About Ava Apollo

Ava Apollo

Ava Apollo grew up in Southern California where she was exposed to a wide variety of languages and cultures. After her university years, Ava spent a year in Taipei where her love of travel, Chinese language, and writing were intensified.

Ava has since returned to California, however, she remains a lover of writing about Asia and traveling the world. When she’s not writing for MSW, Ava’s blogging about love and life along with her friends Stella Sage and Bella Blue on Super Blogettes.


Latest Posts by Ava Apollo

Human Trafficking in Taiwan: Housekeepers In Taipei Often Never Leave the Household In Which They Are Employed

January 2, 2012 by  

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In the Xin Yi district of Taipei, home to the famous 101 skyscaper, immaculate residential mid-rises owned by the powerful and rich Taipei elite sit quietly amidst the buzz of one of the busiest intersections in the city. At any given time, one can catch a glimpse of young adult females in the windows of these flats and penthouses, cleaning and then re-cleaning windows, walking dogs, rearing children of their employers, cooking and serving food, and generally leading the life of an indentured servant.

It is rare to see a housekeeper taking a walk, or out relaxing and enjoying the day. Even rarer still is it to see one doing anything but working within the confines of the household in which she is employed.

 

Xin Yi

In late November of this year, multiple news outlets reported the charging of Taiwanese director-general of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Kansas City, Jacqueline Liu (劉姍姍), for the mistreatment of her Filipina housekeepers. She reportedly plead guilty to charges of overworking, underpaying, and mistreating her housekeepers, which was in violation of their employment contracts.

Liu was forced to pay said housekeepers over USD $80,000 in restitution for forcing them to work 16-18-hour days 6 ½ days per week.  The housekeepers were found to have been victims of what is considered a severe human trafficking case under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.  They will be issued visas and allowed to remain in the U.S. for the purpose of finding work. As for Lui, she will be detained in prison until her sentencing, though she maintains that she does not feel she did anything wrong.

As a previous resident of Taipei, I can understand why Lui feels that she acted lawfully – as it pertains to how things are done in Taiwan, at least. It is a common practice to overwork and underpay migrant house workers, who are usually young women from the Philippines or Indonesia.

Under Taiwanese law, blue collar migrant workers enter into a contract with their employers and cannot freely change employers without being in violation of said contract and thereby risking deportation.  Therefore, migrant workers are under pressure to please their employers, many of whom impose arbitrary pay cuts and require ridiculously long hours of overtime, and often do not give their employees holidays off.

 

In Hong Kong, it is common to see maids gather on days off. This is something I never saw in Taipei

As a foreigner in Taiwan, it seemed like a pretty special treat to be able to hire a housekeeper to stop by our flat and only charge about $200-$300 NT per hour (about USD$6-$10) for cleaning services (which, by the way, is much much higher than a normal contractual wage in Taipei for a full-time housekeeper). This was a great deal cheaper than anything I could have found in the states.

Though I never employed a housekeeper myself, I did pay my downstairs neighbor’s housekeeper, Nana, a little bit of extra money to handle garbage duties for me (which is a real pain in Taiwan).

Given that I was usually home when she stopped by, I used to ask her about her day, which eventually turned into talking about her life and her family back home. She was from Indonesia and had lived in Taipei for nearly five years. She was married and had come abroad in order to make enough money to return home and build a house with her husband, who worked at a factory in South Korea. Even though the money she made seemed like peanuts compared to what I made as an English tutor, it was more than she could have hoped to make in a lifetime in Indonesia where she was from. In order to provide for her family, she felt compelled work in Taiwan, sending every penny of her earnings back home each pay period and never buying anything for herself.

It had been five years since she had seen her husband or any members of her family. This broke my heart.

Nana’s story is not uncommon in Taipei. Migrant workers just like her leave their families at home in order to make enough money to provide them with a better life in the future. Many of these women even leave young children behind, and end up serving as nannies for the children of their employers – something I can imagine must be extremely emotionally difficult.

 

Amazingly, they almost always smile and appear to be happy

Over time, Nana and I developed some semblance of a friendship.  She confided to me that she had originally been brought to Taiwan by a family other than the one she was currently employed by.  She had fled after being verbally and sometimes physically abused by her former employer.  Though she now worked almost every waking moment, she liked this new employer who allowed her to use her limited free time to make extra money on the side, and gave her small bonuses during the holidays.

