Started the New Year off last year riding bicycles around Taipei with a tiny band of friends that included my neighbor James – he and I had hosted Christmas as our lovely Chad and Margot had just welcomed baby Reilly into the world.
By January I realized I was going to be leaving Taiwan and moving back to Canada. Poignant. February almost swallowed me whole into it’s great grey guts so my roommate Justyna I took off down south on a camping road trip and to visit Roman’s hostel outside of Dulan.
March brought excitement with the warmer temperatures and trips to Fulong beach outside of Taipei.
By April and Spring Scream I was ready for a solo south island tour by scooter to say good bye to friends.
Stayed up many nights til dawn with old compadres talking and laughing and crying.
Helped a pal with his bar. Got some crazy women to join me in a Girls Gone Weird photo shoot.
Dulan and Sarah Joy’s birthday and time alone to reflect. I spent my entire adult life from the time I finished University living abroad. I would be returning to the West in summer. I had only lived there as a child, or a student. Fear, excitement, and nostalgia are a potent cocktail. I got a tattoo of Taiwan in the shape of a tribal feather.
May I spent sorting the minutiae of my life, thousands of decisions: what to keep, pack, ship, what to donate, recycle, give away, sell. Overwhelming memories contained within the physical items. Going through Rock in Hose stuff with the girls was a trip down memory lane.
The angel of Lorena offering to take all the donations, in the end some 20 bags. I got hit by a truck while riding home from work on my bicycle one day and Daryl and Cindy from Luxy found me and took me to the hospital. It made me grateful to be alive and took away a lot of the stress of leaving. Leaving vs. Living is a no-brainer.
Finally went shrimping with all my funny boys.
My birthday in June, my last birthday in Taiwan, again at the pool party where I had celebrated so many. Marcus playing tunes as I danced in the tropical rain with Kathleen and Anja, water streaming off our heads, faces gleaming. Marika had left. Lesley had left. So many of my friends had left over the years, and so many more would leave as the years went on.
Frantic packing, shipping boxes, Jenna checking up on me to make sure I was staying sane – the first person I told I was leaving as it meant I could no longer be her bride’s maid in October.
Hanging on the roof with the boys and Stef, chilling out and laughing and knowing soon it would be no more.
Then July – my last days. The woman at the juice stand came out and hugged me when I said I was leaving. The couple at my breakfast stand did, too. My bank tellers bought scarves for Sally to keep her warm in the Canadian winter. My students showered me with gifts and cards and tears. My boss of 10 years did nothing. Ha ha.
Then the wedding of my friends Jay and Joey, and one of the best – and last – afterparties of my life.
Saying good-bye to my Taiwanese friends was especially hard, a night with Sarafina and little Hwei in a hotel, laughing in the pool. Dinner with my Jenny and Jade-Lillian, three radically different versions of what it means to be a woman.
And one of the most heartrending goodbyes was to my friend Matty who is only half way through a 15 year prison sentence. For years I have brought him food and had a 20 minute visit every month or 6 weeks. I say “See you on the outside, buddy” and break down crying outside the prison. I can’t wait to meet up with him in Canada when he is once again the free man he is meant to be.
I couldn’t bear the last Saturday night in Taipei so I ran away with my favorite – or as they say in Canada, favourite – band Collider to Taichung for the night. And on Sunday a small going away gathering of good friends at Bobwundaye. After so many big going away parties this time I had no heart to plan a bash – because this time was for real. But the people who came to say goodbye I look at now in the photos of the night and have a special place for.
Ran to Thailand for two weeks of bliss on a beach that has also become one of my homes, being able to spend time with my Kay bird.
Then back to Taoyuan airport to meet one of my oldest Taiwanese friends, who put me up in a fancy hotel and brought my cat to me. A few hours sleep and then Sally and I on the airplane to Canada.
Landing in Edmonton and my friend Naomi picking me up – it’s a daze. My sister’s house in the north end, then heading 4 hours north to my parent’s acreage. Sitting around the kitchen table, the campfire, talking and relearning each other. A family medical emergency and 6 weeks of worry.
The shock of the cost of living, the cool nights, the lack of public transport, the spaciousness and skies and clean air. Walking my sister’s dog. Trying to reestablish my identity –the slow process and red tape of Canadian bureaucracy: to get a SIN card, prove my identity, change bank accounts, get Provincial ID, a learner’s license, Things I think will take a day taking a month.
Feeling cut off living at the edge of the city with my sister, no car, so far from everything.
And yet – every day – a kind of joy, a breath of clean air both literally and figuratively. Then finding the perfect house in the perfect neighborhood, in the end getting the house only because we had mutual friends, “Oh, I know someone who lives in Taiwan…” – “Really? Who?”
Hooking up with an old flame. Getting flirted with and not realizing that was what it was at first. Chatting with anyone, everyone, people on the bus, cashiers, servers, strangers. Rediscovering my English vocabulary at the same time I discover how little I know about living as an adult in Canada.
Meeting Taiwan friends and festival people at the Edmonton Fringe Festival, watching some of them in a play, beers and food and Frisbee with others. An old friend, the husband of an old friend offering me an interview, and then a job. Training to teach computers. Dusting cobwebs out of my mind and stretching mental muscles. Finding the library! Getting a paycheck. Drinks with my first group of girl friends from Uni, reconnecting. Taking my friend Naomi’s son Giorgio to walk our dog Lilah.
Meeting old friends from Taiwan and through them new friends, musicians, a campfire, the kind of get-to-gethers I was used to. Live music!
Dating. Dating some more. Feeling desirable, wanted, beautiful, acceptable. Dislocating my knee and starting the long process of physiotherapy.
A wonderful Halloween – a night out with my sister and her boyfriend, a house party with friends of friends, and a night out with my Taiwanese friend Vanessa – I help her do her first ever costume (“I want to be pop-art”). Quit Smoking!!!
Watching Jenna’s wedding video with her via Skype and crying. And using Skype to stay in touch with Lisa Page, my most long term Taiwan roommate, and another member of Yanji house, Tina. Comparing notes with Lesley. Breaking down on Facebook after bout of homesickness for Taiwan and getting an outpouring of support from around the world.
Learning through trial and error and a series of winter coats just what winter gear really meant. Remembering the mysteries of snow and ice, and shoveling.
Asking my musical collaborator on my love song for Taiwan, Formosa 101 to donate any money I made on the track to the Taiwan orphanage and AIDS hospice Harmony House, and getting an email from him – Xuan, aka Shiuan Liu, saying he would more than double the donation.
Then, an invite to write an article for a magazine – which will be my first of the new year. Setting up a burlesque workshop with a group of awesome women in the new year.
Meeting a man that made me want to give up the others.
My first Christmas with family in many many years.
A Boxing Day party with my women from University, old friends, an old flame. Connecting with women I love.
My first interview since moving to Canada, finally re-entering the writing world!
Then New Years Eve chilling out in a Jacuzzi with a very chill gentleman. Going to a small gathering of old friends for a party and circling one of our flock who has received a horrible diagnosis and is beginning a terrible and dangerous quest for survival this year.
And feeling grateful. So very, very grateful to have so many homes in this world, and to be welcomed back into my first one. Grateful to be living with my sister who I adore. Grateful for those I left and for those I have come back to. Grateful for this one little life as Alita.