A Trip to the Bookstore

Hi-ya Readers ❤

It is May. IT.IS.MAY. I can’t believe it, this semester has gone so fast!!

I’m also realizing how much Hangzhou comes alive in spring. The trees are more vibrant in color, and flowers are everywhere. It’s as if the whole city went from early 00’s video tape quality to iPhone 6s camera mega filter hahaha.

Despite the good weather, I haven’t had much opportunity to be outside. I miss the days in Taiwan where I would wake up, pick a place to go, grab my iPod and set out on my adventure for the day. When I was in Taipei, sometimes I would simply pick a direction to walk in and explore for an hour or two. Those walks were full of inspiration, and I always came back feeling relaxed and re-centered.  Thus I decided yesterday that it was time for one of those walks. Especially since as of late, everything has been annoying, stressful and a bit suffocating. You know how you reach a point where everything starts to make you irrationally annoyed? Where someone breathing just a little too loudly makes you want to flip over a chair?

Yup, it’s beyond time to get out of dodge.

I chose to go to a foreign language bookstore that was only a half and hour trip by bus from campus.

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The walk from the bus stop to the book store was phenomenal! Hangzhou’s architecture never fails to wow me, and the sunshine completely energized the entire downtown scene.

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The bookstore itself was a bit disappointing. They had great art books – I think I’ve developed a passion for street art and photography – but their English modern fiction section was small. Most of it was made up of Twilight, Vampire Diaries and Ernest Hemingway novels. It seems like it’s largely a bookstore for Chinese students learning English. There was a huge section of English textbooks. Although I found a few fiction books I liked, I realized it’s probably the last time I’ll be able to walk into a bookstore and buy a book in Chinese. On a whim, I found a feminist biographical book written by a Taiwan native. The language is only a little above my current level, which is great!

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~view from inside the bookstore~

After I spent a good hour in the bookstore, I set back out and wandered around. If only Hangzhou had a Rita’s Water Ice shop. With the weather about mid 80’s, a soft pretzel and mango water ice would have been perfect.

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On my way back to the bus station, I was at a crosswalk waiting for the light to change. As I waited, a street cleaner walked in front of me, mouth agape, eyes staring at me like two daisies were growing out of my head. He stopped to pick up some trash on the street, walked back in front of me, still staring. His mouth was so open, he’ll probably have a sore jaw later. He murmured to himself “…a foreigner…” and then finally left. I had to scrunch my mouth to keep from laughing out loud. Yes, sir, what an astute observation. You’re clearly the next Sherlock Holmes. Sorry, Benedict Cumberbatch.

 

All in all, it was a great day! I realized how much travel and being outside has become a part of me. I can truly say without a doubt, walking is one of my hobbies. As long as the weather’s nice and I have my iPod, I could walk for hours. Of course, this is all has to be done entirely on my own. I may like going out more, but hey, I’m still an introvert 😛

 

Best,

恺乐

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Where I’ve Been

Hi Readers <3,

A big part of why I’ve been very infrequent with this blog is because of my research class this semester. For my Hangzhou Studies class, we pick from a selection of topics – I picked Hangzhou’s Tourism. Therefore every week, I went to a different tourist site and did research. Well… “research” because all I really did was take pictures and record my 1 minute interviews with people.

On a side note, it’s because of this research I sometimes encountered some not-so-fun situations. For example at one particular tourist site, because there was no one else around, I tried to interview a woman I thought was an employee. She was sitting there at the receptionist desk; snacking on peanuts while watching a TV drama on her iPad. She told me she had no way of helping me, because she was just the cleaning woman there. Then she looked at me smugly and said: “By recording me you’re infringing on my rights”. Even after I explained the assignment, showed her my teacher’s notes and promised I wouldn’t record our conversation, she still said the same thing: “Yes but you’re infringing on my rights”. Really, lady? It’s not that serious. You just want to continue watching your TV dramas uninterrupted. #thishag

Anyways, in general, my Hangzhou travels gave me a chance to get to know the city more. It’s truly a stunning combination of nature and urban sprawl. Two of my favorite places visited were the Yellow Dragon Cave and Xixi Wetlands.

黄龙洞 Yellow Dragon Cave

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Okay, so a part of why I liked the Yellow Dragon Cave was because there were NO PEOPLE. Yes, I sometimes am an antisocial introvert and like to be completely on my own, but also in China it is VERY, VERY HARD to go anywhere without a ton of people around. The lack of human traffic allowed me to relax, truly take in my surroundings and gave me a much needed break from campus.

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This place is called 圆缘台 (yuanyuantai). And although Yellow Dragon Cave is named after the yellow dragon waterfall, I really feel 圆缘台 more so epitomizes this place’s meaning. Yellow Dragon Cave has a lot of children statues – symbolizing fun, life and family. There were also a lot of romantic fixtures, such as a red couples’ swing decorated in ivy and roses. Yellow Dragon Cave seems like it is a place to appreciate the relationships in your life, be it romantic or familial. 圆缘台 is a place where couples who desire to be together forever can place a small lock to actualize this wish. There were tons of chains full of locks, some shiny new others rusted with time.

