Passing Time

Everyone in the hospital has a story. A sick parent, dying of cancer. Returning home for months to take care of an ill child. An aunt, a friend, a lover. Maybe it is the thing we can most relate to at the time. Pain and fear are in every room, and on everyone’s mind. It’s easy to see how they would find those stories so close to the surface, that there may be some comfort in them.

The difference is, those stories are finished. Recovery, death, or treatment have been completed and the story has an end. Some are joyful, with a miracle or a hard-fought battle. Some end in sorrow, with death or permanent disability at the end. But they are over. When you are in the hospital, you are in the story, and there is no way to know how it ends.

These are not tales with morals or lessons to be taught. They are not something that exists to make life better or worse. They are just life, in all it’s absurdity and horror. Some people walk in, and they wheel out. Others are carried. The lucky ones are healed rather than just stabilized. So many leave before the story is completed. Treatment is ongoing, or they are waiting for the end to the story.

It’s so easy to fear the end. That all that we have made of ourselves comes crashing down. That our story will be forgotten, that our lives have no meaning. And many are. People have memorials to try and remember, tombstones to mark the earth with a name and a few words, and endless ceremonies to commemorate those who are gone. Tomb Sweeping Day, burning money and leaving offerings to the dead. Dia de los Muertos, with pictures on the ofrenda, food on the altar, mourning and celebration in the air. We try so hard to keep the stories alive.

That is something of what I do here. Maybe these words will survive after I am gone. Maybe my story will have meaning. Maybe I will be more than simply another forgotten soul. But it doesn’t really matter to me. I affect the people around me, and I try to be sure it is for the better. I try to make the world a better place, open to questions and curiosity. Sometimes I even feel like I might have succeeded.

But life is never predictable. It is never stable. And at any moment all that I believed to be true can be gone. I remember that, every day. That every illness could change my life forever. That the next person I meet could change my world. I don’t want stability. I want to live on the ocean of life, fighting the storms and enjoying the calm, watching the horizon for islands and ships, knowing that one day I will sink below the waves and become part of the water again.

I think the only question I will have when it ends is, “did I do enough?” I hope I get to see my life and judge it, to know all my failures and glories. Even for a moment, to have an answer. “Was it enough?”

Posted in 2021, 2021-10, San Diego, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Tea and Pineapples

I need a scooter. Getting out of the city here isn’t nearly as easy as it was in Taipei. A lot of the good trails have no buses or trains to access them. And the ones we could, tend to be boring or busy. It’s not uncommon for them to be both.

I wander up the mountains here, often at least partially paved, but at the top there is nothing but farms. There is a beauty to the trees and the shade on the trails, but all too often I can hear the traffic in the distance, reminding me how close to the world I still am. It feels like marching into the big empty, but there is still a long way to go before you can really escape here. Farms of pineapples and tea, mostly, mixed in with some cactus and guava. I’m sure there is much more, but that is all I saw in Nantou.

I miss the old groups, the old trips, and the old me. I repeat myself a lot, but China was not kind to my body. Not enough trails and kung fu in Lanzhou. But everything changes while we’re away. That is the life abroad, you can keep in touch back home but everyone keeps marching on while you see the world. I always knew that, but now it’s becoming something I can feel in my bones. I’m not old yet, rather the changes brought by covid have taken a toll on the traveling world. I didn’t want to be anchored, but now there really is no other option.

I’m trying to write more often, but drive is a big problem here. Somehow a month passed between this and the last one. I don’t know when the world will open again. I don’t really know what I want to do when it does. Staying here was never my goal, but it wouldn’t be a bad place to end up for a while. The closest I have right now is that I plan to be in this city for the next couple years. Then, who knows. Teaching is a good job, but I would still like my life to have more meaning.

That is the trap though. Where can I do the most good? To individuals while teaching, the people I meet in and out of class? In the Peace Corps it was much easier to see the effect I was having, talking with people who had never seen beyond their little world, limited by the amount of time in a day it takes to earn a place in medical school.

More than that, I miss the other volunteers, such beautiful and driven people. I miss the gatherings, the dinners, meeting at the only decent burger place that kept giving us coupons for free burgers. I am sure I will join again one day, but life must be lived until then. Bit by bit, I am building a life again. I just need to find my purpose, my drive again.

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Beginning Again

Settling in here was easier in a lot of ways than I expected. Not just because I’ve built a life so many times now, but because I know I can’t leave. It’s not a prison so much as a haven, a place where everything is still open, but shuts down what is necessary when there is a risk from the virus.

There was a possible outbreak about a month ago. A pilot who had been showing symptoms wandering away and a doctor that had been exposed. They quarantined everyone exposed, thousands of people. But, a few weeks later, everything was fine. We just avoided Taipei for the Lunar New Year. There were mistakes here when SARS hit, but they definitely learned from it.

