Hello Tumbling world! I have taken quite the hiatus from Tumblr these past few months and I would like to apologize since it is partly due to another blog…however, I guess you can say that that one is more…professional?…whereas this one is more for my thoughts and reflections. And there are quite a few things I would like to reflect on so I hope you’ll enjoy this little walk with me!
I have recently taken a trip to Taiwan where the plan was to stay for 4 months to partake in an exchange program. However, long story short, my trip was cut and I’m back in the North of America after having been there for only a month. I’m not going to delve into the complications of what happened because that is not what is important; what’s more important, however, are the experiences I gained, the friendships I built, the things I learned about myself, and the memories I will now forever cherish.
Let me start off by saying that I went to Taiwan on my own. No one else from school applied for the program and I embarked on this journey with me, myself, and I. Was I nervous? Yes. Was I scared? Of course! Did I have any idea what I was doing? Not a clue. And yet there is something so appealing to me about traveling alone- perhaps because it is in the way that it challenges us. We live in a day and age today where I feel like the thought of being alone terrifies people. Go to the washroom alone? Wouldn’t dare. Eat by yourself? How horrible. And goodness heavens forbid if you go to the movies alone! So who could possibly imagine travelling by yourself? Don’t get me wrong because yes, I hate doing all of these things alone as well but I feel like we need to learn to do things by ourselves. People get busy- not everyone can be with you 24.7. The way I see it, I feel like learning how to spend time alone is a skill. And I got the chance to work on it when in Taiwan. J On my first few days there, when I was still exploring and trying to meet people, I ventured off to see things by myself. It’s quite simple actually: just hop on the transit and get off at a stop. Walk, explore, enjoy. Ask people for directions when needed. Stop by a street vendor for food when hungry. Take pictures. Etc. Surprisingly, it was such a revelation to do these things alone. I was very nervous and uncomfortable at first but once I did them, it felt like such an accomplishment and it is something I’m proud to say now that I can do. I’m not saying that I’m 100% okay to go off and do things alone for the rest of my life because a lot of memories is shared with the company you’re with; but I’m rather saying that the thought of it does not scare/bother me as much anymore.
On the flip side, I found some pretty amazing company to spend time with in Taiwan during my month there. I’m not the type to get close and open up with people within such a short amount of time but I managed to grow so close to these people that it kind of scares me. Two small groups of people whom I think will stay with me in my heart forever. First, I met two wonderful friends from Thailand: Muk and Manno. I had the opportunity to meet them on orientation day when we were placed in the same group- they are perhaps the sweetest and most genuine people I have met. Muk is a lovely girl who is quiet and shy, but has the warmest heart. She is whole-heartedly kind, gentle, patient, and sweet. The type of person you could never imagine possibly getting mad. And then there is Manno. The quirky, bubbly, kid-carefree spirit who loves to eat, explore, and talk. We get along like little kids who run around, excited to eat all the time and talk about make belief and what’s to come. Quite the two opposite characters but they are good friends and I’m very lucky to have found them. I remember thinking to myself that it was going to be hard to find some Asian friends since shockingly, there was such an abundance of European international students. Most Asian students were from Mainland China and settled in quite nicely, already knowing many others. Manno and Muk were a breath of fresh air for me because I found that I could connect to them. Two close cultures (Thailand and Vietnam are right next to each other!) where we could ask and learn about each other. They were my go to whenever I wanted to relax, walk around the markets, and of course, eat eat eat. Manno found this noodle stand close to our dorms where we always go for late night dinners when everything else had closed or we don’t know where else to eat. The cook was able to speak Thai and that’s how Manno became a regular there. He took me once and from that day on, we always went back. It’s fun to be a regular because the lady knows what you would like. Muk gave me a handkerchief on my last day and she and Manno waited for me while I was out and about, getting a hold of my taxi when the time came (since I came back late) and were my rocks who took care of me. I am so grateful for them and was terribly sad to leave them. They were like my brother and sister in Taiwan whom I could ask for help when needed, were an open ear to talk to when I was sad/frustrated/happy…they were my family. Although I am sad, for some odd reason I know that I will be seeing them again. Maybe it’s the way how Manno loves the US and wants to move here, or the fact how Thailand is so close to Vietnam that I am planning to make a pit stop next time I visit the motherland, that I hold a hope in my heart that we will meet again in the future.
Onto the next group…where to even begin. This group unexpectedly came out of nowhere and I found myself falling in love with each and every one of them. I was going to Taiwan, a little island in Asia. And yet somehow, I found myself being the only Asian in an all European bunch of mostly Belgium kids. I first met Claudio in orientation. He lived in my dorm and was from Switzerland; he and I were the only non-speaking Chinese in our group during our orientation so we bonded instantly as we were whisked away to find ourselves an English speaking group. And that was where it all started. Everyone was in the College of Management and I was the little Public Health outcast. Claudio had found himself a group of Belgiums to hang out with and he invited me to join. At first, I was intimidated and said no thanks. Funnily enough, I never had the intention of meeting everyone. During the first few weeks there, I had grown very close to a Swedish girl, Nadia. She had an old spirit like me where we like to go out for the day and turn into bed early. Not like Claudio who stayed out until 5am the first week he was there partying. :P So Nadia and I clicked and we did everything together. When I found out that she had to go back to Sweden early due to family issues, I was distraught. Who was I going to hang out with now?? Claudio was awesome and all but who will I go to when I don’t want to go out and party or stay out late at the bars? During her last few days, I fretted to Nadia but we made the most of her remaining days going to the zoo, the waterfront at Tamsui…and on one of the days, we planned to go to Maokong Gondola to hike in which we invited Claudio. Turned out, Claudio invited Olivier and Axel, who in turned invited Timothy, Martin, Aline, and Marie-Sib. Oh the horror Nadia and I experienced when we saw how big the group had become! :O But to our pleasant surprise, we had a wonderful time sweating and dying from the stairs and heat for the breathtaking views and temples. After I saw Nadia leave, I felt like I lost my best friend in Taiwan. But then, I got an invite from Martin on a group message in FB to go hiking at Yangminshan. And from that moment on, I found myself a group of friends who have made my entire trip in Taiwan the best it has been.