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The Yellow Dragon actually creeped me out a bit. Not because it was scary looking, but because of how intricately detailed it was. This picture’s quality is not so great, therefore it’s hard to tell, but the statue was very vividly sculptured. It felt realistic-looking. The dragon’s presence definitely gave a mystical feeling to the travel site.

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西溪湿地 Xixi Wetlands

This was the most stressful, frustrating traveling experience I have had in China so far. I left my dorm at 9am, and yet by 12:30pm hadn’t yet arrived at Xixi Wetlands. First, I couldn’t find the transfer bus stop, then I got on the wrong bus and ended up in the northernmost part of the city. Xixi Wetlands is in Hangzhou’s western part. I came back by taxi, only to realize I didn’t have enough money to ride all the way there! So I got out…and ended up right where I left. Finally, I found the right bus, but the traffic was so bad it took me another hour to reach the Wetlands.

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If the trip hadn’t been a homework assignment, I would have gone home after the first three hours. But it was Sunday, the assignment was due Monday, and I was too stubborn to give up anyway. In the end, I’m glad I stuck with it. The Xixi Wetlands are gorgeous!!!

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Although there were many more people here than at the Yellow Dragon Cave *le sigh*, the Wetlands are huge and therefore everyone was very spread out. You could see spring had arrived; flowers were in bloom all around, families had picnics and young couples held hands. Yes, the PDA in China is very 8th grade innocent.

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From afar the groves of yellow flowers looked like sunflowers, which made me think of home. Sunflowers are my mom’s favorite!

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If faeries truly exist, they no doubt live in Hangzhou’s Xixi Wetlands. There was such a playful, almost magical energy, and although tourist sites are usually noisy or obnoxious, everyone here seemed laid-back, simply enjoying the scenery. During my research interview with a worker, she told me that Xixi Wetlands have a lot of activities, particularly during autumn. Families can come pick apples in October, and during the Dragon Boat Festival, there are boat races along Xixi’s river.

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The second downside of my trip to Xixi Wetlands is that by the time I finished exploring, it was after work rush hour. Therefore it took me two and a half hours to get back to the dorms! At one point we were stuck unmoving for fifteen minutes. It was at this time, someone started arguing with the bus driver, then the two got off the bus to yell at each other outside. As the former passenger started to leave, the bus driver chased him down a bit while shouting at his back. All the while, I was smushed up against the back side door as there was no other space left to stand on the crowded bus. It was an experience.  #onlyinchina

 

Until next time,

恺乐

What I Like About China

Hey there, Readers B-)

 

This post is kind of an anomaly.

I realize that although my blog is a much-needed creative outlet, it’s also a space mainly used to vent my frustrations and disappointments about China. However, this kind of gives a skewed perspective doesn’t it?

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Because when I am enjoying my time here, when China is fun and exciting, I don’t write the experiences down. You could say I’ve been too busy living it, which is fair. However, with only six weeks left until I head back to the States, I want to change this.

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There’s a thought I had the other day…it was the afternoon and I was on my way to buy some fruit. The weather was pretty nice and people were moving in swarms around me, busy in their own routines. I felt very comfortable, very grounded in where I was.

 

This is what gave me pause.

 

I realize for all the problems I have with China and the struggles I’ve had here, I don’t hate China at all. In fact, China, you’re a nut, but I actually kinda like you.

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You’ve gotten under my skin, and while some days I want to strangle you, other days you make me laugh and appreciate even the smallest parts of my life. It’s because of you that I have grown so much as a person, and for that you’ll always hold a special place in my heart.

 

Here’s some things that make you pretty cool:

Expression – it’s all in the nuances

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In Chinese, a little can express a lot. One of my favorite sayings is 息息相关, which means as closely related as one breath to the next. The first breath always influences the second, therefore not only can they never be analyzed separately but also on a foundational level, are inextricably tied together.  息息相关 is only four characters and yet holds such depth. English easily uses one to two paragraphs to explain something Chinese can explain in sometimes as little as two characters.

息息相关 is more commonly used in written form. However, in terms of everyday language, Chinese is still just as expressive. For instance, my personal favorite is 可以 (keyi). The basic meaning of 可以 is “can” but it’s used in so many different ways. When someone asks how you feel, you can say “还可以”, which in English translates to “I’m okay” but the literal meaning is “I’m still able”. In other words, everything else is kinda crappy, but I’m still able to take it. I’m still able to be here. Another use for 可以 is when someone asks you permission to do something, you can simply reply “可以”, if the answer is yes.

But more so than the amount of meaning you can put behind such little words, I love how much emphasis is placed on the tones of words. Particularly, the third tone. When a person is being sarcastic, teasing, angry, or passionate, hard enunciation is placed on the third tone. For example, when something is really annoying, a lot of people simply say “讨厌”(taoyan – to dislike), and a lot of emphasis is placed on the tao, which is third tone. The English equivalent to this emphasis would be: “Man, I can’t stand this s%@*”

 

Concept of 照顾 zhaogu

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照顾 means to take care of, to look after. However, this concept of looking after someone isn’t only used for parents and children. In China, you 照顾 your family, friends, pets, juniors, students, girlfriends/boyfriends or just anyone of importance to you. Something as simple as showing an underclassmen around, or bringing hot congee to your sick friend’s room counts as 照顾.

