My Life in Taipei

My life in Taipei rests on three huge pillars that I focus on, and they profoundly influence (one could almost say ‘dictate’) what I am doing here. These are writing, reading, and moving. I usually go to café almost every day and spend a few solid hours there, either editing & rewriting a book (which is about to be finished, soon), writing the next one (still unsure whether I am already good enough for those particular ideas), or writing down my thoughts (I’ve done a lot of thinking here, prompted by Strauss [upbringing, behaviour & relationships], Taleb [ethics, philosophy, erudition x education], Eco [writing], Vaynerchuk [strengths & weaknesses, self-awareness, making a living]). Around here, I am known as the coffee guy, but I don’t mind.

After two months and two weeks, I can safely say that life here is easy – it is partly thanks to Taipei & Taiwanese people, other exchange students & my friends, and the fact that I know what I want to do [write]. Because I feel safe in my environment, I ventured into introspection and had a few tough realizations around who I thought I was, how I behaved & how I used to do things. I am thankful for the awareness, even though it left me sore, angry and sad for a few days, because now I can counter those patterns and (hopefully) stay in control of the steering wheel.

Every day I aim on moving things forward, at least a little bit. No matter if it’s writing, reading, or just trying to communicate better. I am a big believer in “collecting the inches” and turning them into something bigger in the future. Oftentimes, I feel a bit unfocused – running between topics that seemingly have very little in common. But sure enough, when I step away and let the dust settle, I begin to recognize a pattern there, a connection.

Is this the wisest way to spend the time abroad? I don’t know. When I stepped into the turbo-propelled plane in Prague that took me to Taipei via Vienna and Hong Kong, I did not leave my life behind, I brought it with me. In the same manner, when I return for good at the end of June, I will not step back into my life, I will bring it along. Therefore, living abroad is the life, spiced with new and interesting opportunities, insights and challenges. I try to treat my time here in that regard – can I do something here that will move me closer to the life I want to have? I refrain from seeing student exchange as a long party or vacation before you are supposed to “grow up and meet the world.” This whole notion of “enjoy life whilst you are still at school, before you start working” is ridiculous. We are looking at 60 – 90 more years of life (hopefully), it does not end at 24! At school, we have the time, the connections, and no liabilities – it is the time to start to focus on building our life on our terms. Why wait for the first day at work, when you are obliged to work 40+ hour weeks?

I got carried away a bit. I used to ponder on these things for many years and now, when I look around, I see many young people around me who are killing it. In many cases they are younger than me and I am grateful for knowing them – thank you guys and gals for the inspiration and showing to us all that it can be done.

On another note – I remember that when I returned from my yearlong exchange life in Portugal, I regretted travelling only a little. Back then, I was terrified of running out of money and chose to keep it modest. No matter, the lesson has been learned and it is time to deploy it now. So far, apart from visiting several places around the island, I have spent three days in Tokyo, and I loved every single moment of it. Tokyo, for me, has been a strong experience– not only because of the friends I’ve met & made there (if you are reading this, Thank You! 🙂 ), and Nassim Taleb’s lecture (meet your heroes, if only to see that they are only humans, too)… there was more to it. Tokyo and Tokyo’s people reminded me of Stockholm & the Swedes. In a similar way Japanese people I’ve met walked with back straight and head held high; they were polite and friendly, most of them focused on the task at hand, radiating strong presence; they seemed to take good care of themselves and their city; and I felt that they had a certain thing in their life they were heading towards. It was very refreshing to see that, and just like in Stockholm, it deeply resonated with me. I felt at home.
The bugger is that one day in Japan is money-wise two to three days in a cheaper country (say Vietnam), but damn it, I have to return. I also happened to cross paths with one young Japanese woman studying in Taipei, who I am now happy to call my girlfriend, so I am obviously biased towards all things Japanese. 🙂

Taipei itself is a good, safe place to live. I struggle to find any drawbacks, partly because there aren’t many and partly because I adapt quickly to different places. If I had to point out something, then it would be the vegetable issue, which is a problem across a big part of Asia, I suppose. Where in Europe one can buy any kind of vegetable/fruit, wash it, and eat it raw, here it is not recommended. I suppose the agriculture is not that “clean.” As a result, most of the vegetables one eats have been either cooked or steamed, making them lose all the goodies. Yeah, so that’s about it. First world problems in Taipei 🙂

I tend to eat out, as the campus is surrounded by many a delicious restaurant – Taiwanese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Italian (well, it’s an attempt at an Italian restaurant anyway), and various blends of cuisines. It is a food lover’s paradise and indecisive person’s hell. For around 4-5€, you can get a solid, tasty meal.
Should you get hungry or run out of booze during the night, there is plenty of 7-elevens, Family Marts etc. close by & open 24/7, and it is the best thing ever.

