Solo Trip to the Straits


Before leaving Asia, I spent a week traveling to Southeast Asia. On this weeklong trip, I chose three places to visit: Singapore, Penang, and Kuala Lumpur.

The experience was the first time I traveled alone. I once did a three-day trip to Guilin on my own while studying abroad in China, but I stayed at a hotel and was on a tour for most of my time – not quite my impression of traveling solo as a young 20-something. Some thoughts on my weeklong trip:

The People

I was a little hesitant in going abroad for a whole week, mainly because I was afraid that I’d likely go a week without talking to anybody other than cab drivers, at tourist sites, or receptionists. Wrong! I found it pretty easy to meet fellow backpackers – all it took was a simple conversation to break the ice. Not to mention all the helpful folks I met while navigating around town.

The Traveling

Intra-regional travel in this part of the world is cheap. Really cheap. Initially I had planned on busing it from one city to the next, but thanks to Air Asia, I was able to snag one way fares for as low as USD$20. Crazy. I really don’t understand how Air Asia, and the other Low Cost Carriers in the region can turn a profit. If only these airlines could operate in Hawaii.

The Weather

I knew that it was going to be hot, but wasn’t expecting that it was going to be humid – oh so humid!  As a tourist, walking about from one place to another was pretty draining. On many of the days I came back to the hostel feeling like I’d been covered with a film of grime and sweat. Kinda gross, but it comes with the experience, I suppose. Reminded me in some ways of Hawaii, except without the trade winds.

The Food

So much good food! And cheap! Both Singapore and Malaysia are cultural melting pots. I forgot a lot of what dishes were called, but it all tasted so delicious. Extra glad that I didn’t get sick from eating all the street food!

After a whirlwind week of traveling, my only regret is not staying longer. Oh well, there’s always a next time.

Winter ’11: Taiwan in Review


Today marked the last day of class for the winter term at Taida. I can’t believe my three-month course is already over!

Ever since coming back from Shanghai, I’ve always wanted to return to Asia to further improve my Chinese. I yearned to live in the Middle Kingdom. Everything seemed so fascinating. I had the option of returning to Asia for a summer to improve my Chinese, this time in Taipei, at the International Chinese Language Program. But, because I had a firm start-date in mid-June, coming back one more time became a non-issue. I never forgot about my goal to come back, and three months ago I finally returned.

Well, it’s been three months! It’s definitely been an incredibly amazing experience. I mentioned in an earlier that I had mixed reservations about my course. After staying for the full course, I can honestly say that my opinions haven’t changed. However, I don’t think I can fault the CLD for this. My teacher was fantastic. Since I was the only non-Japanese in my class, the focus of the course was on primarily speaking (which is what I wanted) than on writing.

While increasing my speaking, listening, and reading fluency was the primary goal, my goals in coming to Taiwan weren’t solely to study Chinese. Rather, I also wanted to:

1. Learn traditional characters

  • Did this every day: ordering food, watching the subtitles on TV, and of course during class

2. Get a different perspective of cross-strait relations

  • Hard to say whether this was accomplished or not, but certainly got a read on this during the 2012 Taiwan Presidential Elections

3. Climb some mountains

  • Climbed two mountains near Taipei: Elephant Mountain and Seven-Star Mountain

4. Visit the beaches

  • Went to Kending, Nanwan, and Baishawan – renowned beach areas in the south of Taiwan

5. Use the island as a base for traveling throughout Asia.

  • Went to Hong Kong
  •  Will be going to Singapore and Malaysia

Looks like I accomplished everything I wanted to get out of while here. Success!

One unexpected surprise that makes this experience abroad unique from my previous experience in Shanghai was getting to know and befriend people from all over the world.

Unlike the program in Shanghai, which consisted of only American college students, the people I’ve met here are incredibly diverse, both in terms of age and background. Some students here are still in college. Others, like me, have just graduated relatively recently. Others haven’t even started college, or have been out of college for years. I’ve gotten to meet folks literally from all over the world: Australia, Iraq, Honduras, Hungary, Japan, and the UK, just to name a few. All this diversity has taught me so much about the world, some trivial, some fascinating:

– Knowing what words like bogan and woop woop mean to Aussies
– Getting a first-hand account of being buried-alive after a bomb blast in Iraq
– Realizing just how intense the desire to migrate to America still is for many

Overall, I’m incredibly glad as well as thankful that I’ve been able to (financially afford) putting a hold on my professional career for this language program. Besides doing all of the things aforementioned, this “career-break” has really given me the time to re-evaluate what I want most out of my life, both personally and professionally. Moreover, this experience has affirmed my belief that it’s the people you meet, not the place, which makes a city feel like home.

That’s a lot of writing. If you read this far, thanks!

I’m still going to be in Asia through the end of February, but this weekend is the last I’ll be spending in Taiwan. So, if you excuse me, it’s time for me to log off and make some last-minute memories before heading back home!

Being Present in Taiwan


Recently, I was reminded of the importance of being present. The concept stems from Echart Tolle’s A Power of Now. I’m not a huge follower in neo-spirituality, but I am keen on self improvement. Essentially, he argues that in order to be happy and enlightened, people need to be more in tune with the now. Not the past. Not the future. Now.

Here are some moments of the “Now” that have really stuck with me while here in Taiwan:

    • Silently watching the Taiwan countryside whiz by at 300 km/h on the THSR.
    • Hearing little children shout for joy during a fireworks show at Taipei 101.
    • Feeling the wind on my face as I drove a motorbike in Kenting.
    • Listening to the sounds of cars barreling down East Heping Road.
    • That nervous yet excited feeling before meeting new people.
    • Eating my daily morning sandwich on my way to class.

It’s so easy to forget these trivial moments, but it’s times like these that make me forget about worrying about the future or pondering the what-ifs of the past. I’m living in the now. And it feels great.

Feel the moment. Appreciate it. Enjoy it.

Taipei: Two Months Later


How time flies! I can’t believe I’ve been here for nearly ten weeks. It feels like just a couple days ago I was checking into the Eight Elephants Hostel ready to embark on a new adventure. When I came here back in November, I was planning on staying for three school terms with the hope of getting my Mandarin to working-level proficiency. Since then, I’ve had an ongoing internal debate whether to stay the course and be here through August, or change my plans and return early.

I finalized my decision during the CNY break. I decided not to enroll for the spring term. Several reasons prompted my decision to end my stay earlier than expected. I came to Taiwan for two main reasons: for the experience of living abroad and to increase my fluency.

After considering the costs/benefits of staying here for another term, I realized that staying here would not be worth the money. I’ve already gotten the experience of living in Taiwan. Although I wish I could be more fluent, I don’t think time spent here can justify the opportunity cost of not working. Not to mention I still have a ton of student loans that I still need to pay down, and that I’ve spent much more than budgeted for Taiwan. I plan to hire a tutor to provide discipline around my studying efforts once back in the States.

Instead of using the tuition + housing money for another term in Taiwan, after the current term ends, I’ll be heading down to Singapore to embark on a visit around Southeast Asia. I’ve already booked my tickets to Singapore, but am currently in the process of figuring out where to visit. Any trip suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

A part of me feels guilty for traveling even more considering I still have loans to payoff, but I figure I’ve already spent a lot chasing my language fluency goals, might as well spend time traveling before returning. I’m really excited about what SE Asia has to offer, but truthfully I am a bit terrified of backpacking around a region alone. I can only think of the interesting experiences that’ll happen.

Here’s to hoping everything works out!