Saturday, May 8, 2010

A Journey of a Thousand Miles: How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Taiwan

Teaching in Taiwan:
When I quit my job to become an English teacher,
many people started asking me “Why?”

A Story by Stephen A. Nelson
(Originally published in Maple Leaf,
the magazine of the Canadian Society in Taiwan)
Not long ago, I started my life as a teacher in Taiwan. Now, 20 years after graduating from journalism school at Ryerson, it seems a long way from what I started out to do.

So, if a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, when did I take that single step?

Let's say that this journey began in the early 1970s when I first saw David Carradine in the original Kung-Fu TV series and persuaded and my mum to sign me up at a martial arts school. Ever since then, I've wanted to go to China. I guess I just always thought that it would be Hunan province, home of the Shaolin Temple. I never thought it would be Taiwan.

Before coming to Taiwan, I took another step. I quit my job with the Thomson Newspaper chain after more than 10 years as a working journalist — the last eight and a half at the Brandon Sun. At the time, many people asked me “Why?”

The truth is, the chance to teach English in Taiwan couldn't have come at a better time. Now is not a good time to be a journalist in Canada.

For those of you who don't actually work in the business — or at least know somebody who does — you need to know only one thing about journalism. The business of journalism isn't about journalism any more. It's about business.

Want proof? Just look at media magnate Conrad Black, sometime owner and publisher of The Times of London as well as the National Post. Conrad Black's hero is Napoleon. His workers are his armies and his henchmen are his generals.

When Conrad Black used his armies at Hollinger Publishing to conquer Canada's largest newspaper chain, Southam, Black told reporters that he was “the best friend a working journalist had in Canada.”

To prove it, he immediately laid off hundreds of journalists at the newspapers he'd just acquired. Apparently, if you didn't think Conrad Black was your best friend, you weren't a working journalist any more.

But, perhaps not surprisingly, many ex-journalists found out that this was not actually a bad thing. A lot of people, like me, felt trapped in their jobs. It wasn’t fun any more. They may still have liked their work. But they hated the job. They felt overworked, overstressed, underpaid, unappreciated, depressed and in debt. But they, like me, stay in the job because of their commitments — a family, a mortgage, and a credit card.

The Brandon Sun was once considered “the Cadillac of small newspapers in Canada.” But for my last two years at the Sun, my mantra was “I just want my life back.” I said this at least as often as I said, “I hate my job.”

When I decided to take a chance on Taiwan and become a teacher, I took the most important steps. I sold my house, cashed out my retirement savings funds, and paid off some debts. What I couldn’t give away, I put in storage. And then, on a wing and a prayer, I came to Taiwan.

In Taiwan, I have found that teaching children can bring redemption for jaded souls, and life to weary bodies that have spent too long in jobs they can't stand.

Perhaps that's because children are life. Did not a very wise man once say “Allow the little children to come to me, for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.”?

That same wise man (those who knew him called him "Teacher") also said, “Whoever would save his life must lose it. And whoever loses his life... will gain it.”

When I became a teacher, for the first time in a long time, I felt like I had my life back. All I had to do was take that one child-like step.

All I had to do was give up everything I had.


xiewy said...

Thanks for that!

I working in Taiwan for just under five years, 2001-05. Since then in London, and doing my best to work my way back.

Can't agree more with you that nothing beats the stimulation and energy of Taiwan, especially those of its younger people. It has its costs and frustrations, but it's worth it.

Hope everything continues to go well for you.

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