D-1 to Taiwan!-愛平
Still one day to go before I finally leave for the long Taiwanese trip I have been waiting for months already. It has been more than a year now that I haven’t gone to Asia, and my dream about going back to Taiwan (the former-Formosa... enjoy the tongue twister) finally came to be true last May. I happened to be selected, along with 249 other lucky kids from around the world, to celebrate the centennial birthday of the Republic of China. The idea of this trip is therefore to discover more about the local Taiwanese Culture, its history, its “Fengshui” and natural treasures (such as its natural parks which are supposed to be breath-taking).
I wish to bring you along with me as much as I can in this two-week trip around Taiwan. I feel this is going to be a legendary journey, full of memories and fantastic encounters, and although I still do not know how I am going to travel (alone, with a member of my host family or with a few other guys from the same program), I just know that I am not going to remain inactive in the weeks to come.
To the difference of the trip I have just ended across Europe and the Balkans, I will travel across Taiwan with my computer, so that there can be daily writings about anything. Pictures and videos will come as well don't worry :).
Here is an list of things I am meaning to explore during my time there: The Taipei National Palace Museum (for its historical art pieces and its current antique Huang Gongwang’s scroll), the Keelung Ghost Festival, the Hualien Island and its Taroko Gorges, the hotsprings, the Sun Moon Lake, Kinmen island, Kenting, Taitung, and many others.
I know that exploring the totality of the island in two week’s time is exquisitely ambitious, but we will see how life takes us there. What I learnt from my previous one-month European backpacking trip was that whatever was already planned, things always come in a way we couldn't predict..
Day 1 - arrival and family integration
And the routine is on again! With the ways leading to the exit becoming brighter with light, bearing noxious far-away shouts and seeing people dynamically waving their cartons posts at me (as if their hands’ increase of pace and height were magically going to turn me into Mr. Chung Wat Ka from the “Friendly Association of East-Asian Potteries”… or something of that sort), I was again finding myself heading towards the final beginning of a long journey.
Signs were posted all the way through the arrival corridors, showing that the SayTaiwan trip (the invitation of 250 people from around the globe) was progressively leaving its status of illusionary profile to the material representation of a lucky dream.
But before, let us rewind… (Counting the jet-lag off) precisely 24 hours before!
Waking up in my room in Paris at 7AM in the morning, I stood up and stared at my watch, just to be sure that I had not overslept and that I was still on time to getting on my plane. I’m always like that, or so is my watch anchored inside my brain. I had enough time to close my luggage, double check that I didn’t forget anything, take a last shower and even send two application letters for internship. Twenty years, people would have called me Robocop. But anyhow (fast-forward): subway, terminal 2E, luggage, customs, boarding gate, seat, seat-belt and blanket on.
After 12 hours spent in the plane, we reach Hong Kong, the pearl city of China. And I felt bad just remaining in the same terminal instead of crossing the customs in order to find again my Bus 42 and my marvellous birth-city. But knowing that it would finally arrive two afterwards, I felt I just had to keep my patience in my pockets for now. Goods things always come to those who know how to wait, and Central, Causeway Bay, Saikung and TST will definitely be part of them.
On the meantime, I start to meet a few lads at the HK airport and which ironically were in the same plane from Paris (small world eh?). Three Frenchies, one Italian, an Irish, a Columbian and an Israeli. Most of them were so stay in another city further in the center and south of Taiwan, but it was still nice to talk about one-another’s plans.
The arrival in Taipei nonetheless was triumphant. As I said, at 1PM (Taiwan time) we finally get out of the airport with all luggages and tiredness accumulated on our shoulders. One we finally see a person with a “Say Taiwan” post waving a hand at us, half a dozen photographs, and the worst in not even there immediately assault us.
After waiting that everyone was there, we finally meet Alice: the communication manager in charge of transmitting messages to us and of dealing with every single little person’s queries, which for sure must have cost her at least several tablets of aspirin. What was astonishing about here is that she could tell who you were although she never met you before in person! Now that was some badass move! “Hi Jeremie! I’ve seen your face so many times, and it’s nice to finally meet you in person! How was your trip?” (“Damn she’s good... Amongst 250 participants, either I was the one who made a very special impression or she really should go and count cards in Casinos for a living”).
The additional irony in the story was that she actually knew well my classmate Karim (fyi. also selected for the programme), who was to arrive later in the evening directly from Peru and through Frankfurt… bless the child. Hence: you had two people who barely met and who were talking about a common friend. “Extraordinary”*.
Then leading to the best place: we switch terminals. After 10 min of additional walking efforts through endless corridors, we arrive at another gleaming area, where more than ten paparazzi and a full show of guys in traditional Taiwanese opera disguises were there to assault us with shows, flashlights like you haven’t seen since the last Star Wars, and people asking you to sign documents in the course of the action (disappointment, no autographs whatsoever.. Later maybe). In a small street and at a darker part of the day, I think I would have ran away, leaving all my belongings behind and crying for my life, so much I was unprepared for all of this.
To finish with the Taiwanese efficiency, part of the Lü family was there to fetch me, alerted about the precise timing at which they were supposed to be there. It is a family of five (shocking when you’re used to Chinese system of the “Little Emperor”) and they are all really sweet. So we have: Ms. Wenling, Mr. Zhizhong, and their three sons (!!! The Chinese would call it a blessing) Zhiyuan (the 24 year-old elder), Xianghan (the 22 year-old second) Bingsheng (the 14 year-old junior).
By the way, I haven’t met this last fellow before 10PM when we came back from a walk in the Linfen nightmarket, until he came back from his summer school! Though we haven’t been able to exchange a lot, I had to understand that in the past few weeks he had been leaving for school every morning at 7:30AM and had classes until approx 9PM with tiny breaks here and there. Actually this said, I can understand why the little guy was not that talkative: sleeping and managing himself was probably something better to do than just to remain up late (like I’m doing right now, ignoring the necessity of getting some sleep back against the jetlag). This one case (of many other shocks that I’ve had today) proves that I’ve been away too long from this continent. Of course, I knew perfectly about the huge burdens cast on the children’s shoulders during their youth. But seeing it from this close made it all the more present in my perception of the ambitious and sacrificing Asia that is progressively getting ready for it’s glorious future..
Aside from this, my family is adorable. Sure they looked a bit grumpy at first, but they are welcoming me in the best conditions they can, especially by leaving me a room for myself: which is really luxury when six people are living together under the same roof. I told them how this was unnecessary and that we could definitely be several to sleep on the same tatami (yes, you CAN feel Japanese heritage in Taiwan!). They answered that we would discuss the matter tomorrow. I’ll surely maintain that I don’t want to bother them that much.
Further notice of their close attention to my venue, their willingness to make the most of my trip. I had recently merged my own personal schedule with the one a group of other SayTaiwan participants (from Puerto Rico, Australia, Morocco etc.), but I was shocked to learn that my “host parents” had already bought for me return tickets to Hualien, along with the maxi-best-off tour guide to accompany it. So generous and hospitable, I was really confused
Ah well! This is just the confirmation of my prior note’s message: “never plan too much, they change the minute you’re about to apply them”. Hence, new plans to orchestrate! On that note, I’m gonna shut this devilish machine off and try to get some sleep from what the bloody jetlag stole from me on this Eurasian journey.