Adventure

A love letter to Taiwan

Dear Taiwan,

I miss you. I think about you often. I’m pretty much spending almost every single day dreaming about our time together. You know, I wasn’t expecting to fall in love so quickly. It happened almost suddenly, as soon as my airplane landed from Tokyo to Taoyuan in September two years ago.

這是一個驚人的冒險。我永遠不會忘記。

It was my first time traveling alone. It was my first time letting go of everything, leaving everyone behind and going to a completely new country by myself. I said goodbye to my parents, my friends, my dog, my home, and to my daily habits and comforts. It was a country where I didn’t know the language, the climate, or anyone at all. I have to admit, I was terrified. I wouldn’t see my friends or family for a long time. I was worried I wouldn’t make any friends. I was worried that I wouldn’t adjust to life abroad. I was overcome with anxiety as I questioned my decision to move across the Pacific Ocean, to challenge my abilities, and adapt to new surroundings. I guess I worry a lot. But sometimes it’s necessary to go off on your own in order to discover the extent of what you can do. I know I’ve made my 13 year old self proud, and I know it’s a memory I’ll cherish until my last breath.

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It’s (almost) always sunny in the south of Taiwan.

I took a year out of university to study abroad at National Taiwan University. I received a scholarship from my University, as if they were paying me to leave. So, I bought a one-way ticket across. The first couple of weeks were fast-paced. I met a lot of new people, had to navigate through a huge campus, discover places to eat and drink, stumble around with my poor Mandarin Chinese, and just find out what I wanted to do. Also, with a 12hr time difference with home, I could only call in the morning or at night. I felt lonely a lot, even though during the day I was out and about.

There were a couple of nights I questioned crossing the ocean alone. There were a couple of days I yearned for familiar faces and felt nauseously homesick that my stomach was just an empty, painful pit. I think it’s necessary to feel that discomfort in order to realize how precious everything at home is. Though, I have to admit those feelings didn’t last too long at the beginning. Homesickness only ever showed its face briefly after month in. I used the same techniques as when I left for university; it came naturally to me to be outgoing and to introduce myself to others. And within a month, I had made a couple of other friends from abroad with whom I’d be travelling with throughout Taiwan. We became very dear friends. So much so, they felt like my family. We challenged each other to speak in Mandarin Chinese, try new foods and climb to new heights. I became incredibly attached to my makeshift family; it was a group of us who had traveled abroad by ourselves.

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My makeshift family and I liked to go on biking trips.

I also met a lot of local students who showed me around their favourite places to eat and travel, and with whom I learned about Taiwanese culture and was able to be an ambassador for Canadian culture. The world seemed so much smaller, so much friendlier when I was in Taiwan. The youth culture was incredibly open and welcoming; we shared so many similarities despite living across a large ocean. I didn’t expect it to be that different, but I also didn’t expect to connect so quickly and learn the language conversationally in such a short time. Thank you, Taiwan. I feel as if everyone had a chance to learn a new language and live in a different country – for even just a short amount of time, then the world would be a much friendlier, understanding place.

Taiwan, what took my breath away was your natural beauty. The undulating green mountains in the horizon and the juxtaposition to the ocean on all sides of the little island nation are gorgeous. There amazing trails to hike through mountains and forests. Depending on how I was feeling, I’d either take simple trails with that passed by waterfalls or challenge myself with ones that were winding and steep. Regardless, my favourite trails were ones that went high above so I could admire you from a birds eye view. I went on countless hikes on your many mountains and trails. I had adventure after adventure from the north of Taiwan in the rainy city of Keelung, all the way to the south in the sunny city of Kenting. I traveled east, from Hualien’s Taroko Gorge and Green Island’s biking trail to the west in the ancient capital of Tainan. I saw the sunrise and sunset in Alishan with your highest mountain Yushan in clear view. I also enjoyed the outdoor hot springs in Wulai and Beitou. I even took ancient trails to Yilan following the mountainous coast where Turtle Island was visible. It’s easy to get around thanks to your amazing train system which includes the high speed rail or the buses trudging along your many roads. Even with all these phenomenal adventures, I feel like there’s just so much more to explore!

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Sunset above the clouds and the mountains in Alishan in Taiwan. We were on some of the highest mountains in the whole country.

Now I’m sitting in my room in Toronto. There’s no ocean nearby so I can’t feel the cool breeze and taste the salt in the air. There aren’t any mountains either, so the horizon is flat and full of either suburbs, skyscrapers, or trees. In one direction there’s Lake Ontario, but it just doesn’t compare to the wild waves of the Pacific Ocean. You’ve left me with a lot of yearning and too much wanderlust to bear. Even as I go about my daily routines, I’m planning my next trip abroad.

