“We were actually in a relationship before we saw each other in real life”

Max Kisman statue

I was in the Netherlands for three days, on my way from Taipei to Germany, when I opened Tinder and saw Mike sitting behind a drum set. I play guitar and keyboard myself, and I was drawn to the apparent ease with which he sat behind those cymbals and drums. Not that I wish I could find my love in a country I couldn’t even remember the name of. But that relaxed demeanor that made his profile picture so attractive turned out to be the same when we talked together, which made it easy to maintain contact.

I asked him, “What can I do in this country?” And I said I was on my way to Keukenhof. But he waved it as tourist stuff. He didn’t have a lot of other advice. We didn’t meet once in those three days. It seemed for a moment that he was going to follow me to Germany, but in the end he had to work.

not strange

Only after a year of sending dozens of letters a day did I travel from Taiwan to Holland again and searched for him. He came a few hours later and left me the key to his apartment in the snack bar. So I had time to look at his things, the pictures on the wall, his furniture: Who was this man for whom I came all the way from Asia?

But the crazy thing was: Because of all the video calls, texts, and emails, we actually had a relationship before we actually saw each other. It wasn’t strange, I already knew him, nothing in his house came as a surprise to me. It never occurred to me to put on a beautiful dress, and when he came home it looked as if I had been waiting for him from a job like this for years.

future plans

A few months later, in February 2020, he came to Taipei and met my friends and family. We made plans for a return visit during the summer holidays, after that we wanted to live together in Holland or Taiwan, but then Corona came. Baby, have you heard about the virus?, He texted me as soon as I got back. We’ve happily continued our video relationship, because we thought this wouldn’t last more than a few weeks.

We left the connection open all day, even at night. It was crazy, of course, that we artificially communicated. I looked at him all day, but I couldn’t touch him. And I remember the moments when I asked him: What do we really have together? What do we call this relationship? I wanted to give an unusual, familiar name so that it would be less repulsive. Of course you’re in a relationship if you take each other into each other’s lives month after month. I accompanied him via FaceTime to restaurants, to his friends’ birthdays, even to the grocery store and while he slept.

I did with artificial

I remember thinking, Oh, this guy is so loyal, so unlike any other guy I’ve known, who always puts their work first. Mike was never so busy that he didn’t even pay attention to me. But it turned out that Corona lasted for a very long time, and there were times when daily artificial contact began to resist me and I wanted to stop. When the lockdown in the Netherlands for so long ended, everything was still closed in Taipei. He was only able to come to me on a student visa last month, 25 months after our last physical encounter.

During the week of mandatory quarantine, he stayed in a hotel. She waved to him from the other side of the street and brought him fruit and coffee. And even though we still couldn’t touch each other, we could see each other with no screen, no bad connection, no time difference. Wow, it’s real, I thought in amazement that it existed. The man I know through life and waves in my face.

slow dinosaur

Oddly enough, I was never for a moment afraid that I was carrying the illusion into my house. Not even later, when he suddenly stood in front of me. And now, two months later, that hasn’t changed. Our common life itself. Was all the attention on me during Corona, now I have to share his attention. He gets up early to learn Chinese, does his work during the Holland period and is often exhausted and absent in the evenings. It happens that he doesn’t listen when I say something, and then I give him a poke: Huge man, wake up. Then it looks like a slow dinosaur.

Love itself has remained undiluted, but the practice is sometimes more complicated than during the aura. I don’t know if we can make it together. I don’t think you can plan and imagine everything. All I know for sure is that I love him. From our paths together, from our funny relationship. Even the quarrels between us. What I’m saying: I’ve found a good restaurant and it bumps into after me with a “would be” attitude and turns out to be a voracious European immediately, attacks Asian food and shouts: “Honey, that’s very good.” Then I raise my eyebrows in a superior likeness and say: ‘Oh honey. I told you so.’

“I met her in 2018 when I was doodling on the train, her image showed an incredibly vicious, cheerful and cheerful woman. She was on her way to Keukenhof and wanted to know what I was doing. Out of curiosity, she showed interest in what she ate, and I felt through her eyes for myself: someone wanted to know who I was to the smallest detail.

We started texting, but it took months before I called her. I was on the train again, this time I was on my way to my friends in Italy and suddenly I thought: I finally want to hear Julien’s voice. She didn’t seem surprised, this also went in line with the normal way our communication had gone up until then. However, her voice sounded stronger than I expected – she comes from a Taiwanese fishing family where no one cares about business. Not even Jolin.

In November 2019 she visited me. I gave my house key to my neighbor from the snack bar and said, “Asian girl coming, give her some chips, because she’s on a long ride.” I had put a rose on my bed.

stubbornness and joy

I wasn’t nervous, just happy and expectant, which proved to be perfectly justified, because when I walked in she was exactly as I had imagined. A month later, I went to Taiwan in turn, and we started making plans for the future, how are we going to do that, are you coming to live in Holland or am I in Taiwan? I was approaching 50, she was nearing 45, we knew what life was like on our own. This was much better.

Her stubbornness and happiness, her desire to know everything, and the way she could suddenly turn into a sensitive girl—the role I probably loved her most—made her the type that suited me so perfectly that I had no doubts about it. Its roots and residence are far away. But I had not yet returned to the Netherlands, February 2020, when she texted me: Honey, have you heard about the virus? All our plans are over, we won’t be able to see each other for 25 months. Attempts to obtain a private visa have repeatedly failed. Hope alternates with despair. How long have we been doing this?

It was great to have a video link open day and night, getting to know each other’s habits, and bombarding it with questions like: Do you hide eggs at Easter too? (no they did not). It would have been nice to make the same dish at the same time for Christmas. But there were also times when the extension seemed out of place. Annoyances about desperation expressed themselves in misunderstood petty and major controversies. It always worked, but we knew this couldn’t go on forever.

From thousands of kilometers to one meter

Two months ago I finally got the green light from Taiwan. I was allowed to attend for half a year. Until the last moment I was afraid that it would not pass, that I had entered something incorrectly and still was not allowed to enter the country. Then I also contracted the virus two weeks before leaving and the tests remained positive. But she succeeded.

All passengers were tested again at Taipei Airport. The Dutch boy next to me was taken away in an ambulance with the sirens going, but my number was allowed to pass. Moments later, I waved from the fifth floor of my quarantine hotel to Julien, who was standing in the street in her pink blouse, linen pants and straw hat. When I was allowed to go, I knew that as a last resort, I had not been allowed to touch her for a week – and I knew she would stick to it. She came running and stopped a meter in front of me suddenly. We went to get something to eat from a distance. We sat on a bench from a distance. Glad that those thousands of kilometers have been reduced to one metre.

And now, two months later, I have my own apartment and I’m learning Chinese. One of my first words was “dirty mess”. She often says this with disapproval of the chaos in my house. Because apparently physical contact also includes annoyances about physical disorder. This is something we are learning to deal with.

We spend days in each other’s arms on the sofa taking family trips, watching a movie and spotting birds. All is well. But there are also tensions. She gets upset when I yawn and get angry after a whole day of learning Chinese and working. But it will be fine, we know what it’s like to love under the crippling circumstances. And when we said to each other out loud the other day, ‘Suppose things got worse, then at least we gave it all. We were allowed to fail’, and that’s a relief. Now that the stress is over, things are back a lot better.

Jolin and Mike’s names have been changed at the request of the interviewees. Their real names are known to the editors.

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