Photo Credit: Patrick Springer
Traveler Patrick Springer Reflects On Teaching & Opening Taiwan's First Black-Owned Bar
A resident of St. Louis, MO, Patrick Springer took a major leap of faith in 2011 when he packed up everything and relocated to Taiwan.
The 32-year-old had just left college and was struggling to find employment in the middle of a recession. After not having much luck finding a job, Springer was invited to come to teach in Taiwan by an old college friend who was also teaching middle and high school students in the country. Although he had never traveled outside of the US or even flown on a plane, Springer was determined to make the move and take a chance on himself.
“I didn’t know anything about it,” Springer said. “I didn’t even know teaching abroad was an opportunity for people. I didn’t know that was something you could do.”
In October 2011, Springer moved to Taiwan with a slew of new beginnings and opportunities ahead of him. Upon arriving, he was greeted by Mandarin welcomes and warm energy even though he only knew one person in the entire country.
“A lot of my other coworkers, I had gone to school with but I didn’t know that they were there,” he said. “The only person I knew was the only other Black guy who ended up being my business partner when we opened the bar.”
For the first three months in Taiwan, Springer lived on the campus of the school he taught at in a small dorm. He immediately noticed how different the education system in Asia was compared to that of the United States. Students arrived on campus at 7:30 a.m. and remained there the entire day until sometimes close to 10 p.m.
“That’s the standard there, so a lot of times the teachers would have more of a parental role than their parents did,” he said. “They lean very heavily on the teachers, and that’s why there’s so much respect for teachers and what they do.”
Springer taught English, writing, and literature to middle school and high school students for seven of the 10 years he spent in Taiwan. However, he did eventually move off campus into the city where he enjoyed living near the water, having a view of the surrounding mountains, and luxury living at inexpensive prices.
“I think my rent at the time was like $300 a month, and that’s like the upper end for rent in Taiwan,” he said. “So I had this nice place that’s cheap for me.”
The lush radiance of Taiwan provided a nice backdrop for Springer’s many adventures during his 10-year stay. He lived near the water and loved riding his scooter and motorcycle through the city, wandering around the neighborhood, getting lost, and exploring.
Springer made sure to experience as much Taiwanese culture as possible. Every event, party, or festival happening in town, he attended to ensure he soaked up the rich culture and history of the destination. He also ventured outside of Taiwan, visiting over 50 other countries throughout Europe, Asia, and Africa over the decade.
Growing up in North St. Louis County, Springer didn’t see a lot of people traveling outside of the country and having new experiences. With so much opportunity ahead of him, he felt he owed it to his old neighborhood to experience as many exciting moments as he possibly could.
“As soon as I got over there I felt like I had this obligation to everyone else back in the city to really experience everything,” he said.
After spending seven years teaching, Springer left his career and embarked on a business journey with his friend from college to open Taiwan’s first fully Black-owned bar. Although the city had a plethora of bars for foreigners, there wasn’t anything created specifically for people of color, and Springer wanted to meet that need.
“I’d always wanted to open up a bar. Just my own place where Black people and foreigners could go in Taiwan,” he said. ”They had spots where Black people could go that had hip-hop night, but they didn’t have anything that was created for us and owned by us.”
In 2019, Springer and his business partner opened Arts & Crafts, a craft beer spot in the heart of the city known for its great music, comfortable vibe, and good drinks. The bar became an immediate favorite amongst people visiting Taiwan, with the majority of their customers being foreigners. With limited options for urban entertainment, people of color naturally gravitated towards the establishment.
“It was the first time we really had a 100 percent safe space where you can just come in and be your regular Black self in there and it’s not a problem,” he said.
Arts & Crafts survived through the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Springer noticed vast differences in the country’s approach to the virus and, through their efforts, Taiwan remained seemingly untouched by pandemic devastation.
“When COVID first popped up, we ended up losing about 85 percent of our regulars, which took a huge toll on business,” he said. “But we were able to keep the doors open because COVID, the actual virus, wasn’t a real thing in Taiwan.”
However, fear gripped both locals and foreigners, and social distancing and self-quarantine measures caused a decrease in business. Although the business duo pivoted to offering more cocktail options and virtual bartending classes during the pandemic, Arts & Crafts still closed its doors in 2021 as an indirect result of COVID.
Shortly after the bar shut down, Springer returned to the United States. His time spent abroad had taken him across three continents. He’d met an array of exciting individuals and experienced cultures and worlds beyond what he could have imagined when he’d first arrived in Taiwan.
Now back in the Midwest, Springer believes he can go anywhere his heart desires and feels everyone should experience the world outside of their own backyards.
“In America, we get so caught up in the rat race of things and get stuck thinking we can’t go places or don’t want to go places because we have everything we could possibly need right here without ever fully experiencing what else there is in the world,” he said.