Tag Archives: adventure

Pre-departure Thoughts

February 5-7, 2017

What’s it like to leave everything I’ve known and loved for almost half a year on my own? I had gotten my acceptance letter to go on exchange at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia a few months ago and was finally leaving. There was a heavy mixture of excitement and nervousness the days leading up to my departure. Even when I was saying goodbye to some of the most important people in my life, it was only starting to hit me then that I was leaving for a while… It felt odd to utter sentimental words of a farewell because although I knew I would miss them, how was it possible to mean those words completely when I couldn’t even believe that I was leaving.

When I got to the airport and was ready to leave, it wasn’t easy saying goodbye to my parents without choking on my words. I was already missing going home to them with warmly cooked food ready on the table, having them listen to me talk all about my day, and open arms to embrace me in a hug. I also received a call from my sister and a friend before I boarded the plane, and it was comforting to chat with them during my last few moments in Canada. During the first half of my flight, I sat by the window, two seats away from a huge Super Bowl fan who exploded into cheers on the quiet plane ride at random moments and a seat away from a woman who had her earphones plugged in and a book in her hand during the entire flight. Tired from staying up until 6am the night (or morning) before with last minute packing, I slept through my flight from Vancouver to Los Angeles, staring down at the snow-covered Vancouver and then at the endless sky of blue in between fluttering eyelids – the views were beautiful. Walking from one building to the other to get through customs on my own was an experience in itself. I was surrounded by people of diverse culture and ethnicity – devout monks, nervous Chinese families, hippies in silver hair and unique wear, groups of black people, and CBCs like me. I wish I could have stayed in LA to explore some more, and I wondered where everyone was going. My neighbours during the second half of my flight from LA to Australia were an elderly woman traveling with her husband and also a soon-to-be international graduate student from Mexico. I slept for half the time and then watched one and a half movies – The Great Gatsby (which I absolutely loved!) and Interstellar. The plane ride was enjoyable. I was bursting with curiosity to find out what the other side of the hemisphere looks like! Yet, it also felt like the longest plane ride ever. I’ve been on longer plane rides before and I didn’t even have enough time to finish my second movie, but perhaps the thought of being faraway from home made the distance feel further… Holding a cup of apple juice in my hand and a glass of wine in hers, the Mexican girl and I toasted to studying abroad in a new country with expectancy and smiles, and before I knew it, I was looking out onto a wide, open field of yellow grass and scattered Eucalyptus trees.

Dear Australia, you have been my dream since the beginning of my post-secondary years. I’m here – with mixed emotions of fear, excitement, anxiety, and anticipation – but I’m finally here. Here’s to five months of adventure in a country that will become my home soon.

Backpacking in Taiwan (Day 1): Waterfalls, Sky Lanterns, and Gratitude

I spent years obsessing over, Apple of My Eye, a Taiwanese film about a pair of high-school sweethearts, who end up breaking up due to an immature argument aroused by misunderstanding. Then, with only two days of planning, my sister and I finally had time in summer 2015 to travel to the famous filming location in Pingxi, New Taipei City to participate in the popular activity of releasing lanterns, an imitation of a scene in Apple of My Eye and a cultural practice of pleading for peace. We were reunited after a month of completing separate programs as overseas students, with her program being lessons in Chinese and mine being English-teaching in the rural town of Fuguang. The spontaneity of the trip excited us, but our lack of research resulted in several mistakes, arguments, and dangerous situations. Ultimately, though, we learnt to take care of and appreciate each another.

The air was thick with humidity the morning we left. We walked over to Tsinghua University from our aunt’s apartment in Hsinchu to catch the Kuo-Kuang eBus, a frequent shuttle bus that would took us to Taipei City in 45 minutes. Then we took a train to Badu Train Station to transfer to Pingxi via the Pingxi Branch Rail Line towards Jingtong, which took approximately two hours. During the three-and-a-half hours’ journey, my sister and I caught up about our past month. There was so much to say that even the lengthy ride did not allow enough time.

Since the day was still too bright to set off lanterns, we agreed to start exploring from Shifen, the second last stop on the railway line, and travel backwards. Walking along the train tracks through the bustling Shifen Old Street, we marveled at the low pitch roof houses and little shops selling cultural artefacts, traditional souvenirs, and street food. Never had I imagined the outskirts to be so charming; I was in awe. My favourite local delicacy was an ice cream and peanut wrap, a dessert inspired from the original run bing (spring roll).

Our first stop was the Shifen Waterfall. My sister and I took a detour to hike up it after reading signposts of its must-see beauty. It was a strenuous one-hour walk, but we admired the stone houses, hanging bamboo chimes, and danced in the middle of empty highways on the way up to relieve our minds. The unoccupied road had us assuming that the destination would be quiet, but our encounter with crowds of tourists, who we later found had taken taxis and tour buses up, proved the contrary. We watched the graceful cascades of the broadest waterfall in Taiwan plummet into the Keelung River, as the cool air refreshed our sweating faces. Boulders surrounded the river and there was a steep stairway on one side that led to different vantage points for observation of the waterfall.

After treating ourselves to pineapple slush and exploring the pathways near Shifen Waterfall, we caught the train to our next stop, Wanggu, a strangely quiet region. The landscape seemed to whisper secrets of the past. Towering over the train tracks was the destroyed Qinghe Suspension Bridge, historically used for coal mining. Since the train only came once an hour, we wandered around aimlessly. Had we done more research though, we would have discovered the Wanggu Waterfall hidden next to the station. We spent the hour laughing and singing, our voices ringing in the desolate wild. It felt like the world was ours.

