Borne of Disaster

Published under the pseudonym Salvatore Paradisio
Xpat Magazine December, 2005

Ever since I arrived on this cursed island 14 months ago disaster has rained down on me like a subtropical thundershower. Xpat Magazine was borne of this disaster. But I will have to explain that a little later. As with all stories, I must start from the beginning:

I always wanted to write. After graduating from the University of British Columbia four years ago, I set to it. While working as a laborer in Vancouver, I woke up at 5:30 a.m. every day to write for an hour before catching the cross-town bus to work. When I lost that job, I went tree-planting where I spent countless exhausted evenings in my folding canvas chair slapping mosquitoes off the back of my neck with my left hand, while my right scribbled wobbly text across the pages of my notebook.

Whenever we had a day off I’d hitch a ride into town and head straight to the local Internet café to write freebie book reviews for a small website and feature articles for a youth magazine from my hometown.

Last year my girlfriend Tristessa and I decided to move to Taiwan. We came because we both had student loans to pay—but for me the money was just an added bonus. I was attracted to Taiwan by the promise of pay for my writing skills. Knowing that English is such a sought after commodity in Taiwan that schools are paying top dollar just to scrape a few teachers off of the bottom of the Western academic barrel, I figured that with my honors degree and background in writing I’d slide easily into a position editing or writing at a newspaper or magazine. Then, in my spare time, I could freelance, write a book, or do whatever else I wanted.

I was one wide-grinning sonofabitch that fair August day that we boarded our flight. When we landed I could finally write for a living.

My dream of literary employment was quickly snatched away. Our first two days in Taiwan were spent blundering through the streets near our hostel in Taipei in a frustrating search for English service and food. Then we went to Taichung where we stayed with Tristessa’s friend Leanne who hated Taiwan. She complained constantly. Tristessa, who was going through an emotionally difficult time for other reasons, caught Leanne’s Taiwan bitterness like a flu. She too began belching a river of complaints and, by the end of our first week, Triss had written off living in either of the two major northern cities.

Unfortunately, as anybody who’s ever looked for a job with a periodical in Taiwan knows, almost all of the publishing houses are located in Taichung and Taipei.

I agreed with Triss that Taipei was too big and expensive, but I felt that Taichung was an accommodating city. We had friends here, there were lots of English businesses, and I’d easily be able to find work editing. I tried to explain this to Triss, but it was like trying to argue the Theory of Evolution with the Pope when he’s drunk. There’s nothing more immovable than the spirit of a bitter woman.

So, grudgingly, I called some friends of mine in Tainan and arranged a visit. Tainan was splendid. It was full of parks, there were beaches nearby, and my friends had a massive modern apartment on the edge of town. To Tristessa it seemed ideal. I couldn’t talk her into living anywhere else. I had to either stick it out in Tainan, or leave her and abandon my dreams of white sand sunrises and palm tree shaded afternoons for us. So, I hung my head and answered her with a defeated, “yes dear.”

It was a concession I would never forgive myself for.

Aside from the blow to my writing career, things worked out well in Tainan. We both fell into good jobs. We found a big central apartment. She bought a scooter, and I bought a motorcycle. I started studying Chinese. We made an excellent start on our Taiwan life.

There was only one problem–we couldn’t stand each other.

Tristessa hadn’t been able to shake her Taiwan bitterness, and, resentful for having been forced to move away from any chance of a writing career, I was unsympathetic. I did everything I could to keep myself locked in my office. I started writing frequently for FYI South — I took any assignment they’d give me. I wrote features for a magazine back in my hometown. I worked on short stories. I scoured the Internet for new publications to submit to. I used my work to distance myself from Triss. I figured it was fair. It was her fault that I had to go through the hassle of freelancing, so she would pay for it with my absence. All I really did, though, was make things worse.

After only four months in Tainan Triss moved out. To tell you the truth, I was relieved. I was distinctly less relieved, however, when she started sleeping with a friend of mine whom I had invited to Tainan and helped get set up just a couple of months earlier.

My trip had fallen into ruin. I came with dreams of tropical romance and print opportunities abound and watched it all crackle and melt under the friction of an imbalanced relationship. Suddenly, I had nothing that I’d come for. Several gloomy months passed as I struggled to keep writing and reconcile myself to my fate.

Then, one day, a fissure opened in the muddy sky and a shaft of light poured out.

I was in Kaohsiung writing a piece on a theatre. One of the actresses was a Taiwanese girl named Angel – and an angel she was. She worked at one of the only publishing houses in K-town. She told me they were looking for a full-time editor. Of course, I got her number and applied immediately. Angel’s boss was the one doing the hiring, but she didn’t speak English, so my interview was actually with Angel. By the end of our three-hour Saturday afternoon hiatus on a sunny pub patio, she assured me that she’d give me her full recommendation. The job was mine.

But a week later Angel backtracked and asked me for some samples of my work. She’d seen my portfolio, but it was all professional journalism. Her company published children’s books. They just wanted to make sure I could also write for children. Just send in the samples and, so long as nothing’s horribly wrong, you’ll have the job, she assured me. That same day I wrote two letter-perfect stories based on the samples she gave me and sent them back.

A week went by and no word.

Finally, I called Angel to see what was up. She told me that her boss had given her the assignment of hiring the editor and that now that it was her ass on the line she wasn’t willing to hire the first person that she’d interviewed. She wanted to talk to more people. She reassured me that it was just a formality, the job was still mine, and that I’d have the position by the end of the week.

One week turned into two weeks, and then three. Angel’s excuses piled up like lead bricks on my already trodden soul. A hot rage swelled in my gut. It finally burst during one Friday night conversation. Angel told me that, although she’d promised me her decision (again), she couldn’t decide until she received samples from another writer who’d contacted her. I could maintain composure no longer. I let the profanities fly. I called her incompetent. I told her that she was one of the most unprofessional employers I’d ever met and that I would never work for such a useless boss. She listened in silent, complacent agreement. She knew that she was an awful businessperson.

A couple of weeks later, after my anger subsided, I realized that during that game of editor string-along I had become very excited about the idea of attaching the ‘editor’ title to my moniker when I queried magazines. I still wanted that title. I became so wrapped up in the idea that I decided to start a magazine. I figured that if a gormless coconut-head like Angel could manage an editorial department, I sure as hell could.

So, last February I placed an ad on the local internet bulletin board to see how many contributors I could stir up, and Xpat Magazine was born.

It’s been 16 months since I first planted the seed for my life in Taiwan. A tree has grown. It’s not a pretty tree. It’s been stunted and twisted by harsh conditions, and nearly uprooted by disaster, but it’s survived and ready for harvest. If the fruit it bears is sweet then I can rest my tortured mind, vindicated by the knowledge that my time here has not been wasted.

So, gracious readers, as you browse this magazine you must be aware that you are not merely judging a magazine—you’re judging the outcome of my first 16 savage months on this sub-tropical island. You, my crucial readers, will decide if my time here has been a success or a disaster.

That being said, I hope ya like the mag.

Salvatore Paradisio

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