After a year long absence, I’ve decided to come back into the blogosphere (I swear I didn’t just make that word up). I finished my travels and am now back home trying to transition to normal life and heaven knows it isn’t easy (maybe I’ll share in a future post). The question is what is normal nowadays. Moving every 3 to 4 days to a new place via all types of transportation, meeting new people, making new connections, eating cheaply, not planning too far in advance. That’s what used to be the norm. Do I miss it? Definitely but it was exhausting at times especially when you do it for a whole year. Try it sometime! I’m slowly transitioning back to the normal grind of working at a 9 to 5 job and having a mortgage, bills, and family. All still in progress I might add except for the bills part. Yup, that’s what I’ve decided to do instead of continuing to travel. My heart still longs for travel of the epic kind , and I don’t rule it out for the future but that womb does have an expiration date! I’m not saying I want to be a baby making machine by no means. However, I do want to continue the process of becoming a full fledged adult with all those responsibilities. Gone are the carefree days of lounging at the beach on some tiny paradise island called Koh Rong! Sigh…
I’ve decided to come back to blogging because I’m bursting with so many stories from my experience abroad that I have to get it out and write it down somewhere other than in a journal hiding in the dark forgotten recesses of my computer. I don’t talk about it as much as you would expect from someone who’s back from the ultimate adventure but occasionally I’ll mention something like the time I climbed Mt. Fuji or the time I was followed by a man in Mongolia when someone asks or when I’m reminded of it during a conversation. I’ve told myself I have to do better than this and so here I am. I hope you continue to read, enjoy, and live vicariously even if it’s only through my stories!
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Have you always wanted to climb a famous mountain depicted in numerous artwork and poems? Well, I have so I decide the first mountain I want to conquer is Mt. Fuji. Mt. Fuji is 3,776.24 meters (12,389 ft) high, and its peak rises above the cloud line. Not a small mountain indeed! Climbing a mountain like this takes work. Yes, there are folks out there that head straight up without much preparation or proper clothing but as for me I want to have a plan.
My first task is finding a climbing partner. Hiking up a big mountain by yourself is no fun and a little dangerous. There’s always a chance that something can happen to you and no one would be the wiser. I know the chances of meeting people interested in climbing Fuji in the hostels of Tokyo are slim so I log on to couchsurfing and post a message to see if anyone is interested. Surprisingly, I receive many responses but only one person named Claude comes through. Phew…I have found someone!
After much research and roaming around Tokyo searching for gloves and a water bottle, I am ready to begin my journey up the Yoshida trail. The sun is shining and the weather looks perfect so optimisim creeps in as I meet up with Claude. We make our way through the subway and try to buy bus tickets to the 5th station of the mountain. In an instant, my dream is almost dashed. The ticket lady says there are no more tickets except on the late afternoon bus. Only one lady’s seat is left. With frustration and disappointment, Claude insists I buy the ticket and go without him. I am not going to abandon my climbing partner that easily so I propose taking the train and then a shuttle bus to the 5th station although it is more expensive. Just like that, we are on the train heading to Fuji.
As we head to the mountain, nervousness starts creeping in and my stomach forms knots. I can feel the air getting thinner and colder, and I start to have doubts. Can I climb this? What if I get altitude sickness and don’t make it up? These negative thoughts seem to always enter my head when I am doing something difficult so I decide to cast them aside as I continue to stare out the window of the shuttle bus.
We arrive at the 5th station and are greeted by gray cloud mist and chilly air. After snapping some pictures, we finally begin our ascent. At first, there is loose volcanic gravel beneath our feet and lush vegitation surrounding the trail. As we ascend higher and higher the scenery changes; the vegitation becomes shorter until it disappears completely.
There are moments when I am huffing and puffing and trying to catch my breath. We have to take breaks or else our lungs feel as if they will explode as we continue to struggle for air. There are parts of the trail where we have to climb using all four of our limbs. The sun finally sets, and we continue the hike until we reach the 8.5th station, which is the last station before the mountain summit. When we get there, we are tired and our bodies are in dire need of a refuel. We have dinner and head to our bunks for some needed rest. I twist and turn and can’t fall asleep as I am sandwiched between two male climbers with one of them snoring so loudly he can wake up the dead. I am happy when I start hearing the rustling of hikers awakening and suiting up to finish the last leg of the climb.
