We did it.
We went back to visit Taiwan recently, six years after we left there believing we would be returning.
We weren’t able to return in 2007, but we did get to go for a short visit recently. I wrote before we left for the trip that I was nervous about going back.
Would we still remember what it felt like? What it would smell like? What it would sound like? Would we be able to reconnect with friends and colleagues without sadness?
The answer is complicated yet pretty simple: yes, yes, yes, and yes.
On the flight over I didn’t find myself all that nervous about getting to Taiwan. Travel always seems to have enough concerns of its own (luggage, passports, transfers, etc.).
We arrived at night, so there was no ability to see the mountains outside of Taipei.
Once we arrived and got through immigration and customs we were headed for a 2.5 hour trip to the central island resort area of Sun Moon Lake, where we participated in multi-day outreach project.
Sun Moon Lake wasn’t our home, so it didn’t feel nostalgic at all. No pangs of sadness. We had only visited there once or twice many years ago. The last time I had even been in the area was 1999 just after a major (7.8) earthquake had struck there.
The resort has changed much. It is now very easy to get to SML, with an excellent freeway taking you to within 20 minutes of the area. It used to take 3 hours to get there from Taichung!
On To Taipei
We finished up our time in Taichung and moved on to Taipei after being in Taiwan for 5 days. The drive to Taipei was one I had looked forward to.
We noticed how many things had changed as we drove in. New buildings and new highways seemed to be everywhere.
There used to be a joke that the national bird of Asia (pick any country) was the building crane. They are still in profusion in Taiwan.
When we arrived at our hotel in Taipei (the YMCA hotel near the Taipei main train station), we were met by the fragrant aroma of stinky tofu. If you’ve never smelled it, the first time is never forgotten. It feels like the air is immediately sucked out of your lungs.
On smelling that smell I thought: Nothing changes.
But I was wrong. Much had changed in Taipei!
I was struck by how much less traffic was there. We had lived in Taipei when the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) was being constructed, during which time the traffic was past horrendous.
And we were there for the first 7 or so years of its use.
But after 6 years, the system has been expanded so much that the decrease of traffic on the streets is perceptible. It really didn’t look like it was ever very crowded on the streets and roads.
Another impression was how very clean Taipei is. I figured out why that is: No trash cans–anywhere. When we lived there you could at least find a trashcan to throw away the odd piece of trash.
Taipei doesn’t have a trash problem much anymore, and it seems like it is because people take their trash home with them!
Of course that is just a joke, but the reality is that it is much cleaner than when we moved their in 1992 and when we left there in 2006.
The part that was most meaningful, and, in truth, the part I most worried about was seeing friends. We had such an amazing time seeing many of our dearest Chinese friends, including Victoria, whom I wrote about in this post on perspective.
Her son picked us up in the car (at an MRT stop thank you)! The last time we had seen him was when he was like 12 years old!
We enjoyed having dinner at Victoria’s home with her mother, mother-in-law and son present for the meal. It was a delightful time.
We also got to visit a church that we had helped to start in 1995. This is a small church, lay lead (meaning no full time pastor), and still active in caring for people in their community.
That Sunday morning experience was the hardest time for me. I was asked to preach (in Chinese) and I did, but it was far from the best sermon I have delivered. Then again, I haven’t spoken much Mandarin in 6 years.
But the language wasn’t what was hard.
What was hard was confronting my emotions about having to change careers and relocating to Texas with my family in 2006. We loved and still love Taiwan and those friends. Sharing with them on that Sunday was hard because I was overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude at being able to see them all again.
And I was sad: I missed that life for 6 years.
Yet, I was also released in many ways. That may be a strange term to many, but in this sense, I am speaking about released by God to live what He has called me to be and do in some place other than Taiwan.
That release wasn’t something I was expecting or seeking, but it is a very real feeling. I feel as if I have been allowed to lay down my longing for a former life and take up a new one.
I wasn’t expecting that as an outcome, but it is one I am very blessed by.
So, can you go home again? Yes! Will it still be home? In some ways, but in other ways no.
That last day as we were getting ready to pack up, my wife and daughter and I all said to each other, “I’m ready to head home”, meaning Texas. We were good with that.
We still are.