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Taiwan and the Black Box

A year has passed since I left Taiwan. Sometimes it feels like I left yesterday, sometimes it feels like it might as well have been someone else who left Sweden for Taiwan three years ago. Throughout my life, I have always felt a need to be understood by people around me, and I think that those of you who know me also understand me quite well. This was completely true three years ago, but isn’t any longer. I don’t think saying sorry is an appropriate reply, but I do lament the increased isolation and loneliness that comes with a change like this.

I believe that a person is an amalgamation of experiences, composed by the various decisions she has made throughout life. These experiences and decisions form the basis of a self that then continues to interact with the world in an active manner, accommodating and adapting. Thus, it seems obvious to me that personalities don’t change easily, simply because of the huge accumulated momentum of previous experiences and decisions. Particularly momentous events will of course impose themselves more heavily on the self and leave deeper marks.

A few years ago, I think that I was a quite simple person (and I don’t mean that in a negative sense, I’m a big fan of simplicity). I had few secrets, few things that I felt that I wanted to express but couldn’t, and a set of experiences which was roughly similar to that of most of my friends. This has changed. I don’t want to say that I keep a lot of secrets, but I do have a number of things I’d rather not talk about. Instead of being able to express what I want to express, I now feel that some things are so complicated and/or personal that trying to express them is just a futile waste of effort. I still have lots of things in common with my friends, but I now have a significant part of myself that you will never be able to understand. Perhaps this is the unavoidable result of growing old, of following different paths in life.

I want to remind you that what I write is in no way meant to be related to other people who might have experiences that appear similar to my own. Perhaps some people feel exactly like I do, perhaps they don’t. It doesn’t matter, at least not right now. Living abroad for two years might be a long vacation for some people, but I dare to say that it is by far and without a doubt the most important change in my adult life so far. Nothing has had a greater impact on my life, my thoughts and my future.

The reason I feel more isolated and lonely than before is that I’m the only one who can understand what all this means. This is not because I’m a beautiful and unique snowflake (I’m the same decaying organic matter as everyone else, after all), but because I can’t express what I have experienced, even if someone were prepared to listen (and I seriously doubt that anyone would). This part of me is a black box the inside of which only I can see. It is the existence of this black box that makes me less simple than before; it’s also what makes me feel more isolated.

For people less inclined towards regarding introspection as a means of pursuing a meaningful life, this black box might go unnoticed, or, if noticed, it might be deemed dangerous and largely left unexplored. Not so in my case. I’ve thought a great deal about this black box, and I think I understand it fairly well. From my point of view, I’m the same as before, but with some added experiences and decisions. I see the connections, I see how the ebbs and flows of the past three years have affected me. You can’t, because even if you wanted to, I haven’t allowed you too. That’s why the box is black.

I don’t think black is nice colour for the box. I feel that I should try to describe the contents of the box. I feel that I want to. As I said before, I’ve always felt a need to express myself and be understood, so even if no one is prepared to listen, I still think I should try to make the black box accessible to other people. I don’t keep it closed out of fear, shyness or complacency, I keep it shut because I don’t know how to make the contents meaningful for someone who isn’t me. Even though the name sounds a bit dismal, the impressions, thoughts and dreams imprisoned in the box aren’t negative. They are still mine, and as you know, I tend to have a rather positive view on life.

Before starting to write this article, I only knew that I wanted to write something about Taiwan in retrospect, but I was quite unaware of the details. I thought that I would tell you a little bit of what has transpired during the year since my return to Sweden; what has been going on beneath the surface, so to speak. I thought that I would tell you a little bit about how difficult it was to leave Taiwan, how many tears have been shed, how torn apart I’ve felt. I also thought that I would tell you that returning to Sweden was still a very good thing indeed, and that the purely negative emotions became inexorably more subdued and has now vanished almost completely. I thought that I would tell you that it took more than half a year to find my bearings and feel that I was again on my way somewhere, rather than just drifting, and another half year before I felt completely back on track.

That was not how this article turned out. I’ve been feeling that the activity inside the black box has increased recently and that the content wants to break free, it’s already started leaking out. I need to gather and transform this into something meaningful. How? I’m going to write a novel.

I think a novel is a good way of approaching the black box. As you might have guessed already, it’s not going to be an account of my stay in Taiwan; not even I think that’s interesting enough. Rather, it’s going to be about the black box, which is intimately connected to my time in Taiwan, but is still something that belongs to me personally and not a geographical location. Those who want to read in more detail about my life in Taiwan will be disappointed, but those who want to understand my two years abroad and what they mean will probably be more interested.

The book will tell a story based on impressions, not events that would match up with other people’s accounts of what actually happened. I will deliberately disregard factual accuracy. I will merge, delete, create or change characters as I see fit. I will explore the black box using whatever means I find necessary, including trickery, fabrication, remembering, fantasising, wishing and dreaming. I do not intend to spell out what is real, because in this context, nothing is real anyway, except my impressions.

Just like events before the present are limited to our memories of them, things that have not yet happened only exist in our minds. The future will never come, the past never happened. It’s all about the present, about the memories and dreams we have now, and what we choose to do with them.


  1. Martin Ackerfors’s avatar

    It does not matter if it is heaven, hell or Taiwan a person has been through, the black box, the isolation and the loneliness is the price we pay for our choices. Some puts the box up for display, puzzling the audience who does not know what the owner of the box knows, others tend to shut the box in, feeding it until the box is the sole purpose of the owners existence. As usual, something in between seems to be the most rational way to approach the box, and therefore, I am glad to see you will be writing about it (even though I had a hunch ;) ) and, if you feel the need, I believe I am prepared to listen, not to understand what you have been through, but to understand where you are at the moment. And if I know you even the slightest, the moment is what matters the most to you (although the past and the future plays their significant part).


  2. Björn Jacobsen’s avatar

    The best of luck to you, Olle!