Claude and I begin our hike in the darkness at about 2:30 AM. The air is cold and we must rely on our headlamps to guide us. After climbing for an hour, we reach the summit but we must wait as the sun still needs to rise. The icy wind blows and is very numbing to our bodies especially our poor extremities. I am in my winter parka but my feet have become frozen despite my best efforts to keep them warm. After waiting a few hours, the sun’s rays begin to penetrate and illuminate the dark sky. Its warm golden light envelopes the mountaintop. We are rewarded for our efforts by an incredible and beautiful sight. WE ARE ON TOP OF MT. FUJI!
If you are interested in climbing Mt. Fuji, here is a link from the official Japan Guide
to get you started.
Have you climbed a mountain or done something adventurous that scared the life out of you? Let me know in the comments below.
The world is as unpredictable as life itself. Things happen that is beyond our control or that we could ever imagine in a millions years whether they be good or bad. Knowing this and knowing that there will be points in my travels where I am going to be alone not knowing the language or the culture, I knew that I had to get to a point where I felt comfortable and secure in myself and my abilities to handle all types of situations. Here enters Krav Maga and self defence classes. I wouldn’t call myself the fighting type or any sort of ninja assassin though I must admit I did get into a fight once with a neighborhood girl when I was growing up, but I don’t think hair pulling and arm swinging counts for very much. I’m far from any of those actually but being a petite female I felt I owed it to myself to be able to get out of threatening situations if they should ever arise.
After doing research of what would be the most effective style of self defence, I settled on learning Krav Maga, a style originating from Israel. Krav Maga teaches effective techniques that will essentially enable someone to defend against different types of attacks and allow them to remove themselves from dangerous situations. I started taking Krav class in the end of October and was by no means a model student. The wiring of my brain caused me to forget some techniques even though we practised for what seemed like a million times. I could never be a backup dancer for Brittany Spears due to this but I digress. As I continued practising move by move and step by step, I soon became more confident in myself. My perception slowly changed as my confidence increased. I now feel my limbs can be used as weapons! Yes, you heard correctly! I can inflict pain on a would be attacker in order to protect myself. That ladies and gentlemen is very empowering!
Krav Maga classmates in Waterford.
As my trip date started getting closer, I knew I wanted to continue taking classes if I had the opportunity. Luckily, as I mentioned in another post, I found a teacher in Taiwan who has been kind enough to provide his time and talents to students interested in learning self defense. I have now been to a few classes, and although it can be tiring commuting back and forth from Taichung to Taipei in a single day, it is well worth it! I’ve managed to add new techniques to my arsenal. Be afraid, be very afraid would be attackers! Thanks again Rob!
Class is held at the Sun Yet Sun Memorial.
Would I recommend someone to take self defence classes even if they weren’t planning to travel the world solo? Yes, I would highly recommend it. It’s a discipline that takes practice yet engages the mind, the body, and the intuition. Besides, you get to meet some wonderful people along the way.
Rob has a Facebook page with information about the class. Click on Freeform Combative Arts to go to the page.
Below is a video of what we learn in an ordinary class. Don’t mind the kids practising hip hop dance moves in the background. This location is a very popular area on weekends.
It’s that time of year again when celebration sweeps across all of Taiwan marking the beginning a new lunar year, and this year is the year of the snake. Most people in Taiwan have a week off to clean their homes, cook celebratory meals, and enjoy time with family. As part of the festivities, many cities often hold their own lantern festivals, and Taichung’s didn’t fail to impress me. The flicker of red, white, yellow, green, and blue lights illuminating the darkness are a visual feast for the eyes.
Entrance to lantern festival at Forest Park.
The snake is the sixth animal out of 12 in the Chinese zodiac and is supposed to be “enigmatic, intuitive, introspective, and refined.” Characteristics we can all appreciate.
Walking under snakes. Not Creepy at all.
The festival has lanterns in all shapes and sizes. WARNING: CUTENESS AHEAD!!!