However, she lived in fear of deportation nearly every day. She almost never left the building, save for the rare occasions when she took the risk of leaving the flat in order to wire her earnings back home.

This was a risky situation, as the employer also ran the risk of being fined for employing her as an undocumented worker. I suppose by extension, I was running the same risk by paying her to help with the trash.

She would eventually head home when the time was right.  She would tell the airport officials that she didn’t have the money to pay the fine for overstaying her visa – a crime punishable by being barred from ever returning to Taipei. This would work out just fine for her, as she had no plans of returning, anyway.

Her situation was such a stark juxtaposition to that of my English-teaching peers, though they were both technically migrant workers. Both parties had come to Taiwan in hopes of making some cash in order to have a better life. English speakers could make a great living as English teachers, able to get pretty good hourly wages in schools and bushibans (English cram-schools) with the ability to put plenty away for travel and savings.  The funny thing is most of the housekeepers from the Philippines were native English-speakers as well, but would never have been given the chance to teach.  They were simply from the wrong region of the world to have a shot at that opportunity.

When I was getting ready to return home, Nana cried and insisted on helping me pack. It was an unlikely friendship that really put a face to cheap labor that was so distant from me previously. It was something I had only read about, but now had seen first-hand for myself. When it comes down to it, Nana chose to come to Taiwan because she wanted a chance to make money to support her family. I wonder if she still would have come had she known how difficult it was going to be, which is something I never got a chance to ask her.

 

I hope she’s home now

I hope that now, she’s back with her husband in Indonesia, living in a house she built with her earnings, rearing a family, most likely with local maids of her own.


by Ava Apollo

Learning How To Be A Citizen Of The World May Not Be As Easy As You Think

November 28, 2011 by  

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The term “citizen of the world,” or “global citizen,” gets thrown around often in the travel community.  It sometimes seems as though it is used as a rite of passage into the “club” populated by those who fancy themselves part of the jet-setter elite, from nomads who are constantly on the move, to casual travelers who get out once every year or so.

Recently, Andrew Dunkle of GoOverseas posed the open question, “what makes a good global citizen?”

It’s not the frequency, it’s the metamorphosis

This got me thinking about what the term means to me, having studied International Studies at my university and having lived abroad previously.  To me, the essence of being a citizen of the world is not to be a nomadic globe-trotter who has had to add pages to my passport seven times, but rather, to be someone who has been changed by being abroad.  As someone who went through culture shock, questioning the way things were done abroad, and then experiencing reverse culture shock when back home, I realized that I actually missed the differences.

Ergo, I believe it means to be someone who is willing to grow, and willing to learn when he/she has been wrong.

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges of living and traveling abroad is to accept the cultural differences. Really, this requires a fundamental change in thinking.  It requires understanding that there are other ways of doing things.  This is one of the hardest things to accept: that perhaps doing things the way you’re used to isn’t the best way after all.   Taking it a step further, it requires not only understanding, but appreciation, respect, and even developing a love of the differences.  After all, craving something different is what pushes so many of us to travel in the first place, isn’t it?

What do we owe the world?

As travelers aspiring to be good global citizens, I believe the single most important trait is to stop looking for answers, and instead to ask questions.  After all, life is about questions: What will this journey bring? How do other people in the world lead their lives? Why are these people so happy even though they have nothing?  Why can’t I be happy even though I have so much more? Why do we do things this way?  Why ARE we here?  What does all of it mean?

I’ve heard it said before that it is about the journey rather than the destination.  I hate a silly cliche as much as the next person, but damnit, this one’s true.  More than that, the journey is internal just as much as it is external, forcing us to question who we are and what we believe.

Find reasons to smile

Personally, living abroad brought me a new appreciation for my home country, along with a whole host of questions about how we run things around here.  Before experiencing life abroad, it was easy to complain about never having enough.  Not enough jobs, not enough health coverage for the sick, not enough access to affordable education, too much debt, too much greed, the list goes on.  After coming home, I realized that while all of these things are still problems, they are laughable compared to what those in developing countries go through.

It also made me realize that happiness isn’t bought.  There are ups and downs for everyone in the world, from the poorest farmer to the richest tech billionaire, we’ll always find problems, and we’ll always seek solutions.

