Very often in life, venturing beyond one’s comfortable zones, is a vivid, bold and life- changing point. This is well- reflected in lives of some of the greatest risk-takers of the world, the grand explorers and adventurous souls- whether it was the Great Alexander, the daring sailor- Sindbad or the extraordinary voyager of all time- Christopher Columbus!
As a child, I recall my fascination about these men and a sense of wonderment. I dreamed of exploring new islands, discovering people different from me, braving the odds for possibly all sorts of adventures. But somewhere, I am caught up in the routine of growing up and moving up the career ladder. I forget all about distant lands and wild roads. The giant within, lay asleep till Taiwan, formerly called known as the ‘Ila Formosa’ to its Dutch rulers, came beckoning.
On my way to Taiwan, I pondered, I wondered. The typhoon alert at Hong Kong, my transit airport frightened me to death. After all, this journey was as alien, as complex as it could get. I had no knowledge of Taiwan beyond the ‘stinky tofu’ and that it was my first travel to the far east. To the max, I could say that I was aware of the weird ‘Modern Toilet Restaurant’, of which I had skimmed the pictures online, but alas, it wasn’t a part of my itinerary. When I got there, I felt relieved to find a familiar face, The Tiny Taster, who was to join me as a part of the larger Indian travel media entourage. It felt as I was a part of video game and had just unlocked a reward for showing up bravely to an unknown land.
That it had started raining, the moment we landed in Taiwan, had already grounded me. Furthermore, the typhoon in Hong Kong had chained the other members of entourage, making it look unceremonious. Taiwan, at first, it seemed was not ready to welcome us. The strange Mandarin signboards, neon-lit shops, a weird eclectic combination of Chinese, Japanese and Korean influences, a complicated existential past more complex than anything else, I could wrap my head around overwhelmed me.
But as days passed through the week, I had paid my tribute to the biggest Ocean in the world- the Pacific, played with hand puppets, savored one of the most healthiest and tastiest Oolong tea. I had tapped a foot or two with the turuku men, the Taiwanese aborigines, learnt about how Taiwan’s farming community is driving a new DIY experiential travel. I had befriended a Japanese – Kenji Sugata and learnt about the life of an American Expat- Jeff Miller on the east coast of Taiwan. Since I struggled to lead a pure vegetarian life in Taiwan, I had devoured the sea-creatures handsomely, instagrammed a Japanese bento box, hiked a trail to the gorgeous national park, touched the land of a dormant volcano and learnt about a Taiwanese fisherman at the Su’o port in Yilan county.
Each day was an adventure, a sense of wonderment, pushing me beyond the barricades of my self-taught and some times- society imposed fears and insecurities. Every day, I learnt a thing or two new, I went beyond my comfort space, tried new things, communicated with sign languages with locals to get my point across, all while discovering new facets of my own life. 7 days of meeting strangers and possibly living with each of them, taught me, how I had no idea of how big, how creative and how friendly the world could be. A world, where people could love unconditionally, welcome you with open arms, a world where humanity could make peace with its gruesome past and still look forward to a hopeful, contemporary and fulfilling future. It was almost like, I found my soulmate! Taiwan, you truly are the ‘heart of Asia’ and perhaps its best kept secret.
Dear Taiwan, you also made me weak in my knees, took my breathe away, only for me to realize- I had fallen in love with you. I can’t wait to come back and embrace you! At this moment, I am reminded of a shaman’s words:
“You’ll never be completely at home again because a part of your heart will always remain somewhere else. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than once place.”
Disclaimer: I was invited by Taiwan Tourism Bureau, in India as a part of Indian media entourage.