Friday, January 9, 2015

A Week in Taiwan

There is a place where you can sleep in until noon, work part time, eat out three meals a day, live in a sleek studio, party until 4am and save up enough to travel on the weekends. There, you can easily learn a very useful new language, discover and develop hobbies, enjoy the outdoors every day, and make life-long friends that will become your family. There are endless natural wonders to explore from enchanting mountain villages, hidden hot springs, to dreamy islands off the coast. There, strangers will help you with directions and the cost of living is low, yet the quality is superb. You don’t need a car, or even a scooter. You don’t need to come with much more than a suitcase, a degree of any sort, a couple hundred bucks and an open, adventurous mind. Taipei is a gem, and for years travelers have been streaming in to see if the rumors were true and end up staying because, well, they are. I have yet to meet anyone who didn’t fall in love with Taiwan. If you’re even consider it, stop it and just go.

My experience living in Taipei is difficult to put into words. Three years, three glorious, unforgettable years, flew by as I spent my early 20’s there. It’s just another one of those things where you have to experience it to understand what it's like.  When I got on the bus to leave Taiwan in September of 2013, I bawled uncontrollably throughout the whole 40-minute ride to the airport. I’m surprised the driver didn’t stop and ask me if I had just lost a family member. I’ve never even cried that hard over a boy before!

I didn’t think I would be coming back for a long time, and I feared that when I did, everything would be different. I thought I was losing a part of my world I would never be able to return to. It was time for me to close that chapter and move on, grow up, establish myself somewhere, and get a ‘real’ office job. Well, we all know how that turned out.

This ‘real’ job gave me a pretty generous holiday break, and although I heavily considered Mexico at first, I couldn’t say no when my parents offered to meet me up in Taipei. I see them like, once a year if that, and if I were to pick somewhere to go ‘home’ for the holidays, Taipei with my friends and family would be it. So that’s how I ended back for a week. It was the best week I’ve spent in 2015 so far!

I didn’t do or go anywhere new, but I loved moment because every place held so many memories...the familiarity was exciting. Also, got so much quality time in with my forever friends and family. Here are some highlights of my trip:

WULAI: Wulai is an aboriginal village in the mountains, famous for hot springs and wild boar sausages. The buildings are bit run down, but the scenery as a whole is breathtaking. A river runs through the town, and you need to cross the bridge to make your way up the ‘Lover’s Path’ to see a waterfall! I went with my parents on their first day meeting me up, and they were sooooo slow due to holding hands the whole time. More on them later.

HIKING: One morning I got up really early and met two of my friends to do a random hike before they had work. It was really windy that day, and I was thrilled that I was able to get a breakfast sandwich to have once we got to the top. The views were astonishing, and our selfies did it no justice.

HALO: I really wasn’t sure where to spend my actual New Years Eve because so many of my friends were doing different things, and I wanted to spend it with everyone! In the end I decided to do the thing you should do, where you should be doing it. To me, that ended up to be partying and watching the fireworks at Taipei 101 from the balcony of one of the trendiest lounges in the city with friends that had flown in from all over the world. It was seriously magical-we were so close to the fireworks the ashes could have fallen into our champagne glasses. Epic way to begin an epic year.

BIKING: The weather was sunny every day I was in Taiwan, which is NOT what I remembered from past winters spent there. But hey, I wasn’t complaining. One day a group of friends and I all rented Ubikes and biked all afternoon through the city, alongside the river, and to Danshui, the fisherman’s wharf. When we got there, we fought through crowds on the historic touristy main street to get our deep-fried snack cravings sorted. I don’t like biking, but I will go with friends and especially if the destination includes food. Or booze.

PUB 45: A month ago, another returning friend and I planned a joint ‘welcome back’ party. There are no breweries (yet!) in Taipei, so we settled for Pub45, a simple bar stacked above an herbal medicine shop close to Shida. I used to go there and be depressed with their draft selection (still only two, still only Taiwan Beer or Stellar Artois) but it was alright this time cause I knew I would be back in Portland soon. :) It was one of the best nights during my trip cause one by one, familiar faces were approaching me with wide smiles and it was like I had never left.

SHIFEN: This is a railroad town on the outskirts of the city where the yearly Sky Lantern Festival takes place. On normal days, friends and lovers can take the train out and release their own lanterns up into the night sky. I LOVE watching our glowing lanterns float up slowly into the darkness. I had no idea the rest of the world even knew about this until I saw Frozen.

SUN MOON LAKE: Spent two days with my parents at Sun Moon Lake, a popular honeymoon destination due to the scenery. This was my third time, and it was a nice break from the city. There are ferries that take you between 3 ports around the lake for sight-seeing and hiking. Last time I biked around the perimeter of the lake, but this time I was glad to relax and enjoy the views! All the food stalls were still right where I remembered them and I think my parents finally fell in love with Taiwan there.

Actually, every day and everyone I met up with was a highlight, and if I go on I’ll never be able to be a travel blogger cause I’ll just be gushing about my friends and things I love and no one will ever take me seriously. I honestly don’t know who reads these posts, but apparently more people than I thought, and it’s so humbling! Especially the touch rugby guys ie. Ting, Spencer, Doug, what a nice surprise ;) Thank you, thank you for spending your precious time reading whatever spillage my mind randomly has. I’m always flattered at first, then I get really nervous and hope I haven't written anything embarrassing. EOM. (Finally found out that means End Of Message, duh.)

PS. I also ate a lot of food: