I did a status update on Facebook recently that read, ‘Sometimes in life, we find ourselves in places we never thought we’d be, but we when have to leave, we find ourselves wanting to stay’.
In early November I moved to Penghu, an island off the coast of Taiwan, to take on a teaching position. When I arrived I found my new home somewhat daunting and foreign. I felt a little lost, a little alone and a long way from those I loved most. But this new life soon began to feel comfortable, and metaphorically, somewhat akin to buying a new dress. Initially, wearing that dress is exciting for it feels new and fresh, but it also feels strange as it doesn’t quite fit the contours of your body. Yet after a while, it begins to feel comfortable and before long, it fits perfectly.
That is how I felt following my first few weeks in Penghu. I had eased comfortably into my teaching role, created my space in a small apartment and fell a little in love with a few of my beautiful students, whose enchanting smiles and infectious giggles enriched my day. I knew I had found what I wanted to do and I was happy.
In those first weeks, I also heard about a place called The Beach Break 衝浪店, a funky little bar run by South African expat, Ted and his wife Shao Mai. It was apparently the place where the handful of Penghu foreigners (roughly 20 in total) gathered on Sunday afternoons to play music whilst enjoying cold beers and good company.
One afternoon I headed out to Shanshui, the quiet beachside village where the bar is located. After a 15 minute ride I arrived, and soon found the ramshackle bar tucked on the corner of the main street. It exuded character and charm.
Waxed surfboards stood against a graffiti covered wall and inside, a scattering of wooden stools and a well-worn leather couch created the space in which I imagined, many travel tales were shared.
At the bar, two men stood talking, obviously comfortable in each other’s presence and on seeing me, welcomed my presence with warmth and enthusiasm. That afternoon, in a little bar on a remote island, new friendships were formed and ones that filled my remaining weeks in Penghu with fun, laughter and true companionship. That dress had truly begun to fit, I loved my teaching role, I had formed new friendships and I was very comfortable living in this unique part of the world.
However, there was one element missing. My sons and my dogs. I missed them terribly and they missed me, yet we managed that ‘missing’ with regular Skype calls and messages and accepted that my plan to stay in Penghu for 12 months would remain in place.
But plans change. And change they did. Certain changes occurred at home and it meant my presence in Australia was needed and as a result, a decision had to be made. It was difficult, for I felt a strong sense of obligation to fulfill my contract in Penghu, yet as a mother my children’s needs were of paramount importance and therefore naturally overrode my needs and the needs of others.
Within days, hurried travel arrangements were made amid mixed emotions and tearful farewells to my beautiful students and a group of people who had quickly become my Penghu ‘family’. The kindness and care from Wednesday, Lisa and the lovable Bamboo had touched my heart and saying goodbye was not something I wanted to do so soon after meeting. And bidding farewell to Vivien, who I met quite by chance one day at another friends house, was particularly difficult. A beautiful woman of Taiwanese heritage, who had lived in Germany for many years and as a consequence, spoke with an accent that was a wonderful mix of Chinese and German.
Shortly before I decided to leave Penghu, I was at Viv’s house sharing a good bottle of French red and great conversation. Asking her advice relating to my need to head home she offered these words: ‘Jen, does it make sense’, at that moment I knew staying in Penghu didn’t make sense and I had to go home despite my strong desire to fulfil my commitments in Penghu. Adding to my distress, I now had my ‘Penghu kids’ who were depending on me and the thought of disappointing them tug at my heart. But Viv’s 5 words put everything into perspective and I thank her for that and also thank fate for allowing our paths to cross.
I am now home and happy. My 3 months in Penghu changed my life in many ways. That unique little island gave me direction and my wonderful children who I had the pleasure to teach, fuelled my desire to take my teaching to another level and as such, I am about to commence Graduate Diploma in Teaching. And my wonderful new friends? We will meet again, maybe in Penghu or maybe elsewhere.
Sometimes we do find ourselves in a place we never thought we’d be and if you happen to find yourself there, embrace it for it may shape the rest of your life, as Penghu has for me.