While in America we harp on having independence and being self-sufficient, I don’t think the concept of 照顾 denies this cherished western ideal. 照顾 is more about giving someone support. It’s about having someone look after you, even if it’s for the smallest moment or in the smallest way. It’s a reminder you’re not alone. It’s a reminder you are cared for. It’s an acknowledgment that sometimes you can’t do everything on your own.

I love how instead of saying “how are you” when you encounter an acquaintance, you’ll instead say “have you eaten?”

In other words, have you taken care of yourself? Have you taken care of your body today?

 

Incredible Architecture 

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Southern Chinese cities are a blend of nature, traditional architecture and modern design. It’s a beautiful mix. While Nanjing and Hangzhou are my favorites, Guilin, Xiamen, Guangzhou and Yangshuo have their own uniqueness that isn’t to be overlooked.

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What’s even more incredible is that going to different cities in China, is sometimes like going to other countries. The local culture, vibe of the people, spiciness of the food – it all varies from city to city. Nanjing reminds me of Taiwan, which it’s laidback atmosphere, easygoing yet fashionably creative people and modern city look. While Guangzhou, in it’s grunginess and dark buildings, reminds me more of Pittsburgh in America.

 

Full of Spontaneity

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There’s never a dull moment in China. Even the routine parts of your day could have a mini adventure…or just a moment of WTF. For instance, when I went with a friend to the gym and we used the side room to do ab work. It’s used as a dance studio during the evenings, but during the day it’s open freely and has yoga mats. All of a sudden, a woman came in, plugged her iPhone into the speakers, blared Moroccan music and started dancing in a tutu.

Or, one time when I was standing on a crowded bus, two old women thought it would be a good time to discuss the size of my butt. Then there was the time I was coming home from a cafe, and a man jumped out of a tree. He had on exercise clothing, and I think he climbed up there as part of his workout. Still, it was a sight to behold.

Unapologetically Open

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Despite the cultural pressure to fit in, abide by parents’ wishes or be mindful of others’ opinions about you, a lot of people in China are unapologetically themselves. A perfect example of this would be that woman at the gym in a tutu. She was on a mission, and she didn’t care at all if people stared at her. Maybe she even wanted the attention.

If you have an interest in something, go ahead and stare at it. Go ahead and find out what’s going on. If someone is arguing, you better believe at least ten people in China will slow down to watch. If there’s a foreigner, or person who looks out of the norm, the same applies. It’s curiosity, and as much as we shame being nosy in American culture, why are reality TV shows so popular?

Then there are the unabashed display of bodily functions. They are a natural part of being human, so why feel ashamed? Got something in your throat? Cough that crap out! Need to sneeze, just do ahead and sneeze. Or if you’re a girl on your period, why waste all that tissue to wrap up a used pad before discarding it? Just throw it in the bin with the rest of the dirty tissue. Women have seen it before, they have periods themselves!

While a lot of this may be baffling to us, I think it’s kind of cool. It makes you feel less awkward and embarrassed about things that are a part of life. Though I still haven’t adjusted to the spitting, nor will I ever.

Then there are the small things I’ve come to like about living here…

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Sharing meals, drinking black sesame seed Dou Jiang, exchanging smiles with workers at places I frequent, long late nights talks with my roommate, the plethora of fruit available, night markets and if you haven’t already guessed…China is the best place ever for people-watching.

 

Until next time,

恺乐

 

 

 

Mini Update

Hey Readers ❤

So I kind of disappeared again for two weeks – I’ve really got to get consistent with blogging!

But getting resettled, readjusted and meeting this semester’s new students has kept me pretty busy. There’s also some not so great news…

My American phone fell into the toilet while I was out partying last weekend, and it’s completely done in. Even after I waited and let it try for a few days, it won’t even turn on anymore! Fortunately, most if not all of my pictures were saved to my computer.

However on the other hand, I am now left with my very cheap China Nokia phone. Which despite being a smartphone, is so old it has no front camera! Not that I’m into selfies, but I at least liked the option of being able to take them hahaha

So now I’m a little stuck on how to move forward. I’m going to make posts about Taipei – currently one of my top favorite cities ever ❤ ❤ ❤ – which will include my previously taken photos. But as for my new adventures in Hangzhou, I’m not sure what to do. I can still take pictures, but the quality will not be anywhere near as good 😦

Aside from the phone fiasco, everything is pretty alright. Although I find myself really missing home. It’s interesting, last semester I wasn’t as homesick. I was more or less caught up in the adventure and cultural politics. Now that I know the lay of the land, feel comfortable enough with the language and have a new sense of self-sufficiency, I realize other things have been on the back burner. Maybe not so much things, but more so emotions.

I am truly tired. These past six months have been ongoing change, experience and adjustment. Many things both big and small have become annoying. For example, every cab driver being mystified when one of my White classmates speaks Chinese with him. Or how people insist Chinese are so open to helping and talking with foreigners – when really this only applies to White-looking foreigners. Then there are the small things, like that my clothes lose shape because the washers here are so harsh. For any of my curvy girls out there, you know how important shape is when it comes to clothing! Or how when putting on facial lotion, a lot of Chinese women pat it onto their face making this irritating slapping sound.

