to a community of likeminded individuals by a common keyword or phrase.

You don’t have to write a column or publish a book of your life story. Just start a blog. I would read it. I find personal experiences to be fascinating. We are all on different paths, according to the decisions we have made, impulsive or not.

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