So, as global citizens, we all have a very important responsibility: to respect and admire, to leave each place a little bit better than when we arrived, to care about social injustice and to do something about it, to never lose the hunger to learn, and to always appreciate the gift we’ve been given: the ability to experience the world.  So many will never have this gift.

It’s certainly not easy, and I have to gently remind myself each time I travel to try to be more understanding and appreciative.

In closing, I want to know, what made you realize that you’re a global citizen as it fits your definition? What do you do to be a better global citizen? Most importantly, how has being abroad changed you?

This guest blog is by Ava Apollo.

Leaving Taipei and Taiwan Behind: The Shock of Reverse Culture Shock

September 27, 2011 by  

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I had full blown reverse culture shock when I moved home from Taipei.  I’m talking sleepless nights, forgetfulness as to how to operate a vehicle, the feeling that nobody cared I was back, the whole shebang. Yes, I just said “shebang”.

The only thing is, I had no idea what reverse culture shock even was before returning home.  Why would it be odd for me to return to the place I grew up, definitely understood the culture, and already had a built-in network of friends and family?When moving abroad, one naturally worries about culture shock.  It’s obvious to think about the task of acclimating when arriving in a new country, especially if you’re like me and decided to move to said new country having never visited it.  It’s like learning a whole new way of living life.

I thought the first few days in Taipei were among the most taxing of my life at the time.  I was on a 24/7 translation bender, which is surprisingly exhausting.  I even spent a full hour in the grocery store my first time in (Welcome market in Taipei, at the end of Wen-Zhou street where I lived) and emerged with only 3 items: ramen noodles, dumplings, and merlot (wine is universal, my friends).

I’ll be honest. I broke down and cried a few times the first few weeks.  I felt overwhelmed.

 

Can I just hide today?

I didn’t set out on the journey expecting that any leg of it would be easy.  I didn’t want it to be easy, either.  The rewarding things in life seldom are.  I figured once I got used to Taipei, I had made it through the toughest part. 

But why did nobody warn me about reverse culture shock?

When I moved back home, it seemed as though nobody really, oh I don’t know, cared.   I half-expected my friends to drop everything to see me like they did before I left, but it didn’t go that way.  I learned a painful lesson back then, that I would have learned eventually anyway, about who was really a friend, and who was nothing more than an acquaintance.

My real friends would be curious about the adventure, they’d ask how the “trip” was, and then slip into a comatose state five minutes into my story. They weren’t really interested in the details.

I felt like everything was so different.

 

Home?

The oddest thing about all of this is that nothing back home really changed much while I was away.  Everything carried on just the way it did back when I was still a part of it.   It seemed so wildly different and difficult to me because it was I who had transformed. 

I didn’t realize it at the time, but the moment I moved abroad was a turning point in my life.  It was an event in which I was one person going in, and a completely changed person coming out.   My old life ended the moment I stepped on that plane leaving LAX, and my new life began the moment I stepped off of it and into the sticky Taipei evening.

Even now, thought it’s been over three years since I left Taipei, sometimes triggers make me yearn for that life.  Every time I get in my car and someone cuts me off and we show our mutual displeasure by flipping the bird, I think to myself, people were nicer in Taipei. Every time Lunar New Year rolls around, I think about the lantern festival, and I deeply miss my night-time walks, which I can’t safely take around here – I miss living somewhere safe.  I also miss going to the doctor and paying only $12, without insurance, to see her.  I miss the truly amazing food, and the unique mixture of East and West.  Heck, I even miss the honest people who returned my lost iPhone to me (before it had even been released in Asia) after I accidentally left it at 7-11.   Gosh, that would NEVER (ever, ever, ever!) happen here.

Don’t get me wrong, Southern California is amazing, as evidenced by the amount of people who live and vacation here.  Moving home had its perks.  For the first time in 8 months, I was able to walk into a store and speak English, and be fully understood.   I was finally back with my family, whom I had missed.  I was able to buy all of the food and beauty products that I had been missing,  there were no longer mosquitoes torturing me, and the weather was truly a significant improvement.

 

Home, sweet home?

But, if I’m honest, I yearn to take off and move abroad again almost every day.  I ask myself if the grass is just always going to be greener somewhere I’m not.  This could certainly be the problem.  Either way, I’ve been struck with wanderlust and I can’t shake it.  There’s something so beautiful about being somewhere completely new, where nobody knows you and yesterday and tomorrow don’t matter.

