From New York to Indonesia to Formosa - Life as a Digital Nomad in Taiwan
The Taiwan Employment Gold Card Office had the honor of sitting down with Gold Card Holder Yvette Jong for an interview.
Jong grew up in New York as a third-culture kid, influenced by Taiwanese, Indonesian, and Chinese heritage. She currently works as a Hospitality Strategist; her clientele includes international hotels, destinations, and restaurants. Many are private member clubs, and Jong helps them build strategies around their business needs. In 2020, Jong traveled to Taiwan with her husband and daughter, and we are excited to hear about her experiences on our beautiful island.
Tell us about your job and what you enjoy most?
In hospitality, I can live vicariously through my work. It’s constantly about the customer’s journey, so it almost feels like virtual travel. Of course, I also focus on the business aspects to ensure financial and operational viability, but at the end of the day, we have to make sure there’s a reason customers come (and come again). In some ways, it can be torturous because I am constantly looking at pictures of the blue waters in the Caribbean, the lush jungles in Asia, or historical destinations in Europe. But, of course, I do get to travel a lot.
Do you always travel and live a nomadic lifestyle, or are you usually based in one location?
Pre-COVID? laughs After growing up in New York, I never thought I would live in a big city again. I thought I would live on a farm somewhere like Montana because I wanted to escape the urban life. But then I studied hospitality and realized I could live and work anywhere in the world.
By the time I was 23, I had lived and worked in Taiwan, Thailand, Shanghai, and Scotland. I lived in many places but eventually went back to New York, which still didn’t feel right. So I headed back to Asia again and almost worked in Beijing for the Olympics, but landed in Hong Kong, where I consulted with a group that brought me all across Asia. There was a moment when I was living between Hong Kong and Bali.
When I founded my consulting firm in 2011, I decided Craft House would be free of a physical location, allowing my strategists and me to work from any place they please so long as we were near an airport and had strong wifi. Since our clients are everywhere in the world - from Manila to Mauritius, Costa Rica to California - it doesn’t matter where we sleep at night. At present, my strategists are based everywhere from Monaco to Minneapolis, Siem Reap to Seattle. And since my husband Vinc’s work requires us to travel around the world, my business arrangement works particularly well for us.
Your husband works with bamboo, right? Can you elaborate on what he does?
Vinc is a German carpenter, which is something he trained for intensely in his Bavarian village Germany. When he was 17, someone gave him the opportunity to move to Africa for work, and he took it. He worked with GTZ then met Jörg Stamm, a fellow German carpenter but also one of the world’s most influential bamboo visionaries, and Vinc was like, “What’s this?” It isn’t the bamboo that we picture in Chinese paintings. It’s this huge, fat bamboo the size of trees that take 3 years to grow and is then used to build with architecturally. Vinc’s consulting work helps train local teams to transform the conceptual drawings made by architects into physical 3 to 6-story pavilions, homes, and megastructures - so they don’t fall down laughs.
You decided to come to Taiwan last year, tell us more about that.
We originally planned to visit Taiwan in February 2020 to celebrate my dad’s 80th birthday and just to be in Taiwan to eat, cause, laughs that’s what you do! But, when COVID hit, we canceled the trip and quarantined early. In November, we decided we were ready to head back to Asia for 2-3 months since Taiwan was doing well. We were like, “Let’s go!” Since we both work remotely and our daughter wasn’t in school, we took this opportunity to see 阿嬤 (ā mā, Grandma), 阿公 (ā gōng, Grandpa), have her learn Chinese, and explore the country as a family. It would also allow us to touch base with Asia-based clients. In truth, Vinc and I had spoken previously about living in Taiwan, but we didn’t have the opportunity. When we heard about the Gold Card, we realized this was our chance.
How did you hear about the Gold Card and decide that this is something you could qualify for?
My cousins have been in Taiwan for 10 years and we’ve lived in both New York and Hong Kong at the same time in the past. Since they know I’m the type to “go on vacation” but not return for 10 years, they said, “You might wanna consider it ;).” And I was like, “Okay!”
You have lived and worked in places all over the world; what makes Taiwan different and special for you?
For me, there’s a strong sense of belonging. We have family reunions in Taiwan every 4 years or so, which have reinforced my connection to Taiwan. That, and I also did “Love Boat” (“Love Boat” is a summer camp to learn Chinese in Taiwan) when I was 16! It was my first experience of independence, going to this country to learn Chinese and having the time of my life. It was a rite of passage into adulthood, and we got up to all sorts of mischief. Some of my friends now are still friends from back then.