There was still an hour left before the sun went down, so we hopped on the train and headed to Jingtong. We weaved in and out of numerous shops including the Jingtong Railway Story House, fascinated by the handmade objects sold and the small-town vibe of the Old Streets. We were amazed at the spectacular view beyond the village too – a mountain of trees and vertically rectangular houses enveloped in fog. There was a path to walk down and a love bridge strung with bamboo tubes of written wishes below that arched across a gently trickling river. The bamboo tubes sounded like windchimes when the breeze knocked them together. Time escaped our minds… and that was when we missed the train.

Not wanting to wait another hour, my sister suggested walking to Pingxi, which was fortunately just a station away. On the train tracks we walked – past the huge Jingtong Mining Industry Life Pavilion, secluded farms, and lonely houses – as the sky grew pitch black. I was frightened and weary, but we talked and sang into the distant skies to have our echoes keep us company.

Finally, we arrived at Pingxi. We hungrily ate wraps for dinner just before the shops closed for the night. It was only 7pm, a time when Taipei city would have just begun stirring with commotion, but it is bedtime for the rural towns.

When we reached Pingxi Sky Lantern Story House, one of the many shops that sold lanterns, the compassionate shopkeeper kindly agreed to handcraft two more multi-coloured lanterns. What I had imagined to be an experience with a crowd was now an experience solely shared with my sister. We talked about our dreams and filmed each other writing them down on the lantern as we struggled printing with the calligraphy brushes. An hour later, we were ready to release our lanterns. We couldn’t help shouting with joy, as we sent our wishes into the stars. Watching them float away was beautiful – two lone lanterns flickering in the night sky. It had truly been a dream.

After thanking the shopkeeper for staying an extra hour with us, we hurried on to check the train schedule and were relieved when it read that there was one more train departure left. By now, me and my sister were the only individuals left in the whole village. 9pm felt like midnight as we sat waiting, fearful and exhausted, for what felt like forever. When we arrived at Ruifang Station, however, we were horrified to learn that we may be homeless for the night. The hostel we had planned to stay at had no entry sign and the manager’s direction to meet him downstairs of a building suggested danger. As for the other hostels nearby, they were either occupied or required an earlier check-in time. We were almost in tears, call after call, until a manager we phoned offered us residence for the night. Although the price was two times higher than our budget for accommodation, we accepted the consequences of our ill planning.

The journey to Pingxi has been me and my sister’s most unforgettable trip to date. I can still recall the rhythm of the waterfall and the bamboo tubes, the chipped paint of the old houses, the honest faces of the local citizens, wanting to understand the secrets of the wild, and the mixture of excitement, fear, and bliss I felt during the time of. Moreover, there is something about spontaneity, the danger and adventure of it all, which has given me renewed gratitude for who I was traveling with – my sister. Throughout the ups and downs of life’s many more adventures, there is no one else I am happier to share them with than her.

the key

They found the key at the bottom of the well, just like the treasure map showed.

Although, it was not the key they had been envisioning; when first coming across the map, Hunter and his friend’s pictured something old and rustic. They had always imagined a delicate key, with an intricate design – just like in the movies.

This key… was plain.

It had some curves to it, but the design was simple.

“What do we do now?” Holland asked. Her brows were pulled together, her nose scrunched up; it was a typical look she gave when she was confused.

“Does the map say anything else, Hunter?” Jack held the key in his hand, gazing at it intently as if the key would shout out answers to him if he stared hard enough.

“Um,” Hunter pulled the map out of his back pocket, unfolding it and looking carefully. “No, nothing else.”

“Maybe we’re missing a piece of the map?” Holland began to pace.

Jack shook his head, his lips pressed into a flat line. “This is useless, we travelled all this way, left our homes, for a plain key? Where’s all the treasure you promised us, Hunter?”

“Jack calm down,” Holland hissed.

“No!” Jack waved her off. “I was promised treasure that would allow me to help my aunt. A key,” he held it in the air, “is not going to help me pay for her medication. This key is useless! This whole trip is useless!”

In his anger, Jack threw the key. It flew across the yard of the abandoned farmhouse, landing with a clatter on the gravel driveway.

“Jack!” Holland shouted. “We get it, we’re disappointed too, but you don’t have to throw a fit. I mean… Hunter? What are you doing?”

While Holland had been trying to reason with Jack, Hunter had made his way to the discarded key.

He couldn’t believe this was the end of the search.

He wouldn’t believe it.

Hunter crouched down, a grin plastered on his face as he gazed at the now-broken key.

The two rushed over, taking in what was before them.

“Oh my god,” Holland whispered.

They key laid in a small pile of metal.

However, sticking out of the top of the key was a small slip of paper.

Another map.

The search was back on.

Reading Update!

From January 1st, 2017, I have been tracking how many pages I read that have nothing to do with school: narratives written by authors I love, anthropological outlooks, poetry, children’s’ books. . . If I’ve been interested in it for a while and haven’t read it yet, it’s on the list. Around the end of February, I told you about my adventures through Narnia. Since then, I have zipped through two more books from “The Chronicles of Narnia”: The Silver Chair...

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