I am told that this November is out of ordinary, yet having 26°C+ during the day is refreshing – the summer here has not stopped.

There is an interesting connection between behaviour of (adult) students, responsibility for said behaviour, and their school. Certain locals hold schools responsible for their students’ behaviour in and out of campus, in and out of class, in their free time. When students fail to stand up to the standards of ‘proper’ behaviour, these people threaten the school to the case to the media. And every school here treats its own reputation with the utmost seriousness. They do not want that to happen.
On November 1st my friends and I were drinking outside the campus (few blocks away), in front of a Family Mart (staying close to the source, right). Things got a bit noisier and around midnight, somebody alerted the cops. They arrived and politely asked us to turn the volume down, which we failed to do. So they arrived again, noted down all our IDs (or whatever people gave them) and, frowning and looking serious, expedited us away. A day later I was called to the International office to give an explanation of what had happened. At 23 years of age, conducting drinking in my free time, outside the university campus, I told them I felt that was my own business. Whilst they agreed (International office are almost always cool people), they had to “show” to Disciplinary department that they took the matter seriously, and told us off. In one moment it looked like they would send an e-mail to my University, telling them that I was drunk on the street, noisy, disturbing locals, and that I remember none of it. It may come as no surprise that with a heavy sleep deficit from Tokyo & Halloween party, I was the most sober person at the table 🙂
Frankly, I cannot imagine this happening at home, mainly because every university would have to host a police station in its campus that would mediate between irritated locals & students on daily basis. Once adults, what we do in our free time is our responsibility, not that of the school. Different culture, I suppose, yet I cannot help but think that this transfer of responsibility is not healthy (the University behaves like a parent).

The quality of education here at National Taipei University seems to be very low – and I base this on my own experience and that of my friends. Guy talks about investing on stock markets using approaches that Nassim Taleb & Benoit Mandelbrot have shown carry a massive amount of hidden risk and do not work out in the long term. He looks like he swallowed many business books on the topic and always seems to have a little crisis when he says out loud “Warren Buffet” or “Peter Lynch” – but comes across as a fraud. Who in the 21st century even ponders whether we can behave rationally?

I am sad to see some of my friends here being bored – they go to school, they party on Thursday & Saturday night, and once in a while, they travel. But at any day, any free afternoon in between those activities, they get bored, do not know what to do and end up watching films and TV shows. I am saved by writing. I am lucky I figured out what I want to do, at least for now, so I know what I need to do when I have some free time. It wasn’t always this way. Back in Porto, I had no idea what to do with my life, and I desperately wanted to figure it out. Not knowing how to use my free time was killing me, for I felt like I was wasting away my life. And when one succumbs to boredom, it is so damn difficult to get excited about anything. Here is the plot twist though: being abroad, in a different environment, surrounded by a different circle of people – people that one has not decided to have in his circle, but were somehow put there by mother randomness, and having that free time… it is the best, best opportunity to examine one’s self, to try to figure what one really likes to do, what one cares about. Any direction is good. Anything that gets a fellow moving is good. Because at the end of the day, he is a bit further from the place he started. Maybe he learned something along the way, no matter how small. He is moving. And after weeks and months of such seemingly unfocused and confused activity, one gets more self-knowledge. One will know more about what he or she likes, and more importantly, dislikes, so one can avoid it in the future. Times like these are priceless, and they may not occur to us anymore. That is why I implore young people to go abroad, to spend a year in a different country, to expose themselves to new things.

Julien Smith says: “You have to exert your will on the universe, or it will exert its pressure on you.”* And I have a funny feeling that I know what will happen if I just go with the flow, as they say. I see myself graduating with a degree I couldn’t care less about, getting a job I do not really like and spending the work-weeks waiting for the week-end. I see around me a huge amount of people who ended up at this pattern, yet they did not want to get there. Now they cannot get out. I have a hunch this happens to majority of the people, so how can we even remotely hope it will not happen to us unless we start moving?

My friends, I cannot avoid these thoughts because they somehow moulded me into who I am today and affect what I am doing. These thoughts are responsible for what my life in Taipei looks like, and I am happy to be walking that path. I am curious what will the following months bring and will keep you updated to the best of my ability.

___________________________
* Julien’s blog, even after all those years, still kicks ass. You can find it at In Over Your Head

P.S. The picture is from Tokyo Tower, not from Taipei 101

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About Petr Klíma