I wish there was a way to travel the world and still put something away into a 401k.  So, for now, the nagging need to be financially secure has kept me sedentary.

But you know what? Writing about it always makes me feel better and reminds me of the best times I had over there.  Visiting old friends I met abroad and reminiscing about our time together takes me back in such a deliciously giddy way.   We always ask each other, will you go back?  Some of us have, and some of us only flirt with the idea.   Either way, we’ve all been changed.

What about you??


This guest blog is by Ava Apollo.

Who are the Betel Nut Beauties?

September 9, 2011 by  

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Have you ever found yourself taking a drive down a roadside in Taiwan, when out of the corner of your eye you catch a scantily-clad la mei (“hot” girl) working behind glass walls? Whether you have or not, I bet now you’re intrigued.

 

Now I bet you’re definitely intrigued

I was on a bus heading out of Taipei a few years ago, staring out the window as I always do on long journeys, and felt completely shocked when I saw a pretty girl, on a random roadside, wearing lingerie and sitting in a little class cube. What in the wooorrllld is she doing there? I wondered.

My friends told me she was a bin lang xi shi (檳榔西施), or betel nut girl.

Okay, so what is a betel nut and why is a lingerie model selling it?

First thing’s first: A “betel” nut, is actually an Acreca nut – the seed of an Acreca palm tree – wrapped in betel leaves. It is common in Asia to chew it – a practice that dates back thousands of years. When the nut and the leaves are combined, the byproduct is psychoactive drug (some say the effect is much like cigarette smoking) that can be further increased by the addition of tobacco. Unfortunately, like chewing tobacco, long-term chewing of betel nuts leads to cancer of the mouth, and has even been linked to type 2 diabetes, along with many other diseases.

You can be pretty certain someone is chewing betel nut if his/her mouth appears red, and his/her spit looks like blood.

It’s a little freaky.

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s talk about the beauties:

 

They come in a shiny little box

While betel nut is enjoyed throughout Asia, betel nut beauties are unique to Taiwan. They typically set up shop in rather small (typically 3 x 2 meters) shops marked by green neon lights that frame the windows. Customers drive up outside and wait for the betel nut girls to run out and offer them nuts, cigarettes, and/or liquor. These girls are popular. In fact, Taiwanderful tells me the betel nut is actually Taiwan’s second largest agricultural crop.

Imagine that.

It is rumoured that the first betel nut girls brought “glamour” to the opening of a betel nut shop back in the 1960s. The opening was so successful that other shops began following suit. Before long, betel nut girls began peddling their wares all along Taiwan’s countryside and urban cities. They have even been the object of two Taiwanese films over the past decade.

Christine Wu, PhD, has been studying the betel nut beauties for years. She conducted an interview of 300 girls and deduced that “Most betel nut beauties are from underprivileged families, and most of them take the job because they have to make a living”.

Many of these beauties hail from farming and working-class families. Coincidentally, they tend to sell to working-class people and truck drivers. Betel nut beauties also often work long hours, typically throughout the night, all while wearing high heels and a smile.

I mean, it seems easy enough:

Step 1: Be hot, wear very little clothing.

Step 2: Count beans.

Step 3: Sell beans.

Step 4: Profit.

 

A betel nut girl peddles her wares

Yet, I’m left wondering, do they feel empowered by their bodies and their jobs or do they feel exposed and used? Are they simply beautiful little dolls in their shiny roadside boxes or is this a means to an end for them? Do they have to dress skimpy or can they wear “normal” clothing? Do they only sell products or do they sell themselves as well?

“In this business, sex sells. Skimpy outfit is considered the uniform,” said Edison Chang, the owner of a betel nut booth in Shulin District, New Taipei City. “I don’t personally ask my employees to wear less to sell, but if they’re willing, I have no problem with it.” (www.culture.tw.com)

Based on everything I’ve read, it sounds like despite their appearance, they have fairly strict personal boundaries.

Tobie Openshaw, who has been photographing the beauties for years in an effort to tell their story (all of the photos in this blog were taken by him), had this to say: “The difference is that here, you don’t get the woman in the box, you get betel nuts, drinks, and sure, a look at a pretty girl, a smile and a few nice words. The transaction doesn’t take anything from the woman, physically.”

Good to know.

