I was 15 when it all started, the first trip abroad, not counting the trips to Denmark, without my parents or any other grownup. Before that I had seen parts of Europe through the car window, but when I was 15 I got on a plane with a friend and went to London for a week – and since then I haven't been able to sit still.
At least trip per month has been my goal the last few years. It doesn't have to be far but it has to happen or I get restless. It's a blessing and in some ways a curse, I cannot sit still; But on the other hand I have had the chance to see and explore so much – and with every trip I make I realise there is more I want to discover, more to see, places to revisit, people to meet. I have met so many interesting and fascinating people on the road that that on it's own makes it interesting.
For years I have been returning to South East Asia every year, there is something about South East Asia that had me spellbound; The mix between old and new, the culture, the people, the food – and, not the least the differences between the different countries and the different people. Coming from Europe or America it is so easy to think of South East Asia, or maybe even Asia in general, as one area with one type of culture and one view on life. Off course that is not true at all, it's no more true than expecting every European culture and country to be the same; It's definitely not the case.
But it takes time to get to know a region, a country, it's culture and it's people and it's habits – if you ever can, I was born in northern Europe and a part of my family is still there, and I am still surprised when I go there to visit from time to time.
Asia always had a special pull, maybe it is because of the fascinating history, we European have nothing on Asia, if you look at a time line, when China had a written language we were still chopping out marks in rocks in Scandinavia – the runes. When the Chinese were printing books (around 800 a.d. if my memory doesn't escape me) we were using story telling as a way of transmitting knowledge, at least up in northern Europe. When the Chinese were making making porcelain we didn't even have cutlery the way we know it today. And of course it's not just the Chinese, you find the ancient history everywhere in South East Asia – where wars and natural disasters or sometimes latter day ignorance didn't destroy it – we Europeans have reasons to be embarrassed, when Europe became the powerhouse of the world and started trading across the globe a lot was destroyed, and we also brought not just our culture and our crops but also our illnesses and viruses that knocked out both populations and what was growing. And we still have a strong influence even if it may nowadays be more North American culture that is what is impacting us across the globe.
But for years I wanted to learn more about Asia, and I wanted to start learning Chinese. It may seem odd but it is after all the language in the world that most people speak; Not all all that well as it is the second language also for many in China, but it still is the biggest language, and it holds the key to much of the history here in the region. I felt then and I still feel that the only way to get somewhat engaged in the culture and the language was to move here. It was like a fever I couldn't get away from, almost like a cold that you have in your body; You can ignore it for a while but sooner or later you will have to deal with it – there is nothing you can do about it. I tried to maybe not ignore it but at least push it on the future, because I thought I had to do a whole lot of things first. And then one day I realised it just wasn't going to happen if I didn't do it, so I did what I should have done sooner: I resigned and started to prepare for the move. In August 2013 I left Europe, not knowing for how long – I moved to Taiwan. The plan was to start with studying, and then see where life would take me. It felt good. It felt right.
Taiwan is a fascinating country, to the east of mainland China, about 1.5 hours away from Hong Kong. While a lot of historical monuments and artefacts as well as literature was destroyed in mainland China during the cultural revolution, in Taiwan many of these artefacts are still not just available to see but also in use. The written language here has remained the traditional Chinese, the same characters used in Hong Kong, while mainland China changed to simplified Characters around the time for the revolution. The National Museum in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan has interesting exhibitions all year around, displaying the artefacts from one of the most fascinating cultures in the world.
Taiwan is also very beautiful. Being an island in the middle of the Chinese sea and being right on the ring of fire, the earth quake prone area in the region where the landmasses meet it is a beautiful area with an absolutely mesmerising landscape, a landscape that on top of it keeps changing, as earthquakes are common, even if the majority is smaller – we did however have a bigger one in October, when I was here, more about it on my blog. The highest mountain in Taiwan, Yushan （玉山), Jade Mountain, is supposedly over 3950 meters high (over 12900 feet), almost 4 kilometres When the highest mountains in northern Europe reaches about 2000 meters, and the highest in the whole of UK is Ben Nevis, in Scotland, which goes up to 1344 meters (4435 feet) you realise it is high… And Taiwan has to much more, you have the plains on the western side, densely populated but with big fields full of various crops – almost everything grows in Taiwan, at some location, during some part of the year. In most fields you can grow several crops every year. Taiwan climate is tropical (in the south) and subtropical (the north) but the big variation in landscape makes is easy to grow things here. The volcanic soil is also full of nutritions and nowhere have I seen a greener landscape.
Taiwan has it all, small villages, big cities, beautiful beaches, beaches that by the way aren't very well used, the Taiwanese don't spend much time in the water and many foreigners haven't found their way here yet, big cities, farmland, forest, mountains and deep valleys. We have mangroves, plantations, there is sand, there is rock, and there is that beautiful red soil.
Add to that a people that are very proud of their country and that love the nature, have potted plants wherever they can and maintain – and use – beautiful hiking trails in many areas and you have country that is hard to resist. When you then realise how amazing the food is, being made with fantastic "home grown" – read locally produced – ingredients and being a mix from many different cultures who passed through or were a part of Taiwan and you have a concept that is hard to beat.
Unfortunately Taiwan doesn't quite get the attention it deserves from the rest of the world, more than one person I spoke to before moving here was convinced that Taiwan was merely a city, and more than one person mistakes Taiwan for Thailand – another beautiful and interesting country but quite a different place. Also, even if there indeed is a common background, Taiwan is not the same as mainland China. The official language is mandarin in both, but just like there is a difference between British English and American, there are differences between mandarin spoken in the mainland and mandarin spoken in Taiwan, there are differences in government, in currency – I once accidentally tried to pay with Taiwanese money in mainland China, not very popular – and the food is also not the same even if there are a lot of similarities.
Nor are the passport and visa reqiuirements the same, and that may be one of the most important differences as a foreigner; Most Europeans and North Americans can come to Taiwan with the passport and don't need a visa to stay here as a tourist for up to three months, you just need the ticket to leave the country and a passport that is valid for six months after your scheduled leaving date. For most visitors Taiwan is therefore very easily accessible.
If you can find a good flight, that is… It IS an island after all, flight is really the only way to get here – and you should. Taiwan is really worth a stop on your next Asia adventure!