"Happy Holidays" to you all! Sorry it's late. Christmas was busy and happy, and I'm still catching up on my sleep. Remember that whole "I'm going to post all of my Taiwan photos and stories before our trip!" thing? It's looking bleak, but here's a start.
I really liked Taipei. It was cold and rainy, and our airbnb was depressing, but the city was fun to explore and we met some wonderful new expat friends. Calm and chaos seemed to hang in tandem amidst the crowded streets, corner temples, and alleyways. Also, the food. We ate a whole lot of delicious food, my favorite of which may have been the first of many scallion pancakes we bought from street carts around the country (not yet pictured, you'll have to wait). We slurped up two bowls of beef noodles in a very busy, very small but well-known restaurant with what appeared to be locals on their lunch break with little time for pleasantries. The peanut noodles seen above were cheap and wonderful and purchased on the street near Longshan Temple. They cost about $1 US and we shared them. On our metal street table sat a communal cauldron of spicy chile paste thick enough to hold its tiny silver spoon straight up in the middle. I miss those table condiments. They're sadly missing in most Korean meals, which tend to lack the complexity of spices and flavors seen elsewhere in East Asia and which do not lend themselves so much to table customization.
In Taiwan, you can customize just about anything. I won't tell the same story that every other traveling blogger who's visited Taiwan has, but google "ordering bubble tea" and you'll see what I mean. Bubble tea originated in Taiwan and I drank a lot of it while we were there. I really liked that I could order it the way I wanted, with only a bit of sugar and ice. If you've never had bubble tea, it's traditionally made with red tea - which we strangely call black tea in the Western world - milk, sugar, ice, and colorful tapioca pearls in varying sizes. I'm certain I ordered bubble tea in every major city we visited and the process was always complicated and personal!
Longshan Temple was a fascinating place to visit and I enjoyed sitting on the temple grounds for 30-40 minutes or so, watching people go about their spiritual activities. Long tables were adorned with gigantic lotus flowers and edible offerings. It was here that I first caught sight of a set of jiaobei, crescent moon-shaped blocks used in Chinese temples to pose yes or no questions to the gods. One cups them in their hands while identifying themselves and posing their question, then drops them to the floor and interprets their arrangement.
Dearest Taiwan, as I write this, I'm missing you too much. Your food; your people; your delicious bubble tea. The feels that clung to me as I left through your gates. I'll return again soon for more swooning before our next adventure begins: three days and counting!
taiwan December 14, 2016
Ryan and I will be in Cambodia and Laos for the month of January. I'm really excited to take such a long journey. We've never traveled together for more than two weeks at a time! As our trip approaches, I'm busy with planning tasks: booking guesthouses and hostels, buying a new backpack, reading up on regional history (spoiler alert: a lot of it's pretty painful), researching language/customs, catching up on posts like this, and deciding which camera to bring on our trip. Oh, and listening to a lot of Cambodian psychedelic rock. Interested? Check out this awesome/tragic documentary.
Deciding which camera(s) to bring on a trip is a constant struggle for traveling photographers. I'm a film photographer at heart and I always will be. So it's no surprise that after much deliberation, I decided to invest the money and space to bring 20 or so rolls of film and my vintage Pentax K1000 on our trip. I even splurged on a few packs of the best film ever. At first, I thought I'd bring my DSLR - why not? I can take as many photos as I want! I can shoot in more challenging lighting conditions! Yes, yes. That's true. But to argue my case, may I present Exhibit A? I took the above digital photos during our trip to Taiwan in January - 11 months ago! There were so many shots to sift through and edit that, for nearly a year, I completely gave up on ever getting through them.
When it comes down to it, I don't travel for photo opportunities. I travel to see new and wondrous things, to meet people, to learn more about the world, and to open my eyes and my heart. And of course, I travel to eat amazing food. Along the way, I capture photos of things that delight or interest me. You know what neither delights nor interests me? Editing photos. I hate post-processing. At the same time, film photography is expensive, especially when you add the cost of high resolution scanning. And someday I might like to try my hand at professional photography and will need to improve my digital skills. Alas, my photography practice is evolving slowly over time, and this is where I'm at now: lugging around film canisters, shipping rolls off to the lab, and spending more on processing. Is it old-fashioned? Perhaps. But it's the best way for me to deliver my creative perspective. Someday, when I'm begging hopeful employers or collaborators to give me a chance at taking photographs for money, I'll have figured this whole digital photography thing out. In the meantime, on with the real topic of this post - Taiwan!
If you travel to Taiwan - which I sincerely hope you will - you absolutely must go to the Taroko Gorge. You may be thinking, "Duh, it's the #1 tourist attraction in Taiwan." Which is true, with good reason. But I'm here to tell you that you cannot simply visit the Taroko Gorge. If you do, you'll be missing out on the best part: the Old Zhuilu Trail. Any photos you've seen of Taroko were likely taken of or from this trail. It's the prime viewing spot and in lieu of hiking the Old Trail, you'll be stuck on less impressive side trails or taking a tour bus along a crowded road. That's for the birds. Instead, apply for a permit to hike Zhuilu before your trip. You'll need a permit because the number of hikers allowed each day is limited. Why? Because it's an extremely narrow cliff that you could easily fall off of should you encounter a crowd of people approaching from the opposite direction. Doesn't that sound fun? It's really, really fun. During this hike, I felt a sense of awe I've only felt once before, when I was 15 and I visited the Grand Canyon.
We got our permit with the help of a generous local man named Jimmy (his English name), whom I contacted on Couchsurfing. He submitted a permit request for us and even picked us up from our guesthouse the morning of the hike. We hiked the trail with him, his best friend (Teacher Spring, the kind older gentleman pictured above playing music for us), and a very sweet couple from Germany. It was a wonderful group to spend a day with. Teacher Spring's music, which emanated from his strolling position at the back of the group, made the entire experience mystical. We met some local hikers on the trail and sang together, including "Happy Birthday" in four different languages - Chinese, German, Korean, and English!
I'll be posting several more times over the coming week about Taiwan, a wonderful place home to the kindest people on the planet. Ryan and I visited during the coldest winter in over 50 years, completely unprepared for the weather and freezing our butts off the entire time. No matter; it was a wonderful trip. Everywhere we went, people approached us just to say, "Welcome to Taiwan!" It was the first country in which we stayed with other couchsurfers and met up with them as travelers. I will never forget our two days in Kaohsiung, riding on the backs of scooters in the pouring rain with our new friends Yang and Anita. We shared traditional Chinese takeout breakfast in their apartment while watching Korean TV shows two mornings in a row (spoiler #2: it was delicious). We talked all night like old friends. All they wanted was to get to know us and help us have a fantastic time in their city.
If you visit Taiwan, there are so many things to appreciate: convenient and affordable transit, beautiful hikes and waterfalls, luxurious hot springs, delicious food, scooters upon scooters, bike lanes on the expressway, interesting temples (that's saying a lot for someone who lives in Korea, where there are Buddhist temples in every town), and most importantly, wonderful people. If you've never considered going to Taiwan, you've been quite foolish indeed - but there's time to come to your senses! Taiwan is a truly special place that left a deep impression on our hearts. I can't wait to go back.
Do you have any tips for making post-processing less time-consuming and/or soul-sucking? What's on your Taiwan travel list? Are you a non-relative/friend reading this blog? I'd love to hear from you!
My heart has broken, again and again, for a week. I've gone from angry to hopeless, from sad to nearly unable to leave my bed. Yesterday, I came back into my body again. In this time of uncertainty, division, and pain, I reminded myself to turn to my elders, to voices that can help make sense of a universe I have barely begun to understand myself.
Here are the voices tending to my heart today:
1. Vincent Harding on On Being - Is America Possible?
2. Joanna Macy's "marching orders" and the Shambhala Warrior
3. Brené Brown
4. Neil Gaiman - Instructions
5. Clarissa Pinkola Estes - no matter your religious/spiritual beliefs, there is something powerful to consider here.
6. Naomi Shihab Nye - Kindness - please listen and then repeat as many times as needed.
7. Wendell Berry - Vision
8. "We believe delight resists tyranny." - Cassandra Voss Center Mission Statement
And what of my inner voice? It is telling me this: I believe that we have stopped listening.