But what about empowerment? Well, many betel nut beauties are single mothers or immigrants. Many of them have higher aspirations and see this as a means to an end. Some beauties even own their own booths, further empowering them as self-employed women who can earn around $50,000 yearly – about twice as much as a fresh Taiwanese college grad can expect to make.

Of course, they get push-back from locals as well as from authorities who often tell them to cover up or even harass them. Some buyers try to touch them or take it too far. Some locals consider them propagators of a vulgar betel-nut culture and compare them to prostitutes or strippers. I suspect this is because rather than behind closed doors, these women very openly dress scantily.

I find this all a bit hypocritical, really. If we had issues with women who posed in lingerie, we’d have to give lingerie models a call and ask them to cover up. We’d also have to tell most pop stars (including Taiwan’s Jolin Tsai) to put more clothing on.

In closing, it seems as though betel nut beauties are hard-working females who need to earn a living, and this is one of the more lucrative ways to do so. Of course, there are many things to be concerned with: public health, degradation of women, public perception, and even environmental costs of planting the crop, if you want to take it a step further. But love them or hate them, there is no doubt that betel nut beauties are a unique part of Taiwanese culture.

At least for now, they’re here to stay.

Today’s guest blog is written by Ava Apollo – a lover of travel and previous resident of Taipei, Taiwan.

Self Realizations from Living Abroad: When it Gets Tough

August 5, 2011 by  

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The time came for my family to leave Taipei and return to California, and a slight tinge of loneliness set in. Sure, I had a great roommate who I loved hanging out with.  I had met a great crew of people from all over the world; South Africans, Canadians, Brits, and even fellow Americans – I had great friends. I even had a few language exchange partners who worshipped the ground I walked on, and thought I was their greatest teacher ever. It felt really good to connect with doctors and businessmen as an equal, and to meet so many other like-minded people such a long way from home.

Regardless, nothing could stop me from pining over the pictures of my friends from back home, all together and enjoying their final months of school without care in the world.  I was coming to the end of my semester and therefore my scholarship, and had to decide if it was the right move to return home, or to find a teaching job and support myself in Taiwan.  But the same questions always arose:  For what? Shouldn’t I get started on life? What does that even mean?

Arghh! What’s next?! I don’t know! I feel like a child!

I’d sit on the computer for hours each day, chatting with my newfound maybe-kind-of-boyfriend-but-we’re-not-really-sure friend, ABC, via skype while he was at work.  At 9 years older, and already in possession of his dream job and a law degree, he couldn’t understand my dilemma.

“Why are you sitting inside all day?” he’d ask, “You need to go out and explore! You’ve been given such an amazing opportunity to be here, use it!”

“But I’ve already done that, I’ve been there, I’ve seen it! I’ve used my opportunity, but what do I do now”? was always my response.  It must have driven him crazy to hear someone with the world at her feet going through such a ridiculous dilemma.

I couldn’t help it, though. I wasn’t prepared for this whole “life” and “adulthood” thing and I felt like nobody else understood.

All through school, I was told to get an A in class if I wanted to “succeed,” so I did.  All through my university years, I did the same thing. I was so sure success would be mine as long as I always met the benchmarks, pleased those around me, and brought home a glowing GPA.  I was told that’s all I needed to do, and success would be mine.

Look Ma! I did it! Be proud of me! Give me approval!

However, now, here I was in a world where nobody cared about my A in Anthropology of Eastern Cultures, not to mention my B (oh, it killed me) in Micro-Economics.

Why didn’t anyone warn me that there is no set path after graduation? Why wasn’t there a class called “This is what happens next. You better be freaking prepared”?

My questions and complaints annoyed ABC to no end.  I felt so lost and confused.  It was like a quarter-life crisis without any reason for having a crisis in the first place.  I simply didn’t know what was supposed to come next. For the first time ever, there was nobody there to tell me what to do.

It was years later, after my friends worked, or rather didn’t, through the worst recession of our lifetimes, that I finally realized I was not alone, so very not alone, with all of these questions and feelings.

During the course of this time I fell into a type of depression.  It annoyed me to no end that I couldn’t go and take care of things myself.  If I needed a battery, for example, I had to just hunt for it and translate endlessly, it was a task that I was starting to resent. Each day felt lonelier, and the questions about my future just kept mounting.

This is the sort of thing about me that ABC started to resent.  Here I was, a 21 year old girl out living a life others had worked years to reach – outside of the bounds of cubicles, 401ks, and dogs named spike and white picket fences.  How could I take such an obtuse approach to something as wonderful as living abroad?

