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!
It baffles me that already my summer in Taiwan is coming to a close. I feel like I have only been here such a brief amount of time, and yet this week our last set of campers comes and goes. My goal this summer was to do different things than I did last summer and to not limit myself to spending all my weekends exclusively in Taipei. (For those of you who don’t know, I work in northern Taiwan, about an hour’s car ride outside of the capital.)
The first few weekends were mostly spent at night markets and Din Tai Fung. Night markets were a frequent past-time last summer for us as well—you can eat and drink and shop and socialize all in one place all while experiencing the hustle and bustle of Taiwan’s streets. Din Tai Fung is the country’s most popular restaurant; their specialty is the soup dumpling, and boy let me tell you, it really is special… 10/10 would recommend.
One of the coolest places I was able to visit in Taipei (and one of the only photo-ops I have shared so far) was Elephant Mountain. It was really easy to get to the neighborhood where you start the hike—it’s one of the central MRT stops in the city—and the hike starts right next to a really beautiful park that reminded me a lot of Buenos Aires (…I don’t really know why, but the whole neighborhood was giving me BA déjà vu). The start of the hike is walking through a beautiful temple, and then it is just a straight ascent up a million flights of stairs. It takes about 20 minutes to get to the summit, and it is worth every bead of sweat that rolls off your forehead or down your back, I promise. It is a stunning view of the Taipei skyline, a breath of fresh air in the city, and a great place to meet fellow travelers.
One of the weekends, I chose to work overtime and take care of 4 stayover campers. It was actually one of my favorite experiences this summer. We took the kids to a night market in Jinshan, a town relatively close to the one that I work outside of. It was interesting to see the contrast between the bustling night market atmosphere in the big city and the less-densely populated crowd in Jinshan. The kids played carnival games and we got ice cream. After the night market we went to a tiny little restaurant that ended up seriously being one of the best meals I have had in Asia??? The entire Sunday of that weekend was spent at Jin Yong Quan Spa Hotspring, also in Jinshan. It was SO COOL. You pay to get in and then can experience everything that the spa has to offer. We sat in several different aromatherapy baths (like banana, mango, lavender, rose, etc) and and the dead skin of our feet eaten by little tiny fish! It didn’t even feel like work, because the four kids we were taking care of were having just as much fun as we were.
The next weekend a group of us went to a gay bar in the Ximen neighborhood of Taipei. We sat at tables outside and had a blast. That weekend we also visited a part of Taipei near Taipei Main Station called the “Old Streets.” It was a group of five girls, and we all visited a temple whose god was the God of Matchmaking. So we prayed to him to find our perfect man (after describing in detail what that man would be like), burned incense sticks, and ate cookies in solidarity. I am currently anticipating my perfect specimen finding me in the Taiwanese jungle…
My last weekend in Taipei so far was elongated because of what was expected to be a super-typhoon. (Don’t you fret, it ended up being a whole lot less daunting than expected.) We spent the first night at our boss’s house right outside of camp. We went to Costco with her (my second time visiting that establishment while in this country), and stocked up on pizza and snacks and alcohol for the night. She drove us in to Taipei the next morning, and Sam and I got our hair done! I got mine trimmed pretty short and got a beach wave perm, Sam dyed hers back to its spirit color of auburn. We IMMEDIATELY went and watched Inside Out after that, because I had been waiting for SEVERAL weeks for it to come out in Taiwan. It was so worth the wait. I am in love with that movie. A good portion of the rest of that weekend is a blur, mostly spent inside our hostel surrounded by dumplings, assorted other snacks, and good company. I did wander out with my good friend/coworker in the middle of the night just as the typhoon was hitting Taipei and walked around in torrential rain and blustering winds… It was quite fun. And it looked like I had showered in my pj’s once I got back to the hostel. Surveying the damage that the typhoon had done the next morning was quite interesting; nothing catastrophic had happened in the city, but there were some uprooted trees and fallen business signs.
The next time I am going to be in Taipei is the weekend that camp is over. I cannot believe that???? Summers here pass so quickly. But I am happy to be on to my next adventure. The day our contract ends, a friend and I are headed to Malaysian Borneo to celebrate my 21st birthday. I AM SO EXCITED. After that him and I come back to Taiwan for a few days, and then I am off to Madrid!! I will be working as an au pair for a family there and I could not be more excited. A lot of good karma in the air right now and I am so happy about it. I am so fortunate to be able to do the things I do.
I promise to send postcards before I leave this country, and in all of the places I am going to be after here. So if you want one, send me your address!! I hope everyone who is reading this is having a great week. I’ll be updating more frequently now, as I am visiting a lot more places in a short amount of time. Check back soon!
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!!!