One of my favorite sections of the festival is full of lanterns created by students. I love the way they use their creativity to represent the snake. The nerdy snake is ridiculously adorable for a cold blooded reptile don’t you think?
Of course there are lanterns of other animals as well.
The grandest lantern of them all is the snake encircling a sphere. There is a short production with glamorous Hollywood lights, music, and a drummer dwarfed by the gigantic snake. See him in the corner?
As the doors of the international arrival terminal open, I’m greeted by a big warm, “Welcome to Taiwan!” coming from my dear friend Wei and her fiancé David. I am instantly relieved and happy to see friendly smiling faces after a grueling flight that is the nightmare of all insomniacs. Curse you insomnia and curse you economy seats!
After looping around the airport parking lot several times, we finally reach the highway and are speeding south to the city of Taichung, my home for the next three months. Taichung is located in central Taiwan and is the third largest city on the island. What strikes me when I first arrive is how warm it is. It’s January and my light jacket is all that is needed for the evening chill. A girl can get used to this especially after coming from the frigid New England weather.
As luck would have it, my apartment building is centrally located within Taichung and is surrounded by large department stores, restaurants, and bubble tea shops (my guilty pleasure of course). The 7-11 is across the street and the gym is just around the corner. Ahhh…convenience at its finest.
My New digs. Not much to Look at but a great location.
View from laundry area on 9th floor of my apartment.
My first few days are spent walking wherever my two feet can carry me. One favorite destination is the Museum of Natural Science and adjacent Botanical Garden. In a chaotic city where scooters are aplenty and the buzz of traffic is constant, I often find peace sitting in the garden. The lush plants under the glass structure attract me like a bee to pollen, and I enjoy listening to the roar of the waterfall. Sometimes these moments of calming solitude are a necessity for the soul.
World Map in front of museum of fine arts in taichung, taiwan
It’s 4 A.M. and I hear the sound of my alarm waking me up after a brief nap that seemed like only a mere 30 seconds rather than minutes. In the final days leading to my departure, my days are full. Good byes must be said, time must be spent with those near and dear, and family must be prepped for my year long absence. They say the devil is in the details and my obsessive side wants to make sure all is covered. Instructions and important information are left for family in a highly organized binder. Check. The flight ticket to show immigration proof of onward travel is purchased. Check. Last minute chocolate gifts are bought. Check. Bags are packed and repacked. Check and double check. I appear to be ready but can one ever be prepared for a year away from home existing simply as a nomad without any real purpose other than to see the world and how its people live? I know the answer is a big fat NO. Even with a month and a half of prep time is anyone truly ready?
As my brother and mother drive me to the airport in the cold darkness of the early morning hours, I continue to feel uncertainty and apprehensiveness. People only dream of what I was about to do and would be jumping and screaming with delight, yet a mix of emotions brew inside me threatening to overflow. Nervousness, fear, and excitement are all meeting each other and saying hello.
When I think about why I decided to leave my job of almost 8 years and the opportunity to collect a steady income, my logical mind yells, “Are you crazy?!” Why are you walking away from certainty and leaping head first into the uncertain? Why are you leaving wonderful family and friends to travel mostly alone for a year? A big life decision like this doesn’t rely on a simple explanation but does so from many. I didn’t feel challenged in my current circumstances and was lacking the confidence in myself that I unexpectedly gained while studying abroad in distant countries as an undergraduate. I longed for and badly missed the challenges of being out of my element and having to lean on mostly myself or the kindness of others, and ultimately I wanted to clear the clutter in my head.
The well intentioned universe also came knocking and threw me several hints that it was NOW or never. I had found a self defense teacher in Taiwan through an on line forum, my job as a controller was handed over to someone else while no other important responsibility was given to me, and I kept seeing people who were figures in my life ceasing to exist though they still had that hunger to live. If this wasn’t saying something, then I don’t know what else could be said that would convince me that there is no perfect time but this surely was close. My dreams of meeting someone, settling down, and having a family would all have to patiently wait for me until after I traversed the globe.
Hang out spot at Taichung Parkway
And here I am sitting in a park in Taichung watching people enjoy the early spring weather the day before Chinese New Year and reflecting on my last several days at home prior to my departure. As they say, this is when the story really begins.