Then, one day, bad news hit; ABC would be an early casualty of what was beginning to be a declining world-wide economy, and he was let go from his dream job.

Why, world, why do we now both have to be in this position of uncertainty?

I remember on one of his final days he met me for lunch, and we took a walk.  I was in limbo, deciding if I should stay or go, and he was also in limbo, figuring out what was next for him.  I can’t remember the whole conversation now, but I do remember asking, “so what about us? IS there even an ‘us’? What happens if you get another job here and I can’t?”

He cut me off immediately and said “Don’t worry about that, we’ll figure out a way if we need to,”

Of course, me with my questions had to keep pressing, forcing him to say what I so desperately needed to hear “Ava, I wouldn’t be that selfish! If this is real, then of course I’ll put this first.  Do you want it to be real?”

To this question I didn’t have an answer.  I always told myself, after a massive heartbreak a few years prior, never to plan ahead with a guy anymore, because the future was never a given, and I didn’t want to set myself up for disappointment.  Would we have a future here? Could we find one amidst all this uncertainty?  Did I want to force him to be stuck in my tangled web of stress and questions?  I didn’t know if it was fair. I wasn’t sure that I could be who he wanted me to be.

Amidst all the confusion I made a cardinal error, one I didn’t realize would have such drastic implications; I let my visa expire prior to the renewal date.  As soon as I realized, I got myself to the renewal office and was told I had get a new visa, and renewal was no longer an option.  This meant I had  get a job, stat, but not before leaving the country first and paying $300 for a new visa, plus the monetary penalty for letting this visa lapse.

I was flabbergasted.

Are you sure?  It’s just 3 days! I’m a student! Why does 3 days matter?!

Will I never experience this again?

It matters, kiddies, they don’t mess around.

So, I was left with an ultimatum, sign on to teach for a year (should I mention that I only like quiet, well-mannered children? Teaching probably isn’t my cup of cha), foot the bill myself for another semester here, or just accept that fate had a plan, and it was time for me to be thankful for what I had, appreciate that I finished out my originally-allotted 8 time there, and take off?

It was crazy.  Suddenly I wanted to spend all day searching for batteries.  I didn’t want to give up my fresh mango that never tasted as good back home, I didn’t want to give up my new friends, and I suddenly didn’t give a flying f**k about what my friends back home were doing.  This was being taken from me?  I failed that miserably?

I knew what I had do.

I picked up the phone, scrolled through to ABC’s number, pushed “call,” then held my breath.

Whew! I’ve never relived that part before! My brain needs a break, but I’ll wrap this up soon.

Self realization: Studying abroad brings more challenges forth than you ever think it will.  Life will be changed, and there may be rough patches, but stick with me through the rest of the story.  It was all worth it, in the end.  I promise.

Today’s guest blog is written by Ava Apollo – a lover of travel and previous resident of Taipei, Taiwan.

Living Abroad in Taipei

June 28, 2011 by  

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My favorite time of day was right around 7pm.  This was partially because the city center lit up in rainbow lights, which for some reason are extremely calming to watch as they change from shades of red, to blue, to purple (my favorite, of course). The lights would power up on the famous 101 building, reminding us by the color, in case we forgot, which day of the week it was.

Another very important thing happened around 7pm; ABC was off of work and he’d send a call or text, and each of us walk down Xin Yi street to meet half way like school kids. I’d skip out into the brisk winter air, knowing that once I saw ABC, I’d suddenly feel warmed.  Perhaps we’d run into each other below the giant TV screen that always had tulips on it (it was promoting a camera, I think), in front of the Wall Street Institute building, or in front of one of the numerous coffee shops. It was a little game; who could get farther first?

 

Xin Yi, perhaps Taipei’s most famous street

We’d then hop in a cab and go to a restaurant, take a walk, or venture to a nearby pub.  It really didn’t matter where we went, because I had always been waiting all day to have a long conversation in English, and it was finally time.  Plus, ABC was my favorite conversationalist.  There was never an awkward moment, we never had to search for things to say, and we never needed to rely on topics like weather or politics to keep the conversation going.

Somewhere in the world, wherever he may be and whomever he may be with, I suspect he is still a great conversationalist.  I believe this to be an innate skill.

