Getting Lost in Taiwan in the Night, without a Phone, Friends, or any Chinese Language

People often ask about the crazy moments that happen while traveling that are awesome examples of culture shock, or just something that doesn’t tend to happen in the security of your own turf. I started replaying this story in my mind recently and needed to write it down.

So I lived in Taiwan for three years, teaching English. I moved there by myself, I didn’t know the language, didn’t know anything, I just thought, “Hey, I think I’ll move to Taiwan by myself and teach English. It’ll be an adventure!” This is the way 24-year-old Erica thought.  

When I got to Taiwan, I lived in a small township called Shengang Township in Changhua county, central Taiwan. And of course, I didn’t know a word of the languages here. Now, one thing you should know about the languages spoken by these people is that they are not just phonetic, they are also tonal. This means several words can have the same phonetic spelling but have several different meanings, based on different intonations used in these languages. For example, the word “ma” will mean everything from “mother,” to “horse,” to “scold,” to the implication of a question when used at the end of a sentence. You can see how this would be quite unmotivating to study the language given you have to train your ear to distinguish between types of sounds you have never had to distinguish before. 

So there I was living in Taiwan and for governmental reasons, I could get my own working phone until I had residency which takes about a whole month after arriving. This makes it even harder to do a lot of things that are already hard to do without knowing the language. You are disconnected from everyone around you in language, and you have no access to information you do understand. And you can’t call the one friend/coworker you have that could help you out in a pinch. You have to have ovaries to get on a bus and go anywhere outside of your town. And not just little ovaries, big sagging ovaries. 

So I’d been in Taiwan for a couple of weeks, and was getting pretty restless playing on the safe side all the time, not going far enough to get lost. So one Saturday night I reached the point of total restlessness and stumbled upon a “foreigners crowd” event out in a nearby city. I had reached the end of my restlessness rope, and I was determined to put on my brave face and find this bar, and makes some new friends! 

I studied hard about how I was going to make it to the address, and after taking a bus, a train, and a taxi to get to this bar in the “nearby” city, I finally arrived! I made it to this place that I went to by myself in the middle of Taiwan, where I was about to go talk to new people who I don’t know at all and have a great time! Every introverts’ dream come true!

So, while feeling very aware of my solitude in arriving and total lack of confidence that comes with finding your bearings in a place, I made a stab at talking to some people, and just as I came there to do. It’s always hard to do this, but I did meet some new people and had some nice conversations. There was a live band at one of the places we went to, and the evening turned out to be alright! I faced the challenge that totally overwhelmed me, didn’t get totally lost in the process! When I decided it was time to go home I was feelings pretty much like “Mission accomplished!” 

My new friends helped me out and to find a taxi. One girl was Taiwanese who helped me communicate with the cab driver. I told her my address, and she translated for the driver. I was on my way home after my first successful night out in Taiwan!

I was riding along in the cab, happy to be going home, feeling like creating a new life in this new place was going to turn out ok after all. That’s when the cab driver slowed down and, I assume, through context, started asking me if any of these buildings we were at was where I lived. I had been in Taiwan long enough to know these buildings were NOT my new home. Oh crap.

The cab driver took out his GPS and we looked at the map. It might as well have been hieroglyphics. There were no phonetic spellings of the Chinese words, all just Chinese characters. I didn’t have a phone to call and ask one of the 2 people I know at this point who speak both languages to help. You can bet your boots that I would have woken them up at 1 am! I was lost in a cab in the middle of the night in Taiwan! 

That’s when a miracle happened. Or just my own brain being something that actually functions. The driver zoomed out a little of the image of the map! I had looked at google maps of where I live several times at this point, noticed I recognized the shape of the coast near my town. I pointed to that area and told the driver, “This is where I live, Shengang.” Then I saw the look of realization on the man’s face. He said “Ni zai SHENGANG, bu shi, SHENGANG!” Which basically means, “You live in SHENGANG, NOT SHENGANG?” I kid you not, this is what he said. As it turned out, I lived a town in Taiwan, where about an hour away, there was a whole other town with the same phonetic pronunciation, but different tones. Bewildered by the same-sounding names I sheepishly nodded, feeling a wave of relief that I was now on my actual way home.

After this turning point, the cab driver made a phone to someone, I don’t know who, to explain the situation. That’s when he furthermore repeated into the phone the words, “Ta zai SHENGANG, bu shi, SHENGANG!” Of course, of all the towns in Taiwan, I had to live in one of the two share identical phonetic pronunciations. In my three years there, I never again heard of other places that shared a phonetic pronunciation.

