DECEMBER 2001: HONG KONG TO JUI FANG
|Michael had to wait for three days in Hong Kong while his Taiwan visa application was processed. During this time he bypassed the culture tour in favour of hitting the nightspots. This passed the time, but did not lift the mood of depression he felt about the life he was leading. In a private note during this time he wrote of his sense of alienation at the materialistic Taiwanese culture (despite its Buddhist roots) and of working in a town where he had no friends and where the language barrier was a major impediment to daily life. Perhaps this depressed mood stemmed from a hangover at the time, for he never alluded to this feeling again. In any case, his problem of loneliness was being overcome by his growing relationship with Michelle.
He contacted his parents again on his return to Taiwan . . .
Michael (email 6 Dec 01): Hey partypeople, got back from HK after getting the thumbs up from the Taiwanese embassy for another 6 months living here if I want. Felt a bit like a dumbass country hick in the big smoke for the first time, walking around HK on the first day, staring up at those monstrous monoliths of steel and glass, but one day in HK is all you need to adapt, and ended up having a wild time. I think I spent some of the money you gave me though (not sure as I can't get a balance) but I get paid on Monday and will put my pay in and you can take what I owe you. Thanks again. Love, Mike.
Michelle continues her account of her time together with Michael . . .
Michelle (email 8 Nov 2003): . . . There're really a lot of tourists on holiday and weekend in Ruifang. But it is normally a quiet town. Besides teaching, practicing yoga, swimming and playing piano, he didn't get to do any other entertainment. So he started to ask me to see a movie sometimes and he sometimes went to Taipei to see his friend Jimmy and his girlfriend. But they both didn't want to go out at all on weekend. Because they work so hard that they just want to rest on weekend. The jobs of them seem like harder than Michael's. Jimmy was envy how lucky Michael is. So Michael didn't spend too much with them even they all were in the same city. I didn't really like to go to the movies at a theater. Then I asked Michael to go hiking instead. We started our happiness . . .
There are many mountains around Taipei. They are all naturally beautiful. We both enjoyed a lot in a restaurant which supplies vegetarian food and hot spring. We went there few times.
(Here Michelle has supplied links to the Ego WinShow Restaurant web site and the Yangminshan National Park web site. If a Windows "Language Pack" message appears while accessing the site, cancel it to bring up the web site. The second of these sites has an English version.
They also visited many temples in the Taipei region. In these places Michelle often found Michael lost in contemplation. . .
I used to see Michael staring at somewhere for a long time. He seemed to think something seriously. He looked at josses carefully and he wanted to know about each of them. I tried to tell what I know. Actually I just know very little. I wished I could tell him all the stories of them.
(Michelle has supplied the following Buddhism/temple web sites: Taoism, Urawa-Masakim, Kimo-Kinglungyun, and Lungshan).
In between these outings with Michelle, Michael continued his day to day routine in Jui Fang. Meanwhile his parents in Australia went on a campervan holiday.
Michael (email 11 Dec 01): Hey old timers. How was the trip? What did you see, was it fun? Raining, huh? I'm getting used to the rain too as it probably rains about half the time here, but at the moment it is a nice cool temperature. Work is the same old same old. I have a couple of private tutoring classes as well now. Although I'm making new friends all the time I make sure I keep myself busy with piano, yoga, swimming and learning Chinese, so as I don't have time to realise that I'm living all alone in a little village miles from home! Christmas in Taiwan! You've no idea how wonderfully strange it is, my dears! Love, Chen Long.
By an ironic twist of fate, it was Michael's family that spent Christmas in Taiwan the following year. Yes, it was indeed wonderfuly strange! Michael was evidently successful in filling in his days as from now on his emails became fewer and shorter, though perhaps some are missing from the record. His travel insurance was due for renewal and his parents offered this as his Christmas present.
Michael (email 20 Dec 01): Hey old timers, yes I'd love you to renew my insurance . . . if it so pleases you, thank you muchly. I've also asked Jarrad to return my CDs to your house so when they arrive could you send them over to the same address as before? Again, thank you. I hope to send you something soon but I might wait until after New Years as I'm pretty flat out and won't be able to get into Taipei for a while. See hi to everyone for me and, yes, I will try to call on Sunday. M.
Michael's enthusiasm and enjoyment of life was well remembered by his colleagues at the kindergarten and the GRAM school when his parents visited in December 2002. Being the only white person in town would have been unusual enough, but Michael attracted further curiosity with his yoga exercises on the river bank, his regular swims in the local pool, even in winter, and his bushwalks in the neighbouring hills.
He was remembered also for the extra work he did in preparing resource materials, his extreme patience and willingness to try different approaches with his students, and for being mobbed each morning by the kindergarten children. "He was the sun that shone in our winter," said a colleague.
In the meantime, just before Christmas 2001, his brother Peter and Peter's then partner Kristina left Australia for another visit to India. For them, this was the beginning of their own long trip that would eventually take them also to Taiwan.
Photos Michael's photos of Taiwan
January to April 2002 Jui Fang