I hardly know how to express our first glimpse of Taiwan. Since touching down on Friday morning, it has been almost rainy nonstop, thanks to the end of the typhoon season. Taipei has been a whirlwind of good things to eat and, well, humidity and rain. Since we plan to stay in Taiwan for several months, Steve and I spent the last 48-72 hours madly searching for an apartment online, cold-calling Taiwanese landlords, and riding the Taipei MRT to the ends of the earth (okay, just to Xinbeitou, but it was like 45 minutes out!). Though we found quite a few interesting places, met some nice people, and considered seven different places, the overall rent seemed rather high for what we knew other people were paying in Taipei, and we spent not a few hours hotly debating the merits of various apartments, the point of staying in Taipei versus other cities in the south, and essentially, subtly questioning each other’s motives for being abroad, period. I mean, what are we really doing here?
This morning, we made a trek to see another very expensive apartment, made an appointment to sign a lease for a place, had a change of heart about the cost, cancelled it, and at noon today, found ourselves sitting in the Taipei Main MRT station with all our luggage, back at square one, wondering “what do we do next?”
Yesterday, Emilie found us online and made plans for a Skype date later this week. Then she teasingly asked how exploring the world and not going to work felt. I had to respond candidly that it was surprisingly stressful. Here’s how the thinking goes. As of today, we’ve officially been on the road for one month, and while we’ve had some really cool experiences so far, both Steve and I feel the pressure to not waste our time abroad — we have a lot of bucket list ideas for our circumnavacation — biking trips, hot springs, learning new languages, meeting people, WWOOFing, etc. etc. Chances are, we won’t find ourselves in this part of the world again for a long time, so there’s this pressure to make sure we don’t miss out on cool experiences. Hence, I’ve buried my head in Wikitravel, trying to figure out where to go, where to live, what to see. For anyone not in the know, Wikitravel (kind of self-explanatory) is a resource that is not necessarily very reliable (so you need to double-check locations and hours of different hostels or tourist destinations), but what it is very good at is providing incredibly candid and accurate general impressions of different places. That being said, I am now trying to turn off the part of my brain which has been living on Wikitravel, because more information is not helping us make decisions as to what we want anymore. You can only optimize so far and so much before you start wondering why you spend all your time trying to make decisions and not actually enjoying your time in a foreign country! Once you find one or two fun places, it might be okay to just stick to those for the next few weeks because you don’t need to go everywhere and do everything — the bragging rights aren’t actually worth the tiring slog it is to go everywhere in a country, even one as small as Taiwan.
At the same time, we also have projects that we really want to focus on already, and it’s amazing how little work you can get done when you go out to a Starbucks or café around here. Without a real desk and fast, non-firewalled Internet, I feel like it’s been difficult to focus. What I wouldn’t do for the Reg around the corner! This sounds a little whiny, but you can easily waste hours just trying to connect to the Internet at Starbucks, and it’s hard to be productive if you’re balancing your laptop, drink, and book/folders on a small awkward table or on your lap. We also crave structure. A weekend is only a weekend because there’s a work week that you have to get through first!
What I loved about working a steady job instead of school was that there was such a clear division between work and play. Once you came home, whether it was 5 pm or 10 pm (the latter happened more often than I care to remember in the past few years), you were done. Now I’ve got nothing on my plate tomorrow besides re-reading the Russell and Holmes mysteries, writing my personal statement, and maybe taking a bike ride for a few hours. Sounds like heaven, I know, and I’m going to have a lot of fun, but guess which item goes on the back burner? When the rubber hits the road, I’m not very good at making myself learn and work. Well, we’re going to work on resetting all of this in the next few weeks. To end the cliffhanger that you’ve been on since the first paragraph of this post, I’ll tell you about our brush with serendipity.
On Wikitravel’s page for Hualien, a city on Taiwan’s northeast coast, Steve and I found a listing for a hostel called “The Wood Hostel” that sounded pretty neat and very cheap (at ~300 NTD, or $10 USD, a bed). I then casually searched for it on Google and found a listing on workaway.info, which informed us that the hostel, which is currently under renovation and redesign, was looking for people to help them build, decorate, design, and work on the hostel in exchange for a free bunk. From there, it took only a phone call to Alan, the enthusiastic owner, and two tickets on the next train to Hualien (2 hours long, $440 NTD each), and before we knew it, we were gathered around a table in a tiny restaurant in Hualien, having dinner with Alan, Chang, a mainland traveler, and Niels, an Austrian, and telling them about why we were on this trip. For the next week (we think), we’ll be living and exploring in Hualien, and paying our way by doing some translation (me), website building (Steve), and carpentry (maybe both of us)! In our spare time, we will work on our projects, and I *will* turn out a decent first draft of my personal statement for grad school. Our next steps are still open at the moment, but I feel really good about having something to work on!
I’ve finally uploaded all our Japan photos, and will work hard on putting up things from Beijing and Shanghai so I can finally show you what Taiwan is like! More from Formosa tomorrow.