By the time I got home, the cab fare was pretty high. I didn’t even care, I was ready to fork over the money and indulge in the comfort of being home after being lost in Taiwan in the middle of the night. The cab driver was a very nice and patient man. He gave me about a 50% discount because he felt sorry for this poor, young, wàiguó rén.

I ran back into my home of only 2 weeks, feeling so happy to be home I could cry. In this new place that for two weeks had been so hard to feel like home, in this moment I couldn’t stop thinking to myself, I am so happy to be home, I am so happy to be home!

VHS Upcycling

This winter break I dashed straight into much-needed clearing out jobs. Upon doing this I realized one thing that was accumulated, once upon a time, that we won’t ever use again are VHS tapes. Particularly, blank VHS tapes that we used for recording movies or TV shows that we wanted to watch over and over and over again (before youtube, kids.) Now we have giant boxes, filled to the brim with old VHS tapes. I had to use them for raw material for something. So with the magic of E6000 glue, I transformed those bad boys into a brand-new… shelf. Now, I have to make a serious disclaimer here, I do not know how long this is going to hold and how much weight it is willing to bare, but I am pretty proud of upcycling this old VHS tapes in a totally original way. Check it out here in my video!

Holiday Tea Recipe – Orange Peel, Ginger, Cinnamon, Honey Elixir

DIY Holiday Elixir

The Holiday season is in full swing and has come way too quickly, and will go way too quickly! During this season I have created this incredible tea. I brought this tea to a holiday party and my great friend very accurately described it as an elixir. This tea not only tastes great, and warms your bones from the cold winter, it is amazing for your overall wellness and healing. Check out my video on how to make this tea!

DIY Holiday Gift for Kids – Personalized T-Shirts!

Hey everyone, I am so excited for Christmas this year, as it is my first one back home since 2011! I have been thoroughly enjoying shopping and DIY-ing some presents for people, and here I want to share the DIY T-shirts I made for my nephews with their own little faces on them! Check out the video for the process.

To find the transfer paper I used click here.

T-Shirts were purchased at the dollar tree.

“Do You Hear What I Hear?” Covert Message and Modern Day Relevance

November 6th, 2016, The Divided United States

We are days away from the 2016 Presidential Election, and I have never seen the United States so DIVIDED. In time of turbulence, I am comforted by inspirational messages such this line, “Pray for peace people everywhere, pray for peace people everywhere.” from the Christmas song, Do you hear what I hear? written in 1962 by Noël Regney and Gloria Shayne Baker. The lyrics of this song are overtly a Christmas song, praising the birth of Jesus. What a lot of people don’t know is, this song is also covertly addressing the era of fear and doom of the Cuban missile crisis, most directly addressed in this plea “pray for peace people everywhere, pray for peace people everywhere.” The poignant lyrics of this song can be interpreted in a whole new light, relating very directly to our modern day concerns.

About the writers

Noël Regney knew some things about war. He was a French-born citizen, but living in the Alsace-Moselle part of France he was drafted, possibly by force, into the Nazi army. He became a double agent during the 2nd world war and even lead a party of Nazis into an ambush. Despite all that, he survived the war and traveled to the USA later in life where his met his American wife Gloria Shayne Baker, with whom he wrote this song. The couple would later divorce. Noël wrote the lyrics for this song, while Gloria composed the music. For a man whose native tongue was not English, Noël wrote some exceptionally eloquent words for this song.

A star, a star, dancing in the night with a tail as big as a kite, with a tail as big as a kite

The obvious Christmas reference here is the star of Bethlehem, leading believers to baby Jesus. The writers of this song are also making reference to the missiles/”stars” being launched during the Cuban missile crisis. They sure have a romantic way of talking about these missiles, dancing in the night.

Said the night wind to the little lamb…

Regney once explained. “In the studio, the producer was listening to the radio to see if we had been obliterated. En route to my home, I saw two mothers with their babies in strollers. The little angels were looking at each other and smiling.” These children are said to be the inspiration behind the night wind and the little lamb. Notice, he also refers to these children as angels. The children, or angels are the inspiration of the people to later plea for peace.

…with a voice as big as the sea, with a voice as big as the sea

The gentle sounds of this line in the song provide massive contrast to the idea of a “voice as big as the sea.” Just imagine that, a voice as big as the sea. That would be one strong, potentially terrifying sound. Many would interpret this as the sounds of the devastation once the missiles made contact. Perhaps it could also be interpreted as the voice of the leader who has the power to allow this to happen. Or the voice of the leader who has the power to establish peace.

In your palace warm, mighty King, do you know what I know? A child a child, shivers in the cold, let us bring him silver and gold, let us bring him silver and gold.

