Tourist: Traveler, Sightseer, Visitor, Vacationer, Holidaymaker, Day Tripper…
All of these synonyms for “tourist” imply a significant degree of distance between the tourist and his or her destination. Regardless of how many historical monuments or “must-see” sights visited, the tourist ultimately remains a stranger to the country. At the end of the day, he or she returns to an English-speaking resort, hotel, or hostel that is catered toward the needs of foreigners. Chances are, the tourist will return to his or her home country with an increased knowledge of a different country but still be far from understanding that country’s actual culture.
I am not in Asia as part of a study abroad program or work assignment. Therefore, it is very difficult for me to feel as if I am living a completely different lifestyle. Even traveling alone cannot allow me to achieve that ideal of becoming “fully immersed.” I knew from the start that I wanted this experience to be unlike the typical tourist experience, and after spending a week in Taiwan with my friend Katherine, my desire to truly break free from the lifestyle I have led for the last three years has been reaffirmed.
Upon arriving in Taiwan, I played some pickup ultimate with Katherine and her friends – this had been the first time I had touched a disc in a long time, and though I cannot say I’m completely passionate about the sport, I genuinely had a great time playing again. The endless mud stains that covered my body at the end of those couple hours as a result of the incessant Taipei rain were completely worthwhile. The rest of the week proceeded in which I was completely free to explore as I pleased in addition to Katherine showing me some awesome local spots. As awesome as it felt to venture throughout Taipei on my own, the highlight of this trip was my last day.
Katherine, Chris, Jess, and I went river tracing in the Wulai village. Basically, this consists of hiking into some gorgeous hills and finding the trail to a waterfall, and then proceeding to physically walk through the water to find the waterfall. This sounds straightforward, but is rather daring, as the rocks are incredibly slippery and the currents are pretty strong! Anyway, we stopped for lunch (watermelon, crackers, tomatoes, cheese, trail mix that Chris and Jess brought in their bags) on top of a rock, stuffing our faces while chatting and marveling at the ridiculously breathtaking scenery! Then, we set our stuff down and pressed onward toward the waterfall. As we trekked, the rain started pouring harder, but we rested for just a bit before continuing toward that waterfall. At last, we found it and took turns sliding down it. Albeit my camera and phone getting damaged as a result of the rain and wetness, this experience was incredible and the most adventurous thing I had ever done.
That night, I met up with Katherine, Jess, and a few of Katherine’s other friends at Da’an Park for Taipei’s jazz festival, in which musicians from all over the world came to showcase their talents. The simple joy I felt sitting on the lawn, munching on peanut butter baguette while chatting with wonderful people amidst beautiful jazz music playing in the background was a type of joy I had not felt in a long time. At the end of the day, I reflected upon all I had done that week and the people I had met. I saw how Katherine and her friends were gradually beginning to call Taiwan home after having left behind their prior lives to pursue new adventures. For the first time, I came close to feeling a completely new sense of utter and unreserved freedom – a feeling that I could never recreate if I continue to live in the states.