When I think of my friends and family back home, of going to the store without being stared at, of blaring music in the car with my dad, of talking with my friends until late at night, of eating cinnamon toast crunch cereal, of seeing other people who look like me, of how despite it’s problems America has a dialogue of embracing being different…I just want to get out of China. I just want to go home.

I realize in times like these it’s important to feel these emotions and be with them. But I think it also is good to remind myself what I have come to like about my life in China. So currently, every time a moment pops up where I think: “Wow, I really like this” or “I really enjoy this”, I make a note of it.

 

Best Wishes,

恺乐

Back in China: Chinese New Year in Deng Feng

Hi Readers!

It’s been awhile, but I’m back! The last week in Taiwan got a little crazy filled with accompanying new hostel guests on small day trips, goodbyes to friends and running around gathering stuff to take back to China.

The plan was to spend three days in Zhengzhou at my teacher’s house. Then I would come back to campus and get adjusted to Hangzhou again before orientation on the 17th. And while it’s been somewhat of a process, I am finally back on campus!!

I still have a lot of Taiwan stories to tell, but I thought I’d take a small break and share with everyone a few of my Chinese New Year experiences.

My teacher was awesome to host me over the holidays and her family was very nice to me! Her husband’s mother was so sweet and tried to stuff me with more food every chance she got hahaha. Their family is very close and the inside jokes exchanged between them reminded me of my own family.

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That said, staying in Deng Feng was a fresh slap in the face to China life. Taiwan definitely softened me and while coming back I went through another mini culture shock. It started when I slept overnight in the Hangzhou airport waiting for my early morning flight to Zhengzhou. There was no heating in the airport, as a result, I shivered so much I barely got three hours of sleep.

Then the gates of the flights weren’t posted, and I was afraid I would miss my flight even though I’d been at the airport for hours! When I finally found my check-in, people were all over the place. Everyone cut-in line, there was no organization whatsoever. After still being in American/Taiwan culture mode, I was being patient and waiting in line. Eventually though, I realized I had to be aggressive otherwise I would be pushed over. It felt wrong because I was acting in a way against how I had been brought up, but I was also so pissed off I didn’t even care.

So I shoved back, I cut in front of people who tried to come in front of me, and I pushed past people blocking the way – saying excuse me just didn’t work. People were loud, kids were out of control, men hacking into trash cans, endless lines and when I finally got on the plane – five crying babies on board.

When I finally got to Deng Feng, I felt as if I was back to beginner Chinese. Everyone spoke the local dialect, so most of the time I had no idea what was being said. The pollution coated the air, creating a heavy fog and forlorn looking environment. It can also be a very exhausting and awkward experience to spend 72 hours nonstop with someone else’s family that you do not know. I had trouble keeping up with the energy at times. It felt as if every ounce of confidence and courage I’d built in Taiwan had been blown to bits.

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I was friendly, upbeat, and talkative in Taiwan with my Taiwanese friends. But here I was quiet, awkward, and slow. I became known as the girl who didn’t like to talk. Which apparently was a good thing, as women who don’t talk too much are considered elegant and sophisticated. Heh.

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But the worst part was…the racial microaggressions.

For those of you who do not recognize or understand what the term “microaggression” means, you might want to look it up. Only because I’m not sure how to explain it. Here are some examples that might shed some light:

  • When Asian-Americans are told their English is so good
  • The time I heard a coworker call spanish a “poor people’s language”
  • Asking a mixed race person “what are you?” 
  • Or telling a black child you’re surprised that both of their parents are around

I’ve encountered lots of microaggressions in America, but due to China’s isolation and overall racial ignorance, it brought them to a new level.

For starters, a few of my teacher’s relatives discussed right in front of me that they 看不懂 me. 看不懂 (kan bu dong) means seeing but not understanding – which is actually a kinder translation. The tone with which it was said more or less conveyed: “I don’t know what the heck this kid is and the confusion is disturbing.” 

They asked again what country I was from, to which another relative replied America. This seemed puzzling because they thought it had to be Africa but wait no – I wasn’t that black so that doesn’t make sense either. So they 看不懂 me. Another “enlightened” relative mentioned that she had heard of half breeds in America, so maybe I was one of those. This seemed to provide relief and the topic was dropped.

I acted as if I didn’t know what was being said, because not only did I feel uncomfortable, but how would I address it anyways? How do I defend myself in a second language that I was just starting to regain back again in front of my teacher’s relatives without being disrespectful?

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Then later on when I got in the elevator with my teacher and a few relatives, a small family got on as well. It was a couple with a new baby…in a KNITTED AFRO HAT. I kid you not, I almost wish I had taken a picture it was so unbelievable.

It literally looked like a comical kid’s version of a costume used in an old uncle tom minstrel performance. There were knitted brown loops to imitate the texture of black hair. At the time, I was wearing my curls in a bun on top of my head, and the couple stared at me. Everyone started laughing saying my hair was just like the baby’s hat. 

My hair, loose curls inherited from my mother and her mother before her, beautiful evidence of who I come from was compared to an ugly, horribly made hat. Though I denied any resemblance and was visibly not laughing, no one noticed. The wife asked me if MINE was real. 

In hindsight, it’s kind of funny. Only in China would you find a couple who would want their baby in a knitted afro hat. The absurdity of it all is baffling. But at the time I felt so offended. Is that how they see my hair? As something hilarious that children can wear? My beautiful curls look like knitted poop brown loops to them?

