And the answer is …


I don’t feel like packing in a mad rush. I don’t want to throw away stuff that has so far been important enough for me to keep. I don’t want to arrive in Bronkhorstspruit and not have my own place and be forced to make coffee every morning in my sister and brother-in-law’s kitchen. I’m not in the mood for arguments about why I didn’t bring enough money from Taiwan to rent a cheap apartment.

On the other hand, I don’t feel like staying here any longer, getting extra classes, and dropping them again after three months – or even to start the classes with the intention of quitting after so many months. (I hate lying or creating the impression that I might do something I know I’m not going to do, like implying I’ll stay at a school at least an entire semester.) I am also not keen on doing the medical – which I know doesn’t weigh up in terms of unpleasantness compared to any of the other things I don’t have an appetite for at the moment.

I’m tired of calling myself a coward. I’m also tired of fiery speeches to nobody other than my own reflection in the bathroom mirror. I am angry – at whom I don’t know – that this type of matter isn’t easier.

I wish I had a team of writers, and a whole tank full of thinkers. I wish, as I’m sitting here behind my computer on a Sunday evening, that I could hear people discussing things in the living room, with the occasional muted laughter, teaspoons jingling in cups of tea and cigarettes being lit on the balcony. Then someone would walk into my office with a sheet of paper in her hand and tell me that a new scenario had been worked out. Or a new plan. Or a new strategy to ensure that the most recent plan would go smoothly.

I hate that I have to do everything alone. Where are all the big mouths who always have so much to say, but who always had someone to help them get a project going? A husband who helped a wife as she was starting a small business from home. Or a wife who kept urging her husband on with a warm plate of food or a gentle message in the neck when the husband wanted to give up. Where’s my partner? Where’s my home-cooked meal? Where’s my neck massage? Where’s my cup of tea? I’m only human, for god’s sake! How the hell am I supposed to do all of it on my own?

* * *

Several hours later. I went to buy dinner in town (rice with meat and vegetables that were cold by the time I got home), tea from the most beautiful woman in town, and a newspaper at a 7-Eleven. I convinced myself there was some or other angle to this whole situation I’m not seeing.

I was thinking of something on my way back, but then I was jolted from my thought process by a teenager with well-groomed hair gliding past me on his bike. I imagined he was feeling good about the fact that he had slipped past me so casually – especially since he had such a good head of hair, and seemingly much more marrow in his younger bones.

Thoughts about the immediate future forgotten for the moment, I adjusted my gears – gently, lest he heard I was planning a comeback. While my bag of rice and vegetables and my bag with the cup of tea were swinging to the one side, I casually muttered something to the other side, and sailed past him. He audibly adjusted his gears, and just as we were rushing into my neighbourhood with the unpainted concrete apartment blocks, he tried to pass me again.

This time I wasn’t going to fall for his childish game, though, and turned in between Blocks 5 and 6.

“Did I come up with something?” I asked myself as I saddled off and slung the food over my shoulder. I replied that I was busy thinking of something, but then got distracted.

“By what?” I asked in a different tone as I made my way upstairs, meaning to pretend like I’m arguing with someone from my think tank.

“By something that motivated me to adjust my gears, and as it turned out, that ended in me getting home a little earlier.”

* * *

I know enough about advertising and marketing to realise something is wrong with the approach to my situation I’ve been following the past week or so. If I – the one who wants to go home – were a consumer, and the plan the product I was supposed to buy, the marketing is hopelessly wrong. I believe I should be willing to give up my life here for the joy of being closer to my family and being in my own country. My idealism dictates that this ought to be sufficient. It makes sense, does it not? My parents and my sisters’ company over a plate of barbecue or a bowl of pudding would make me “feel I belong somewhere”.

And if you have written hundreds of pages on the subject of “going home” you become aware of your credibility suffering damage because you are spending yet another Sunday night in Taiwan nibbling cold rice while you’re supposed to be frenetically throwing excess baggage out of the window.

* * *

To go away from here will have a negative effect on my mind. The pros and cons of my life in Taiwan have been articulated ad nauseum, but it should again be noted that certain positive aspects of my life here should not be ignored or underestimated.

