In just another few weeks, I’ll be hitting my six month mark here in Taiwan. Somehow, it feels both like I just got here and like I’ve been here forever. That’s one of the things I’ve loved most about being here: the coexistence of novelty and familiarity has made settling in here feel different from the other times I’ve moved. I get to wonder and wander while feeling comfortable and confident, Youbiking down random streets in the middle of the night fearing only the omnipresent scurrying cockroaches.
Yet this year, more than ever before, I have wondered to myself: did I make the right choice? During the loneliest parts of Taiwan’s Level 3 lockdown, when my heart hurt from missing my family and friends so badly, when my mind filled with dread as I faced yet another day of isolation, I asked myself this over and over. I’d hang up Facetimes and Zoom calls and burst into tears, feeling even more alone in the echoes of a silent apartment. It felt like nobody got it, understood how it felt, that I was not only alone in a lockdown but alone in a lockdown in a new city; that I hadn’t seen anyone who loved me in so damned long.
The thing was, I didn’t quite know why I was here.
I only knew that I had no one to blame but myself for randomly moving to a new place with no real reason. It wasn’t like New York, which seemed to be the logical place to start a finance career; it wasn’t like Shanghai or Hong Kong, which both had one-year expiration periods; it wasn’t like Chicago, which had people I loved; it wasn’t like Singapore, which served as a stepping stone to the life I thought I wanted. Each of those moves had either a purpose or an expiration date or both; this move, I realized, had neither.
I could create both, of course. Whenever people ask me “Why Taiwan?” – which is all the time – I’m armed with a standard set of answers, some combination of job and food and culture and my Japan + China background. And it’s not that these things aren’t true; but the question was whether these reasons were good enough to warrant this move, or rather, since I’m already here, the permanence of this move. “Why did I do this to myself?” I’d question, “Why did I choose to start over, in a new city, again?”
It dawned on me that I have always taken moving for granted. This is the tenth move of my life, the the sixth of my adult life, my third country in the last three years; recency bias has all but guaranteed that I associate every move as a net positive – moving is fun, not hard. I’ve taken it for granted that adventure (exciting) outweighs stability (boring), that family can be visited during holidays, that community is easily built with an extraverted personality. But the stakes are different now: with COVID, and also with age, for the first time, much of what I took for granted has been taken away. When I hugged my family goodbye at O’Hare in December 2019, I never imagined that I might not see them again for two years. When I stepped out in Taiwan after quarantining in March 2021, I never imagined that, just six weeks later, the entire island would be locking down for two months before I’d get a chance to build a community.
In a COVID world where the things that fuel me became inaccessible – family and friends, adventure and activity, mobility – I sincerely wondered: was this worth it?
So when I think about this move to Taipei, I still can’t quite answer “why,” nor whether it is the right choice or not. But it is the choice that I made; it’s perhaps gratuitous to wonder about right or wrong or what-if and could-be. Instead, I’m driven to treasure this move more, especially now that things are returning to normalcy here in Taiwan. I find myself going through the familiar motions of building a community, meeting new people, settling into work, trying new restaurants, exploring new neighborhoods, even traveling again – and yet there is a family I still miss, friends I still haven’t seen, a world I left behind in order to pursue this new one. There was a cost to this move, a cost that has perhaps been there in all other moves but that I had neglected to acknowledge; it is this cost that makes this a valuable, precious, meaningful decision.
When I first moved to Taiwan, I wrote, “I hope I never stop marveling at how a city I’ve never known can have so many traces of places I have called home.” These days, this marvel has returned alongside post-lockdown normalcy; I find myself smiling for no reason as I walk along the streets of Taipei, grateful to be in this city, with these people, even at this time. I hope this continues to hold true, that I remember I am in this new place not in spite of my past but because of it. I hope I find peace in Taipei even though I may have come without a reason nor an expiration date. I hope that this city I honestly already adore becomes the new place that I can wholeheartedly call home. I hope that when I reflect back few years from now, I will be able to say: this was worth it.