Measure you get from years of cycling away from the same place


Earlier this evening I pedalled away from the language centre where I’ve been working for over thirteen years. I wondered what it would be like riding away knowing it would be the last time. A mile or so later I thought of how I’ve developed this habit of thinking about my life in Taiwan while riding home after teaching a class at this particular centre – the big, broad theme of my life in Taiwan, not specific issues only relevant to that day or that week.

I then worked out that I must have ridden away from that place more than 1 500 times since early 1999, which means I have probably contemplated my life in Taiwan around a thousand times after spending a few hours between those walls.

That this particular language centre has been the most stable, consistent part of my life in Taiwan for more than thirteen years was the next step in the thought process. Nothing, not place of residence, mode of transportation, what and where I eat, with whom I socialize, what I do at night, what time I get up in the morning, the amount of money I earn, my financial obligations, or my relationship status have remained the same during these last thirteen years. I have even gone through four different computers! No wonder I tend to go deep after once again punching my time card at this particular location.

What this type of consistency gives you is a measuring tool.

If a man is still doing the same job in the same office and earning the same income – adjusted for inflation – after thirteen years, he will probably be correct in thinking that his life has stagnated, especially if he sees how his children have changed during the same period from toddlers with crayons between their fingers to teenagers with iPhones in their hands.

With the language centre in question, I would appreciate stagnation. The reality is that my situation at this company progressively deteriorates as one year keeps plastering itself over the previous year. I started with at least 15 hours per week, which gave me an income of about NT$30,000 per month. I now teach two hours a week at this place. That puts about NT$5,000 per month in my pocket. (I do teach at one or two other places as well, as was the case thirteen years ago.)

If I look at the most consistent part of my life in Taiwan and use that as a tool to evaluate my life here, my life is not stagnating, it is increasingly deteriorating.

I can say it’s unscientific to measure your life according to a single criterion. If everyone were to measure their lives according to the one thing that has remained a consistent part of their lives for a significant duration of time – whether they like this thing or not, more people might feel like failures. Others might, to their surprise, realise that they’re not the big failures they’ve always considered themselves to be. You may also wonder according to what people measure their lives if there is little or nothing that has remained constant over the last decade or so of their lives.

Fortunately for most of us, the puzzle of our lives consist of dozens of big pieces, and hundreds of smaller ones. Some of these pieces may have stayed the same over many years; some may already be faded; other pieces might be shiny and new, made from the best type of material puzzle pieces can possibly be made of.

So it is with my life.

I will nevertheless admit, judging from my situation at the place where I’ve been working since my first week in Taiwan, that some aspects of my life in this country have indeed deteriorated.

I guess if I stand back for a moment, I will realise that this is just the way it sometimes is with life.