I’m back in the United States after a month of visiting family in Taiwan, and it’s time to review my Groundhog Day Resolutions in the context of that trip! I had originally thought that I would be stretching my wings as a “digital nomad”, getting work done remotely and exploring the language and culture while spending time with my dad. To my surprise, the time spent abroad was far less about testing my mettle in exploration as it was about re-examining my priorities. A big takeaway is that I am going to close down the blog because it’s no longer working for me. Everything comes to an end, and I’m hoping that something else arises in its place. I have some ideas about this, but I’m getting ahead of myself. First, let’s review my Groundhog Day Resolution Goals, and then examine what I’ve learned from my Taiwan trip.
Pre-Trip Mental Preparation
As I wrote in my last review, my will to maintain a daily goal schedule crumbled, though I had discovered a new outlet in doing “livestreaming” of my work. Perhaps this was due to my worrying about the upcoming Taiwan trip, fraught with unpleasant childhood associations of feeling like an unwelcome and illiterate outsider trapped in a place where I could not exercise control over my own destiny. At the same time, I was exciting about facing those old memories and replacing them with newer and more positive experiences.
While I was pre-occupied with trip preparation, I suspended my goal and billable-work activities.
To recap, my 2016 Groundhog Day Resolutions goals are as follows:
- Creative Business (action: developing the stationery business) to create more revenues of income
- Sharing Stuff I love and know (action: blogging) to create new connections with people and communities
- Big 2024 Goals: Game Making, Illustration, Music Composition, Thinking Software, Physical Making, Cooking for Others
Additionally, the Taiwan Trip added three new goals:
- Testing my “digital nomad” skills by testing my work-related mobile gear, making new friends and renewing old connections, and acclimatizing to a new city.
- Embracing my “Taiwanese” identity and “American” identity at the same time, not letting the incompatibilities in language and culture affect me negatively, actively seeking the positive connections.
- Learning to be an independent adult in Taiwan by absorbing more language and being unafraid to explore without a guide, finding the niches where I can live.
I figured I would be able to get a few good days of billable work done once I settled-in at my dad’s apartment, using it as a base of operations to explore the surrounding city that I had started to map the last time I visited. I also have a short list of people who were willing to talk to me in Taichung from a Facebook group, and several relatives and friends from years past to visit. With the advent of Internet-connected smartphones, I figured I had all the tools I needed to get around! Nothing really could stop me from adventuring except my own laziness.
The First Two Weeks
The first bit of business to get out of the way, however, was my dental work. One of my uncles is a dentist, and the first week was spent prepping my dental implant sockets for the new teeth. There were some complications in the first week, and I spent most of the first week sleeping off some pain and recovering from jet lag. I discovered that NetFlix in Taiwan was working great, and so I watched RuPaul’s Drag Race for the first time as I rested. From this I gained another media-inspired insight about people who are “weird” embracing their uniqueness unapologetically in spite of adversity from people who you’d think would be supportive. In particular, the arc of Jinkx Monsoon in season 5 resonated to me; here was someone who had a very different idea of what her character meant within the greater context of drag performance, and I was surprised to learn that even in that relatively small community there was a lot of disagreement between participants. In hindsight I suppose it’s just like any other organization or community of people: there will be differences of opinion, and some people will be jerks about it. The theme of “embracing your weirdness” and acting accordingly would be a recurring theme throughout the trip.
In between naps and NetFlix binging, I ate a variety of Taiwanese foods and accompanied my dad on household-related trips to the market. I set up a workspace on the dining room table and did an experimental test livestream. I did about 8 hours of billable work, focusing largely on design. I made a new friend, a young Dutch fellow who was living in Taiwan doing his own digital nomad thing while learning Chinese, with the idea of staying in the country for another few years until he and his boyfriend move back to The Netherlands. I walked from my dad’s apartment to a department store about 40 minutes away to meet my new acquaintance, discovered it was the wrong one, and then used my iPhone to call and coordinate meeting at the correct location. This solo walk gave me confidence that I was starting to know how to get around the city on foot, and confirmed that smartphones made everything a lot easier because I was never really lost thanks to mapping apps. Taiwan has also become much more internationalized than when I first lived here, so street signs even in central Taiwan are both in English and Mandarin Chinese.