Through literal interpretations we can assume Baby Jesus is this child, shivering in the cold. You can also imagine this following the cry for peace to our worldly “kings” or leaders to think of our children, and the kind of world we want for them. We want to bring them peace, the best kind of silver and gold.

Resolution – The Final Verse

Given all this, just read the remaining verse;

Said the king to the people everywhere
Listen to what I say
(Listen to what I say)
Pray for peace people everywhere
Listen to what I say
(listen to what I say)
The child, the child
Sleeping in the night
He will bring us goodness and light
He will bring us goodness and light

Following what the people have pleaded for, the king insists that we all make peace the priority, and through doing so, the children (or God/Jesus) will bring us goodness and light.

Do You Hear what I Hear? Lyrics

Said the night wind to the little lamb
Do you see what I see?
Way up in the sky little lamb
Do you see what I see?
A star, a star
Dancing in the night
With a tail as big as a kite
With a tail as big as a kite
Said the little lamb to the shepherd boy
Do you hear what I hear?
(do you hear what I hear)
Ringing through the sky shepherd boy
Do you hear what I hear?
(do hear what I hear)
A song, a song
High above the trees
With a voice as big as the sea
With a voice as big as the sea

 

Said the shepherd boy to the mighty king
Do you know what I know
(do you know what I know)

In your palace warm mighty king
Do you know what I know
(do you know what I know)
A child, a child
Shivers in the cold
Let us bring him silver and gold
Let us bring him silver and gold

Said the king to the people everywhere
Listen to what I say
(Listen to what I say)
Pray for peace people everywhere
Listen to what I say
(listen to what I say)
The child, the child
Sleeping in the night
He will bring us goodness and light
He will bring us goodness and light

He will bring us goodness and light

Further Reading

Wikipedia

The Atlantic

sojo.net

 

 

5 Work and Travel Opportunities To Do Before/Instead of College

High school tends to push people to go straight to college after finishing high school. This is great advice for some, but pretty terrible advice for others. There is a lot of pressure in college to figure out what you are interested in and willing to put all the blood sweat and tears into to earn your degree. Then after that awesome graduation party, walk away with lifelong loans to pay off.

Let’s keep it fair, college offers us a lot.

There are several great things about going to college. Personally, I am eternally grateful for my education. It enabled me to teach English in Taiwan, which was a pinnacle experience in my professional and personal development. Not to mention the incredible time many of us have in college. We are navigating our life outside of our home for the first time in a great environment. Plus, there is a huge array of statistics on how much more money you can make in your lifetime with a college degree.

But then there are all those opportunities your high school teachers didn’t tell you about…

Now, I think I went to a pretty great high school for a public one, but clearly, the staff there could use reading this post. I learned all about these possibilities through my own research after already getting my bachelor’s degree. They pretty much just told us we’re best off going to college. Well, this great staff clearly did not know about a whole world (literally) of options that provides incredible experiences. These experiences will

  • build your character
  • educate you more about the world
  • increase your confidence
  • provide great additions to your resumes
  • give you a sense of accomplishment
  • give you a feeling that your life matters

But these opportunities are not always easy or glamorous…

Now, a lot of the things on this list are things that a lot of people, quite frankly, don’t have the fortitude to do, especially by themselves. This is something to consider when making these plans. You may want a buddy to agree to do one of these with you. Keep in mind, many of these options have a great group of people doing the same thing nearby you, which can provide a huge support that you need when you venture off on these grand adventures by yourself. Also, keep in mind that this life is YOUR life, and it’s up to you to fill it with amazing experiences. People regret NOT doing so many things. You would NEVER regret any of these amazing experiences! You’re stronger than you think you are, so don’t be afraid to fill your story with all the things our world has to offer!

1. Au Pair

  1. Au Pair in New Zealand
    My Kiwi Babies and I during my year as an Au Pair in New Zealand.

    I personally had the experience of Au Pairing in New Zealand. Being an Au Pair is a well-set-up system. You have basic accommodation and food. The weekly pay averages to about $200 NZD per week. Most families give you weekends off. According to the government (in New Zealand) you are entitled to 1 week paid holiday for every three months of work. But, it can be a stressful situation to live with a family who you are working for. Every great opportunity comes with some level of sacrifice. You would still be living an experience you will never forget, despite its challenges. There are agencies you can go through, which help you deal with problems you may be having.

Using an Agency, or Not Using an Agency

Agencies provide extensive in-country support. They charge an initial startup fee, usually $1,000-$3,000 USD. If you have the confidence to go without an agency, there are websites you can use to find host families directly. Without the agency, you don’t have much for in-country support besides your host family, but you also don’t have the hefty start-up costs. I would say, if you don’t have a lot of experience in traveling by yourself, an agency may be the way to go. If you have traveled alone before, have some money saved in case things don’t work out, and you have the confidence to figure things out if the arrangement doesn’t work out, you would be fine going without an agency.