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Finally, on my last day in Deng Feng I had a discussion with my teacher. I’m not sure how we got onto the topic, but she admitted she was aware of why no one wanted to take pictures with me. She was aware that no one saw me as an American. She was aware of how White people are very privileged in China. She was aware of how my looks made me treated differently. I thought to myself, if you really understood and knew all of this, why do you say things like: “People in China love white skin, but *pats my arm* I like your skin color, I think wheat-colored skin is very healthy looking”?

A scary feeling came over me in Deng Feng. It felt like if I lost my passport, the only real proof to people I am American, no one would believe my nationality. I felt very odd. I have to argue I am American and I have to argue I am black. In one instance I am arguing for the same privileged treatment and acknowledgment. In the other I am asking for scrutiny and discrimination. The laughing people do when discovering I am black feels as if they’re saying “Yeah but she’s so white so we can accept her!”.

Maybe I’m just being sensitive. Maybe I’m overthinking it.

But then…how can I not?

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Lastly, going through security on my way out of Zhengzhou airport, one of the employees laughed announcing loudly to the others “Oh a foreigner is here.” While checking me over, the girl ruffled through my curls and squeezed my hair that was gathered into a bun on my head. I told her in Chinese it was just my hair, nothing else. I don’t know if she really thought she had to check to see if I hid something in my hair or if she just wanted an excuse to touch it. Everyone was staring at me while I was checked over. It was…dehumanizing. #TravelingWhileBlack or in my case #TravelingWhileNotWhite

 

Best,

恺乐

 

 

Taiwan Adventures: Final Thoughts on Kenting

Hello Readers!

Aside from the car incident, there were other reasons why Kenting wasn’t a particular favorite.

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In reflection, the root of it was a combination of seeing so many groups of friends or family while I was always by myself. I got to see firsthand what I was missing back home, and I felt pretty lonely. Secondly, Kenting was a complete tourist trap. I think if anything I have discovered throughout this trip that I hate places overrun with tourists who just want to snap a picture with their various selfie sticks as opposed to really mindfully engaging a beautiful site. Kenting was literally one long road of about 20 clothing shops selling the same flip flops and bikinis, expensive restaurants, and scooter rentals. That was it. There were no cafes or bookstores, so if it rained, you pretty much had NOTHING to do.

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Thirdly, I stayed there longer than I should have. Kenting really is a place of groups to go for a few days of vacation. I planned a week because I thought relaxing and enjoying the beach would be good for me. In my previous experience with Tainan and Hualien, I realized it took about a week to fully get a feel for a city. The constant influx of meeting new people only for them to leave the next day or day after, made me anxious to stay in Kenting. I felt kind of stuck. This paired with the lack of good transportation and the later accident erupted my anxiety like a volcano.

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The slow days in Kenting made it feel like I would be there forever, stuck in a town of fakeness. It was obviously irrational thinking and looking back I laugh at myself a little, but in remembering I also still feel that ugly sense of urgency, that claustrophobic feeling a lot of people say they feel about small towns in the U.S.

But I still loved the beach and the spectacular views I saw thanks to Kenting. Kenting was also a reminder that travel is an experience and it will not always be fun!

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Best,

恺乐

Taiwan Adventures: The Car Accident

Hey there, Readers ❤

 

While I was in Kenting, I was involved in a car accident. Remember in my past post I had said I was attempting to be a real bike-rider in Kenting? Well the bike I had rented a few days before the accident, felt weird when I took it out. I think it was just too old and rusty. I had been on the start of a highway up to the Eluanbi lighthouse, when I felt like I couldn’t get a real handle on the bike.

I didn’t feel right, so I got off and wheeled the bike all the way back to the bike shop. Despite it being my third time renting from the Bike shop’s lady boss, and despite the fact I had actually helped her business by translating between her and a group of Indonesian tourists – she didn’t refund me. So the next day, when I planned to bike to Baiwan Bay, I knew I needed to go to a different shop. One without cold business-minded lady bosses and rusty bikes. I saw this bike parked next to these row of motorscooters, and I felt ecstatic. It looked brand-new! It looked like it wasn’t going to fall apart!

However when I met with the shop owner to talk, he told me it was also an electric bike. I wasn’t too keen on it, but I didn’t have to use the electric, it still would work like a regular bike. So I took it and began my way. However the bike was a lot heavier than a regular bike. It didn’t bike as smoothly and I had to exert extra effort to steer. These all were red-flags. But stubborn me – already frustrated with continuously being stuck in the tourist trap of Kenting, wanted to keep going. I had already spent the money, and it would be a waste for me to do what I did the day before, which is wheel the back all the way back without having gone anywhere.

I was going so slowly, and I was getting more and more upset. I took a small break by Nanwan beach, but after sulking a bit and being stared at by all the locals, I started back on my way. Something told me to try the electric, just tap on it slowly and see what would happen.

To my surprise, the maximum speed wasn’t even that fast. I grew comfortable with it and definitely enjoyed going faster without having to burn my thighs with exertion to do it. It was so fun! I immediately saw the appeal and why everyone rented a scooter. In that moment, I felt even if I didn’t end up visiting anywhere, getting comfortable on a semi-scooter had been worth it.

