Despite the not-so-old custom of BBQing for the annual Mid-Autumn Festival in Taiwan, this past long weekend, I instead celebrated with Hsuan and his family with a day trip to the beach town of Kenting and a relatively chill weekend in Kaohsiung. And though we skipped out on the meat, we did indulge in Taiwanese-style mooncakes (much better than the traditional Mainland/Hong Kong ones, IMO) and pomelos—among many other snacks.
Because of the vast differences in how I spend my time during the weekdays compared to the weekends, I have come to appreciate both worlds—the language-learning student living by herself in a foreign city of 2.7 million people, and the American girlfriend following her heart with an amazing Taiwanese boyfriend.
In both of these worlds, I am both part of something and an outsider. At the so-called “best” university in Taiwan, I am taking classes but only officially in language, meaning while I have access to certain campus resources, I can’t register for the university’s other courses, instead limited to auditing. On the other hand, after one semester, I have the freedom to either stay and register for the next semester or switch to another university or private Mandarin-learning center. Still, despite being on campus every weekday for three hours of classes, it is quite easy to feel the disconnect. Similarly, spending time with Hsuan touches on this theme of dichotomy within a double life. In one sense, we are like any other couple, enjoying every moment with each other, especially as a reunited long-distance couple. In another, to his social circle and family, I am that foreign girl who only recently appeared in his life and enjoys his guidance and newness of life in Taiwan.
What I do know is that the sense of disconnect is natural. We become different people in different settings, as only glimpses of our lives are presented in any given scenario. To feel like yourself in most situations is difficult, but things like being part of something take time, and I wonder when or if it will be possible to feel belonging during this brief year in Taiwan.