What I needed in February 2004


I’m reviewing the February 2004 pieces, “Advice about staying or coming back”, “Slave to the word” and “About friends, and other personal reasons”. It’s unpleasant to read. I had an intense desire to go “home” (“home” in quotation marks, because why wasn’t Taiwan home?). It can be simplistically argued that I was afraid to take the step after five years in Taiwan where I had created a comfortable life and home for myself. However, I had a strong suspicion that it would have been the wrong move for me. I felt that a conventional life with a 40-hour-a-week job and salary and house in the suburbs was something that wouldn’t work for me, even if I could put all the parts together. I could say I wasn’t special, and if millions of my contemporaries could get the hang of it and find happiness in such a life, surely, I could too. Fact of the matter is that people differ. One man becomes a professional soldier, and his old childhood buddy becomes a high school Science teacher. Why don’t both become professional soldiers? Why not both teachers? People differ.

The man behind his computer early 2004


The pieces from early February 2004 are … strange to read now. The situation was that before the end of the first week of February I had to go for a medical examination as a requirement to extend my work permit. I was also desperate to leave Taiwan, and to go back to South Africa (it wasn’t necessary that the first action should lead to the second). I knew that if I did not do the medical test on time, my work permit couldn’t be renewed, and then my residence permit would expire. I would then have no choice but to leave Taiwan. The icing on the cake was that I had never been keen on doing the medical. So, all I had to do in order to get my way – to leave Taiwan, and probably go back to South Africa – was to not do something I didn’t want to do anyway.

On the other hand were the memories of the previous time I was in Northeast Asia, with a job and an income and a place to live, and me deciding that I simply had to make a move – as soon as possible.

If I made the wrong decision, I knew, I might be paying for it for years to come.

From “The last exile” of Monday, 22 December 2003 up to and including the few paragraphs titled “11 February 2004” is a piece of personal history of me basically arguing with myself.



The possible lifting of my exile in February 2004 was a complete fuck-up. On the one hand, I put pressure on myself: “If you want to feel like you belong somewhere, you must leave behind the life you built up in Taiwan and go back to South Africa. That way you can enjoy barbecue and pudding with your parents and your sisters as often as you want.” And from the other side an admonition: “You’ve already written so many pieces about going home. If you don’t act now, no one will believe you ever again if you say something.”

With a personality like mine, plus the right psychological pressure points, you don’t need many enemies.


I wrote in the piece, “And the answer is …”: “The product [that I tried to sell to myself] is one that I need. It’s the pill I need to swallow to continue with my life.”

The implication, if you read the piece, is that the product was to pack up my life in Taiwan and go back to South Africa – to be closer to my family and to feel I am in a place where I should be.

Looking back after almost two decades, I want to venture a better interpretation: What I really needed was a conviction that I belonged where I found myself at that moment of my life – be it Taiwan, South Africa, or anywhere else in the world. I needed to be convinced that wherever I was, was right for me – or in stronger terms, that I was in a place where I was supposed to be. In February 2004, I believed that that place was not Kaohsiung in the south of Taiwan, but rather in the province in South Africa where my parents and younger sister were living at the time.

What I needed was to develop a sense that Taiwan was indeed right for me. But more than that – that one can belong in a place far from where you were born and grew up, just as you can feel lost in the very place where you first took root.