Hello dear readers,
I am back with a new post, a new update! Believe me when I say that traveling is a luxury. It’s definitely something I did not think I would be capable of doing until after graduation, and only after working a couple of years at my job. As Hong Kong is centrally located in the heart of Southeast Asia, its prime location makes it very affordable and also accessible to visit nearby countries. After spending a couple of weeks in Hong Kong, a few of my friends and I had the opportunity to visit Taiwan, Macau, and Thailand. At the end of these mind-blowing travel experiences, I felt like I opened up to myself in a way that had not been possible back in the United States. Here, I was able to see myself through multiple different perspectives. By immersing myself into the unique way of life of these other incredible places, I had ultimately positioned myself to be both honest and open, learning as much as I can, embracing all differences of the people who grew up on the other side of the world.
At first, I thought Hong Kong contrasted greatly between my hometown Chicago because there were so many local Hong Kongers. However, the long weekend trip to Taiwan changed my view of the world’s people even more. In Taipei, the demographics were approximately 99% homogenous, of Taiwanese people. This was much more unbelievable than Hong Kong. Originally I thought Taiwan would be a simple extension of China, as is Hong Kong. But I would later be proven wrong. I have noticed that the Taiwanese people are much friendlier, speak a different language (Mandarin as opposed to Cantonese), and live a much more laid-back lifestyle than the fast-paced one in H.K. It was definitely very enjoyable of a visit for me. Along with two Americans, two Germans, and a Dane, we got to explore a whole new culture. Splitting our time evenly through the touristy areas, we got to see the beautiful Taipei 101, the famous Shilin Night Market, Juanshi National Park, Chiang Kai Shek Memorial, and the old Confucius Temple.
My favorite part was the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial. You would not believe the colossal size of the four monuments each surrounding the giant square plaza. Standing next in the middle of the plaza, I felt like a hobbit traversing through one of the vast mountain ranges in the Lord of the Rings. It made me humble in my size and stature. Yet at the same time, I was awe-inspired by how humanity could create something so big, almost divine. Another one of my most memorable experiences that led me to feel the friendliness of Taiwanese people, among many, was at the visitor booth of one of the train stops. We had just stopped in to inquire about the night market, however, the young lady also recommended to me ten places we should visit, helped us sign up for a student discount pass for many places, and at the same time very excited to help us out. As she was never failing to smile, it was at this point which I realized the heartwarming nature of the Taiwanese. After helping us, I promptly thanked her, and our group took off – all of us very surprised of the nature of that simple, but genuine interaction.
Macau was only a day trip, as Bernd, Jan, and I figured that was all we needed. We were mostly right. There wasn’t a whole lot to do, in our opinion, except to try the famous egg tarts, snap an Instagram selfie by the Ruins of St. Paul, and check out the infamous casino strip, or the Vegas of Asia. I found it very surprising at first that one of the main languages and currency was Portuguese. But then recalling the European colonization section of my high school history classes, it all made sense. I think the best part about going to Macau was taking the high speed ferry there. Overall, it was a one hour trip one way, and we got to take some majestic pictures of Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor both by day and night.
The best country yet so far was Thailand. Here are some phrases that can accurately sum up my experiences in that country:
-Renting a motor scooter in the tropical Phuket island without having any identification checked and just going almost 90 km/hr on the freeway.
-Getting more than my fair share of compliments from Family Mart and 7-Eleven cashiers.
-Purchasing whole street food meals for about 20 baht, or about 57 cents USD.
-Swimming in the three best beaches I have ever been to in my whole life. No, the murky seaside waters of Lake Michigan is a far cry from what I had been exposed to, and accustomed to in Thailand.
-Renting a gorgeous three bedroom villa with a private pool with some other exchange students.
-Getting yet again astonished by the all-wooden Sanctuary of Truth temple.
-Being allowed to eat my all-time favorite food, pad thai, every single day, and feeling good about it being very inexpensive.
All in all, I am very glad to have the opportunity to cross some countries off of my bucket list. I have not only wanted to travel to these places for a very long time, but now being in close proximity to them, it has also been affordable as well. One of my goals of study abroad was to become as globalized as possible. To me, that means having meaningful interactions and pushing myself deep into the most alien territories. Having already traveled to these places, I can no longer accept just belonging to one country, the U.S. Instead, I would like to think of my home as the whole world, where I am free to move when I want and be as independent as possible. All this feels deceptively analogous to the movie Inception. Being on exchange halfway across the world in Hong Kong was level one of my dream. Flying to Bangkok, Thailand was the second. And flying from Bangkok to Phuket took it all the way to level three. At times, there were moments I felt so blissful, so far removed from my home back in Chicago, I wondered if I could ever really enjoy that again. But as they say, all good things come to an end, and even coming back to Hong Kong, I have mostly woken up from that dream. But I am still stuck in level one, a very good medium, for I have been able to use this wonderful country as a neutral ground to reflect on the life that was my past, and plan out the moments that will occupy my future. But I have yet to forget, that the past is made up of the present moments, and the present moments determine the future. And in this very present time, I am glad to say I am a very happy person, and I may have sparked something inside of me that I had not yet realized ever before, a fervent urge to see as much of the world as possible, or wanderlust.
Until next time,