I made contact via Facebook with a couple other people, but found that scheduling around the followup dental work and random family activities made it difficult to meet. I ended up not meeting any more people for the rest of the trip. I also found myself growing more and more lethargic, feeling kind of jittery and fuzzy-headed. I first thought this was because I was being fed A LOT more food that I’m used to and was constantly sleepy from eating too many carbs. I had to communicate this to my dad a couple of times, but still there were a lot of carbs and fruit. The fruit in Taiwan, I should add, is really amazing. The entire food scene is local and abundantly varied, and because there is so much emphasis on food it’s an amazing place to eat.
Having gained confidence in walking around the city by myself, I lost interest in exploring on foot for the remainder of the week. Instead, I faced the next challenge of travelling by myself from Taichung to Taipei to visit some high school friends I hadn’t seen in 20 years. I was quite nervous about this, worried about getting lost or stranded in some unknown part of the city. After thinking about it, though, I realized it was quite unlikely because I HAD A PHONE WITH INTERNET and the worst thing that would happen is that I’d have to call someone. I had by this time learned how to say, “I’m sorry, my Chinese is bad” to preface every communication I had with a native Taiwanese person, and this worked pretty well. I no longer was embarrassed by it. I’m not from Taiwan, people!
I realized that I had to book a hotel in Taipei, and was able to just get online and use my credit card to book a hotel near the main train station in Taipei. I knew that I could just take the High Speed Rail from Taichung to Taipei, and walk to the hotel. I contacted my high school buddy and he coordinated with the other people in the area and picked a place to go. The original plan for Dad to drop me off at the High Speed Rail station (which was not walkable) failed because of car trouble, so he called me a cab and told them to take me. I paid, no problems, and bought a ticket at the automated kiosk. Getting to the hotel was uneventful, and I communicated in a mix of broken Chinese and English with the hotel staff. Again, no embarrassment as I might have felt in years past. I had a few hours to kill before dinner, so I just went up to my hotel room to shower and rest a bit.
Here is when I had my first enormous insight about why I had been feeling jittery: upon arriving in my room, I was delighted to realize that I had the whole room to myself, and my schedule was completely mine. The room was clean, bright, and well-appointed. Most importantly, I was in complete isolation. Apparently, I had really missed having my own space and schedule as much as I liked being around Dad. Unlike the last visit with Dad, his foster son was back from the hospital and there was a lot of talking going back and forth. As Dad is quite hard of hearing now, the talking levels are quite loud, and I think this had started to wear on me to some degree. I’m not sure that’s the real reason, but I was indeed ecstatic about being in isolation.
Anyway, dinner was great, reconnecting with old friends and trying some amazing desserts! I got to ride the Taipei subway system by myself with a bit of help from my friends. The automated kiosks are in English as well, so decoding the subway map was not unlike riding the T in Boston. Taipei (and Taiwan in general) is also a very safe city, so there was no fear about getting mugged as I might feel in the US. I got back to the hotel room without incident and slept deeply.
The next day was time to head back to Taichung. At first I wasn’t feeling particularly adventurous, but I decided to go outside the hotel and walk along the streets of Taipei toward Shi-Men-Ding, the old entertainment center that dates back to Japanese colonial times. I walked for a good 2 hours, which surprised me, and then showered once again before heading back to the High Speed Rail station to buy a ticket. This went uneventfully, and when I got to Taichung I eventually found a taxi and told them the address I wanted to go to in Chinese. I also had a backup of the address, a photo I’d taken of a Taichung City address sign (all buildings have one), and the taxi driver just looked at that and headed out. I was able to use my broken Chinese to indicate where to stop. Solo travelling adventure, complete!
The next solo trip planned, which I was more nervous about, was a visit to my late mother’s sister in Tainan to the south. This would require a trip on the regular train system, and I hadn’t realized that getting tickets would be difficult. Dad helped me get the train ticket, and then accompanied me on the bus to the terminal. The regular train station is walkable, and I knew how to get there on foot from Dad’s apartment, so I wasn’t concerned about getting lost. I wasn’t so sure about getting to Tainan, but again the Internet and a smartphone helped alleviate my concerns there. It was not bad at all, though, and it was wonderful to visit my Aunt and Uncle and talk to them. I learned about Auntie’s 9-year curriculum development project (takeaway: it takes a long time to do good work but it doesn’t have to overwhelm you) I also was able to show show some of the work I was doing with her son, had some great Thai food of all things (surprisingly, the food highlight of the trip). Taking the train back the next day, I decided to walk back to Dad’s place because it was rush hour, and I wanted to just watch the swarms of people getting out of school and work. It took about 30 minutes to walk, since I kept stopping to take pictures.
