A few weeks ago when I heard about a mysterious virus from Wuhan, I did not anticipate entire cities with tens of millions of people being quarantined. I did not anticipate the virus spreading throughout China, and talking with students who were clearly afraid of the situation. However, as the virus has continued to spread, it spread to Taiwan and has so far infected about eight people.
After visiting a local night market, I was reminded of the perfect conditions for a virus to spread here. I love night markets and the public transportation in Taiwan, but it seems perfect for an infection to obtain targets. People are in close quarters talking, breathing, and eating on top of each other. The atmosphere in night markets is awesome, just not during an unknown epidemic from China. Since I do not have a long-term place with good food and water supplies, I have decided to return to United States in case the outbreak here becomes worse.
It pains me to leave Taiwan after being here for merely a month. My plan was to stay for at least six months. While here, I planned on working on my Mandarin, meeting interesting people, and having novel experiences. I have successfully been accomplishing those goals, but the Coronavirus has changed my trajectory. For now I will assess the situation until I leave, and I hope to return soon.
About a week while taking a break from work I saw an article, at first glance I did not think much of it. The articles title had something to do with some kind of illness possibly spreading from a city in China. I briefly took another glance at the article and noticed the illness had originated from a city in China called Wuhan. Wuhan is located near the Central-Eastern region of China, in a province called Hubei. I have never visited Wuhan, but while living in Chengdu I met several foreigners who had studied in Wuhan before arriving in Chengdu, they all had very good things to say about Wuhan. This time the news about Wuhan was not so positive.
After reading the article about a small and unknown illness allegedly originating from a seafood market in Wuhan, I had basically forgotten about it. A couple days later “Twitter World” started chirping more frequently about this mysterious illness, I started to pay a more attention, but was not very alert. Fast forward one week, and the situation has drastically changed.
Since first reading about the virus, news has come out that is a “novel coronavirus” which I believe means this form of the coronavirus is new, but this type of virus is known and somewhat common. Some research on the coronavirus revealed that it shows symptoms like the flu, but this outbreak appears to be more dangerous. This virus went from being reported as something minor the first week, to reporting that 17 people have died since being infected, and there are several hundred people infected with the virus within China. In fact, the situation has escalated so quickly in China, the entire city of Wuhan is being reportedly locked down. Eleven million people are not allowed to leave the city as the government is closing down roads, plane, and train travel out of the city. There are reports of the virus in Japan, Thailand, The United States, and Taiwan.
While this outbreak is occurring I cannot help but wonder whether or not Taiwan will be able to control the few cases they have found. Since Taiwan is a small country, and the people seem culturally cohesive, with access to advanced medicine, I have faith they can take care of it. However, since East Asia is center of this viral outbreak, I am not in an ideal location.
As the Lunar New Year comes, I hope the authorities can manage this situation. We will learn more in the coming days.
If you are planning on visiting Taipei, and you should, don’t worry about your transportation. When you come to Taipei, you will find that public transportation is heavily utilized. This is quite a contrast to the lifestyle in my hometown of Houston, Texas. In Houston you need to have a car, otherwise you will turn your thirty minute commute into a three hour commute. However, here in Taipei the subway, bus system, and taxis are all very accessible and fast.
If you will be in Taipei for a week or more, I highly recommend getting an easy card. They look just like a credit or debit card, and can be used to take subways, buses, and pay for things at many stores like 7-11, and Family Mart. 7-11’s and Family Marts are everywhere in Taiwan. For most foreigners, these convenience stores will provide you with many things you need like snacks, water, and toiletries if necessary. All these things can be bought on a Easy Card. But to pay for things with an Easy Card, you must first purchase one, then load it with money.
Getting an Easy Card is simple. You can walk into any subway station and you will see a machine (looks like an ATM) that will allow you to purchase an Easy Card, they will be designated with the Easy Card logo that you see above. The instructions on the machine are English enabled for those that do not speak any form of Chinese.
After you buy the card you will need to load it with money. If you will be in Taiwan for at least a week, I would recommend $500- 700 NTD to start. This should last you at least a few days of convenience store usage plus transportation. If you need to add more, you can always add more money at any 7-11, Family Mart, most branded convenience stores, and subway stations.