Beyond that, everything is normal. Restaurants and gyms are open. Nothing is really stopped beyond the tourists and students that used to come. There is no real talk of a vaccine here yet, but there are also not many people so it should be easy enough to get the vials when enough are produced.

This is part of why I didn’t want to write this. Not just because I don’t want to talk about COVID, but because it is not a real threat here. I’ve known people who got it. Not everyone made it. It feels safe here, but safety is always an illusion. Life can end by accident as easily as it can be created through one. The universe is bigger than we can imagine, and the only true infinite is its absurdity.

I didn’t want to be here originally, and every plan I had fell apart. The life I was looking forward to is not gone, but it is far more difficult for me to visualize than it used to be. It’s not bad, or good. Simply different, and in a way that’s more disappointing than if I had surety that it was gone, that it could never be. Failure is one of the easiest things to achieve.

In the beginning I spent a lot of time playing videogames, wandering worlds that aren’t, but that extra time gets shorter every day. The last time I was in Taiwan, I was in the best shape of my life. Climbing mountains, kung fu, and a job that required nearly constant movement. Now, I can feel my age. The pain from taking the steps too quickly, the empty battery feeling after a long day, and far more weight gained in China and during lockdown than I would like to admit. I’m not yet old, but I definitely feel worse than before I went into the Peace Corps. I’m hoping with work and time I can rebuild the strength I had a few years ago, but there is so much to be done.

I’ve restarted my Chinese lessons, and I’m continuing Spanish lessons. Kung fu and the gym have their blocks set aside, as do dnd and planning for dnd. I have begun to explore my new city and the surrounding countryside on the weekends, but it’s harder when I don’t have the crew meeting at the train station in the morning. I’d rather take the day and relax, put off hiking until the afternoon when I can safely cancel because it’s too late to start.

There’s also a lot I haven’t written, random stories and moments of inspiration that never made it to the page. Beginning is the hardest part of it. I’m sure I’ll get to them soon enough, if I can keep myself writing. That’s the thing though, there is always more to life than I can ever do justice to.

Posted in 2021, 2021-03, Taichung, Taiwan | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Christmas in Quarantine

Two weeks in quarantine isn’t hard when you know there’s something amazing waiting on the other side. I’m still surprised it’s finally happening, there were so many times when things were about to grind to a halt that I started to lose hope. But now I’m here, in Taichung, and in quarantine until Christmas.

This time last year I was heading home to finish paperwork on the job that I was supposed to have in China. Everything was set, medical was already done, I just needed the background check and some other certified documents before I could leave. I might have made it, almost made it, but a few delays pushed it into March, and by then they weren’t accepting new visa applications.

Covid was part of it, but there was also a trade war, and I’m an American. It’s hard to know how much each part affected the it in the end, but the job disappeared, and seven months in a studio apartment began during the pandemic.

I had a plan, before. My apartment was to be down the street from the Peace Corps offices, and from the consulate. I could spend the two years building up relationships, some money, and work on my application for the foreign service. Now, the Peace Corps is gone from China, and that consulate closed following the Chinese one in Texas. Even if I had made it, I don’t think it would have been what I wanted it to be. There still would have been some good, but things have been changing for a while, and it’s probably best that I move on.

I searched for jobs for a while, looking for open borders and safe haven while taking classes on Coursera and playing far too many videogames. In the end, I saw someone had posted about their quarantine in Taipei, starting a job teaching during the summer. I reached out again, and this time found an answer.

It was a slow process, with every step finding a way to add a week of delay time to my schedule. I kept plodding along, complaining loudly every time I found a stone to trip over. The idea of having to go back to Home Depot and work retail haunted me, drawing closer as my passport expiration date drew closer. In the end, I arrived at Taoyuan airport with a week before I hit the six-month mark, the time when it must be renewed before I can apply for a visa. As it is, renewing it is one of my first priorities. The visa offices had shut down for covid, and even now I don’t know how long renewal will take.

But, for now, there is nothing I can do but wait. I eat, stretch, play videogames, and stare out the window at the fragment of the city I can see between the buildings. Christmas music blares in through the walls from the streets below, typically the same half dozen songs played on repeat from five to ten at night. The room is clean, the food is disappointing, but everything is an amazing driving force for when I get out.

I can’t wait to wander a new city like I used to. There are kung fu schools to check out, restaurants to discover, and mountains to climb. I can see it all in the distance, through the crack between buildings. I know the basic pattern of how it will go, the pattern I’ve made in so many cities now. Friends, food, memories, and the life that I thought I had lost. I am thankful to be back out in the world, even if the world isn’t what it was before. At least now I have hope it will come back.

Posted in 2020-12, Taichung | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment