I’m in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam this week! Formerly known as Saigon, HCMC is a beautiful place with a ton of history (and food!) that I’m excited to explore over the next few days.
I don’t have much to report yet, since I’m still getting used to the area (including how to cross the road, which is like real life high speed Frogger). But this is my first solo international trip in 8 (!) years, so I had some feelings and anxieties while preparing that I wanted to share.
Having the ability to travel is an enormous privilege.
I’ve had a blog post about this on the proverbial back burner for the better part of a year, but this trip reminded me of some of those reasons. I am able to easily and freely travel almost anywhere around the world, in combination because of my national language (English), my nationality (American), my race (white), my sexual orientation and marital status (straight and married to my partner), my country of residence (Taiwan), and, of course, my finances (my spouse and I have a stable income, and I can do almost all of my paid work remotely). I’m able-bodied and in fairly good physical health.
All of this means that traveling is an activity that is much easier to do because of factors I did nothing to earn. And that’s something expats and “seasoned” travelers don’t talk about enough.
I’m way less badass than MANY of the people I’ve met at home and abroad.
Being a boring vegetarian means I don’t eat as much crazy food. I’m a bit introverted, so I hesitate asking questions of strangers. I also didn’t live in a van in New Zealand for 6 months, and I don’t usually bring camping gear with me when I travel. These are all things I can explain in more detail in future posts.
I’ve changed a lot since my first solo travels, and that’s a good thing. And a bad thing.
Good ways: I’m smarter, more self-reliant, more experienced. I think I’m more interesting because I have more stuff to talk about. Living abroad makes me feel less inhibited in some ways (especially when it comes to potential personal embarrassment!)
Not-so-good ways: I cut my hair and got a job. I’m more jaded by other expats and people who try to talk to me. I sometimes don’t take advantage of opportunities to travel because I have a husband and a cat I’m worried I’ll miss. Also I’m almost 30! Jesus.
I need to read the (not so) fine print on my airline confirmations better.
Like a dummy, I didn’t weigh my backpack before I got to the airport. The max weight was 7kg; my pack clocked in around 9. Luckily it was first thing in the morning and I was overly friendly to the desk agent, so she let me off and told me to make sure I paid for my extra weight allowance for my return trip.
I’m excited to have more fun stuff to report back on soon! For now, here are a few teaser pics:
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how this day is celebrated and what it means for people who don’t fall neatly within the traditional gender categories, especially people who aren’t always self-identified women.
[As a sidebar – I’m going to mention the trans* community a number of times in this piece, recognizing that members of the trans* community often don’t identify neatly as men or women. However, I want to make it crystal clear that trans* women are still women if that’s how they identify.]
According to the IWD website, “International Women’s Day (March 8) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.”
This is a very legitimate cause. You don’t have to look very far to see that the achievements of women have been historically underplayed or even ignored. The wage gap is very much real, as is representation of women in almost every position of power in the modern world.
The 2019 IWD theme is “#BalanceforBetter” – how we can work to achieve a more gender-balanced world. But what does that look like? Does that mean an end goal of equal parts men and women in positions of power and authority, of balanced wages for men and women, equal representation of women in politics, media, sports, entertainment, etc?
Or, does that mean a wider range of gender expression in the public sphere? A more “balanced” representation of how the general population identifies?
It’s difficult to determine how many people worldwide identify as transgender and nonbinary (including but not limited to genderqueer, genderfluid, and GNC). In my research for this piece, I saw estimates of anywhere from .58% of American adults all the way to up to nearly 3% of teens who identify as either trans* or gender nonconforming. These estimated percentages have been steadily increasing for at least the last decade, no doubt due to increased trans* visibility and the internet.
If this has any reflection on global society, then future may not be just female. The future might just be everywhere in between, or nothing all all – perhaps a totally genderless society.
But, let’s bring it back to today. I mentioned I’ve been thinking about how to include trans* and nonbinary people into the mission of IWD, and I think in order to do this, we need to look at the origins and goals of feminism.
Feminism, at its core, is a revolt against the patriarchy. And there is a lot of evidence that while we are all harmed by patriarchal society (yes, even cis men), women and trans* people are harmed the most. Patriarchal systems value traditional masculinity and male stereotypes as the model of authority and leadership. It places men and male bodies as the “default” for society. Feminists strive to create a more equitable society, where every person’s contributions are equally valued and equal opportunities exist for all persons, regardless of gender or sex.
But, I suppose renaming today “Smash the Patriarchy Day” is a bit too much.
