My Time in Taipei & What it’s Meant

As I look back at the last five months of my life all I can think is wow. 

It may be cliché but I can’t help but wonder how the time went by so quickly?

Seriously is there somebody with a remote control for my life and have they been pressing x2 >> this entire time?

A lot of emotions come to mind as I reflect on the past five months living in another country.

Nervousness, gratitude, growth, discovery, doubt, self improvement, amazement, shock and many more words come to mind.

I’ve met so many amazing people, seen countless incredible sights, shared and created fantastic memories and overall experienced so much; many of these experiences were things I had never thought possible before taking this trip.

 

Eye-opening.

That would be the one word that I believe best summarizes my experience abroad. Growing up in a North American society my mind has been organized and programmed to think in one way. My time spent living in Taiwan, and also travelling to four countries in between, has allowed me to see how people of other backgrounds think.

As my home base, I’ve had some insight into how Taiwanese society operates, I’ve noticed differences between this society and the one I grew up in. I’ve also noted ways in which I feel Taiwan is both ahead of and behind the game in comparison to my home country of Canada.

To name a few, the public transportation system here (comprised of subway, buses, bicycles, etc.) is extremely convenient, expansive, and inexpensive. Also when you purchase a product in Taiwan your receipt comes back with a number, this number is automatically entered into a bi-monthly lottery! How neat is that!?

There are of course other aspects of living in Taiwan that I have had to unwillingly get used to. For one, most restaurants don’t have knives here. It’s as if your teeth are your knives and for a Westerner trying to eat a large piece of chicken, this is not always practical. It’s also very common for people to very loudly clear their throats here, and at first these tendencies can seem disruptive but sooner than later you become accustom to it. It becomes normalized and then you almost forget it ever bothered you in the first place.

No one society is perfect but what this tells me is that its important to define and acknowledge difference as more of a learning opportunity than anything else. Difference shouldn’t be frowned upon as being a negative trait, but rather as a chance to learn and potentially make a positive change.

Working with Taiwanese people really showed me a lot about some of their common characteristics. They were nothing but extremely generous and complimentary towards me. Maybe I just got lucky, but the Taiwanese people I have met here are very hard working and very generous people.

Although shy at first, after a few weeks my co-workers really opened up to me and shared more about their lives. They were very curious about me and asked many questions about my life in Canada, and of course I always asked them the same questions back. These informal exchanges greatly enhanced my understanding of their every day lives and overall culture.

They also liked to joke with me more, even poking fun at my Chinese pronunciation. I’m grateful for the time they took to help me learn how to order coffee or my favourite food in all of Taiwan: dumplings (shuǐjiǎo).

I can honestly say that this experience was not exactly what I first expected. But there is something to be said about the expectations I had in that they stemmed from a lack of knowledge and also from listening to other people’s thoughts on what Taiwan might be like (it is worth noting that most of these people had never actually been to the country before). What I take from this is that, listening to what other people think about what you plan on doing is not always going to be the best thing you can do for yourself. Sometimes you need to just go for it, you might make mistakes or encounter unexpected circumstances but if you don’t try it how will you ever know?

Although different from my original thoughts, I more importantly wouldn’t change this experience for the world. I believe it has helped me to grow and mature greatly. I’ve lived with a stranger who quickly became a good friend and I’ve also lived by myself and learned more in the past five months than any semester in university!

I’ll always be grateful to this tiny yet proud country and the wonderful souls I have met in it. I will miss the night markets and their yummy snacks and fresh juices. The UBike system, the bars that stay open until 7 AM, and most of all, yeah you guessed it, dumplings.

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A Taste of the Pacific Ocean

Have you ever tasted the Pacific Ocean? Maybe an unexpected wave crashed into you right when you opened your mouth to yell something at a friend or sibling?

I realized this past weekend that fortunately, the Pacific is much less salty than the Atlantic! Why is this relevant you ask? Because recently I chose one windy day to go snorkelling and although I likely swallowed an entire glass of salt water, it was extremely worth it.

My friends Sandra, Shiun and I met at Taipei Main Station and took the 1811 bus to LuoDong! The bus ticket will cost you $110 NTD (and the bus leaves at 8:20, 9:20, and 10:20 AM, so naturally we took the latest one.

CAMERAThe stop for the snorkelling is called Long Dong Port.

The location is remote so before leaving make sure to stock up on food, water, sunscreen, and to bring all necessities: bathing suits, towels, sunglasses, etc.

Once we got off the bus we walked down some bamboo stairs, continued straight for about two minutes, and before long saw a quaint shop on the corner that rented snorkel equipment.

For $70 NTD we rented a snorkel and began the journey to the “Dragon’s Hole” for some underwater adventures! The path to the snorkelling cove is straight from the shop (ProTravelTip: remember to follow the people, the crowd rarely leads you astray) and is a tad difficult to get to, unless your parents put you in rock climbing classes as a child.

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It takes about 15 minutes, and my best advice is to just take your time, wear some running shoes, and look before you step/ jump.

Once you arrive, you’ll be rewarded with an amazing view and will instantly forget how annoying that rock trek was. Place your bags somewhere on the rocks, strap on that snorkel, and jump in!

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The water was perfect temperature for swimming and we quickly found a spot where, what I like to refer to as Dory’s (ahem Finding Nemo ahem), we’re hanging out!

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After swimming around and taking in the bunches of beautiful coral and fish gathered around them, we spotted a rock formation where people we’re jumping off.