  • The agency I worked with was Au Pair Link. I met other Au Pairs through other agencies, and they usually didn’t get paid as much as those going through Au Pair Link. I found this opportunity on their US partner’s website GeoVisions.
  • If you are not interested in going through an agency you can check out Au Pair World.

    2. Working Holiday in New Zealand or Australia

    The places in which you can easily get a Working Holiday Visa vary depending on your citizenship. New Zealand and Australia working holiday visas are very accessible to most of the world. They require that you are 18-30 years old, and pay the Working Holiday Visa Fee, ranging in $165-$400 USD. For more information on the details or to apply for a working holiday in New Zealand click here, Australia, click here.

    Accommodation for Working Holiday Visas

    The most affordable accommodations would be hostels that are looking for help. You make an arrangement to live in a hostel and for free accommodation for some housekeeping. To find any of these hostels, simply google some in the area you wish to live in and email them. They are used to this situation. Hostels are a great place to get a lot of information on job opportunities in the area, as well as TradeMe for New Zealand, and GumTree for Australia. A lot of people think it would be impossible to just get up and move to Australia or New Zealand, but they just aren’t willing to live in a hostel (which aren’t that bad) and work crappy jobs for the chance to see the world. There is also the possibility of house-sitting. House-sitting websites usually charge a small membership fee, which is probably well-worth it in the long run. It’s a more extensive process than just finding a hostel to work for, but it should also provide more luxury. Here are some websites that help you find house-sitting opportunities – Aussiehousesitters, MindMyHouse, TrustedhouseSitters, HouseSitWorld, HouseCarers.

     

    3. Work, Save, and Travel/Backpack or Volunteer Abroad

    Work, save, and travel/Backpack

    Backpacking in Bali
    Backpacking in Bali

    Upon completing high school you can work for a year, save as much money as possible, then go and spend it all on however much backpacking you can afford. Yes, I know I am suggesting something so irresponsible – blow all your savings, but you’re still young and have plenty of time to earn your money back. The character and confidence you’ll gain from having this incredible experience will change your life, and you can go back and make that money again anyway. The basic things to consider while living out of a backpack to stretch your money as far as it can go are the following

    • Search on several airfare sites for the best flight deals.
    • Stay in cheap hostels, or campgrounds if the weather is manageable.
    • If you’re staying somewhere for an extended period of time, try finding a hostel that needs some help in exchange for free accommodations.
    • Cook your own meals in the hostels for cheap food. Pasta, sauce, and a few fresh fruit and vegetables will be a great way to eat on the cheap. It’s a small price to pay for seeing the world.

      Work, Save, and Volunteer

      Most of us don’t have moms and dads who will pay for our volunteer opportunities, so earn that money over the course of a few months by earning that money yourself! Talk about a way to milk all your appreciation for this opportunity yourself! There are countless opportunities to volunteer abroad. Most of the programs will have you paying a fee. The kind of work that comes with volunteering abroad is very diverse, but the common thread is the nature of getting a chance experience diversity, and the unmatched experience of knowing you helped people. Below is a list of websites you can browse to get started on volunteering abroad.

4. Social Media Manager

fbtwitter

Many companies are offering jobs as a Social Media Manager these days, which you can do from anywhere in the world. Most of us already have the basic skills of many social media platforms, and a course in Social Media Management could be an incredible alternative to going to a University. There are many online courses on social media management, I haven’t taken any, but I have read some work by Nicole, founder of Freedom Junkies, and you can find her online course here. The price of the course is about $700-$800 USD, compare that to college tuition, and perhaps it would be the best $700-$800 you ever spend!

5. Military

Obviously, this list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the military. To be honest, I am the LAST person who can give any advice on how to get started on this one! For references, you can start with any family member, friend, or anyone you know to get more information. The only other thing I would suggest is checking out http://www.usmilitary.com/. Have fun!

And a few more notes…

*While you are abroad on many of these journeys listed, there are other ways to potentially make an income. Here are some more things you can do.

  • Photography: If you have a great camera and decent photography skills, you can seek clients for photography sessions. You could even offer a special, competitive “immigrant price.” 😉
  • Blog/Vlog your experience. This can take some time to build an audience to make it marketable, but you are having a unique experience that most people do not have. Other people might like to know more about it as you go. You also DEFINITELY won’t regret documenting these experiences as they happen. You’ll be happy to go back to these memories long after they pass you by.