Sam and I went on an overnight “business” trip to Hong Kong earlier this week. And I feel compelled to share our adventure because of how much of a mess it truly was for everyone involved. Buckle up!
We had to go on this trip to sort some visa stuff out for Taiwan. The process is immediate, so we could have come back to Taiwan same-day, but decided to stay overnight to see some of our friends that live in HK.
We get up hours before our flight, and make our way to the bus station. There’s a thunder/lightning/torrential rain storm happening in Taipei as we are getting onto the bus. And it’s rush hour. Double traffic whammy. The bus is inching through the city at a pace so slow I honestly thought about getting out and running part of the way to make up for time lost (a fleeting thought, obviously.). Collectively, I think everyone on the bus started to realize how late the bus was running at about the same moment. People started to get up and mill about and chat on the phone trying to sort out their situations. Still, Sam and I held on to a fleeting hope that since we had chosen to go to HK without any luggage, they’d just let us sprint through the airport with 2 minutes to spare and a closing gate and a wing and a prayer. But alas.
We get to the airport at about 9:30, flight scheduled for 10. The airline counter tells us we are ten minutes to late to get on to the flight. We beg and plead, and they politely tell us to shove off. We ask to be out onto the next flight, and they tell us to call the travel agency our friend book the flight through. So begins the longest, most pricey 30 minutes of our life. Calls are being placed back and forth—to us, to Jojo, to the travel agent—and we finally get put onto the next flight. Which, again, leaves in about 30 minutes. We scramble through lines, get ushered to customer service, get thrown back into the general line. Get our ticket printed and sprint though the airport to security. Our sweat pools as our purses slowly roll through the machine. We sprint again between security and our gate.
As soon as we get to the gate, we are told that there will be a minor delay because, duh, look outside. You can’t even see the runways it is raining so hard. Nice. This definitely means that that flight we “missed” hadn’t left either. But OKAY, whatever, fine. We’ll just get a bottle of water and chill in the gate. So we do that. And after about 10 minutes we hear an announcement that the plane we were anticipating getting on had been struck by lightning upon its descent into Taipei, so it would be about an hour of routine maintenance before we could leave. OKAY! That’s fine. An hour. Lightning. Okay. Manageable.
But then, an hour passes. They hand out meal vouchers for inside the airport. Another hour passes. We find out the flight has moved gates. Another hour passes. Finally, we get on the flight. And smooth air-sailing from there. No lightning strikes on our flight! Score.
Hong Kong was fun. We saw all of our friends from the past few summers at camp. We all met Emily and her mom for dim sum. We did a little hike up Garden Hill and got some really beautiful panoramic views of HK at night. The hostel we stayed at was trash, and tried to kick me out of my bed in the middle of the night, so I’m going to refrain from including its name! But overall, very fun time in the city.
The next day, we got to the airport 6 hours early. And got drunk. Just in case chaos ensued for the second day in a row. But luckily, everything went smooth on our way back. And now we’re back in Taiwan right in the nick of time—my brother and a few friends are going to be camp counselors here with us this summer! A busy 10 weeks ahead. But I will be taking my peeps to do some of the token touristy stuff in the city throughout the summer, so I’ll try and blog about that stuff!
Hope everyone is well. There is so much shitty shit going on in the States right now. And I really hope everyone is doing okay. Stay strong. And vigilant. And proud of who you are. Love you guys!
In late March, a group of us went to Morocco for spring break. (Listen, I know what you’re thinking: “Har, you graduated from university a year ago, you can’t just arbitrarily celebrate spring break anymore!” Let me live. And my karma came to me. Stay tuned.)
I left Ireland with a heavy heart and not a lot of money to work with, but I was pumped to finally see Morocco, and be back on my favorite continent for the first time in over a year. We had a long, complicated flight path (as usual. Help me, I’m poor!). Finally got to Rabat after dark. Our Airbnb situation ended up being a little ways out of the city, but all the more adventure it became. That first day, we briefly stopped in Rabat (and struggled greatly with buying train tickets, so a silent nod to the young guy in the train station who helped us buy them and physically guide us to the train) before heading to the city of Meknes for a mini-excursion. The train ride was a total ego boost—I spent all two hours chatting with this charming old archaeology professor and really crushing it with a bunch of French I didn’t know I could speak. The old city center (a UNESCO Heritage Site!) of Meknes was beautiful. A labyrinth of streets and vendors and homes and colors, encapsulated by the “Old Gate to the City.” We went to a restaurant with a lovely view of the city called Le Collier de la Colombe. It is upstairs at a hotel, there’s free wifi, the food is phenomenal and cheap, and the women that work there are all super nice. They helped us hail a cab back to the train station so that we wouldn’t miss the last one back to Rabat. (Didn’t, but then gloriously missed the last train back to Bouznika from there and had to take a taxi. Live and learn in Morocco I guess!)
The next day I left the group to go to Marrakech. I was doing the trek alone to meet Shelby, who was flying in that evening. I’ve become very good at traveling alone, and though it is typically more stressful, I live for it. Made it to Marrakech with ease (and a couple hours early), so I walked from the train station to city center. I think if I would have informed my friends that I was doing this alone at dusk, they would’ve been pretty pissed—there is a lot of stigma behind the idea of women traveling alone in Africa, and just in general, for a bunch of different reasons. And a lot of it is valid—we live in a gross world and women do have to look out for their safety in ways that men have no concept of. But I also feel very confident in my ability to take care of myself (like, I carry a knife and know how to kick someone’s ass). So I walked across Marrakech in the twilight alone. And got a lot of cat calls, and a few guys stop or slow down their cars to try and get my attention. Comes with the territory of exploring developing countries (and developed countries. Let’s be real, people can be disgusting). I had the time of my life! Seeing Marrakech in my favorite way—leisurely and alone. Got to city center right as it was getting dark. Walked around the world-famous market (and got called a fashion disaster by an exasperated vendor who really wanted the attention I wasn’t paying him) for a while before Shelby hopped off her shuttle and we booked it to the hostel we reserved.
