Freeing Sisyphus: In a Galaxy Far, Far Away – Taiwan

Part Two

So, a couple of weeks ago I began telling you about the first time I realized my Sisyphean existence and tried to do something about it by quitting my life in New York City and moving to Taiwan to teach English – at which point my life took a radical detour from that of Jo in Little Women.  I needed to slow down, get healthy and figure out what I was going to do with my life if it wasn’t going to be teaching literature or working as a bonded slave to insanely wealthy people in New York City.

I wanted to relax.  For future reference, Taiwan isn’t the best place to relax.  If there is anywhere in the world where you can feel the influence of Sisyphus it is in Taiwan.  The people work very hard while seriously polluting their country  and exploiting every inch of land in order that their children can someday be successful and take care of them.  The children go to regular school, then after school to bushibans (English schools like the one where I taught) and then go to other classes to learn other things such as music.  The only morning that the streets in Taiwan are not menacingly busy are Sunday which is the only day the Taiwanese take a break.

Oddly enough, although I wasn’t able to relax in Taiwan, I was able to really begin my journey to get re-centered and physically healthy.  Before I moved to Taiwan I was overweight, eating all the wrong foods and just plain not taking care of myself.   Before leaving for Taiwan I had bought a book called Body Sculpting Bible for Women after watching the first few seasons of Alias.  As noted before, I wanted to be an Action Hero Babe, and I was tired of being flabby.  So, My British roommate and I began working the program, and we walked EVERYWHERE.  This was unheard of in Taiwan.  Everyone in Taiwan had scooters.  Instead of walking a block to the post office, they would seriously get on their scooters and drive a block.  Had a little something to do with status I guess.  The other 12 Westerners in the town where we lived also  thought we were insane (luckily my roommate was a health nut).  But, we had seen enough evidence to know scooters were not for us as we lived with another roommate who could barely walk after a serious motorcycle accident that required many surgeries, and the first time I got on the thing I nearly broke my arm.  Yeah – pass.  So, every day we risked our lives and walked.  I can’t tell you how many horrendous scooter accidents I witnessed.  I was hit by a cab twice.  One time, it just kept nudging me to move out of the way as the cab tried to maneuver through a crowded street and wanted to use part of the sidewalk to do so.  And, in Taiwan, obeying traffic signals is optional and rarely done.

For the first time since I was 12 I was working less than 20 hours a week teaching.  Yes, I said 12.  I started washing dishes in a restaurant when I was 12 and have never stopped working since.  Those social security letters you get in the mail every year depress me to no end – not only because I doubt I will see a penny of social security, but because I see that although I’m only 38 I have been working for 26 years.  Like I said, like most folks I had bought into the American dream that if you worked hard enough you would be rewarded.

So, with all that free time, I cooked my own food bought fresh from the food stands, worked out every day, learned Kung-Fu, tried to learn Mandarin (took me two months to really be able to ask where the bathroom was), watched a lot of Alias and lost a lot of weight.  For six months I just focused on my health.  Although in those six months I tore my hamstring (I can still hear that snap), I kept doing upper body and eating healthy while I healed.  As I lay in bed at night I promised and promised that when I went back to the States I was going to stay healthy.

Me and Health Nut Roomate try to find calm in Taiwan

I only stayed in Taiwan for six months, and the story of my departure is pretty funny – involves the owners of my school accusing my roommates father, a fairly well-off English gentleman, of stealing a cell phone after an argument over whether his daughter was teaching on the sly at another school (we weren’t), sitting at a Taiwanese jail while they questioned him, and then deciding it was time to get the hell out of Taiwan.  When that lady in bright red lipstick stamped my passport letting me out of that country, I have never been so relieved.  After six interesting months, I had truly made some progress and was ready to make some changes – a new career and a new way of living.

As with all lessons in life, they have to be learned several times – especially with someone as stubborn as me.  Part three of this story involves moving to the frozen tundra of Minnesota, building a career in Finance which was as surprising to me as anyone else and forgetting many of the promises I made in Taiwan (more about that later).  But, luckily I believe that chapter is about to end and something else is beginning, thus this blog with my sister.

Okay Sisyphers – have you ever had a real moment in your life when you were able to re-center, focus on yourself and make lots and lots of promises to stay balanced?  Have you ever had that tipping point in your life when you knew if you didn’t change you may just drive yourself into the ground or the mental ward whichever came first?  Would love to hear stories about your tipping points.  As always, please comment or email me at

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