Expatriating, repatriating, and “sea-returning”

Thene mentioned someone at work talking to her about sea turtles.

For the record? Us Chinese love our puns. Love love love.

Sea turtles (海龜), pronounced exactly the same as sea-return (海歸), which I think is short for “海外+歸來” which means returned from abroad. Ocean-out, obviously, meaning abroad.

So, many kids who went out for a degree/work experience and came back are called sea turtles. So technically I am one. Except I’m not. Yeah, really, I’m not.

I’m not even repatriating, really, because the overall consensus is that “repatriation means returning to a country you call home/ once considered your permanent home.” 

Yeah, no.

I was born in Taiwan, lived there for two years before my parents brought me to the US, and then they brought me back between the ages of eight to twelve. That’s a grand total of six years, which is a fraction of my age at this point.

So…. I’m expatriating?

*cringe* It feels really, unbelievably strange to say that, but in many ways I am. Part of it is because I’m technically first-gen Chinese American, so telling anyone that I consider myself expatriating to Taiwan is one of those “it’s a long story that I’m not sure I can explain adequately without bringing out way too many citations of studies” things. It doesn’t help that most people have little to no sympathy for the emo-angst-crazy that is currently frothing in my brain.

One of my friends pretty much told me not to whine about anything once I got back because it was my choice. Yeah. Well. Many of them are giving me the kicked-puppy look of “you’re leaving???” and at least one of them, a housemate, is all “you’re turning my life upside down“. So talking to them about how kicked in the gut I feel to be leaving is …well, awkward buttons abound.

My relatives are universally thrilled that I’m returning, which is another whole bucket of awkward considering how very ugh I am about having to do so.

This is the point where I feel like I should be building a .gif library because I feel like this is a post that would be better with ten times more gifs. Preferably made up of gifs, just to lighten the mood.

Because, really, I’m not …depressed, per se. I’m not angry. I’m feeling a fuck-load of resigned and a butt-ton of gratitude in addition to a fuck-ton of “oh god international move oh god why me oh god”, but I’ve made my peace with the need for it and most of the “oh fuck me now” stems from the horror that is packing up your life, distilling it down to maybe six large suitcases, and saying farewell to everything you’re leaving behind.

(I’m still grieving over having to give up my car. I love my P-chan…)

In case it didn’t become clear, this “author blog” is likely to turn into an “omg, expatriating to Taiwan as an Asian” blog. I vaguely debated setting up an entirely different blog for it, but eh. Might as well add in a topic that I can talk about a bit more so my blog doesn’t feel like it’s in hibernation 99% of the time.

So, expatriation.

– I have no friends there. Like none. Any friends I made were in elementary school, which means pre-facebook, probably pre-myspace, pre-whatever, so I have no way of getting in contact. Also, like, who really hunts down their elementary school friends to hang out after more than a decade of no contact?

– I have my relatives, but dude, I don’t really know them either. Whatever memories they have of me are tragically focused around how crazy I was as a rebellious teenager and welp, that’s not really me. I’d say it isn’t me “any more” but really, it wasn’t me back then either. I wasn’t rebellious, I was having conniptions about being dragged from the life I knew in the US to a place where I knew no one and was functionally illiterate when I had been reading adult level fiction. Then I was having fits over failing to integrate, being bullied, dealing with a school system where the teachers could punish you by caning your palms publicly in a show of pain+humiliation, culture shock, and the complete lack of sympathy and help from my family. So yeah, I kind of consider those three to four years that they knew me as one huge protracted mental breakdown.

(Truly, I need some funny gifs for this post. I really do. Hey, suggestions welcome.)

– I won’t have a job and I’m really, totally foggy about how even to begin to get one. Whether or not I can physically hold one down is a huge question, but other than that, I’m uncertain what my CV can do for me there and what channels are open to me.

– I won’t have a car, I won’t be able to drive there for a LONG while because Taiwan has some crazy shit going on with their drivers, and I will have to learn stuff like whether or not google maps will work for the public transit there or not.

– I have no idea where to buy groceries. Where should I go to buy block Gruyere and Parmesan? Where can I find salami? Where should I go to find spices that I want? I know there’s Costco and Welcome, which had a good portion of what I needed last time to make seafood spaghetti, but would I be able to find grass-fed beef, sausage, and bacon? I’m spoiled from living in Boston, where if I want grass-fed oxtail, I can go talk to my butcher friend, who is more than happy to trade me a pound or two for some banana bread. Considering that I think over 90% of the beef consumed in Taiwan is imported, would I even be able to find sustainable grass-fed beef? (Yes, yes, first world problems, got it, but I really do try to make an effort to eat much less meat and eat meat that is organic/ pasture-farmed when I can. All of my shopping and eating habits will be turned on its ear and I have no idea how to begin to adjust right now.)

– I’m going to be living with my parents. Like I said previously, I haven’t lived with the both of them together since I was maybe seven. It’s going to be a whole new learning experience to be back in the home and balancing their seeing me as a child while expecting me to be an adult and coping with their relationship dynamic. We’ve made great strides towards understanding each other in the last year or so, which is the only reason this plan is even slightly viable, but really, I don’t feel like we know each other. Suffice to say my parents and I were pretty emotionally estranged from each other for the majority of my life.

– …I have no earthly clue if I’m going to be able to come back to the US. This part is huge. There’s the matter of the health issues. First they’re going to need to figure out what it is, which might take some doing. If it does turn out that I do have some kind of autoimmune disorder, then it might take another bit of doing for them to stabilize it, make sure it’s stabilized, and for me to learn how to cope with it and not accidentally cause it to cascade. Then there’s the fact that even if I found a job in Taiwan, earning NT to try and make enough money to move back to the US might be a wee bit difficult considering the exchange rate hovers around 30:1. Then there’s the process of repatriation back to the US, which is unlikely to be simple or easy for multiple reasons.

…but, really, it’s not all gloom and doom. For one thing, it helps me when I hash out my thoughts and feelings. Knowing that I consider it expatriating and knowing that I’m unlikely to get a whole lot of support from people I know for whatever lies ahead is useful. Understanding what challenges lie ahead will, hopefully, prompt me to actually find solutions for them rather than just dwelling in self-pity. It’s also better for me when I allow myself room to be stressed, to grieve, and to allow myself the slack I need to keep moving forward.

I just need to remember that ultimately, even though I hated almost all of the moves I’ve made in the past, particularly the international ones, I have ended up in better places as a result.

Next post will be more light-hearted, I promise. (Again, I need gifs!)

Now that I’ve gotten the gloom and doom bits out of the way, there’s actually lots to anticipate about going to Taiwan to live. For example, the fact exists that if I wanted to, I have a good shot at getting into Taiwanese medical school without having to test in, simply by virtue of having eaten more than eight years of fries. I consider that absolutely fucking hysterical, by the way. I don’t think I stopped laughing for hours after I found that out.

I’m also getting cautiously excited about the Europe trip that I have planned with my friends as a farewell thing this summer. So there are definitely good things in the future.


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