We stayed at Dream Kasbah—I would say it was a dream for sure. The hostel itself is cute, and the people that choose to stay there all seemed very fun to talk to and down for adventure. There was free breakfast, and they offered tours of different parts of Morocco. We walked to and through the market for a few hours (the shopping is fun, get your game face on for hardcore bargaining, and expect to be hassled if you look like a “foreigner”) (oh, and try the orange juice. Life changing.). We then hopped on a train back to Rabat.
It is then that my memory of the trip becomes a bit more of a blur—we only really had one day left, and right as Sam and her friends were leaving to head to the airport, I lost/had my wallet stolen. Aka all of my money, my debit cards, the works. Like, I was 24 hours away from moving to Asia for the rest of the year, and I had literally not a penny to my name. I am absolutely certain that if Shelby hadn’t been with me on that last day, I would have popped a blood vessel. Needless to say, the next couple weeks of my life were very complicated—full of loans and favors and money-transfers and packages being frantically sent across the world. I want to take an extra second to virtually hug any- and everyone that helped me out. Going broke as a nomad is actually terrifying, but there’s always a way to fix things!
Balance has been restored, no worries. And I am living in Taiwan for the rest of 2016! I’ll be posting a few odd blogs about the different things to do in Taiwan that I have found this year at some point. Until then, I miss everyone and hope you all are doing great!! Much love.
It’s been quite some time since I have written a post for this blog. I’m sorry! Part of that has to do with how busy I was, working at camp in Wanli and exploring the streets of Taipei. Another reason is that articulating my experiences here is nearly impossible. I’m really going to try, though.
When Sam and I first arrived in Taiwan 9 weeks ago, we were delusional and exhausted. We stepped off the plane and my glasses fogged up from the humidity. We were immediately sweaty, and have been since. We slept in a backpackers hotel and marveled at the communal showers. The next morning we convened with the rest of the camp’s summer staff in the MRT station and headed to camp. After a week of staff training, we dove in to the unknown (except for the returning counselors, without which we would have been lost and confused for much longer).The first two weeks were amazing, I talked a lot about them in my last blog post. But the deeper we got in to the summer, the more magical the experience became. We got better at the job, became closer to our team and learned how to navigate Taipei on the weekends with ease. We even experienced a (very mild and non-dangerous) typhoon. We were evacuated to a local elementary school and spent our time crafting and watching movies. And by the way! Most of my time this summer was spent leading arts and crafts! Hundreds of pirate ships, bracelets, Lego beanbags and Lego shaped soaps were made. Even the most unruly of campers transform into focused artists in the craft room!! I loved every minute of it.
There are a million things to do in Taipei. I had the chance to do a bunch! Some of it was typical tourist attraction type-of-stuff, but some of the best experiences we had occurred when we tagged along with locals to hang out in their favorite spots. We spent some time at a board-game bar called Diagon Alley, found an ice cream parlor where the cones are shaped like half a heart and you’re supposed to buy one with your partner to pledge eternal love (Sam and I obviously did), visited a handful of night markets, went on a huge neon Ferris wheel on Chinese Lovers’ Day, hung out at a bar called Tickle My Fantasy, and ate at Barbie and Lego themed cafés. I’ll shamelessly plug my Instagram and Twitter now, because pictures of all those experiences reside there… *cough* @harleemai *cough*
Beyond the things I have done and seen in the past 9 weeks, this summer has done something for me that transcends even the best night at karaoke. The people I have met and befriended for life, the interactions with children and adults alike who do not think in the same language as me, the small, tacit experiences that not even my journal can capture… These moments have made me a better version of myself. I have a better understanding of the world around me. More so than I have ever felt, I believe in the good in people. I know how to rely on modes of communication beyond words. And in less than 24 hours I will be on the other side of the communication line. Instead of helping my peers work on their English, I’ll be trying my hardest to immerse myself into the French and Wolof language cultures. All of my trips flow together perfectly in that way. I know what both sides of a communicative relationship feels like now. I will be patient, I will be appreciative, and I will be as hardworking as those who surrounded me this summer.
I leave Taiwan inspired and unafraid. I leave Taiwan knowing that someday I will see these people again, which makes my heart less heavy. I leave Taiwan to meet my mom in Paris for my birthday. La vie est belle.
Housekeeping: I am pretty sure I will have more wifi access from now on! And I have a new address once again so if you’d like it, let me know. I am good at sending postcards and letters!
Airports are incredible. They emanate familiarity no matter where in the world you are. Every terminal has its place, every gate has its few precious outlets that you scramble to plug into before they are hoarded by someone else (which is where I am blogging from at this very moment, thank you), and also, airports are thresholds. For everyone. A point of departure. Airports are a culture in and of themselves—one which I find fascinating and completely enlightening. Observe my creepy photo:
The two on the left are old Japanese men, the two on the right young Russian men. Their seats were not facing each other when the train started moving. Neither parties knew each other before they boarded. And yet, they spent the 45 minutes we were on board exchanging headphones and sharing themselves openly and happily, chuckling about what was lost in translation (thank you, punny movie reference) and sharing simple stories in the language they all brokenly spoke.
This is the lesson I take from my 20 hour layover in Tokyo, Japan: never be afraid to communicate. Those men on the shuttle, along with the incredibly helpful police officer and hotel concierges that help guide Sam and I through the bustling streets of a business sector in Tokyo last night, these people are guiding lights. Thank you for welcoming us during our short stay here! We’re on the way, Taipei!!!