What if we stepped away from the internet echo chambers and tried harder to engage with other people? Can we read more books? It will help us live longer and improve our empathy. Can we listen more and talk less? Can we volunteer somewhere, talk to strangers, pick up trash, meditate? What if we engaged in more self-love and self-care before heading out into the world each day? Can we find time to love ourselves? How do we harness the heat of compassion and the coolness of insight and become warriors for this precious world?
Joanna Macy tells us not to fear the suffering of our world. This lesson is hard for me to realize. But I know that giving up fear does not mean giving up the fight for justice for our planet and its living beings, only that we begin to fight from a place of compassion and insight, rather than fear. How can we give up fear? I am asking you, since I have not yet given up fear. I think it has a great deal to do with what Ms. Brown writes in her books and research on vulnerability and whole-hearted living.
I am a white, university-educated, cisgendered, married woman living a comfortable life abroad. The recent political events and the social atmosphere in my home country (the USA) have gathered a well of pain and grief within me, but they do not pose an immediate threat to me. They do, however, threaten the immediate safety and wellbeing of many. They pose long-term dangers to our planet, which desperately needs leadership concerned with mitigating and reversing the effects of global climate change. I've cried and cried and I've posted and linked, and today I wonder: what next? How can I use my privilege to help? What do I need to learn? In what ways can I train to be the kind of warrior Ms. Macy describes in that wonderful video above?
Can I increase my compassion and understanding of the world? Yes. Can I donate to organizations fighting for justice? Yes! Can I read more - not just internet articles, I mean literature, poetry, nonfiction books, the latest amazing scientific news - and look deeper into the interconnectedness of the phenomena of our world? Yes, especially if I vow to spend less time on social media. I too believe that delight resists tyranny. Can I summon more delight into my life? Yes, of course, always. Let us not forget to play and experience joy, even when there is so much work to do. bell hooks has described the many forms that violence can take, including violence toward ourselves, such as working too much and neglecting our own physical and spiritual needs. Can we cease being violent toward ourselves so that we may cultivate an inner peace that shines through to others? Yes, yes, yes! We can! We can take time to eat as well as our budget affords, to cook food for ourselves rather than eating junk. We can turn off the social media and read a book, write in a journal, do yoga. We can call a friend instead of watching Netflix or TV. Of course this list targets those with a degree of privilege; if you have the time and ability to read this post, then I believe you have the time and ability to care for yourself a little bit more.
Compassion and insight. Peace. Joy and connection in defiance of violence and tyranny. These are the things I wish to foster. I absolutely will not stop speaking out on behalf of justice. I will do my best to boycott companies that support unjust leaders. I will sign petitions and I will try to find time to write to elected officials. I will protest. I will challenge my loved ones to open their hearts, just as I challenge myself to open mine. I vow to be radiant in what I know to be right. I even vow to forgive myself when I fall short of these expectations. From this day forward, I will do my best to stand up and show my soul. Here is my soul, on this day, doing the best it can.
Feel free to share resources, words of hope, and suggestions for moving forward for America and for the world.
"It may be that when we no longer know which way to go that we have come to our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings." -Wendell Berry
These photos were presumed lost in the Great Blog Silence of 2015-2016. They were taken during Chuseok last year. Chuseok is the mid-autumn harvest festival, often called "Korean Thanksgiving." Typically, traffic is packed during Chuseok; everyone is rushing to be with their families. As a foreigner with no family in Korea, I like to avoid the crowds and spend the holiday away with friends. Last year, we joined two friends at a pension on Namhae. The traffic was surprisingly light and many restaurants remained open. We hiked up to Boriam Temple (a must!), ate delicious food, stayed up late playing cards, and walked around Daraengi Village, a beautiful little coastal village with terraced rice patties lacing its hills, where the ocean waves envelop the rocky shore.
This is possibly my favorite place in Korea. Foreigners and Koreans alike, everyone loves Namhae. There are beautiful beaches, great local restaurants, amazing temples. Namhae has that laid-back, slow island style. Any trip to Namhae must include driving the length of the island down to Daraengi and resting on the land's edge as the sun sets. I recently wrote that the Philippines has the most epic sunsets I've seen, but a sunset viewed from the Daraengi coastline could rival them. I've returned to Namhae three times and I'd go again. I just can't seem to get enough.