If only I had stayed true to that thought. Half-way to Baiwan Bay, it began pouring. I stopped at a 7-eleven for cover with about 50 other scooter-drivers. I think I waited almost two hours, while the wind and rain whipped around outside. Finally, it became very light, the kind of rain that is so thin you can hardly see it. The kind where an umbrella is a burden, but if you don’t have it, that small rain will slowly soak you completely.

I thought I should head-back, and call it a day. But that feeling of not taking full advantage of my ability to travel and potentially wasting money created a feeling of dread in my stomach. I’m almost there, I had thought, I’ll just go down the road and if it really is too far, I’ll head back. So I continued on my way when I went over a hard bump. The bump knocked my seat out of place and I had to use my thighs to keep it in place while I rode. This was sign #1.

As I turned down the road, I saw it was pretty desolate. There were a few cars going by, but it had a creepy feel to it. It was foggy and misty from the rain – which began to get thicker again. I paused a bit to try and fix the seat of my bike, but it was no use. My legs were banged up from bumping into the pedals while balancing on the bike as it ran on electric. My crotch was on fire from the seat which fell all the way back and hurt to sit on. This was sign #2.

But I kept going and as I did, the road felt like it was getting darker. The houses around seemed vacant. It felt like a rainy version of the road in Jeepers Creepers, where the couple is driving by and see a creepy figure throwing a body into a well. A feeling of impending doom hit me. Something bad is going to happen, the feeling told me. You need to head back, something isn’t right. This was sign #3 and it should have been enough. But right as I started to turn back, I saw the sign saying Baiwan Bay was very close. I’m right here, I’ve come all this way, and besides maybe all this is just anxiety anyways. So silly me, pushed aside my intuition and gut feelings.

When I rounded the corner, there was a car parked on the side of the road. It was a weird intersection, and I grew nervous as a large cargo truck blazed past me. I was having trouble steering the bike, suddenly the speed felt way too fast, and my fear grew. The car was too close, I tried to turn away from it, but the bike wasn’t cooperating. I had lost control of it.

I don’t really remember how it happened. There’s this blank moment in my memory, where the bike is out-of-control and I graze into the side of the parked car. All I remember is the bike jerking, and me flying off of it, only to land on my back, the helmet thankfully protecting my head.

Why hadn’t I just hit the brakes? Why hadn’t I killed the speed? It wasn’t until after I crashed that I realized all that I could have done. I think my fear just overtook me, and it blinded me to all else, as fear so cleverly and effortlessly does. As I jumped to my feet, I prayed no one had been in the parked car. I didn’t think I left a mark, so there was really only the embarassment of having crashed. But unfortunately, I was wrong.

The guy got out, and asked me what the heck I was doing riding so close to the car. He began checking the side of his car, and hadn’t found any scratches. Maybe it’s okay, I thought. Maybe it’s okay.

But no, soon he found two scratches. He had to smooth the rain away in order to see them. They were so tiny. It was a silver car so you could barely tell. But he kept insisting it was so obvious. He kept saying it over and over. I could see what he was doing. He wanted money. I had crashed into an exploitive a**hole. Then his friend got out.

She looked at the car, and said there was really no other way they could look the other way. She pointed to the front fender – the only scratch that was actually visible – and told me it was too obvious there was damage there. The way they were talking, how they kept repeating things, it’s like they were trying to verbally build a case for why I should give them money.

All I kept thinking was that I didn’t have a ton of money. All I kept thinking of was my hardworking parents in the states. All I kept thinking of was how much money they were gonna demand. How was I going to handle this on my own? I didn’t have anyone here. Any money I had, I needed in order to survive here until I went back to China.

I started crying as I apologized to them. They didn’t even bat an eye.

The police came, drove me to the station and took a statement. The guy came up to me with these prices. I asked him where he came up with them. Dismay and overwhelm had turned to rage. I felt very angry because since I was a foreigner, everyone kept talking to me like I was a baby, and that I didn’t understand anything. I didn’t feel respected, I didn’t feel like anyone was looking out for me.

As we waited in the Traffic Accident Police’s office, the guy started talking to me casually. He also lent me medicine for the cut on my knee. It was confusing that he was being nice and considerate. Looking back I realize he was probably just putting on an act. I made sure we had it in writing that I paid them their money – thankfully only $300 USD, which was still a lot – and that police were present when we did. I took pictures of our signed documents and of the car damages. I sent a copy to my parents and to my program in China. Turns out, the damages definitely wouldn’tve been $300 USD. Plus the only way to really know is to take the car to a shop, as my dad said. So they had gotten over on me.

Regardless, I was just glad to be okay. I was thankful they hadn’t asked for a crazy amount of money. Because at the end of the day, I had crashed into them. It had been my mistake.

That night, I thought about how much worse the accident could have been. I thought about how lucky and unlucky I was at the same time. It was a horrible day and I never felt more ready to leave a place. Fortunately, I had only one more day left in Kenting.

Best,

恺乐

 

Taiwan Adventures: Kenting 垦丁

Hello there, Readers 🙂

I visited Kenting for my third week in Taiwan. It is in the southernmost point on the island and I was looking forward to the sunshine!