On your beautiful Island, I saw amazing architecture in the form of temples and forts to the astounding heights of the skyscrapers in Taipei. I learned all about the history and art of the numerous indigenous tribes in Taiwan. I experienced local youth culture by attending modern art exhibits with my friends and just hanging out. There is a ton of culture to absorb in Taiwan by reading literature, watching movies in the cinemas, going to karaoke all night long, and visiting museums. As well, I ate all of your amazing delicacies like beef noodle soup, xiao long bao, bubble tea, oyster omelettes, gua bao, hot pot, and even stinky tofu (which I can’t say I like that much, sorry Taiwan…). Oh Taiwan, this is an affair I never want to forget, and one I want to relive time and time again. One year with you is not long enough.

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Taiwan’s architecture has influences from the Dutch, Portuguese, Japanese, and Chinese. Though, some places are distinctly Taiwanese.

One of my favourite hikes was in YangMingShan National Park where I would climb QiXingShan in the autumn morning. The tall silver grass outlined the mountain in a sharp gleam in the sunlight with the blue sky shining brightly on the land. The volcanic steam would endlessly rise from the fumaroles shading parts of the mountain trail. The view from the lookout points would show the rivers and skyscrapers of Taipei in the distance, looking out as far as the Pacific Ocean to the north. The tiring two to three hour hike in your Taiwan heat is definitely worth the feeling of self-accomplishment and the amazing views.

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The view from YangMingShan — Mountains, grass, rivers, ocean, and city.

Along with the high temperatures come your booming thunderstorms, Taiwan. I love thunderstorms! When I was little I’d sit outside in my patio, sometimes from my window, and watch the rain pour and see the lightning flash. I loved to hear the thunder roar, even though my poor dog hated it. He’d often hide under the bed or in my arms or my mother’s. In Taipei, sudden torrential downpours are common as well as loud, deafening thunderstorms. It fills the air with excitement! Plus, for a few moments the temperature cools from a blistering 39C to maybe a nice comfortable 28C in the summer. It can also be an inconvenience if someone forgot their umbrella.

I love you Taiwan, I’ll never stop. Every moment with you was memorable. I have tons of unforgettable memories eating, walking, hiking, attending classes at university, and just talking in a new tongue with locals and other foreigners. Taiwan, your language became so deeply embedded I could read, write, and think in your beautiful speech. It took a while to adjust because English, French, and Punjabi are all different from Mandarin Chinese. I can’t recall the exact moment it all clicked, but it felt like I suddenly went from stumbling through half-baked words to conversations with relative ease. I think it’s because I would just keep speaking and speaking despite my mistakes. Eventually it just happened and I found out that to learn a new language, immersion is necessary in order to be comfortable conversing.

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Our timed jump was awesome — my friend and I in front of the gate to Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall.

Being with you, Taiwan,  had some difficulties as well. I had to leave my boyfriend behind. Despite being long distance in Canada for a while, it’s an entirely different story to be in different countries across the ocean. That was difficult because I love him so much. We were in our relationship for almost three years at that point, but respected each other enough that he could let me discover myself abroad and live my dreams. The 12 hour difference meant we could only talk in the early morning or late at night, but our communication let us be strong in absence. I missed him when I was with you, Taiwan, I missed him dearly. I can’t say you are a replacement, Taiwan, but you certainly helped me adjust to a year without him.

However, long distance is not completely terrible. I have grown as a person by myself. I am able to survive all by myself. I know what my likes and dislikes are without the influence of another. I have my own hobbies on which I can focus my time on. I don’t completely rely on another for my happiness. I did not sacrifice my dreams or ambitions. I have many friends unrelated to my relationship. I know when we’ll be back together we’ll cherish every moment because of our time apart, and have more stories and experiences to talk about and share. I won’t have any regrets for staying behind or putting my life on hold for another. We also know for certain our relationship isn’t merely physical; it’s enough for us to love each other from across the world (literally!). Our communication has definitely improved over the three years as well. We are very open with each other on our feelings, wants, needs, and our outlook on the future. There are many benefits for a temporary long distance part of a relationship if that time is not spent moping around.

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I’m trying to imprint these beautiful mountains in Taroko in to my memory forever.

I said goodbye, Taiwan. It’s a complex mixture of emotions. I can’t call up my friends and go climb mountains on the weekends, drink delicious bubble milk, practice our new language together or karaoke all night long. Yet, the securities of my Canadian home are comforting. I missed the smell of my old bedroom, the warm wet kisses of my dog, eating unhealthy poutine, and my family. I missed my boyfriend and our nights sleeping together. I knew there were so many other things I missed but I just count remember because I had grown used to life with you.

However, I am afraid of the days that this adventure with you will feel like a dream. I’m scared I will lose contact with my Taiwanese and overseas friends. I’m frightened that I won’t be able to return back to you, Taiwan anytime soon. But hey, I’m glad I decided to leave the comforts and habits of my old life behind. I’m glad I didn’t let my anxiety take the better of me. I’m thankful for everyone that supported my decision to leave and travel for this outstanding year. I doubt even when I return back to Canada that I’ll stay too long in one place. I love you Taiwan, and I’ll say as many times as you want me to. I’ll be back to your warmth and friendly coastal, mountainous landscapes once again.

我有一天回去台灣!我想要離開加拿大再旅行~

Sincerely and with the deepest affections,
Astric Wolf

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The entrance to Taiwan National University.
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