The colourful adventures of a Donegal man abroad

THERE will be one familiar voice in the stand to cheer on three young Donegal students who are participating in the World University Games in Taipei next month.
Glenea United goalkeeper Joe Coll, a student at GMIT, has been included in the 20-strong Irish men’s squad while Milford’s Amber Barrett (Maynooth University) and Niamh McLaughlin (Northumbria University) from Moville have been called up to the ladies squad for the 2017 Summer Universiade, which is being hosted in Taipei on the island of Taiwan.
Alex McQuaid (36) from Falcarragh and his girlfriend Diane teach English in Taichung, a town in central Taiwan.
“All I knew about Taiwan was that any toy I ever owned, that broke when I was young, was always made in Taiwan,” laughed Alex.
Speaking to the Donegal News this week, Alex explained how he ended up living in a country that is half the size of Ireland with five times the amount of people.
“I wanted somewhere new, somewhere close and a cheap flight,” he said.
The son of Wilma and Aidan McQuaid, Alex’s sister Billie has opened a kitchen in Teach Coll’s, one brother has a painting business in Dublin, while his younger brother teaches in Vietnam.
“I studied at PCC and I probably wasn’t the best student but survived that experience before spending a while in London on the building sides before studying in DIT from where I eventually graduated in 2005 in Business,” he explained.
They say a degree opens a lot of doors and it took a while to release some of the benefits, although not how Alex had imagined.
After graduating he travelled for a year, taking in Asia, Australia and New Zealand, South America and the USA before coming home to look for a job, an apartment, and to try to fit in.
“Something had changed. I needed the chaos, the adventure, the edginess, I needed to be part of it,” he said.
After a year at home he moved to Canada before arriving in China to teach English for the first time in 2008.
“All you needed was a degree and an online TEFL course that I had completed in six hours. It was terrifying but exhilarating at the same time,” he recalled.
Thailand was his next port of call.
“I moved to a town called Chanthaburi, about the size of Letterkenny, near the Cambodian border. It was a twenty minute motorcycle ride from beautiful tropical beaches. I had a two story house in the jungle, it even came with a car. I had my own mango trees, dragon fruit plants, banana trees! The house rent was 100 euro a month. I had seriously landed on my feet,” he said.
However, a family illness took him to Seattle and back to St John’s, Newfoundland where he met his girlfriend Diane.
“Somehow I convinced Diane that it would be a great idea to drive from the South to North of Vietnam on a motorbike with all our stuff. So we booked one way flights and set off in December 2014 and we haven’t been back since,” he said.
The couple arrived in a place called Hue in Central Vietnam where their school promised things many things, health insurance being one.
“Two weeks later I needed emergency surgery. Low and behold, our school had lied, lied about many things, our work visas weren’t even processed after five months and we were about to become illegal aliens in Vietnam. My safety net of savings had gone to keep me breathing! We looked online. We wanted somewhere new, somewhere close and a cheap flight! Taiwan!


“We arrived in Taipei. I assumed it would be like Thailand or China where most people had a good command of English. But we were in shock. Again, all you need was a degree in your back pocket. We got offered a couple of jobs and settled quite quickly. Social media has made adapting so easy in today’s world. There are Facebook groups for renting, buying scooters, used furniture, jobs, subbing, meeting new people locally, information sharing…..everything became a doddle,” he laughed.
On a typical week here he works 9-6 at a junior high school, Monday to Friday. On the weekend they usually drive into the beautiful countryside to either hike one of the 286 mountains over 3000 metres, swim in a beautiful waterfall, or relax in a natural volcanic hot spring.
“It really is as good as it sounds. The restaurants here are plentiful and cheap. Though, any pub in the world will never beat a pub in Ireland and the craic. But you have to make the most of it. Embrace your new place and never compare.
“We will be in Taiwan for at least three years and it will be a hard place to leave. The quality of life is great and it is easy to save a few pound, the health care is amazing and the convenience stores (Spars equivalent) here are unreal.
“They have roads in the sky, tunnels for miles through mountains and trains that go 300km an hour. The ease from A to B is a dream and although earthquakes are common you just need good sea legs on the upper floors,” he said.

Encounters with Donegal people

Over the past 17 years he’s bumped into Donegal folk in a basement in London, alleys in Bangkok, a parade in Boston, in the trees at Glastonbury Festival and even up at the Christ the Redeemer Statue in Rio, Brazil not to forget a Radiohead concert in Japan last August.
“One complaint though, is that life goes way too quick when you are enjoying it. Everyone is getting older, your friends are all married and family time gets a lot more precious. Some day soon I hope to return to the hills of Donegal on a long-term basis. You never know who you will meet next, what direction your life will go, you may travel for years, see the world, but your heart will never leave home,” he said.
The World University Games will no doubt make Alex feel a little home-sick for a few days next month.
“We are not hard to spot, usually sunburned like a lobster, wearing a GAA jersey! Websites like the Donegal News are great to stay in the loop at home too. We are a proud people, travel well, and are great ambassadors for our county and country,” he said.

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