When my father got drafted back in the early 70s, he ended up getting a big send off, complete with the neighborhood chief (里長) presenting him with his draft orders and commending him for his upcoming sacrifice. He then entered the navy, and according to him, proceeded to spend his first six weeks getting violently seasick, while on patrol in the waters between Taiwan, Kinmen, and Matsu.
When my draft orders came down a few weeks ago, I got a pink form letter from the district office shoved into my mailbox, telling me to come pick up my marching orders. Not quite the glorious warrior sendoff of yesteryear, but hey I'll take it.
When I first arrived back in Taiwan, the three month university research job I took on seemed like a placeholder before basic training. Now, I'm sad to be leaving. There seems to be so much more good work to do than I have time for, even though everyone tells me I've accomplished more than enough already. No doubt, the three month deadline helped with my productivity level. One new peer reviewed paper out, one more under review, and more in the pipeline.
Three months go by fast when you keep yourself occupied. But all too soon, I'm turning in my final report, tying up loose ends on campus, firing off my final emails, and making a promise to return after my service term is up. Maybe this academia thing is for me after all. Maybe they'll send me to do science when I go in…
But if its something that I know I like doing, than that wouldn't be a sacrifice, would it?
On my last day as a civilian in 2011, I decided to make the most of my freedom by wandering around aimlessly. Through the ornate lobby of the Grand Hotel built in the style of an ancient Chinese palace, where the Chiangs used to entertain (and presumably, spy on) foreign guests, now filled with tourists.
Then out into the bright sunlight, into the hills up narrow staircases and boardwalks built by generations of locals, hidden underneath the green forest canopy overlooking the city below. Past terraced badminton courts, pavilions, and shacks with older couples singing karaoke.Then along a narrow road in the hills lined by bamboo forests, past abandoned army posts, and graves dating from the reigns of 道光, 光緒, and 昭和.
Back down from the hills into the city, and a small Buddhist temple where I am (gently) reprimanded by a nun for unknowingly standing on the tomb of a great monk.
And finally, into a shiny shopping mall with hipster kids wearing horn rimmed glasses without lenses.
It's amazing what you can find when you have no idea where you're going.