By this time, I was feeling very jittery at not having space to myself, and this might have affected my ability to work. The small daily household interruptions and lack of ergonomic working conditions gave me headaches. I started sleeping more. I lost interest in exploring, though I did decide to go for one last two hour walk around the city. This gave me confidence that I had learned what I needed to know about getting around Taichung, and the urge to explore had waned. My thoughts turned increasingly to projects and back to my goals; I realized that I couldn’t make appreciable progress on them in Taiwan. I was ready to go home.
I started binge-watching Elementary on NetFlix (three seasons are available there, but not in the US), the CBS version of Sherlock Holmes. The show resonated unexpectedly with me, giving me yet another insight about embracing one’s weirdness. As a cultural outsider with a lot of odd interests that no one else seems to understand, I could identify with the characters of Sherlock Holmes and Joan Watson. I wanted to really accept my own oddness and make it the basis of my strengths.
The last few days were spent with family, having a few last dinners and talking about plans for future visits. I got home on June 2nd.
THE MAJOR TAKEAWAYS
So while I wasn’t the adventurous and productive digital nomad I had hoped I could be, I have learned a few new truths about myself:
I am not a digital nomad. If anything, I’m a digital homebody. I don’t like sight seeing. I do enjoy seeing how people live in their day-to-day; it’s the differences that interest me.
Being in another country isn’t that interesting to me beyond 4-6 weeks split over two trips. Taiwan perhaps isn’t the best test case since I was already pretty familiar with it, but I have noticed the same tendency in me when visiting cities in the United States. I am not an explorer.
I am however drawn to people. I like talking to people about what they’re doing and how they make a living. I like to see what their day-to-day routine is. And I’m always interested in what people are making and why they’re doing what they do. I want to see their uniqueness, their closely-held weirdnesses come to life through their creativity. In that sense, I don’t really need to “travel” for the sake of seeing a new country. Instead, I can just go to where the creative conversations can happen.
Toward the last half of the trip, my thoughts were directed inward. I had started to think about what I wanted to do and even in Taiwan, the same questions kept arising about my identity and my work. This Taiwan trip, in hindsight, was really a helpful change of place that allowed me to examine those questions from a new perspective. I have come to a few major conclusions:
I am not happy blogging. I am doing it because I’ve been doing it for 10 years, but the last few years have been more of a chore. Partly this is because WordPress is no longer an agile writing platform, but it is also because I have been dissatisfied with my creative output. Thus, I have decided that I am going to close the blog and rebuild my web presence.
I want to improve the quality of my creative output. This means spending more time working more slowly, and taking some of my process private. This means a lot of time will go between public posts. While I still want to share my process, I think I will likely do that through live streaming.
I want to present my creative output in a curated manner. A simplified website will showcase those projects in curated form, rather than blog form. This will be a massive transformation of my old content, but instead of moving all of it I can instead cherry-pick the best parts. I will still make the old content available, but it will be de-emphasized. Talking to a friend of mine, I had the idea of making the new site something of a theme park of ideas. There are a LOT of them.
I feel that I can further simplify my productivity process by being more unplanned in my approach. Rather than try to maintain a firm grip on everything that’s going on, I think I may be more productive if I float toward one topic at a time. I am not convinced any longer that aggressive planning is helpful for the kind of work I do, because that kind of planning generates worry through anticipation of failure. Far better, I think, to not worry but still make progress. I need to amplify this idea more; perhaps I will write about it in the months to come.
I am carrying a lot of mental baggage from unfinished projects, missing preparation, and bad working spaces. I need to take care of my office, kitchen, bedrooms, and basement. I have no working space, and there is too much clutter. I also have to take care of the groundwork for a lot of design work as well. While these critical foundational projects are still hanging over my head, I will never be able to move forward with my truly big plans. I believe I have to drastically simplify. This is a priority for the coming months!
THE COMING MONTH
My emphasis, I think, will be to destructure my work day to account for one focus at a time. Also, I believe it is critical to finish those lingering household projects that prevent me from enjoying my workspace. There is so much psychic baggage from having these unfinished projects. I could really benefit from having better storage of fewer objects. There is a lot I can get rid of still. My goal is to have a clean, zen-like workspace with plenty of horizontal work surfaces.
So that’s the state of Groundhog Day Resolutions. It’s a month to revisit the basics while disrupting the old way of doing things with my blog. I also want to question what I really want to get out of life…I am no longer sure what that is.
UPDATE: I’ve written more about my specific reasoning and possible appraoch in this post.