I can take you to the Taroko National Park and we can go hiking together if you don’t mind. I’ll get up at 9:00 too. See you in the morning, get well soon.
A few hours earlier I was in the lobby of the hostel asking the guy behind the desk about bus times and best hiking routes to the Taroko Gorge in Taiwan’s East Coast. This local Taiwanese girl (a friend of the hostel manager I later found out) named Jaddie overheard us talking and sat down and chatted with us. Eventually, the manager went back to work but me and Jaddie sat together for another hour finding out we had a lot in common. She was 30, into indie movies (and knew a lot about them), her favorite band was from Iceland and she had even traveled there. She actually lived in Taipei but was in the gorge area to visit friends and see a former teacher who opened a gallery in the town we were in. It was great talking to her, but I had a cold and the night ended when I had a coughing fit. I didn’t expect to see her again.
But she overheard I was taking the bus, but most people ride scooters around the gorge area and she had one she was willing to share with me. So I put on a hello kitty helmet I borrowed from the hostel we and we took off together the next morning.
We spend the whole day together and I hung out with her, some locals and the hostel staff the rest of the night (they even bought me dinner). I then left the city, but Jaddie lived in Taipei so we met up a few more times. Once we took a day trip to the outskirts of Taipei and hiked a mountain and drank tea on a balcony overlooking an ancient town. We never ran out of things to talk about.
On my second day in Taipei I met a bunch of guys. We were from all over: Singapore, England, Taiwan and one American named Glenn. We were all very well read. Or more to the point, we were similarly read, and over apple flavored shisha and buy-one-get-one-free drinks we talked (and argued) about books. Then we went out dancing.
3 weeks later I was in Shanghai and it so happened that Glenn, the American, was also in the city. We sang KTV until 3am, had a few dinners together and walked the Bund at night. He even got to meet a bunch of my friends.
One night I was chatting in Chinese with a local Taiwanese guy and we arranged to meet at the night market for some snacks. We must have chatted in Chinese for a few hours, he using traditional characters, me using simplified.
At the market a guy approaches me and says, “Hey, what’s up?” in near perfect English. He had gotten a masters degree in London and taught English to poor kids in India for a year. “Why were we chatting in Chinese if your english was so good?!” I said exasperated. He laughed. Then we spent hours talking about Taiwanese culture, about local politics, feelings about jobs. He actually had a successful job in a big company (located in Taipei 101–the former world’s tallest building) but quit because he didn’t like the job. Yep, quit a good, high-paying prestigious job because he didn’t like the pressure and the work. Putting your happiness above financial reward? A man after my own heart.
Then there were the two Brits who had just moved to Taipei. We met while they were living in the hostel looking for an apartment. We bonded over British TV shows and spent one night arguing so long about what to watch we ended up watching nothing because it got too late. They moved into an apartment but we kept hanging out. And then there was the night out with Niel (from Confused Laowai blog) and his girlfriend Saffron. After dinner at the biggest night market in Taipei we went out to one of the classiest bars. I got a chamomile tea martini while Saffron got a cocktail called ‘The Vampire Diaries.’
If I was with a friend we might have been out, or talking in the room and I would have never gone out to the common room and met the Brits. Or I wouldn’t have felt the necessity to reach out to Niel the blogger. And Jaddie definitely couldn’t bring 2 people with her on her scooter, so she wouldn’t have even asked if I was with a friend. And the first night I went out with my fellow book-lovers there was a couple at the hostel we invited out with us. But the girl was feeling tired, and the guy was obliged to stay with her.
And while some relationships have been one-off’s, thanks to modern technology it’s so easy to keep in touch the friendships tend to grow over time. I am still very close to my friends I made last summer in Kunming (despite us being spread all over the globe) and I even occasionally hear from the guy I met over a year ago when I was touring the Tulou’s. He texts me ever major holiday to wish me a good time. So far I have chatted or Facebooked with everyone I met in Taiwan at least a few times.
Sure, you do end up spending some time on your own, and it can be lonely. But when is that a bad thing? It seems like people are so worried about being lonely (or maybe having other people think they are friendless?) that they aren’t willing to go outside their comfort zone and miss out on most opportunities waiting for them.
I had no idea what I was missing out on when I always traveled with a partner. But now that I know, now that I’ve experienced several trips traveling by myself I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to plan a long trip with a friend again. I’d be thinking too much of the opportunities I missed and people that I’m not meeting.
And to all of those people who I met this past month, I just want to say thank you. Thanks for sharing your time and friendship with me. You’ll never know how much it means.