How 18 Hours in Dulan Changed My Attitude Towards Travel

_DSC0141Wandering in the misty, mythical Sansiantai.

A while ago, I had this conversation with an over-achieving colleague of mine who had traveled quite a bit. When I told him about my mild dirty toilet-phobia, my aversion to prolonged bus rides and my preference for doing research beforehand about the place I am going to visit, he started to flaunt his different adventures and sermonize about how I would never experience real and profound traveling because of my psychological limitation. He did not say it, but the thought he was having- that all my travels were then superficial and I knew nothing about travels- was written all over his face.

I did feel tongue-tied and inferior when he shoved those lessons down my throat. The truth remains that I have not traveled as extensively as he has. I thought perhaps I really was missing out big time. Like, oh my gosh, how many crazy and unforgettable filthy toilet incidents had I missed? How many Before Sunrise & Before Sunset kind of encounters on long bus rides had I missed? I might have even met the love of my life on one of those rides!!!

No, seriously, his words haunted me for much longer than expected. However, the more I went over the conversation in my head, the more I realized that he is full of shits. And the sooner he gets off his high horse, the better for him, me and the entire human race. I do research in advance because first and foremost, I want to know if there is any red flag about the hostel (and the area) I will be staying at. Also, I do not want to waste time reading guide books on the go like he usually does. I avoid long bus rides because I want to spend more time INSIDE a place exploring. I skip filthy toilets whenever I can because…who the fuck picks filthy toilets over clean ones?

The bottom line is every journey is personal and beautiful; there really is no right or wrong way to travel. We simply do it the way we want to do it. Don’t belittle someone’s travels just because his traveling style is different from yours. 

I fervently believe as long as we go somewhere, there will be memories to be made and lessons to be learned. So, it is all good. I mean, shopping at Chanel or Lanvin while in Paris is, in and of itself, a lesson about French history and culture, right? LOL. 

Oh, and another thing: I cannot take people who still think Lonely Planet is the backpacker’s bible seriously.

Last time I checked, Lonely Planet did not seem to be aware of this off-the-beaten-path beach town. 

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The reason I shared that with you guys is I keep hearing the whole world advise against spending too little time when visiting a place as it would be impossible to get its vibe and have lasting impressions. It is a well-intended advice, but impractical for most. Oftentimes, a few days or a few hours are all that we have.

My trip to Dulan proves that a short stay does not mean a short amount of memories. It is totally possible to have a really memorable time even if you only stay for 18 hours.

Dulan is a small coastal town located 20km north of Taitung city, on the east coast of Taiwan. Since I had to catch a noon ferry to Lanyu island from Taitung, the friends I met at the hostel in Hualien suggested that I should arrive a day early and spend it in Dulan, which is just a short bus ride from Taitung’s main train station. Their reason was the beautiful, unspoiled Sansiantai island with the possibility of some glorious sunrise and sunset.

What I could not anticipate about Dulan was the companionship I had along the way.

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I Biked All The Way To Heaven in Chihshang

It was green and empty and totally free of lamp posts up there.

If you believe that there is heaven and want to know what the road to heaven is like, I have good news. You do not have to wait until you are 80 or so; you will get a glimpse of it by visiting Heaven Road in Chihshang Township, Taitung.

For me, after going there, I was able to confirm part of what my grandmother and mother had always told me since I was a child. That heaven and kindness have a whole lot to do with each other.

They also warned me that only good boys go to heaven. This part, however, remains unverified because I do not think I am even semi-good. Like, I shouted at my parents many times. I judged my friends too often. I abhorred most of bosses and colleagues. And I have always indulged in my whims. The list of my shameful deeds goes on and on, yet I still got to bike along the road to heaven…

Proof that I’m not bluffing.

No, seriously, I would never have come to Chihshang had it not been for the incredible kindness of the people I met at my hostel in Hualien. Most of the time, you would not be able to pull off anything if you learned at 10 o’clock in the evening that the town in fact does exist and you wanted to leave the next morning but you could hardly string one sentence in Chinese together. That being said, if eight locals sit down together and plan every aspect of your trip until midnight for you, then you can do anything.

My original plan was spending the weekend in Lanyu, a beautiful and secluded island off the southern coast of Taiwan. But it fell through epically because I underestimated how complicated it was to get there from Hualien and have a place to stay on the island. (I traveled during the national holidays when Taiwanese flocked to the island.) After the 50-plus phone calls made by the lovely receptionist on my behalf to every home-stay on the little island, I painfully realized that Lanyu was out of question. But if I were willing to change my itinerary and wait for two more days, I would be able to go. This option left me with a weekend of absolutely nothing on the agenda. Which made me feel quite uneasy because I was not traveling with a one-way flight ticket. I had limited time, and more importantly this whole concept of going with the flow or rolling with the punches was, and still is, relatively foreign to me.

It is alright if you think I am a control freak because I really am. A little bit less than I used to be, though.

Lesson learned: sometimes, travel plans going awry can be a blessing in disguise.

This is another terribly embarrassing thing to confess, but I will do it anyways because I have unwavering faith that you guys are the most non-judgemental souls on this planet. Trust me, I cringe badly whenever I have to think about what I did, but from what I have heard, if you want to be good, you have to acknowledge that you are bad first. So…I did throw a bit of a tantrum when my plan did not go as I had expected. Not Taylor Swift kind of tantrum, but definitely some pouty lips, head shakes, eye-rolls and complaints here and there to the receptionists and my new friends.

BUT YOU GUYS HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT THEY DID?

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