|Taiwan Journal 1|
One September morning in 1989, at about 5:00 AM, I woke up and stealthily crept downstairs to the kitchen. There, I left a note for my parents. I went to the garage, got into one of my parent’s cars, and activated the automatic garage door opener. I waited anxiously as the door creaked and groaned while slowly rising. The thought of my parents waking up and discovering me was terrifying. They did not, and I drove off to the Connecticut Limousine terminal in New Haven, CT. There, I boarded a bus to New York City. I had with me a bag of clothes, a boom box, $300, and a one-way ticket to Taipei, Taiwan.
I was pretty screwed up, and to this day, I’m not really sure why. All through adolescence I had gotten myself into this cycle of lying to my parents about things, and getting caught. These lies were all about me meeting what I thought my parents’ expectations were. For example, I’d lie about my grades in high school. Inevitably I’d get caught. My senior year, I told my parents I was applying for college, and I wanted to go, but I never did end up applying. Obviously, I got caught, and kept letting my parents down again and again.
I ended up working as a cashier at the local supermarket while trying to figure out what to do. During the fall, (this was ’88) I found about what sounded like a great work-study program in Greece. I was really excited to go, and my parents agreed to use some of my tuition money to foot the bill. I could go for just the fall semester, or for both the fall and spring semesters. I elected to go for both. All I had to do was apply. Well, once again I didn’t apply and lied to Mom and Dad. They found out, of course.
Luckily, I DID actually end up applying and going for the spring semester. It was a wonderful experience, but that’s another story. While I was there, I got to know one of the guest teachers in the program. He had traveled quite a bit. One of the places he went was Taiwan, where he claimed that an American could easily get a job teaching English with no credentials at all. The idea fascinated me. I had always thought that I would like to be a teacher, and this would a real opportunity to try it out without committing myself long-term. Meanwhile, I was lying by mail to my parents that I had applied to Bates college, been accepted, and had deferred acceptance for a year (you really can do this).
I got back from Greece in the summer, and did nothing for a couple of months. I told my parents about the possibility of going of going to Taiwan for a year before going to college. Meanwhile, the lying machinery was in full gear. I told my parents I had gotten a job at Macy’s - a department store - and even faked it for a while. Once again, they found out. I ended up working back at the supermarket. They also found out that I hadn’t applied to Bates after all. I told them that I was going to go to Taiwan and teach, and possibly apply to Bates later. Not surprisingly, they didn’t believe in Taiwan either.
Well, this was getting too much for me to bear. My life was revealed as a series of self-created lies. I had to have some truth, something I could say I truly followed through on. I had to make a stand - if you can call running away a stand. I determined that I would really go to Taiwan. To shock my parents into realizing I was telling the truth, I would not tell them I was actually going until the last minute.
My first task was buying a ticket. I had about $1100 dollars saved up. When I went to the travel agent, she was very helpful. I was trying to leave with less than three weeks notice, and that usually makes plane tickets much more expensive. It was immediately apparent that a round-trip ticket was out of my price range. Even a one-way ticket was costing about $1100 dollars, which would leave me arriving in Taipei penniless. Finally, my agent managed to find a ticket for $800 dollars. I was all set to go.
All set except for a passport and travel visa, that is. Somewhere, I had found out that you could get a passport in a single day in Stamford, CT. I learned that there was a Taiwanese consulate in New York City. Here was a perfect excuse to procrastinate until the very day before I was supposed to leave. I could drive to Stamford, then New York, and return home all in the same day. In fact, I could claim that I had just had a long day at work and not arouse my parents’ suspicions at all. Easy, right? Well, luckily for me, getting my passport was quite easy. The visa, however, was another story.
I arrived in New York with a map and the address of the consulate written down. I knew it was somewhere on First Avenue. I couldn’t actually find First Avenue on the map, but I saw Third and Second Avenue as they got closer to the water. I figured that First Avenue was right on the edge, and I was just unable to make it out. I drove in, but I couldn’t First Avenue. Worse, things looked entirely wrong. This was clearly a well-off residential neighborhood. Where was the consulate? I got desperate. Without the visa, there was no way I was going anywhere. I drove around, looking for someone to question, but nobody was outside. Finally, I stopped at a house which had a car parked at the driveway.
I knocked at the door, and waited. Finally, the door opened a crack, held by a chain. An elderly man peered out, clearly, suspicious, and asked me what I wanted. I told him I was looking for First Avenue. He told me to go away. Somehow, my desperation got through to him, and he looked at the address I had written down. “This is Whitestone”, he said in his strong New York accent. “You want to go to New York City”. Oh. I looked at my map again, and sure enough, I was in Queens. I needed to go to Manhattan.
Finding the consulate’s address was much easier in Manhattan, but parking was a different story. It was mid afternoon by now, and I was very concerned that every minute would count if I were to get that visa. I found a parking space reserved for diplomats. I figured that my desire to travel to a foreign country made me enough of a diplomat, so I parked. I took an elevator up to the consulate, and after waiting in line, the people there were satisfied that I had everything order. They cheerful informed me that I could pick up my visa tomorrow. Well that wouldn’t do at all. I was supposed to be flying out early tomorrow morning. I begged and pleaded, and the consulate personnel said they would try to get my visa on the same day. After a few hours, they came through with my visa. Even more amazing was finding my car still parked right outside, without even a ticket.
I went home, and packed late that night. I had everything I needed - including my boom box, which I had recently purchased and was my most prized possession. Everything went without a hitch the next morning, and I found myself on a plane heading from New York to Seattle, where I had a stopover for a couple hours before going to Taipei.
While waiting in Seattle, a voice came over the intercom. “Daniel Russett, you have a phone call.” I realized what it must be. In the note to my parents that I left on the kitchen counter, I told them I was going to Taiwan. They had somehow tracked down my itinerary and were calling me. I hesitated, not knowing what to do. I realized that I had been a bastard by just leaving them a coldly worded note. On the other hand, I wanted a clean split and was eager to start my adventure. Part of the point was getting away from my parents. Guilt won over. I went to a phone, and spoke with them. It was excruciating. I felt terrible for what I had done. We ended up talking for just a few minutes. I promised them I would contact them once in Taiwan.
The flight from Seattle was long but uneventful. As I sat in my cramped seat I was both elated and terrified. I had started on a reckless adventure, with not enough money to return if I failed. I realized that I could call my parents and they would probably bail me out if I had to, but I resolved not to do such a thing unless I was truly in dire straits. It was nighttime and raining when the plane touched down in Taipei. I had arrived.
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