Once you have your Easy Card you just need to decide where you are going, and what route to take. The subway system in Taipei is extensive and will take you to most places. However, if you find yourself inconveniently far form a subway station, use your Google app to check if a bus route would suite your travel. Using Google to coordinate my local travels has been fantastic. When I am in a hurry I can easily check if it is faster to take a bus, subway, or even walk.
And If you feel lost, do not be afraid to ask a local. People in Taipei are friendly and will generally try to help you if they can.
If you do not want to buy an Easy Card I would recommend sticking to the subways and taxis. You can use cash for single trip tokens on the subway, and taxi drivers always have change. However, I do not recommend getting on a bus without an Easy Card. From my experience there may not always be change if you do not have an exact amount, and it is a general pain in the ass.
I hope this helps your travels in Taipei. Let me know if you have any questions or comments.
Last time I came to Taiwan I was incredibly lazy, and did not work out for two weeks. This may sound crazy to those uninitiated to obsessive working out, but for me it was very difficult. During that time I played with the idea of working out, then I thought about having to get warmed up, come back to the hostel and take a shower, it sounded like such a pain in the ass. So of course I did not work out of. However, during that time a friend of mine went to the gym on a regular basis. After hearing that he went to the gym nearly every day, I asked him how he was working out? In the states it is common for people to sign yearly contracts to go the gym, especially at big commercial gyms, but my friend had not signed any contract. In fact, he was paying by the hour. I thought about exploring this mythical pay-by-the-hour gym, but could not muster up the motivation to go.
This time in Taiwan I had to find a way to exercise, because there was no way I could go six months or longer without working out. Before I left for Taiwan this time, I decided to do some research about the best way to exercise while staying in Taiwan. While doing some investigation, I discovered there were public gyms scattered across Taiwan, and that you pay 50 yuan to work out for an hour, which is roughly $1.6 . This seemed like a great solution.
I can safely say that after two weeks of living in Taiwan, I have been to a couple of public gyms, and I quite like them. Of course they lack the breadth of equipment and free weights you will find at a contractual gym in the states, but they have most of the essentials for hitting a good work out. The one that I frequent is near Taipei Arena. Outside of the gym they have a nice track made of good material. In the center of the track is a well kept grassy area. This set up allows you to do many things. This is also free to access, which is critical when you pay by the hour. You can essentially get warmed up and warm down and stretch near the track without effecting your pay rate.
Inside, the gym has a squat rack, dumbbell rack, a few different types of bench presses, and and a padded area to do things like dead-lifts, my favorite. There is also some kettle bells which I was very happy to see, and I use them nearly every day. They also have an area just for personal training. The personal training equipment is pretty good, but unfortunately you are not allowed to use it, this is one of the bigger draw backs, it is only for the trainers, even when nobody is using it.
Overall, it is a decent set up. And because there are several of these public gyms around the city, I don’t see an issue with over crowding, though I see people in them all of the time. These gyms could use some extra squat racks and bench presses, but I cannot complain. They are easy to access, and very convenient for foreigners. Make sure to bring a towel before you go in to pay, and enjoy.
In my last trip to Taipei a girl from the hostel warned me about falling into “The Party Trap”. I was just getting acquainted to the hostel, and I was pretty confused at first. After all, falling into a party trap sounded fine to me. She described “The Party Trap” as follows: one night you stay up and have a few beers with the hostel guests. After a while, or maybe the next night, everyone decides to go to the bar. After a good night at the bar you find your self waking up an hour or two later than before. This doesn’t seem to be an issue at the time, especially because your on vacation. However, this process starts a feedback loop. As the days continued you find yourself waking up later and later, until you begin opening your eyelids just before dusk, and you realize there is nothing to do except prepare for the inevitable night of partying which is coming your way. This is “The Party Trap”, it can quickly get out of hand, and you easily feel lost and dysfunctional.
As I falling into the trap, I realized the importance of a routine, even on vacation. Since I was travelling alone, there was no one to pressure me about the typical mindless, non-activities, like going to see monuments and statues that have little-to-no effect on me. Instead, I was able to go at my own pace, but to go at my own pace, I must have some sort of pace. So after falling into the party trap, and perceiving my time slipping away from me, I decided to make some changes: focus on practicing Chinese, get up before dusk, and try to get in some writing, thinking, or walking. This sounds basic, but can essential when travelling on long vacations or holidays.
This time in Taipei I am working, so creating structure is built in. I make sure to hit the gym almost every day, work online, try to practice mandarin with the locals, etc. It feels good. However, I visited my favorite hostel – Meander, and talked to some people that reminded of the importance of structure.
I walked into Meander around early noon and met a guy sitting on one of the couches. He seemed introverted, but approachable so I engaged him in conversation and it became clear he was dealing with a severe lack of structure and routine. He had two more weeks of vacation, but had already been travelling for a while and had no idea what to do. This is when I suggested he try “living” instead of “traveling”. Make some structure, dig into some of the life and culture. Without providing too much unsolicited advice, I merely suggested going to the gym, and finding people to practice Chinese with. These two activities alone can be quite fulfilling, and add great dimension to living in Taiwan.
A few days later I ran into a guy I met the first time I stayed at Meander. He had been on a sabbatical for way too long, and seems to have got absolutely nowhere in terms of figuring out what direction he wants to take his life. Based on his body composition (from a glance) it was clear that he does not exercise, he also doesn’t speak Chinese, and probably spends most of his days doing nothing. This blew my mind. And once again made me appreciate the importance of self direction and structure.
Simply creating some daily “essential” activities on an extended vacation, sabbatical, holiday, or whatever can be a game-changer. Do what you want to do. Do you love reading? Then spend some time each day reading. After you read, go for a walk or get in some light exercise, try learning the local language, or learning something local. There are so many ways people can spend their time to get real value when going on extended travel, but many people are not very self-directed, and thus fall into a default state of non-activity when other people aren’t telling them what to do.
Even the most spontaneous people need some kind of consistency, whether it be working out, cooking, reading, making something, etc. Otherwise life pure chaos, and seems almost meaningless. Having small, yet productive tasks to accomplish can bring a lot of psychological satisfaction while leaving time available to for satisfyingly spontaneous moments. Don’t just fall into “The Party Trap”, and don’t let your time off become time off from life.
I thought” What am I doing here?”, It was New Years Eve 2019. The world was entering a new decade, and I was on a plane from Houston to Beijing, final destination -Taipei. For the past few months, I told people I had friends in Taipei, “there is nothing to worry about.” That was not completely true. Yes, I made some friends the last time I came to Taipei, but most of them were gone. Though there were some locals I stayed in touch with, I am not sure I can call them friends, more like good acquaintances.
As I was thinking about my decision to come to Taiwan by myself, with no definite ending, I kept thinking about what I was doing,” am I making a mistake, wasting my time, being foolish?” After all, while I believe I am good with self direction, coming to Taipei without a super-specific reason had me second guessing myself.
However before I came to Taipei, and since I have arrived, I have had to remind myself about the great things in my life that happened without planning. The first thing that comes to mind is my life in Taekwon-Do.
When I started Taekwon-Do I had no aspirations to compete at the world championships, to get my fourth degree black-belt, or to ever teach. Though at the age of twelve, some close teammates and I found ourselves competing at the national championships in Philadelphia. We were competing for spot on the national team going to Italy, and we qualified to represent the United States. After that, I had the opportunity to represent the U.S. at several more international tournaments, and got third place in Argentina back in 2008.
Another unexpected turn in my life was joining the high-school speech and debate team. I joined the speech and debate team out of curiosity, and because I am political minded( thanks a lot dad). After joining the team, I found myself the president of the team for two years, and learned to speak in front of large groups of people, something I would never have imagined doing. The skills I learned from public speaking have never disappeared, though I still turn into a cherry tomato at first sign of embarrassment. Though the most memorable and unexpected turn in my life was studying abroad in China.
Before my sophomore year at Texas A&M University (whoop!), I never imagined I would ever go to China. While studying economics, an opportunity arose for me to study abroad, and I seized it. I was supposed to return to the United States after three and half months, but became addicted to the experience and stayed for nearly a whole year. In China I began learning Mandarin, and could hold some low-level conversations by the time I left. I never thought I would be bilingual, ever! Few things in my life felt better than learning to speak and read Chinese, but this was totally unforeseen. There was no plan to study in China before I decided to go. I have since continued studying, and have made a successful online business based on my time there.