The opportunity for my husband and daughter to fall in love with Taiwan for themselves was important for me. And hearing our daughter speak and sing her first Mandarin words was almost monumental because I grew up as a third culture kid in New York who never wanted to speak Chinese (until I was much older).
Then there’s the variety. Food is always a celebration – whether we have our daily streetside Fantuan or venture out of the way to have the perfect stinky tofu stall (which Vinc loves more than I do). And lastly, the mix of urban living with nature helped us balance life a little easier. We toured the island, swam on the beaches, cycled in Sun Moon Lake, hiked Alishan to see the sunrise, soaking in the hot springs, and even joined a weekly hiking class in Taipei for 4-6-year-olds where we saw some of the most amazing scenery from the surrounding mountains.
What does your husband think about Taiwan?
He thinks it’s amazing. It took him some time to find his own tribe of people working in sustainable architecture, but luckily he found them. Each introduction led him to another and the more he connected with them to learn about passion and share industry secrets (often with a translator), he realized that he wasn’t just a foreigner in another country.
He also found it safe and easy to get around with the help of instant translation apps. Now, he could take our daughter around town on his own to their favorite hangouts like the skate park in Nangang ;) We were blown away by how many kids in Taiwan are on inline skates. They fit right in!
What is your favorite thing to do in Taiwan?
It really depends on how long I am spending in Taiwan. If it’s a short trip, it’s all about the local breakfasts, night markets, and my favorite, those little stationery stores. I always buy stationery items that I don’t need and will never use because they’re just so precious. For example, look at these Mahjong post-its notes shows post-it notes or these German-themed ones with Wurst and pretzels. And this edamame keychain that has smiling edamame you squeeze out laughs.
This time we had the opportunity to stay such a long time, and it gave us the freedom to just do more than we had hoped for. In the beginning, I wanted to do something every day, explore the whole island, but then we could slow down and picnic or laze by the beach with friends.
Do you think there are work opportunities for you in Taiwan?
Yes, I was hoping to do some work in Taiwan since I can adapt to local market needs and provide strategies to small non-profits and large international hotel chains alike. Even with COVID, there is work for hotels and hospitality businesses to assess their business models. For me, there’s always work to find! In the absence of Taiwan-based clients, I loved the opportunity to speak to junior high and high school students at both local and international schools about life, careers, risks, travel, and much more. Vinc and I both spoke at the Taipei European School, and I had a separate presentation at a local Junior High School in Taoyuan. It’s experiences like this that are sometimes more rewarding than work.
What is something that you didn’t expect from Taiwan before living here for an extended period of time?
We knew we’d find peers working in global innovation professionally – in fact, we would have been surprised if we didn’t meet changemakers along the way. But to list the things that did surprise us along the way would take hours to talk about.
As a family, we didn’t expect to find micro-communities that shared our personal family interests. By chance, we found a children’s hiking class thanks to someone who was selling his used car seat. Our families became fast friends, and the hiking class became instrumental in our experience in Taiwan. The instructor is an amazing individual who wants nothing more than to teach our tiny 4-6 years old how to be responsible human beings. Then we found a small play-based “school” beside our local park that focuses on personal growth and community. Both groups aligned with our style of parenting, and we loved it.
We also didn’t expect to attend my father’s solo exhibit at Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall, which featured 66 paintings he painted since COVID started!
What are your future plans?
We would love to go back to Taiwan. My Gold Card is valid for another 3 years or so, and we are definitely open to going back and working there. And now that my daughter can speak Chinese, we definitely want to return so she can keep it up. The last thing we tried to do before leaving was getting my husband his own Gold Card.
Do you have anything else you would like to add or say? Husband Vinc appears in the call
Vinc: “My time in Taiwan was very special. I mean, from a parent’s perspective.”
Yvette: “He loved spending time with my parents!”
Vince: “Uh, both laugh What I am saying is from a parent’s perspective, it was amazing. All these playgrounds everywhere, how open people are, and those little groups we’ve bumped into, like the hiking class. I don’t really know what it would be like without having kids, so I can’t judge. But Taipei is a super place, the country is beautiful, and the food is great.
Yvette: “What we also wanted to do was move down to maybe Taitung for a little bit. Or spend more time in Hualien. We had this vision of going down to Taitung for 6 months, so hopefully, in the future, this will work out.”