I have been so blessed that they opened up to me and included me in their group, especially since they all know each other from home, can relate to each other from Europe, speak in French, etc. To have them include me, to ask me to join them on their trips, outings, adventures…I don’t even know how to explain. I’m a very emotional…how to word it right…when I see others in pain, I cry. When I see others happy, I can’t help but smile. I just…feel a lot. And my heart was pretty much swollen from the thoughtfulness my friends showed me on my last night in Taiwan. We went to eat at Sababa, a pita restaurant. I was a little skeptical at first but the girls rave about it all the time and they had the perfect reason to because it was SO nommy! Anyhow, onto the more important part. They told the waiter that it was my birthday so Marie-Sib sneakily went to the counter after dinner “asking for the bill” when in fact, the waiter then brought a baklava and a candle for me and everyone sang me happy birthday. No no no, that is not all my dear Tumblrs- afterwards, Aline took out a bag full of presents. Inside was a lace dress for me (they had wanted to get me an NTU sweater but it was out of stock), cookies for the flight back, nail polish, and pictures they printed of our time spent together. I honestly had NO idea that they had all this planned and I was soooo unbelievably touched by their kindness. Tears sprung up, my hands started shaking, I couldn’t stop thinking about how loved I am, and I couldn’t think of any words to say except think to myself how much I adore these people. How did I manage to bond so closely with them? Each and every one of them contributed to my experience; each with their own individuality; each with their own unique story to tell and I hope that these brief descriptions is able to paint a picture of how amazing they are.
· Aline: Oh how this girl I was not quite so sure if she liked me in the beginning. She seemed so tough girl, didn’t speak much to me and only to the other Belgium folks. But slowly, we talked more and more and on my last night, she stayed with me until the very end, going out to Revolver after dinner for a drink when most had to go home and study, then stayed out in the dorms until midnight. I went out with her once and told her, “Goodness, Belgium girls go hard! How do you do it? I could never keep up with you!” Surprisingly, she taught me something that night- she told me, “No, we are just young!” and smiled real big and I thought to myself how right she was…and I let loose and had an unforgettable night with her. J
· Marie-Sib: Haha this girl…became so quickly a close girlfriend. One who you can just joke and talk about nonsense with. Someone who makes you feel included. Will shout your name in the crowded MRT when I was standing by myself to make sure I was there. To me, she was like the popular girl in high school who made everyone feel welcomed. I am so grateful for her. She introduced me to the word “sloshed” and would always ask me about how they do/say it in America. She made me feel so smart. ^_^ On my last day, she skipped Chinese class to get dinner one last time, drove me back to the dorms on her bike, and gave me the biggest hug. <3
· Claudio: My first friend in Taiwan. Thank you for being so easy to talk to, so open to trying new things, helping me deal with my painful mosquito friends, for showing me around Taiwan my first few days and telling me about places to go/eat, for being my Guoqing buddy when everyone else was from Prince Dorms and looking out for me.
· Timothy: My almost other Asian friend in an all-white group! His mom was adopted from South Korea as a baby so he is a halfie. I didn’t meet Timothy until later in the trip and he was yet another one who I wasn’t sure if he liked me. Talked to mostly the other Belgium kids, I approached him first to try to get to know him and surprisingly, we became good friends really quickly and naturally. Just someone easy to talk to and joke around with. He was nice enough to skip class on my last day to come over and help me pack (although he skips class all the time so it wasn’t that big of a deal :P).
· Martin: Martin is probably the quirkiest, nerdiest/geekiest, most sweetest, and cutest boy ever. Curious about everything and loves to talk and explore the world, Martin is an all-around nice boy who genuinely loves getting to know everyone around him. He was the first Belgium friend I met that one night we went to Shida Night Market and right away, you knew he was a nice guy. Good morals, bright mind, always trying to learn more, Martin could always make me smile.
· Olivier: “YEAAAAAP.” “NAAAOOPPE.” Probably the only 2 words that Olivier knows how to say to me. He’s the cool, sly kid always in the back but is pure joy with his constant talk of turning around for a picture so he can take it on his phone. With his colourful cartoon hats, middle school hair cut that you flip to the side every now and then, his bachelor pad dorm with the movie projector, Olivier makes me smile every time he smiles.
· Axel: To my one other friend who didn’t know how to speak French either :P Axel has family from the U.S. so he’s been there a few times, making it easy to make conversation when first met. Such a wonderful person to talk with and kind spirited, he was my boyfriend whenever the time was needed. ^_^
· Julien: Shortly met but is so easy going and easily became a familiar smile. Julien is from France and has been in the exchange for already a semester. He knew of where all the hip and cool places to go and suggested them all to us. We initially met at the Yangmingshan hike and would pop in every now and then. Although he wasn’t with us at every single trip, he was a familiar face that shaped my experience.
Although this excursion was short lived, it has been one heck of a journey. I’m happy that I got to stay at least one month in Taiwan and to have been able to embark on such wondrous adventures with amazing people. Life is beautiful.
Thus, life’s given happiness #48: Unexpected travels and friends.