Friday, October 25, 2013

Expat Culture in Taiwan: To buy or not to buy...

One of the things you suffer from in those early years when you haven’t decided if you are going home or not, is ‘to buy or not to buy’ syndrome.
At the start, when you first arrive, it is easy: you rent yourself a small room, you buy the minimal furniture and lifestyle accessories to fry yourself an egg and wash yourself and all is ok. After all, you will be leaving in a year and then you will buy that really nice armchair you want and a fancy set of cupboards. Then you hit your 2nd year extension and it starts to get painful, for a number of reasons:
1) You are already feeling bad because you have his funny feeling in the pit of your stomach that tells you there wasn’t any sense to your extension, and you are setting yourself up for the long haul in Taiwan. Still you are not able to deal with that at the time so it just leaves you feeling a little insecure.
2) You have probably extended because you like Taiwan, or your job, or a girlfriend, and you have begun the slippery slide into settling down, becoming domesticated.
3) You have already started driving around the city with your girlfriend having conversations about: ‘yeah, if I was going to stay in Taipei long-term, I would live here…’
What happens then it that you do what you have been resisting for years, you allow the girlfriend to take you to Ikea and other furniture shops and home comfort purchase crisis sets in.
What is purchase crisis? It is the period between when you don’t make any home comfort purchases and when you give up and accept you are staying in Taiwan. This is a painful time, because you start to buy home comforts and you are torn because you are in Taiwan to save money and frankly you know this is a total waste.
You start small by just buying a few wine glasses justifying it by saying: ‘so what if I can’t take them home, they are only cheap.’ But shopping is an addictive thing so on the way to the wine glasses you see the tables, chairs, and sofas, and it burns you inside. You arrive at the checkout with a lamp, and some prints in your trolley, and it is hurting because you know it is a complete waste of money, but you keep repeating to yourself: ‘It is not really very expensive. I might be able to sell it one day.’ Once purchased and at home it feels good, but also unsatisfied because you didn’t really want these items, you wanted the sofa and table.
One year later your apartment is filled with lots of small items, half of which you don’t really want. In particular, the prints that you knew were naff when you bought them, and too many rugs, drapes and all those disposable plant type things like Ikea sells to give you instant style to your room. You bought them not because you were lazy but because, by being fast food furniture and not requiring effort or love to install, they allowed you not to feel guilty about putting down roots. Still it dawns on you that all that crap you don’t want actually costs more than the sofa you did, and you are still sitting on that old sofa that someone gave you; that you hate.
Why didn’t you buy the sofa? Obviously, it can’t be packed into your suitcase, it is a large one-off purchase, and it, most importantly, signifies putting down roots --When you buy a sofa you always talk about it lasting you several years.
At this point you get even more depressed by your rootless existence, and double up your efforts to decide if you are going to stay in Taiwan or leave. In order to give yourself time to decide you resolve not to buy any more home comforts, but throw your money into buying DVDs because they can be taken with you.
About six months later you buy that sofa and get married…