It was about two storey’s high so of course we had to jump off of it. After scaling up the rock formation, with the help of two ropes tied to the rock, I quickly took in the view before taking my leap! Oh, and plugging my nose.

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We swam, laughed, and soaked up the sun during lunch while we reflected about just how lucky we were to explore this hidden treasure at so little cost! After all, it’s important to be in the moment, but in that moment it’s also extremely important to reflect and appreciate what you are experiencing.

There are some days in life we wish we could relive because they were THAT awesome, and let me just say that for me, this was definitely one of them.

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Travelling to Long Dong?

First, download BusTracker Taipei from the app store.

On your way home, the 1811 bus can pick you up at the Long Dong Port at 3 PM or 6 PM.

Alternatively, you can take a bus to Keelung (for example bus 791) and then from Keelung buses leave every 10 minutes for Taipei.

Bus 1811: http://www.taiwanbus.tw/information.aspx?Line=3025&Lang=En

 

Taiwanese Mandarin and Hokkien

Traveling to a country different than the one you were born in can often involve dealing with a language barrier.

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In my case, I’ve found this to be too true. Although a large amount of people in Taipei can speak a decent amount of English, it is common for people outside the city to know less, and in both situations there is still not much room for lengthy communication.

I stand by the statement made by Rita Mae Brown when she said that, “Language is the road map of a culture.  It tells you where its people come from and where they are going.”

Not understanding a certain language can leave you feeling all of the above, but I really believe that you cannot completely understand another culture, or really get to know the people you meet from it it, until you speak their language.

Sure I can have basic conversations with Taiwanese people but even not being able to ask a sales person more than “How much for this?” in Mandarin bothers me.

And just when I thought I was starting to be able to detect the sound of Mandarin. I was walking down my street one day past a place where an elderly man owns a small fruit market.

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He was sitting close to the street talking to what looked like his close friend, only it didn’t sound like Mandarin. After consulting with one of my Taiwanese friends they suggested it was likely Hokkien, which instantly made me wonder, what is Hokkien?

Hokkien is a dialect that descended from old mainstream Chinese. And after some research I realized there’s several variants of the Hokkien language, Taiwanese Hokkien just happens to be one of them! But Medan Hokkien and Singaporean Hokkien also exist as spoken languages in parts of Indonesia today!

The majority of the people who continue this language are elderly Chinese men and women, as Mandarin has become the more commonly used standard. Despite this, author Kuan Eng has created, “My First Book of Hokkien Words” to help continue and teach Singaporean youth the language. hokkien

If you think Mandarin sounds difficult to learn consider the fact that Hokkien has 8 tones, instead of 4 tones like Mandarin. These tones come with strict rules of pronunciation that I think native speakers would agree are no piece of cake to learn.

Mandarin and Hokkien represent just one case of language differences. However there’s even differences between the Mandarin spoken in mainland China and Taiwan!

Often the same words are used but mean completely different things, or the words are simply completely different! Take for example the word “pineapple.” In China it is called bo luo but in Taiwan it is referred to as feng li.

For more on those differences, check out this video.

With so many languages in South Asia that were previously unbeknownst to me, it’s been an interesting struggle to try and learn some basic phrases and comprehend the differences between each.

(Don’t even get me started on the differences between Cantonese and Mandarin)

However this difficult learning experience made me realize that had I never taken this amazing opportunity to travel and work abroad I would likely still have no knowledge of these languages or their existence.

In North America the popular mindset is that English can get you anywhere, and through any circumstance, but I’m here to tell you that simply knowing English will not provide you with a truly deep experience while you travel, so if you have the time and the means, the best advice I can give would be: learn another language. 

For more info about Hokkien:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taiwanese_Hokkien

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Singaporean_Hokkien

Arrival

My journey began in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

July 28th: I set off, by myself, for the longest voyage I have yet to take in my 22 years.

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Five episodes of The Mindy Project, four frozen meals, three mini bottles of wine, two plane rides, and just one day later I arrived in Taipei, Taiwan.

This opportunity came to me through the organization AIESEC (http://aiesec.ca/), which facilitates global learning and understanding through its international internships and volunteering placements.

After reuniting with my combined four bags of luggage I immediately texted my dear family and friends several messages along the lines of, “I MADE IT!!”

Next I was greeted by my Local Committee Member named Eric, who, despite it being very late, seemed extremely enthused to welcome me to his home.

My first impressions of Taipei? Very hot and humid. The standard definition of personal space? Much smaller than what I’m used to, but wow! Taiwanese people are friendly.

About an hour later I arrived at my new apartment, The West Residence. “Fitting for a foreigner from the Western World,” I remember thinking to myself.

After recovering my keys from the front desk, Eric and I took the elevator to my floor and opened the apartment door to see, not my roommate, but his cat, Doug Doug.

Relieved to have reached my unfamiliar home half way around the world, I stared out my bedroom window and took in the night view beforeIMG_6552 settling into bed. The street was surprisingly busy for the time.

It felt surreal to consider myself a soon to be expat in this overseas destination I had researched and talked about for so long. And yet here I was. This was real life, and it was really happening!

With the combination of my body thinking it was 2:30 PM (instead of AM), in addition to my curiosity and excitement I thought for sure I would toss and turn all night.

But to my surprise, with a little A/C and a comforter left by a former tenant, I was ready to fall fast asleep with hopes of soon exploring this new city.

Before I closed my eyes, in one of those fate type of moments you see in the movies, I stumbled upon this picture on Instagram.

And suddenly everything seemed to make sense.