Taipei, City of Hawks

Taiwan

****Super old post, now getting published five months late****

tl;dr – I’m in Taiwan wrapping up this Asia jaunt.  

In my first week here in Taiwan, I went south to the town of Hsinchu to interview players on a professional baseball team for a story I’m writing. The next day, I got a direct tweet from a stranger:

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Apparently my appearance at the small baseball stadium was newsworthy, and someone wrote an article about me for Apple Daily, a Taiwanese news outlet.

The incident quickly revealed some differences between American and Taiwanese culture. I didn’t love the photo used in the story. When I showed the story and photo to friends/family back at home, their response went something like, Oh it’s not that bad!” When I showed Taiwanese people the story and photo, the responses were, “Why do you look fatter and older?” and “That is a very bad photo, why do you look like that?” 

Varying angles aside, my time here in Taiwan has been interesting. My Taipei neighborhood had some sort of hawk store, or medicinal hawk facility, I’m honestly not sure what the place actually was but there were hawks involved. It was a bizarre sight to pass every day for about two weeks.

Hawky

I piggybacked on my friendship with Bangkok-living Taiwanese cool girl Etty (check out her blog) and stayed with her family in a few different cities to get a taste of real life in Taiwan. My first stop was Taichung to meet her parents, Judy and Pi-Jay Liu.

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The Liu family takes hospitality to another level. I was welcomed beyond belief, not only given a place to stay but treated to feast after feast, whisked away to sightseeing destinations, introduced to new friends. I couldn’t have been more taken care of (or full).

Feeling welcomed into my new Taichung family.
Lowkey Taichung night market, source of grilled mochi, stinky tofu, and more.
Lowkey Taichung night market, source of grilled mochi, stinky tofu, and more.
Said grilled mochi.
Aforementioned grilled mochi.

After a few days of being fed to maximum capacity (and then some), I took the train to Taiwan’s east coast, first to do research for a story in Yilan, and next to Hualien where I was shepherded by Etty’s cousin, Eric.

It was so nice to be shown around different places by locals who are obviously much better at navigating Taiwan than I ever will be. I can now say I’ve eaten chicken feet, worn a Taiwanese aboriginal outfit, visited a Taiwanese elementary school. None of that would have been possible without the generosity of Etty and her kind, friendly family.

Home in Hualien
Home in Hualien

Taiwan’s high-speed train situation has made it really easy to hunt down Etty’s family all over the country. One day sweating your way through a night market in the southwest, and the next morning you’re sweating in the mountains clear across the island nation (see also: it’s humid AF here).

On a less cheerful note, somewhere in the whirlwind of my first weeks here I got sick and still haven’t recovered. This happened the last time my Asia trip was coming to a close; maybe my body is just rejecting the idea of going back to America.

I decided to cut my east coast exploration short and return to Taipei early to heal. Fresh air is great, but I’m a city person and feel more relaxed in a bustling metropolis. The end of the trip is closing in on me quickly. With less than a week until I fly to California, I’ll cram in some more work while I’m here and try to reflect on the three months abroad (conveniently glossing over the shortcomings, of course). 

Hualien
Hualien, land of very humid beaches.

#FEELINGS

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^o^ Korea!

tl;dr – (ノ◕ヮ◕)ノ*:・゚✧ I LOVED SEOUL!!! Now I’m in Taiwan for 3 weeks. 

I did not want to leave Seoul this morning.

It was raining and I had this feeling of dread as I walked through the terminal to my gate. The kimchi withdrawals were already beginning to kick in.

The overwhelming sadness was not helped by the fact that I had just spent the night sleeping in the airport on a bench for just 4 hours.

While I had intended on rounding out my Korea trip the same way it began (lounging in the Incheon Airport spa), things did not pan out the way I’d hoped.

I got to the spa at midnight and the place was fully booked. The train back to the city had already stopped running for the night, so I trudged through the airport until I found a decently cushioned row of chairs to curl up on.

At 5 am, I woke up to the shrieking sound of packaging tape being wrapped around luggage. A huge group travelers chatted loudly about whatever there is to chat about at 5 am. I heaved my backpack on and checked into my Taipei flight.

I hadn’t expected to love Korea, and I definitely didn’t expect that I was going to LoOooOooooOooooOooOoove Seoul. It actually hurt to pass through immigration.

It didn’t matter whether I was eating tteokbokki alone at a restaurant or drinking soju with new friends, I loved nearly every moment of my time in Korea.

The city is so livable and interesting. The food is weird and incredible. The public transportation is thorough and convenient — even if I did manage to mess up every time I took it.

My favorite running path along the Han River.

Speaking of getting lost, I botched the one big sightseeing adventure I attempted in Korea. Getting to the DMZ, the demilitarized zone that separates North and South Korea, was a true nightmare.

For those headed wanting to visit the DMZ themselves, here’s a step by step guide to doing it wrong:

Step one Get lost at Seoul’s main train station. Literally run around the massive station trying to catch a 9:20 am train. Ask for help. Get conflicting information from every employee. Do this for one hour.

Step two – On the verge of crying, finally get on the right train to Munsan Station. After about an hour of travel, get off the train at Munsan and walk to the bus stop. Twenty minutes later,  get on a bus to Imjingang Station.

Step three – Get off the bus at the wrong stop. Note: The key to this step is to not know you are at the wrong stop. 

Step four – Walk around the ghost town of a stop and feel like giving up. Try to find a ticket booth you saw on some travel blog. Stare at the buildings and notice that nothing is written in English. Feel like a failure.

Step five – Open up Google maps, tell yourself that you won’t wasted 4 hours of your life only to give up on your DMZ dreams now. Start walking along the highway toward Imjingang Station. Don’t cry.

Step six – Hail the taxi that comes along, as though by magic. Show him your Google Map and understand exactly zero of his Korean. Sit back and revel in the air conditioning.

Step seven – Get dropped off at the wrong place. (In lieu of steps 6 & 7, maybe just light your money on fire instead. Same result.)

Step eight – Seek out help from a kind Korean man working at a kiosk. Sort of understand him and start walking down the highway again.

DMZ Time

Step nine – MAKE IT TO THE DMZ PARKING LOT!!!! Be weirded out by the amusement park blasting Justin Bieber music. Find the ticket booth and pay for a tour of the DMZ.

Step ten – Get on a tour bus. Realize you’ve just committed to a 3 hour tour. Feel overwhelmed.

Tunnel to North Korea - not for the claustrophobic.

Step eleven – Look with your very own eyes at the southernmost part of North Korea. Walk through tunnels that the North Koreans built to try to infiltrate after the Korean war. Feel lucky to be there, but feel exhausted.

Step twelve – Take one bus and two trains back to Seoul. Mess up twice.

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So visiting Korea wasn’t a piece of cake, but it was a dream – a dream I am sad to wake up from. I could honestly see myself living in Seoul, getting lost on the subway every day and consoling myself with Korean desserts.

Taro shaved ice with boba, because dreams *do* come true.
Taro shaved ice with boba, because dreams *do* come true.

But that chapter of this trip is over. It’s time to enjoy Taiwan, even if it has a hard act to follow.

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