In 2007 I was not a happy camper.
This seemed strange to my friends at the time, and it seems even stranger to me now. I was just not happy. I was, in fact, feeling very dissatisfied with my life, and I was wondering what to do about it.
At the time I was between my first and second year at Tunghai Junior High School, which is located in Taitung City. I had been married for seven years. My older daughter was seven, and her younger sister was two.
After years of fretting about life in one of Taiwan's big cities, and after years of worrying about the air I breathed and my perceived distance from "nature," I was finally living on the east coast of the island, breathing fresh air and soaking up the subtropical sunshine.
So why wasn't I happy? I had everything I'd always wanted. I had a beautiful wife who loved me and whom I loved, I had two beautiful daughters who I also loved immensely, I had the kind of job I'd been steadily working toward for years, and I was living in the kind of place I wanted to live in, without having to worry about money or the immediate future.
Why wasn't I happy? I'm still not sure. Something just took the wind out of my sails in 2007. Something made my personal victories less sweet. Perhaps it was the websites I was visiting. Perhaps it was the people I hung out with. I really don't know.
What I do know is that I was unhappy with almost everything outside my house. I'd go outside and complain about the way people drove. I'd go to a restaurant and complain that people were being rude, or that they were staring. I'd notice garbage everywhere, and wonder how people could be so dirty.
Then of course I'd think about the country I'd come from, and my dissatisfaction would become even greater. Back home people would never drive that way. Back home people would be nice, and wouldn't stare. Back home there wouldn't be so much garbage.
Back home, back home, so many things were "better" back home. And when I'd think about back home I'd never question the accuracy of my memories. I wouldn't ask myself if that place I remembered still existed or not. For me the memory of that place was beyond reproach, and Taiwan was bound to suffer by comparison.
Thinking about it now, I can only sympathize with my wife at the time. I must've been difficult to be around. Yet my wife, being the forgiving person that she is, allowed me to persist in this delusion, perhaps thinking that I'd come to my senses sooner or later. Even so, it couldn't have been fun listening to my complaints about Taiwan all the time.
You can probably guess what happened soon after. We wound up back in the USA of course, trying to work multiple jobs, pay for childcare, and save up for rent in one of the most expensive cities in the Pacific Northwest. It didn't go well. But of course it didn't. We were doomed to failure from the beginning, not because we weren't able to survive there but because that place I so desperately wanted to be, that place that seemed like the answer to all my complaints, didn't exist anymore.
Whether it ever had existed is something I'm still not sure about. Either the places I missed had changed or I had changed. Either the things I missed weren't popular any longer, or I had grown bored of them. And even if it had all somehow stayed the same, I would've probably been unhappy with it regardless.
Why? Because in the years between leaving my hometown and returning to it I had failed to notice one important thing - that I was living somewhere much better. And it really was better; I'd come to realize that. It was only that my sense of dissatisfaction had blinded me to what was good about Taiwan, and had led me into a very expensive error.
Sure, I managed to remedy that error in ten months or so, but it remains one of the most expensive and frustrating missteps I've ever taken. Why WAS I so unhappy with Taiwan in 2007? Why WAS I so convinced that going "home" was better?
Even now I couldn't tell you. Now I'm just glad to be here, and when I wake up each morning I remind myself of that fact. I also remind myself that even the best place - given the wrong attitude - can seem like the worst.