Associate Editor Jim Weitz

The Pandemic Letters: Trapped in Taiwan
Interview with Janette

O:JA&L’s Associate Editor Jim Weitz recently spoke with Janette, a Canadian National trapped in Taiwan by quarantine protocols related to the CCP Virus (COVID 19).

Weitz for O:JA&L: Please tell us a little about your background.

Janette: My name is Janette, I’m Canadian (raised in Spain), 28 years old and I teach English at a local primary school in Taipei. I have been living in Asia since 2010.

Weitz for O:JA&L: When did you arrive in Taiwan? What were your original plans?

Janette: I originally came to Taiwan in August 2019 to join my partner who was completing a PhD here. It wasn’t meant to be a temporary move but the relationship didn’t work out and I planned to move back to my previous base in Beijing this July.

Weitz for O:JA&L: How and when did you discover that you would have to stay in Taiwan? What have you done since arriving?

Janette: I have strong ties to Beijing and so traveled there during both western New Year’s and Spring Festival (Chinese New Year’s) to spend it with friends and family. During my first trip there were no mentions yet of anything (at least not that had reached me) and we celebrated the end of the old year and the coming of the new with optimism. I’ve always slightly believed in that lurking superstition that the way you spend New Year’s Eve marks the following year.

Back in Taiwan, I began to hear rumors of new viruses but still, naive optimism (I was in Mexico during the swine flu epidemic and was largely unaware of it). Wuhan is a city close to my heart as I spent a considerable amount of my student years traipsing about the city. And so I listened with interest, but not worry.

When it came time to leave for Beijing again, around the time Wuhan was declared shut, I did so carrying masks and joking about bearing provisions (before the embargo on mask exports) but still fairly confident that this would all blow over. I came back to Taiwan to the school term being postponed provisionally and measures being taken to prevent any sort of contagion, but still a feeling of “this is all temporary”.

That attitude was reflected in the various job interviews I obtained during the month of February, assurances from school leadership that things would blow over soon and would it be possible for me to begin early May?

In March, Mainland China’s borders closed to all but Chinese Nationals but still, the optimism prevailed. Personally, I think being in Taiwan and life continuing on as normal (schools reopened fairly soon and have remained open) insulated me somewhat from experiencing the full impact of the pandemic. I still had a job (contract expiring mid July), funds, a place to live, a visa, I was lucky.

Since the border closure announcement I have kept an eager eye on any announcements as to reopening but we are now nearing the end of July and… it’s very probable I will stay here for another year. I have been lucky to benefit from a work visa until July and then a courtesy extension while I decide what to do, if to commit to another job in Taipei or to continue to wait for news from Beijing.

Weitz for O:JA&L: How has staying here affected your future plans? What is your attitude towards the future now?

Janette: I’ve never had but the very minimal sketches of a plan for the future; I’ve been travelling and moving around since I was very young and have made my peace with “instability”. This pandemic has mostly cemented the idea that as my mother is wont to say “El suceso imprevisto le acaece a cualquiera. / The unforeseen event happens to us all.” No one is safe from anything. So much has been written and said about this tumultuous year and the changes being wrought at various levels in our societies. How tenable will travel be in the future? Will things go back to how they were? Certainly not, so in terms of planning, I will still stick to “wait and see”.

Weitz for O:JA&L: How are you supporting yourself?

Janette: As to supporting myself, I have been lucky enough to have been working up until very recently so I am currently living off savings.

Weitz for O:JA&L: Any observations or thoughts you would like to add?

Janette: Some might say my situation does not qualify as “stuck” given that I was already here permanently, but I would argue that while I’m lucky and the interference has been minimal at the moment, the probable decision of staying another year in Taiwan has changed the direction my life is going in. I have not lived in Canada for almost 20 years. My close family resides in Spain, another area hard hit by the pandemic (which I’m currently barred from). I have no reason to stay in Taiwan other than necessity. But yes, I’m lucky.


About the interviewer:
James Weitz is a satirist and author of a novel, Gonzo Global Inc., a satire of globalization in which Mexican tap water is exported to the United States and sold as a laxative. He has lived in Asia and Latin America for most of the previous 15 years. During that time, Weitz has worked as a technical editor and taught ESL, composition and law at schools and universities in Latin America, China and Taiwan. Previously he worked in the Latin American and Caribbean region of the World Bank and on anti-corruption issues at the Organisation of American States. His stories have appeared in the journals Red Savina Review, and Pennyshorts. Jim Weitz has a Master of Arts in Applied Linguistics with a focus on cross-cultural communication from Nottingham University and a Juris Doctor from the University of Minnesota. He also contributes articles to O:JA&L on Literary Tourism associated with the Western Pacific region.

Image: Flag of the Chinese Republic (Taiwan).