 

She’s a lucky one

Those were simply the week nights, though.  It was the weekend when the fun really started.  Though I spent a fair amount of time at clubs, dancing the night away, or at the flat of a friend, celebrating a birthday, I’d have to say my favorite weekend memory would have to be the evening we escaped the city and ended up at the top of one of the mountains surrounding Taipei; Yang Ming Shan.

Want to get there yourself?  Take a cab (though it’s an hour ride), or board bus 260 from the bus stop outside Ximen MRT Station Exit 3. (please verify this before setting off on your journey as bus schedules are ever-changing).

Sitting at one of the mountainside restaurants as the sun slowly set, sipping on tea and eating some of the most amazing cheesecake I’d ever had, I felt warm and whole.  I was a half a world away from everything I knew, and everyone I loved, but I felt complete.  The city was buzzing just a few miles away from me, but I felt at peace.

Then, as the last of the red sunset bled away from the sky and the tip of the sun slipped below the horizon, in a dynamic exchange of light and energy, the city lights powered on.  One by one, my beloved rainbow lights began changing slowly, simply adding to the mood. Lastly, as the sky turned black, the Taipei 101 powered on and turned indigo, reminding us that it was Saturday.

 

Awe. Just in awe.

I pinched myself; something I always do when I want to remind myself to slow down and savor the moment.  To this day, I still savor that moment when I made a very important realization:

Taipei is beautiful.  Life is beautiful.  There is beauty to be found in everything.

Ding Ding Ding

May 11, 2011 by  

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Via a few texts back and forth (nobody in Asia actually talks on the phone, we just text, it’s just what we do over there. God forbid anyone ever leave me a voicemail. You think I know how to check it? ha!)  we had scheduled a meet-up.  I hopped in a cab, and after a few sharp turns and Hail Marys, I had reached my destination.  It was a swanky, loungey bar called People6/People 7, or something like that.

Get this, in order to get in the “secret” entrance, I had to wave my hand under this rock thing, then the doors magically opened.  That was pretty cool, you guys.

As I would later come to realize, my new friend in Taipei, who we’ll refer to as ABC, knew where just about everything was, particularly swanky bars and amazing Indian food.

For that alone, he made it past round one. Ding ding ding!

 

go for the TKO

I didn’t really know what to label this little meet up.  I decided it wasn’t a date and therefore chose a pretty bland top and simple pants.  Why dress up for a mid-week night cap?

When I arrived he was waiting outside with that same cheeky smile he wore outside of shi-da a few months prior.

What in the world am I even doing right now?

We went inside and, per his suggestion, I ordered an Erdinger beer.  It was stupendous.  That became my signature order in Taipei moving forward.

 

Yum!

I knew things were off to a great start when I found out he was from San Francisco.  Imagine, half a world away from home, two Californians met and realized they had more in common than a crappy cell phone.

With that, he sailed right through round two. Ding ding ding!

I decided I’d test his comedic abilities by throwing out a Dave Chapelle quote.  He quoted right back.

Score!

Turns out that he owned both seasons of the stand up comedy show.

Oh fate, you know me SO well.

 

Dave: bringing people together since 2004

It was so effortless to speak with him.  For the previous few months I had spent in Taipei, I had to carefully choose my words around most people so that I wasn’t using jargon they wouldn’t be familiar with.  My own English was suffering due to the lack of use, as odd as that sounds.

I missed being sarcastic, I missed using words like “serendipitous,” and most of all, I missed being able to just let a conversation flow.  It’s extremely exhausting to constantly be translating in the mind.  Not that I’m complaining, but I had simply taken the ease of speaking to another human in my mother tongue for granted back and home, and I wasn’t about to at this juncture.

The previous months spent in Taipei, while eye-opening and wonderful, were also very taxing.  It was difficult to do things that were so simple back home.  I couldn’t simply walk into a store and ask where the monkey wrenches were located, I had to first find a store that sold wrenches by translating store names, walk in and use my best Mandarin to ask (and sometimes get laughed at when I used the wrong tone, despite my best efforts), and then navigate my way back home.

 

Say What?

It was lonely at times, and it certainly didn’t help that I spent far too much time pining over what I had left behind: friends who were still in University, having fun and posting their pictures online for me to drool over.

So, it felt really good to hang out with ABC.  For one night, I felt like I had a slice of home with me in the place I had come to love.  A place that had taught me so much.  I truly had the best of both worlds.

