Post-exile, part 001


Why can’t I go home at the end of this month – February 2004?


I can state categorically that I don’t need a home with a nice address to produce literary material. The issue of a car and house were until recently very important because one of the main reasons for repatriation was marriage-and-children. This issue has also been addressed. If I can’t help myself, and a woman finds me attractive despite her best efforts not to … then that’s just how it is. But I’m not planning to car-and-house anymore just to advertise it as such in an Only the Lonely Corner with a picture of me from ten years ago.

What is it that could possibly keep me here in March, and April … and December 2007? Is it the woman at the fried calamari place that has smiled at me a few times? Is it because I want to improve my Chinese? Maybe I’d like to travel to Japan, and China, and … what were the other places again? Maybe I first want to get my EFL publishing business off the ground? Better reasons? Worse reasons? This is, thank god, not an “Exile” essay …

The only reason why I’m not shoving my books into a box with one hand while typing with the other can be summarised in two words: “furniture” and “money”. And considering that if I didn’t have furniture, money wouldn’t be much of a problem, it comes down to one thing: FURNITURE!

“Leave the damn furniture right here,” would perhaps be your advice.

“I’ve got about fifty boxes too,” would be my pathetic attempt at talking back.

But let’s talk straight: It’s February. It’s the month of medical examinations to prove I’m healthy enough to live amongst the old and the crazy, and possessed taxi drivers and gangsters. It’s also the month that I have to renew my visa, for a period of what has amounted over the past five years to another twelve months.

I am painfully aware that I have enough money to pay for the plane ticket I booked with so much hope in December. The single ticket will cost me NT$15,500. This will leave me with enough money to keep myself going for a month or two until I can start earning money in some miraculous way in South Africa (as I continue to spend at least twelve hours per day writing material that few people will ever read).

I am aware of this state of financial affairs. I am also aware of the fact that I have suffocated most of my personal issues, or bored them to death.

So I know how much money I have, and I know how many things I will not be able to do. In theory, I can stay here another few months … damn it, in theory, I can stay here another few months and probably add a few thousand to the few thousand I have in the bank. I know full well I could probably sell my two sets of EFL material – did you really think I spend the whole day composing my personal agenda? – to a local publisher.

However, this takes nothing away from the fact that nothing is keeping me here but the need for a little more money, and a few tables and chairs. Can I walk away from the pieces of furniture that other people discarded on street corners over the years, and that I dragged to my own apartment late at night with great enthusiasm? There’s the old cabinet with drawers and gauze-covered sliding doors at which I make my notes; the small, low bedside table; the wooden cupboard in the kitchen; the large wooden table under my computer; other small tables. Then there are the musical instruments I bought in moments of madness in 2000, sofas and sofa chairs, my exercise bike …

You have to sacrifice if you want to move forward. Or you have to hope you get enough capital from somewhere that will enable you to spend thousands of rands or dollars just to put your computer on the same wooden table in your own country.

I’m always so eager to talk of revolution. Can I really do what I have to do if I become aware of the price? Or am I holding on to blades of grass while a large hand stretches out to me? Am I stupider than I think?

Do I know so many “answers” and still I stupidly rush in the wrong direction?


For a long time, I have ignored, or sidestepped the idea of balance. Balance, as I recently discovered again, is essentially about lack of tension, or at least as close as possible to this ideal situation. The idea is central to many religions. A return to the tension-less state before physical birth finds manifestation in for example the nirvana of Buddhism, and the paradise of Christianity and Islam. The desire to return to a state of complete relaxation is, like the primal fear of disappearing into the void, one of the most fundamental aspects of the human experience of reality. No one can escape it. (Odd, this pursuit of complete relaxation, but also the fear of disappearing. Millions of religious people desire entry into “paradise” after their physical death, but at the same time they fear physical death – an essential prerequisite to enter paradise. The Buddhist nirvana, on the other hand, is to literally disappear into oblivion, but many lives must be lived before you get to this point. Isn’t it true that we all believe – deep in our hearts – that we are ultimately going to disappear into nothingness? Does it simply make us feel better giving a name to the place, or by believing the process is complex and protracted?)

Disappointing as it may be, this theological introduction is just a way to get back to my latest plan: to return to my True Home possibly at the end of this month, without enough money, and without proper planning – where high tension is likely to be rife, and where I will likely disappear into the nothingness of an uncharted no man’s land. It is true that I dropped hints in December of airline tickets that had been booked and returning to South Africa at the end of February 2004 has indeed been the plan since last July. However, I have started taking it for granted that I would stay on for a few months beyond February.

My problem, as I have already explained in the first part, is that I realised yesterday that I have a small window of opportunity right now to risk a truly heroic escape. I don’t really have enough money, but I have enough to buy that one-way ticket.

Furthermore, I see no shipping containers in my coffee beans, which means I will finally get to do what some esoteric characters speak of with great conviction: I will have to travel light. No tables, no boxes, no chairs or comfortable sofas. I will have to throw my books, and a few small ornaments and pieces of cloth in boxes and mail them home. Then I’ll have to pack two suitcases, and load them together with my computer, my camera, and the body that houses my spirit on that Cathay Pacific aircraft on Thursday, 4 March.

Why would I lift my exile after all these years in such an almost impulsive and irresponsible way, after so many “better” plans, so many financial calculations, so many elaborate scenarios and backdoor options? Because the organism is experiencing tension. And when the organism experiences tension, when he sees there’s not going to be immediate relief, he smiles at irresponsible plans. Then the voice of reason is suddenly occupied somewhere else, because even this voice knows full well what its real purpose in life is: to ensure the organism’s survival for as long as possible.

If the tension becomes too great, a plan must be made to restore the balance. And if “better” plans, and more “responsible” strategies don’t line up with the primal needs of the organism, then it’s time for revolution.