Friday, January 9, 2015

The Taiwan Addendum

Note: This article was originally supposed to be posted on Voyage to Asia as a "sequel" to my post about China hosted on that blog. Since the owner of that blog has not posted this article, I have decided to post it here.

I think that I will be the first to write about Taiwan on this blog. It is an honor and a privilege.

When my generation thinks of East Asia, we tend to think of the Hallyu Wave of Korea, the anime and video games of Japan, and the ancient culture and economy of China. There is, however, one country that is often overlooked. This country is Taiwan, also known as the Republic of China, or “the other China that uses U.S.-manufactured weapons”. At any rate, my ten days in this island nation whetted my appetite for more exploration.

I arrived in Taiwan broken and battered. I did not want to leave Mainland, but my time was up, and my “Hail Mary” attempt at finding employment in Guangzhou did not succeed. However, thanks to a very close friend of mine, my adventure in East Asia would continue for a few more memorable days.

TPE International Airport in Taipei

The instant that I touched down at the airport in Taipei, I realized that things seemed a lot less gritty than in Mainland. That is not said to put down Mainland China, as in all honesty, the grittiness has its appeal, but the environment in Taiwan made me feel a bit more at ease. To top things off, the food felt a lot better going down in comparison to some of the things that I had in China that tasted great, but made me suffer later.

One of the first things that I did in Taiwan was hit the gym. My friend was nice enough to treat me to the gym, and I hit chest and back. Malnutrition, lack of rest, and high humidity made it hard to put up the weight, but it was great to be back in a gym after nearly a month and a half of not lifting. I met quite a few friendly locals at the gym that really took lifting seriously, even more serious than the bros in Guangzhou did.

Adjacent to the gym was an Olympic-sized pool that we spent quite a bit of time in. It had been almost a decade since I had gotten into a pool, and I was never the best swimmer, but I still had a good time. In fact, this experience makes me want to swim more back in the States. I suppose that this is a minor example of how traveling is not just about seeing new places, but also about discovering new things yourself or adding new things to your repertoire.

Another thing that I learned in Taiwan was to appreciate simplicity. My friend lives up in the mountains of Miaoli County, removed from the hustle and bustle of Taipei (although close enough to Miaoli to have some convenience), so for the most part, things were quiet and serene. I learned to appreciate living without being wasteful, and even subsisted on a semi-vegan diet. These are lessons that will remain with me in America (hopefully I will be able to use them to save more money and expedite my return to Asia).

I might not need to save too much though, because the living expenses in Taiwan are relatively cheap. Food is very affordable, even moreso than in Mainland (on top of being more agreeable with my digestive system), and if you like bubble tea (some of you may know it as boba), then you owe it to yourself to take a trip to the place that it originated. In California, a boba would cost me about five dollars, but in Taiwan, it only cost me thirty, with thirty Taiwanese Dollars being the rough equivalent of one U.S. Dollar at the time of this writing.

Taiwanese Bubble Tea, or Boba

I found Taiwanese people to be quite friendly and helpful in general, and despite all that I had heard, I did not get many stares (maybe they all stared at me when my head was turned). Speaking Japanese may also come in handy in Taiwan if your Mandarin is not up to par as well. Many times when a person that I was trying to speak to could not speak English, we found a happy medium in Japanese since my Mandarin is garbage.

Wanting to extend my time in Asia, I decided to go for another “Hail Mary”. I applied for jobs in Taiwan, and linked up with another friend of mine that was an exchange student at my high school. Her father assisted me in trying to find employment as an English teacher in the township of Yuanlin. Unfortunately, I did not get the job, and to be honest, there is a possibility that race played a factor in this. Given the numerous anecdotes that I have read and conversations with a colleague of mine that has taught there, I would not doubt it, but the positive experiences that I had in Taiwan more than make up for this defeat.

All in all, my time in the ROC was satisfying, and I would like to return as soon as I can in order to explore more of what the nation has to offer. At the very least, I am sure that I can indulge in affordable, quality electronics and barbecue brushes!

The mountains of Dahu, Taiwan

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