Like anyone else who’s ever heard it, I often repeat Heraclitus’ famous saying, “You can’t step in the same river twice.” The water keeps flowing, and so no matter when you put your foot into it, it’s always at least a little bit different. Also, you dip your foot in the first time as someone who’s never done it before, but the second time, you’re changed: you’re someone who has already stepped in a river. And the third time, you’ve done it twice, and so on, so that the river itself is changing and flowing and each time you are changed a little by your experience of it.
After I’d been back in Chungli for a few weeks, I was surprised by how many things hadn’t changed in the four years I’d been gone. The River, our local bar, had been slightly remodeled and rearranged, but it’s still everybody’s favorite place to end up after a houseparty or a bar crawl. The owner, Kim, isn’t making burgers and wings upstairs anymore, but she’s opened up a little restaurant down the street where you can still get the same Western food and a couple of Coronas to wash it down. There are more restaurants downtown now, but they are more of the same: more cafes, more burger places, more Japanese pork and curry spots.
But I came back as someone who’d already lived here for five years. I can speak and even read enough just enough Chinese to be dangerous, I’m super comfortable driving a scooter, and I have a savings account AND a retirement fund. Also, I’m married and the two of us have talked a lot about our goals and I feel like I am living my life a lot more intentionally because J is by my side. He’s my family, and having a family keeps me accountable and motivates me to make decisions that are good for us.
1. Everyone has smart phones. This isn’t revolutionary, but when I left in 2009, I knew of only a couple of people who had iPhones and I still wasn’t sure that I needed to be able to check Facebook or watch YouTube videos while out and about. But being able to access Google maps, Chinese dictionaries, and pictures of anything I can’t translate fast enough has been very easy to get used to. Only now I sound like a super old lady when I hear the new crop of fresh, young teachers complain about someone not giving them an address to show the taxi driver when they want to go somewhere. “When I lived here before, we didn’t have smartphones! If you wanted to get somewhere, you had to learn Chinese for three years so you could ask directions!”
2. Taiwanese people are getting heavier! I haven’t read any articles about what I’ve observed except this one, but it does seem like a lot more people, especially young people and kids, are more overweight than I’d noticed before. But also the guy I was dating when I lived here before had roaming eyes, so I was always comparing myself to the women I thought were going to lure him away. Anyway, I’ve had more luck finding clothes that fit, so who’s the real winner here? Me.
3. [It seems like] There are more Western couples and more Western women are getting down with Taiwanese guys. This might just be true of the community I live in, but I feel like in the past couples with two Western partners were quite rare. Usually, the expat men in Chungli dated local women or women from the Philippines or Thailand, and Western women went single. But ten years after I first arrived here, it seems like more expat couples are coming here together and staying together, or seeking out people who speak the same language and have a similar cultural background. But at the same time, I’ve met more Western women are interested in dating local guys. As far as I’m concerned, let love bloom where it may, as long as we’re all feeling respected and having a good time.
4. People obey the traffic laws much better than they did before, and you can’t drink and drive. I used to tell legendary tales of trips the wrong-way down one-way streets, optional red lights, and breathtaking left turns across oncoming traffic. (Legendary might be a strong word.) I was really surprised when I got back here and everyone was helmeted and obediently waiting for lights to turn green. Not so many people dash out to make a left-hand turn, defying the oncoming traffic to mow them down before they reach the other corner. Most scooter drivers quietly move to the scooter box and wait their turn to go.
Also, drunk driving was pretty normal here, especially among expats. I’m not proud of it, but I woke up on many Sundays and had to check if my scooter was parked in the garage because I didn’t remember how I’d gotten home. Selfish and stupid, I know. But now there’s basically a zero-tolerance drinking policy and a massive fine, including a night in jail, for people who try to drink and drive. I’ve heard a number of foreigners have gotten caught, too, which makes us all straighten up and act right. J and I take a taxi to the bar every time we go now, and that’s how it should be. It’s cheaper than a ticket and nothing compared to the cost of injuring someone else or ourselves.
5. You can get anything you need in Chungli. In the past, I learned to get the things I needed from Tesco/Carrefour, local stores and markets, Jason’s in Taipei, from friends who shopped at Costco in Taipei, IKEA, and from care packages brought by my friends and family when they came to visit. I’d stock up on economy-sized boxes of tampons and deodorants when I traveled to the States, and my existence was sadly bereft of good bagels and cheese. But these days, I can get tampons and deodorant at Carrefour. Watson’s even has a “deodorant” section, which definitely wasn’t there in 2009. The 24-hour Carrefour has a selection of some decent European cheeses and even pouches of sour cream from New Zealand. A Costco has opened up in Taoyuan, just half an hour away, and has all the same Costco products you can get back home. You can buy good bread and coffee beans at several places downtown. I even found a pair of women’s Mizunos in size 9.5 the other day for only NT$1500. Score!