A certain part of common social interaction begins with questions. In English, these may be “How are You?” or “How’s it going?” In Taiwan the common greeting is “Have you eaten?” or, if meeting someone on the street, “Where are you going?” On a visit to Taiwan earlier in the month, I heard a new one. It comes in the context of my having retired, 18 months ago, from ecclesiastical employment. The man who asked me is the chairman of the board of the theological college from which I retired. He asked, “Now that you’ve retired, where are you serving as a church pastor?”
I don’t imagine for a minute that all who, like myself, have reached a mandatory retirement age from one job need not find some other way to earn a bit of money to keep the wolf from the door. Many whose careers have been in the church have been underpaid, or as impecunious as people in any and all other occupations. In this aspect, I’ve been blessed. I have enough. Nor do I discount the fact that many who have retired for whatever reason continue working at something to keep boredom at bay. One of the guys at the place where I have my car repaired is a retired police officer. He enjoys the interaction he has with people running the front desk there. Again, in this aspect, I’ve been blessed. Without descending into binge watching Fox TV, I’ve found enough to keep the mental wheels turning and body parts moving.
I think the board chairman’s question came from somewhere else, somewhere more deeply rooted in Taiwanese culture. It comes from the idea that people are always supposed to be “busy” about something, and that should last until the body itself is no longer capable of “busyness.”
For 8 years I was chaplain and advisor to international students. Among my final tasks during my last year in that position, I escorted a student from Zambia to the airport for his flight out. On the way I asked him what impressions of Taiwan he would take home with him. He responded it was the ability of Taiwanese people to turn from one thing to another and just keep going. They didn’t pause between tasks to relax and refresh, as he and his Zambian compatriots did.
When the chairman asked me, given my retired status, I was currently serving in a pastoral role, I responded, “retired is retired.” For that, I’m thankful.
David Alexander now resides in Holland, MI after 39 years of ecclesiastical employment in Taiwan.