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Maybe it’s because going to the beach is usually a group event, or maybe it’s because it was my third week on my own but Kenting is really where I started to feel homesick. There were also a lot of tourists – westerners – and that affected my experience as well. One, anytime there is a surplus of Western tourists anywhere, the place instantly is full of people looking to make extra money and overcharge. Two, like in Yangshuo, it was a mini culture shock to see so many Westerners after such a long time. It was this weird world where it felt like I wasn’t in Asia anymore, as there were places with burgers, fries, abundant English menus, hearing English everywhere. Three, it was very hard to get around with a scooter or car. This led to frustration and eventually a small car accident – but I’ll get into that later.

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The south of Taiwan continuously amazed me and I feel entirely grateful to have been able to visit there. That said, I think Kenting was my least favorite place out of all the cities I have visited in Taiwan. It’s almost crazy how I can hate a place but be awed by it at the same time. Kenting is without a doubt Taiwan’s Guangzhou for me.

But first – here is all the fun activities I did and some amazing places I was able to see!

~Kenting National Park

My very first adventure in Kenting! It had a pretty frustrating start, I thought I could walk into the park and get right onto the trails. However, after about a half hour of walking, I hadn’t yet reached the entrance, and I had a growing feeling I would get lost if I kept going.

I ran into a French couple who were parked on their scooter viewing a map. They preceded to tell me I was about an hour’s walk away from the actual park! And if I decided to walk, it would be almost entirely uphill. So I headed back to town and thought about catching a bus up to the park.

However, the bus schedule was unclear and I wasn’t sure where the Kenting National Park tour buses were stopping – if there were any. Finally, I gave in and went to find a cab. It was overpriced and clearly a ripoff but I’d had no other choice. After I finally made it to the park and bought my ticket, I went to the bathroom. I apparently hadn’t turned the door lock completely because about a minute after I entered the stall and got in squat mode, a woman barged in. She looked at me briefly and then left without a word. I don’t know what was worse, that she didn’t apologize or that she left the door WIDE OPEN for an old lady walking by to also stare at me. Yes, let’s all stare at the foreigner using the restroom, great idea.

I was embarrassed, frustrated, and sweaty from having walked around so much earlier. But my attitude changed about fifteen minutes into my walk around the park. It was gorgeous!! And although cliche, nature really is a place of centering and reaching emotional peace.

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~National Aquarium

I had pretty low expectations for the Aquarium. I only decided to go because I was feeling a bit stuck in Kenting and the Aquarium was a half hour bus ride away. However, the minute I arrived I loved it!

It was at the Aquarium that I saw some of the best views I have ever seen in my life. The Aquarium’s pier was a place of inspiration, a place where you feel so alive and grateful to be.

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Awesome whale fountain
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Entrance to the Aquarium from the Pier
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Tubes inside the Aquarium

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~Ride to Hengchun

So in an attempt to one, get better at bike riding and two, get somewhere on my own relatively cheaply, I rented a bike to explore the area. Granted, I’d only ridden a bike maybe…three times in my life before I endeavored this small bike trip. And when I say three times, I mean I remember the exact three days I rode a bike. My dad took me out to my old high school parking lot to practice in about two weeks before I left for China.

But I needed to get out of Kenting, which I was slowly realizing was a complete tourist trap. Luckily there were bike lanes everywhere and only in small parts was I in full traffic. I’m happy to announce I only crashed twice, both times into a bush. But it felt so empowering to be able to get somewhere on my own! Plus I was able to get to know Hengchun and Nanwan, two towns just outside of Kenting.

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Nanwan Beach

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The view from the top of an old wall in Hengchun
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Riding in full traffic in Hengchun was scary, but it was definitely worth it!

 

~Kenting Beach

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For most evenings, I would grab a bubble tea or a few snacks from the night market, head to the beach and watch the sun go down. It was peaceful, and after a hot day, it’s really nice to dip your feet into the sea. Every night – except for the rainy ones – the sun burst through the clouds, slowly fading until it was just a glimmer peaking out and subsequently stealing my breath away. Despite the bad times I had in Kenting, it was always nice to settle down with a sunset walk on the beach.

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Kenting Night Market – view from hostel
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The shop of the guy who made FRIED OREOS ❤
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SO DELICIOUS, ALMOST BROUGHT ME TO TEARS

 

Best,

恺乐

Taiwan Adventures: My City Life in Tainan

Hi Readers <3,

Tainan is the kingdom of the temples – seriously there must be like fifty here. So for the start of my explorations in Tainan I decided to follow my guidebook’s self-guided Tainan temple walking tour! It was a good walk and really gave me a good feel of Tainan. It was because of this walk I started to see Tainan with different eyes. By that I mean I didn’t see it as the horrible city where I walked hot and lost for two hours the day before.

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The walk was fantastic!! The temples were gorgeous – and although after seeing like the 16th one it kind of lost it’s luster – just walking around I saw a lot of cool things in Tainan.

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movie theater that had handpainted posters of movies showing!! I went in and saw Taiwan’s widely popular new rom com “Our Times”. It was a heartwarming coming-of-age movie, I loved it. Even got a bit teary-eyed >.<
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I don’t know what this is…ice cream?? the shape of it is a bit disturbing…>.>

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peekaboo 😛

Tainan didn’t have too many sites to go see, it was like Guangzhou in the fact that the only thing to do is to eat. However, Tainan’s laidback atmosphere, beautiful intermingling of old architecture and new, amazing Western and Local food makes it a hundred times better than Guangzhou.

