By TODD LAWRENCE Special to the Palisadian-Post
(EDITOR’S NOTE: In February, we received an e-mail from Todd Lawrence, 31, who grew up in Pacific Palisades and has been living in Taiwan since June 1995. ‘The Palisadian-Post wrote several stories about Sky McMullan and me in 1990/91 when we ventured around the world for a year straight out of high school,’ Todd wrote, and he wondered if we were interested in writing ‘a short story about my current life in Asia.’ He provided some interesting details, so we happily agreed to help him craft the following story through e-mail correspondence.) After graduating from Palisades High, Sky and I took off for a year’s adventure around the world starting with a one-way ticket to Bali, with stopovers in Tahiti, Fiji, Cook Islands, New Zealand and Australia. Then on to Nepal, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia, after which we conquered most of Europe. Some highlights of our adventures that remain clear in my mind are bungee jumping and black-water cave rafting in New Zealand; scuba diving off the Great Barrier Reef; exploring the Cu Chi tunnels under Ho Chi Min City (previously Saigon), Vietnam; visiting the many temples throughout Asia (especially in Thailand); trekking in the mysterious Himalayan mountains of Nepal; all of the amazing food we tried on our journey; and the many wonderful people we met off the normal tourist tracks (locals as well as fellow backpackers). We stayed mainly with local families and in guest houses in Australia and New Zealand, guest houses throughout Asia and the South Pacific Islands, and youth hostels in Europe. To save money we sometimes would sleep on the beaches, in parks, train stations, airports or from time to time even climb the drain pipes of the youth hostels in Europe and sleep on roofs. It was always about saving money so we could explore new destinations. Sky and I paid our own way through our travels around the world. This trip was a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience. Sky and I both realize this. We would love to do it again, but the question we both have is ‘How to find the time now that we are working?’ After returning to L.A. in 1991, it was so difficult to settle down and concentrate on ‘school.’ I began rock sculpting and took classes at Santa Monica College in art and international business; later I attended night classes and seminars in business. After graduating in 1994, I flew to Taiwan for the first time to visit a girlfriend. I stayed only six months, teaching English and exploring the island, but I sensed ‘I could really live here.’ The people were so kind, the culture so intriguing, and there were abundant opportunities for working in the manufacturing side of business. During my return to Los Angeles I continued to rock sculpt and worked several different jobs waiting tables at local restaurants. In 1995 I was ready for a change and decided to pack my things and move to Taiwan to study Mandarin Chinese at a university in Taipei. I picked this part of the world to live primarily for the wonderful people, comfortable living environment and numerous business opportunities. Taiwan is the center of manufacturing for most things in the world, and I have always enjoyed the creative side of manufacturing. In the beginning years, I focused on studying Mandarin while teaching English and working for several trading companies, helping mostly with client correspondence. Mandarin was a challenge to learn, but once the base was set, I improved steadily. I am currently project director for Marwin TSE Production Group, a Taiwan company producing custom-designed products in areas of tooling/molds, plastic injection/assembly and aluminum extrusion. Manufacturing facilities are located in Taiwan and China. We produce three items for Porsche AG in Germany and also the innovative Micro Ski (not yet sold in the U.S.), which fits normal, everyday boots and shoes and eliminates the need for hard snow boots. Other projects include computer peripherals and plastic hardware. I oversee all manufacturing from product design and tooling development to mass production, packaging and export. (Visit our Web site at www.marwintse.com.) Aside from my current job, I have built many business relationships with manufacturers in all industries. I ‘source’ many products in Asia for clients around the world and also help new companies develop their own designs or move production to China for lower costs. Besides work, Taiwan is a wonderful place to live. There’s only an hour flight to most of our manufacturing facilities in Hong Kong and China, so I can keep a close watch on production lines. Business trips are usually very rushed. I leave my apartment in the early morning and by afternoon I’m in Shanghai. Sometimes I?m in Taipei in the morning, Hong Kong in the afternoon and back to Taipei for dinner. I have friends in these cities, but it’s difficult to meet for more than a drink due to the tight travel schedule. Most nights consist of dinners with clients and suppliers to discuss recent projects. Fortunately, Mandarin is getting easier and I can speak enough to discuss projects and negotiate with the factories and suppliers. I recently flew to Munich for a major winter sporting goods show. Upon returning, I spent five days in Taipei before flying to Shanghai to meet a potential client I had just met in Germany. I spent four days in Shanghai showing them our manufacturing facilities, then returned to Taipei. Our German designer will meet me in Shanghai in April. During this trip we will also visit production facilities in Xiamen, Guangzhou and Hong Kong, then return to Taiwan for a tour down south to Taichung, where we produce our aluminum extrusion items. This is a fairly normal month for me. When I’m not traveling and working, I try to have somewhat of a social life. I have many friends here, foreign and local, and the nightlife is quite exciting. There are numerous clubs, bars and discos that stay open until 5 or 6 a.m. and there is always something going on every night of the week. Everything is very close, only a short taxi ride away. So it takes a lot of discipline to stay focused on work and limit oneself to going out only on the weekend. I met my current girlfriend, I-Duan, here in Taipei. I live in a studio apartment with a balcony overlooking one of Taipei’s busiest streets (Hsin Yi Road) in the Da An district. On the weekend, if weather permits, I enjoy hiking in the mountains surrounding Taipei, sipping oolong tea in one of the many small tea houses overlooking tea plantations just outside of the city, attending the many trade shows at the Taipei World Trade Center, inviting friends over for a balcony BBQ, taking short trips down south to the many beautiful spots (Hua Lien being my favorite, where massive marble river beds cut through the mountains), and strolling through the weekend flower and jade markets. When I have a chance to get away for several days at a time, I enjoy taking my girlfriend to one of Thailand’s many resort/spas to relax on the beach and unwind. I return to the Palisades twice a year to visit my parents, Charlene and Richard, and my sister Pam, who lives in Santa Barbara. I talk with my friend Sky almost every week. I don’t think we’ll have the chance to take a long trip together in the near future, but we have met several times in Asia for holiday and will continue to travel. Pacific Palisades was a great place to grow up and maybe someday I will return to live and raise a family, but I honestly do not miss it. There is so much more to see in this world. It’s easy to get stuck in wonderful places such as the Palisades and let the world go by. Of course I miss my friends and family and always invite them to visit me. I appreciate the exclusiveness of the Palisades and excellent weather, but Taiwan is my home, for now.
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