Over the next few weeks we got dinner at a few new places.  I learned the city in a different way than before.  While doing things independently had been extremely liberating and enlightening, it was great to have a buddy along who both spoke the local language and English effortlessly.  Oh, and did I mention he knew where all the good food places were?

I did?

Well then you just wait ‘til next time when I talk about Yang Ming Shan, the mountain with the best view, and the best cheesecake, in Taipei.

Self Realization: I can be independent, but oh, how having a buddy makes it all that much sweeter.

Today’s guest blog is written by Ava Apollo - a lover of travel and previous resident of Taipei, Taiwan.

Self Realizations from Living Abroad: Life is a Crazy, Unpredictable Thing

April 21, 2011 by  

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After the typhoon blew through Taipei, life returned to normal. Classes resumed, and I had spent a considerable amount of time working on my assignment: giving my classmates details of my hometown in Mandarin.  This was going to be an easy one for me.  I loved talking about LA.  Everyone knew where it was, and everyone had an opinion.  It was my mission to prove we aren’t all small dog-toting, pink-obsessed weirdos who are out of touch with reality.

I swear, I don’t even like pink all that much.

I was the only American girl in my class, as was the whole point of class mixes at Shi-da; we were meant to be with others who didn’t speak our mother tongues so that we would be forced to converse in Chinese.  I had an adorable Japanese classmate who told us about her hometown, which I was having trouble translating to its English name.

To help me understand, my teacher finally said “big bomb” and held her arms up wide. I then realized my classmate was from Hiroshima.  We locked eyes and I immediately dropped my head in shame, cursing myself for asking so many darn questions.

The minute class let out that day I scurried out of the building as quickly as my legs would take me down the stairs.  I’m still surprised I didn’t miss a step and fall on my face, though I don’t think even a swift fall could have made it any redder.

Get me out of here!

In my haste I walked through the crowd out front as quickly as I could.  In just a short walk down Shi-da street I could get myself some Sababa pitas, settle down at home, and watch the Amazing Race from 3 seasons ago - a show I had become addicted to, thanks to the typhoon.

Out of nowhere I heard some shouting.

“Hey, hey you!”

I looked behind me, didn’t see anyone I recognized, and therefore pushed on.

But the voice persisted.

“Hey!  Hey, BOOTS!”

Look at that! I happen to be wearing boots!

At this point he was undeniably calling out to me.  I was wearing boots and was most likely one of the only English-speaking people in the crowd.  I whipped around and noticed he was looking directly at me.  I pointed to myself and mouthed “me?”

“Yes, you,” he replied.

He was tall, handsome, and clearly American although he fell into the category of “ABC,” an acronym locals use to identify American-born Chinese.

I walked over to him, and said “do I know you?”

“I’m pretty sure I know you,” he replied.

I removed my sunglasses and said “Really? Me? You’re sure?”

He insisted that he was absolutely sure.  Then it hit me.

Flashback sequence commence:

A few months prior I was out at a bar to celebrate the birthday of a friend of mine.  Of course, it was free champagne night for girls.  It was dark, and I’d had my fair share.  Just before my friends and I left for the night, I ran into a tall, dark and handsome guy, at least from what I could tell as the bar was darker than pitch.  We didn’t have a chance to say much, as before I knew it, my friend grabbed me and I was out the door.

“Don’t you want to come dance on me?” – Bar Top

Flashback sequence over.

“So are you part of some CIA witness protection program or something? I turned around for one second and you had vanished!”

Doing the best I could not to suffer two extremely embarrassing situations that day, I said I was in a tearing hurry and asked if I could just jot down his number and give him a call sometime to grab coffee.  I input it into my phone, we laughed that we both had the same cheap, crappy phone, and I scurried away.

I wanted to completely forget about him.  After all, who meets in a bar? Especially thatbar? But the crazy thing is, I couldn’t get him out of my mind.  Regardless, I didn’t need any boys to complicate things, so I tried to forget I met him.

Several months later I was mass texting some friends around the holidays.  As luck, or fate, would have it, I accidentally texted him as well.

His response: “Oh Ava, please, no gifts for me.  All I ask for is a holiday drink! Won’t you meet me?”

Perhaps just one…

With a witty comeback like that, how could I say no?

Self Realization: Life is a crazy, unpredictable thing.

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