So on this International Women’s Day, I ask my fellow cis women this: remember that the real reason we fight is not to self-seclude, but to dismantle the very system that oppresses us. Welcome everyone into our spaces. Recognize and celebrate the achievements of not only women, but also our cousins and siblings to whom the patriarchy has caused harm. Don’t immediately get upset if you see that a man is speaking at your IWD event, but do question why a woman or gender nonconforming person wasn’t recruited to speak instead. Read about intersectional feminism straight from the mother of my favorite message on it (and this article about how she has made zero profit on that very profitable message). Challenge yourself to examine your own feminism, and ask yourself whether you actively consider how issues of race, sexual orientation, ethnicity, poverty, and other issues affect those who are already oppressed by patriarchal societies.
March if you can. Protest if you can. Donate if you can. Talk to your friends and family if you can. But if you can’t, I’ll work to make sure your voice is heard.
The Economist curated a series of essays on trans* issues last year; if you’re a subscriber, you can read them here.
Last year around this time, we had no idea what to expect on Lunar New Year. This year was different.
新年快樂！Happy New Year!
Last year around this time, we had no idea what to expect on Lunar New Year. We didn’t know what was going to be open, what there was to do, and when our new neighbors would stop shooting off firecrackers in the middle of the night and day.
Today marks exactly one year since we landed in Taiwan.
I thought about how I wanted to mark this day to all my adoring fans out there, but I couldn’t decide if I wanted to get real serious and reflect on personal growth and change and blah blah blah….
Naw, that ain’t me.
One of my first blog posts after arriving was called Impressions of Taipei, and it was just a jumbled list of things I had noticed after about 4 days of living here. I wanted to go back and review that list to correct the record on a few items and expand a little more on others.
There’s a cute Chinese idiom that goes rén shān rén hǎi 人山人海.
The literally translation doesn’t make any sense, but it basically means “a lot of people; as many as are from the mountains to the sea.” Hence, rén shān rén hǎi: people mountain, people sea.
The eastern Taiwanese city of Hualien is nestled in between the Central Mountain Range and the Pacific Ocean. At just over 100,000 residents, Hualien is is the 16th-largest city in Taiwan and the third-largest city on the entire eastern half of the country. In one trip you can experience the fresh mountain air and clear skies AND the salty sea spray and cool ocean water.
Which is exactly what we did.
Rather than exchange gifts for our second wedding anniversary this year, Adam and I took a long weekend trip to Hualien. It’s the furthest we’ve travelled since we’ve been here, and it made me so much more excited to get out of Taipei and see all of Taiwan.
Hualien has about a zillion hostels and hotels, so I picked the first one on booking.com that had good reviews and cheap rates. The lucky winner was Bird’s House Hostel, which ended up being clean, quaint, and delightful (honestly, the only negative was the weirdly inattentive staff – which is fine by me when I’m not travelling alone).
Also, by the time I bought our tickets, the train I had originally planned us to take was sold out. So we ended up arriving a little later than I had planned. Womp womp!
Since we arrived a little later than I wanted to, we didn’t get to do the wandering I had planned for the first day. Instead, we checked into the hostel, dropped off our luggage and headed to dinner.
Dinner on Night 1 was the incredible Salt Lick, an American-style BBQ restaurant that legitimately made us forget we were still in Taiwan a few times. The look on Adam’s face when he bit into his pulled pork sandwich is rivaled only by the time we went to Rabbit Island in Japan.
I had an “a la carte plate” with hush puppies, mac & cheese, and potato salad. It was also served with carrot and cucumber sticks and ranch dressing to dip in. You know what I fucking love? All of those things.
Other things to love about Salt Lick: the very classic Americana music (Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Crosby Stills & Nash, and a bunch of others), and the super American-y decor (old-timey Western signs for stuff, maps, etc)
After a small amount of day-planning we decided to head to the visitor’s center, where they helped us buy bus tickets to Taroko National Park. Because of the finicky bus schedule, we went back to the hostel, got ready, and left around noon.
Okay. Taroko was gorgeous. Like, spectacularly beautiful. We did a very short hike/nature walk that involved tunnels and turquoise blue water and a catenary bridge and some incredible views. The shuttle bus snaked around several major stops around the park, so we were able to see a lot of cool shit on our way to the hike.
On the way back we stopped at the Eternal Spring Shrine, built to commemorate the 212 workers who died building the nearby Central Cross-Island Highway between 1956 and 1960.
Would I go back to Taroko? Fuck yeah I would. Would I do it differently?
I’d plan for more time if taking the shuttle bus again. From first to last stop, the shuttle takes about an hour and a half. We took the noon shuttle, so by the time we were at the trail head it was already 2pm.
I’d also MAYBE consider renting a scooter. The shuttle was 很方便 (very convenient) but it didn’t give us a whole lot of freedom or opportunity to get away from the crowds. Scooter rentals are everywhere and apparently very cheap.
I’d like to plan a more serious hike. There are some hikes that require permits, so they’re naturally less crowded than the areas we were in. I would love to do that. Or camping? That would be sweet too.
