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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Crunch Time

The post-Lunar New Year financial blues have finally set in. Due to the combination of the weeklong holiday break, reduced hours at one school while the children were on their winter vacation, and the closure of another class (in true Taiwanese fashion, I was informed the night before), my income for the month of February is about half what it has been up until now. What makes matters worse is that this comes at a time when our savings seem to be mysteriously decreasing. I say "mysteriously" because I really have no idea how it is we seem to be spending so much money each month. It certainly isn't reflected in the apartment we live in, or the food we eat, or the clothes we wear, or the car we drive. I know I am supporting three people on one income (four dependents if you include our blind cat), but my earnings are better than average for most Taiwanese, so where is it all going? 

What makes this even more difficult to accept is that the reason we left Yokkaichi 四日市 in Japan was that we were saving very little there as well. As my dependent, Pamela didn't have permission to work in Japan, and when she became pregnant with Amber, we came to the decision that it would be best to return to Taiwan where, in theory, we should be able to better live within our means. While I don't regret coming back here for Amber's sake (I felt much better knowing Pamela could communicate with the doctors in her native language, and the cost of childbirth is much cheaper in Taiwan than in Japan), given the choice between being relatively poor in a place I felt comfortable living in (Japan), and being relatively poor in a place which I feel clashes with the very nature of my being (guess where), why am I back here then? 

Don't get me wrong. I have met a lot of wonderful people in Taiwan, and I have enjoyed travelling around the island. Had Taiwan been my first experience of life in Asia, and were I twenty years younger, I would no doubt be a lot happier here now. But I have experienced life elsewhere in this part of the world, and I know fully well that Taiwan doesn't have to be the way it is. And now that I'm in my mid-40s (and a parent), those things that I might've accepted as the quirks of life in Taiwan are becoming more and more intolerable. Things like the inconsideration of the effects one's actions have on those around one, or the general ugliness of the daily surroundings, are starting to grate. Throw in other factors like the lack of career options for foreigners and the stagnant incomes of those in my profession, and I find myself stuck - stuck in my situation, and stuck for solutions for breaking out.

I suppose if I had both the confidence (or chutzpah) and the Chinese language skills, I could go over to the Fengyuan city hall or the county government building and try to convince them to set up an office to assist foreign residents of Fengyuan with daily life here. Most localities in Japan have such sections in their city halls, providing information on things like hospitals, garbage collection, health insurance, local attractions and festivals and so on. Many even offer free language lessons taught by volunteer teachers. I'd really like to get involved in something like that here as the amount of information available to non-Taiwanese is very limited. However, when one takes into account the fact that "foreign affairs" are run out of the local police departments in Taiwan (in contrast to Japan, where the city/town/village government handles such matters), I doubt very much that any progress can be made.

And so I sit here wondering both what the hell I'm doing here, and what the hell I'm going to do here...

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