So the last big site I went to see on my own was the AnPing Old Fort. The whole area has cool things to see and it was a nice break from the city.

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Now onto the food part ❤ ❤ <3…

I ate very, very, very well in Tainan. Hahaha probably more than I should have too.

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breakfast dish – fried dough wrapped around fried egg and sausage
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japanese food – pork cutlet with omelette-wrapped rice and an asparagus salad
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what I ate on Christmas!! I went to a Mediterrean Bakery run by an Israeli woman and got some REAL ICE CREAM OMG. With a slice of walnut pie, absolutely delicious
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Western-theme cafe that my friend’s friend worked at. Food was great and my first pancakes in months!
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from a local lunchbox place – just some grilled barbecue chicken, vegetables and rice

So at my hostel I became friends with the staff there, Ah Ting!! She was amazing, and I wouldn’t have been able to get a glimpse at Tainan’s artsy scene without her. She and her friend also took me to Tainan’s major night market. Lots of good eats 🙂 We often laughed over the fact that she’s a Hong Konger showing an American around in Tainan, Taiwan. My fun in Tainan was thanks in large part to her <3.

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little alleyway shop we went into

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Hualien and Tainan were pretty fun, and I felt myself becoming more adjusted to Taiwan. Believe it or not, I felt like I went through another culture shock when I came here. Maybe it’s due to the Western influence or the Mandarin spoken here is a bit different or because it is a separate country (#pro-independence) but it took me some time to get used to being here.

However, when I headed to Kenting after Tainan, it shook up everything. Not really in a good way either.

Best,

恺乐

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view from my dorm room in Tainan Hostel 🙂

 

 

Taiwan Adventures: Rough Start in Tainan 台南

Hello Readers 😀

So the second week that I was in Taiwan, I decided to go to Tainan. It was recommended by a friend and I’d heard Tainan was a great place for foodies! Unfortunately, Tainan is on the West side of the island while Hualien – where I was – was on the Eastern side. Therefore in order to make check-in time, yours truly had to get up at 4:30 am to get to her 5:50 am train 😦 😦 😦

It wasn’t fun lugging three bags in the dark walking to the train station. Hualien also decided at that particular time, to ditch the cold weather it’d been having in favor of weather closer to 80 degrees. Thanks for that, Hualien, it made that walk so much more fun…not.

I got to Tainan after a very long train ride – there are no trains through the middle of the island, I had to go all the way down and around, then come back up the Western side to Tainan. It was noisy, bustling, and very humid. My phone died, so there was no way to get the address to the hostel I was staying in. I frantically searched for a place to charge my phone, and a woman in a phone shop happily let me sit in for a few minutes while my phone charged. So I got the address, got into a cab and was on my way.

But then the cab driver misheard my address and drove me to the wrong address. When he found the right street, we couldn’t find the number of the hostel, so he just let me out since it was close enough. I walked back and forth on this long block looking for the hostel, asking people, and having no luck. My phone which had only charged for five minutes – died again. I needed to find a place with WiFi and a plug so I could access Google maps. After about ten minutes I found a McDonalds, got some greasy fries I didn’t even want, and got my laptop going.

But for some reason Google Maps couldn’t find my location, so while I could plug in the address of the hostel, it wasn’t helpful if Google couldn’t locate my starting point. I eventually decided to use the train station as my starting point and would just take a cab back there. I got back to the train station, but couldn’t find the road I was supposed to head down.

At this point, I was completely soaked in sweat, exhausted and ready to scream. I’d spent two hours looking for this hostel. TWO. HOURS. But that’s not even the worse part – when I walked into a 7-eleven to yet again ask for directions, the sales girl brought me back to the train station and into their “Tourist Information Office”. Where a woman called my hostel, got out a map, and drew directions for me. She also said they have a charging station, so next time if my phone was out of battery I could come there. When I followed the directions, I found that the cab driver had dropped me off at the right spot. The hostel was down this alleyway across the street from where he’d left me. I’d been searching for this hostel for two hours and it was a ten minute walk from the train station.

I felt so frustrated in that moment, and I could only blame myself for being so travel frantic that I overlooked things. But I pushed it all aside because I just wanted to get into the hostel and lay down. However when I got to the door, there was a note saying the owner was out shopping and to call her when a new guest arrived. However my phone was dead, so I had no other option but to park myself outside the hostel – luckily there was a stool – and sit to wait for her.

Thankfully another guest came out, and I told her my situation. She used her phone to call the staff and let me in. So after a six hour train ride, two hour and twenty minute search, and half hour of waiting, I finally got inside my hostel in Tainan.

Things learned:

  • Always charge technology to maximum capacity before traveling
  • Although writing a note or address down on your phone seems smarter, writing it down on paper as a back-up is just as smart
  • When arriving in a new place by public transportation and you are unsure of where to go, look for an information desk. They will have one. And it will make your life easier.

 

Despite the rough start in Tainan, it ended up being really fun and relaxing there! And people weren’t wrong, the food is phenomenal.

 

To be continued,

恺乐