After we got back from Taroko, we went to dinner at an adorable American-style diner called Summer Diner. Summer Diner was way cuter than Salt Lick; it was clearly a family-run affair, with the owner’s three (four?) children helping out in the kitchen, at the register, and in the dining area.
The food we had wasn’t quite as spectacular as the previous night’s, but we both had really yummy subs and potato wedges!
After dinner we wandered around and ended up at the river. Much less impressive than Taipei’s riverside parks, but proportionally less crowded.
For breakfast we checked out a traditional Taiwanese breakfast shopthat had been recommended…. somewhere. It was very similar to the breakfast place down the street from our apartment, which I swear I’ll do a post about someday because I love it.
This place had a leg up on our hometown joint, though. Because they had COFFEE.
They also had a giant fish tank, so that was pretty cool.
After breakfast we packed up and checked out of our room. We had plans to bike down to the shore for the afternoon and do some wandering. The hostel had bikes outside, so we borrowed two and started heading toward the riverside park.
I don’t know what was different about the second day we were there, but Jesus was it hot. Even Adam was drenched in sweat by the time we made it to the end of the river, and he was actually the one who suggested changing up our plan to check out the shore.
But first, lunch. Guess where we went back to.
After almost exactly the same meal as the first night (why mess with perfection, right?) we looked at a map to find an alternative to our afternoon plans. A block and a half away was a railroad park, which had Adam’s name everywhere (not literally, duh).
Our next plan was to check out a sculpture park right on the shore that looked like we could get there by taking the bike trail right along the water. We didn’t make it, because we were too hot and found other shore areas instead.
After we waded about up to our ankles (the waves were VERY HIGH and the water got deep VERY FAST), we realized we were right near Dongdamen Night Market, a HUGE night market that I swear must be the largest market for hundreds of miles (guessing, obviously).
Even though we didn’t eat there, I’m glad we checked it out. It was very different from every night market I’ve been to in Taipei: all the stalls are permanent and carefully laid out, and a lot of it is covered (which is great for when it rains all the time). It’s right near a park, so there were a lot of kids just playing around. There were several performers set up in the area. And there was SEATING.
It basically felt like a strip mall and an amusement part went on a trip to Taiwan and decided to start their own business in Hualien.
Right as we were heading to dinner, it started raining. And when I say raining, I mean RAINING. We had ponchos with us, but since we were on bikes, they were useless.
By the time we got to our dinner destination, we were literally dripping. The restaurant we went to, a lovely little pizza place called iOven, was run by an Austrian immigrant named Konstantin and his family.
And then we had. The. Best. Pizza. In. Taiwan.
The crust was chewy and dense, the sauce was tomatoey and slightly sweet, and the toppings were just right. Konstantin told us about how he and his Taiwanese wife met (as PhD students in the UK) and how he started his business (by missing European bakeries and baking bread for himself and his neighbors). We talked about living in Taiwan (like the healthcare system) and his dog (so cute!) And as we were getting ready to go, Konstantin told us not to catch cold on the train.
They were the best. I’m so glad we ended our trip there.
But! It wasn’t quite over yet. After we picked our luggage up from the hostel, we grabbed a couple of train beers and headed for the station.
Hualien was great. I’m excited to recommend it to people who come to visit, and I’d love to take my parents there when they come to see us!
I’ve got some thoughts for the new year kicking around in my brain, so I want to share them with y’all.
Write smarter. I have a tendency to go down rabbit holes and dive into too many details when I write. This happened last semester with grad school assignments, and it’s been happening with my blog posts. Unfortunately, this means I don’t have a whole lot of time to write for fun. But it’s okay to not report on every detail! If I did a cool thing, I should write a blurb about it, how I got there, what I did, share a few pics, and then be on my way. I would enjoy it more, and I think a lot of you would too. I want to live a life that’s worthy of reporting to the world. In that spirit, my next two resolutions:
Hike. I rediscovered my love of hiking last spring. Then the weather got way too hot so I stopped going. It’s time to start up again. Nature is incredible and hiking makes me feel big and small and powerful and insignificant. And it’s one of the few forms of exercise I actually enjoy.
Travel more. Taiwan is small enough for tons of carefully-planned day trips and short weekend trips. I want to see more of this beautiful island.
A few things I’m excited about for 2019:
My parents are coming to visit next month! I’m going to show them around Taipei, then we’re going to head down to Sun Moon Lake and maybe a few other spots.
I’m planning my first trip back to the US! It’s going to be a busy and multipurpose visit, but I miss Boston and New England and upstate New York a whole lot. I’ll have been gone for almost a year and a half, which is a ridiculous amount of time.
Re-celebrating holidays in Taiwan again now that we know what to expect. I’m going to care more about Chinese New Year and less about the Dragon Boat Festival.
What are your resolutions or intentions for the new year?
Do you have questions or comments for me? Leave a note below!