I have learned from a lifetime of martial arts competitions, public speaking, and living abroad to approach the unknown. The most rewarding and long-lasting experiences I have had came from walking into the unknown and embracing the circumstances. Heck, the longest relationship I ever had was basically an accident. I was just trying to get laid, then I found myself dating someone for three years. The lessons I learned from that relationship were invaluable. It seems the unforeseen has always been a great teacher.
Now I find myself back in the world of the unknown. I am not sure where this path will lead, but if history is my guide I must trust my intuition, embrace the fear, and continue forward, into the unknown.
I recently moved to Taiwan. Since arriving, I have seen noticeable differences in my lifestyle(of course, it’s across the world), one of which is the amount of walking I do on a daily basis. With reliable public transit in Taipei, I find myself walking everywhere, and when things are too far, then I hop on a bus or head to the nearest subway station. Compared to my life in Houston,this is a huge difference.
Back in Houston, and in many other American cities, people drive cars for a majority of their transit needs. Generally, this means you spend a large part of your day sitting down at work, then sitting to go everywhere else.
I consider myself a pretty active person, but since arriving in Taipei, I am reminded about how little physical activity I actually got. I spend several hours a day working and teaching online, so I usually sit. In Houston, this meant sitting at home, sitting in the car on the way to the store, sitting in the car on the way to the park, sitting in the car on the way to the gym, so much damn sitting. Then when I went to the gym, I felt like I had an active lifestyle. Though I realize it was not objectively active, but active compared to other people who prefer to never voluntarily raise their heart rate, unless they are anticipating their next meal.
This situation also reminds me of when I lived in China in a foreign exchange program. At that time, I was in very good shape as I walked everywhere, and still went to the gym several days a week. However, since graduating college and buying a car, I failed to realized how much physical activity I was lacking, and also how much better it feels.
I have noticed my sleep is much better since arriving in Taipei, and part of that is due to my incrased physical activity, I’m simply more tired at the end of each day, because I have put in more work. I believe Joe Rogan is correct about humans beings being like batteries, we build up energy throughout our days, and when we don’t exercise and engage in difficult physical work, our bodies do not feel good. This is one reason I am addicted to working out. When you workout you just feel better. I wonder how many people who suffer from poor sleep and high levels of anxiety would benefit from running, jogging, and lifting weights every day. I imagine many peoples lives would change with the right amount of physical exertion.
There are many things I am looking forward to while being in Taiwan, and more physical exertion is certainly one of them.
I finally made it back to Taiwan, and I am elated. Preparing to come back to Taiwan for an extended stay was simultaneously a tough and easy decision. On one hand, I knew I wanted to be here, on the other, the thought of relocating myself across the world was daunting. Another important aspect of making the move to Taiwan was talking to friends and family, and while doing so, I gleamed insight into how peoples advice reflects their life course.
One of my family members works a corporate job, and has done so for a very long time. She did not quite understand what I was doing, though never said anything negative to my face. However, I was aware from others in my family that she, more than once, espoused her opinion that I should stop messing around and get a “real job”. Of course “real job” means working for a salary in a corporation, but that is not my inclination at the moment, and I prefer to avoid it at all costs.
My father was also a bit confused by the whole situation, though never talked negatively about my decision. However, if it was up to him, I would be focusing on building up my martial arts credentials so I could make money teaching and working in martial arts. Interestingly enough, he is in the process of building a Taekwon-do school, plus he has been my coach for many years, so his opinion was not very surprising.
Then I have another relative with the complete opposite take. She had spent most of her life in the military, and lived in a couple of other countries. She was very encouraging about the my decision to live in Taiwan for a while. This was funny to me, because historically we have not talked much, and I felt she was out of touch with my perspective, but in this situation she understood my decision quite accurately.
I talked with many more people about my decision, mostly because I couldn’t avoid it, not because I was looking. While the responses varied from one person to another, one thing became clear: peoples personal experiences very heavily reflect their opinions and advice they might give you. This is not really surprising. In fact, many people might believe it goes without saying that peoples experiences bias their perspective. Though many people also believe THEY are GIVING non-biased advice when someone asks for it, including myself.
Remember this the next time you receive and give advice: you are not giving or receiving an objective answer from someone crunching the different variables through an unbiased equation. Someone is giving you an output based on their desires, failures, successes, and everything in between, and are you giving advice the same way.