In issue two of XI, Chris Gaffney recounts his experiences playing soccer in Taiwan. Working there as an English teacher, Gaffney experienced what so many do, all over the world: he just wanted to play. Read the excerpt below and subscribe now to receive this and 10 other stories in XI issue two.
In February of 1996, big sabers rattled across the Taiwan Strait. Tens of thousands of People’s Liberation Army troops were mustering in southeastern China, pointing large missiles at my small apartment on Pu Cheng Lane. As they glared across the water toward the Republic of China, the People’s Republic troops saw the aircraft carriers and destroyers of the United States’ 7th fleet, shuttled down from Okinawa. The Taiwanese were trying democracy for the first time and “elder brother” was not pleased, trying to influence the results of the presidential election by threatening war. Our group of ex-pats held an invasion party, looking up at the murky sky between slugs of rice wine and Taiwan Beer, only slightly disappointed when paratroopers failed to rain down upon us.
It had been just two weeks since I’d passed through Taipei’s Chang KaiShek International Airport on a work visa, having spent the previous year and a half traveling from Costa Rica to Austin, backpacking north through Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico, before working in Romulus, Michigan (don’t ask) and New York City. Back in Texas, I wrote a manuscript about my travels in Central America and Mexico, played soccer three days a week, gave a stool sample for the health certificate to get my Taiwanese visa and packed up for South East Asia. I was off to Formosa (as Taiwan was historically known) to teach English at a cram school. Why Taiwan? Because my college roommate told me he could get me a job, no Mandarin required.
Taipei was not easy. In addition to the threats of invasion and earthquakes, it was grim to not see grass, blue sky, flowing rivers or be able to pronounce, much less identify, the food I ate. Late one night, I found myself eating Gee-Pee-Goo: chicken ass on a stick. That’s right, chicken asses, poked right through with a skewer and thrown on the grill. It was a month before I could count to ten. The spastic movements of the Pacific Rim folded into my subconscious. Bustling night markets turned my head inside out. A foray into chewing betel nuts gagged me. Thoroughly confused, I began cramming English into young Taiwanese heads, riding my125-cc motorcycle, which I had named the “Black Widow”, through a neon haze. As with everywhere I had ever been, and in an attempt to make sense of things, I grabbed my boots and went looking for a game. It wasn’t easy.