I live alone in a three-bedroom apartment (for the sake of argument this is a positive). I don’t need my own motorised transport. If I want to go downtown, I ride my bicycle to the train station and take the train. If I want to go somewhere else that can’t be reached within thirty minutes on my bike, or that isn’t within walking distance of a station, I take a taxi (and smile apologetically at all the people who swing their fists at us). At night, I sit until what time writing, or playing card games on my computer. I regularly buy video CDs at three for R20 [$3.00] and watch them on my second-hand Toshiba colour TV. I remind myself every now and then that Hong Kong is just an hour’s flight away (the border with the rest of China is about an hour’s journey by train from Hong Kong), and Tokyo about three hours.

If I wake up at three o’clock in the morning and I’m in the mood for cereal but my milk has gone sour, or if I feel like a packet of crisps or a salad, or a box of dumplings, I walk three minutes to the nearest 7-Eleven. And most of the time I don’t have to look over my shoulder for someone with a knife or a club jumping out from behind a bush.

(I could go on.) If I want to go to the movies on a Saturday night, I ride my bike to the theatre, see what movies are showing, go to McDonald’s for an apple pie and a vanilla milkshake, leave my bike there and take a short cut through the dark alleys back to the theatre. Or I first have a cup of creamy coffee at the place around the corner. I don’t need a car to get to the movies, and there is no need for someone to come and me pick up.

When I go on a date, it is not only perfectly acceptable to be car-less, it’s also not a problem. Once again, I pedal into town, leave the bike against a wall, meet the woman at a restaurant or at the movie theatre and enjoy the rest of the night without having to worry about my car.

I am aware of the lack of 24-hour cafes in the South African towns where I want to unpack. If there are such places, I’d probably need a car to get there. If I can go there on foot, it means I probably live in a part of town where you have to look over your shoulder. The need for motorised transport also does not end with going to a shop at three o’clock in the morning.

I don’t want to sound cynical but meeting the love of my life in South Africa is also not high on my list of expectations. It may even happen that I later decide to go away once again from my family and my country.

Nevertheless, despite the things I will miss about Taiwan, and despite the fact that I know I’m not on the way to a sweet earthly paradise in my own country, every fibre of my body and each volt of electricity in my soul are drawn in only one direction.

But why, considering this strong desire, and knowing that it is feasible to fly to the country of my origin in full glory on the 4th of March, am I not packing or making arrangements?

If I launch my so-called “revolution” on Thursday, 4 March, I’ll be staring a first month or two in the face that would compare very poorly with the life to which I have become accustomed here. I will probably have to spend the first few weeks in my younger sister’s spare room or at my parents’. I would be forced to kick my feet under other people’s tables until I eventually find my own footing again.

Unlike the last few years my visits would not be as a guest who came back to show his face again and whose wallet ensured that a pecan pie or a bottle of red wine showed up every second or third day on the kitchen table. It would be as the brother who has returned from afar who has to be assisted for a while until he’s back on his feet.

Can I construct an idealistic argument that would make me feel better? Yes, I can. But one that would truly mean something five weeks from now?

Is this just about me, or are even loved ones going to be just human and after six weeks start whispering that “the guy really could have come back with a little more money”?

It is possible to make all the calls and pack all the boxes that will ensure that a March repatriation will be the last chapter of this writing project. But would it not, if I can maintain confidence in myself and ignore the credibility crisis, be more prudent to approach the issue a little better? (Although it seems almost provocative to say I can do with another three or four months, and “There’s no need to rush things.”)

Is shaky confidence in myself, and a credibility crisis sufficient reasons to pack up a life of five years within less than four weeks, and to go and exhibit my arrogant person on a new landscape with more faith than business acumen, if I can do it better in three or four months’ time?

Repatriation, or then the Lifting of My Exile is a product. This past week, I tried to sell it to myself at a ridiculously low price, with sentimental music in the background and threats of losing confidence in myself. But if I don’t approach it in the right way, and consider all the possible side effects, I’m going to drag my feet longer with the take-down of a single wall hanging than is currently the case with the process of renewing my visa.

The product is one that I need. It’s the pill I need to swallow to continue with my life. But to expect that I shouldn’t be at least a little nervous about leaving without much ceremony a place – and a life – that has helped form my identity and personality for the last five years, is to reduce me to the caricature that I’m so keen to sketch of myself.

This is unfortunately how it is, and these are my last words on this particular matter.

It’s Monday, 9 February 2004 at two minutes to one in the morning. I have to go to bed, otherwise I won’t make it to that medical examination tomorrow. How long can I, after all, endure this manic ping pong in my head?