Thursday, February 27, 2014

Whenever I come back to Taiwan after some time abroad, I always expect something to be different – a new shop perhaps, or the construction of one or two new buildings? But most of the time nothing changes. And besides, what is six months in the grand scale of time anyway? I remember how strange I felt after returning from India, where I had been for around 30 days. I thought something was different when I came back from that volunteer trip, and I feel the same this time after returning from Russia. But soon I realised that it is not Taiwan that has changed, it’s me.

My world in high school was small. In university it’s large. And larger yet while travelling abroad. Whenever I go somewhere new it’s an eye opening experience, and it’s amazing how much wider my view of the world becomes at the same time. I taste all the spectrums of what it means to be a human being, not only in my own culture(s) but amongst others, too. I have become increasingly tolerant and understanding towards different peoples, their customs and their habits. I have learnt new standards of distance from Russians, new standards of punctuality and planning from Germans and a whole new definition of what is considered spicy from Koreans.

My god, I love travelling. I love it with a passion. That is, travelling is my passion. It’s the door that never shuts once opened. You cannot ‘unsee’, in a manner of speaking, the things that you’ve seen. It stays with you for a lifetime. It helps you battle stereotypes and defends you from ignorance and naïveté. If you travel and you embrace all that you encounter with an open heart and open mind, these new experiences become well and truly yours. Even the horrifying, terrifying ones that you never want to relive, like a 52-hour train ride or a nightmarish night spent in a dodgy Mangalore hotel room. They become a part of your strengths (or your weaknesses) that make you want to (or not want to) try new things or revisit old ones.

When I stepped off the aeroplane into the airport terminal two days ago, I was so overwhelmed that I almost burst. I wanted to scream. I had return to the Taipei I know so well, but I returned entirely different. I knew I would never be the same again.

I have been lucky to experience many ‘firsts’ in my 24 years on Earth. But I think I’ve been luckier to have actually been able to fully appreciate all these firsts. Many people try things for the first time every day without realising it. Be it a new drink, a new bus route or simply a different side street home. Nobody ever said that new experiences have to be awe-inspiring, although they sometimes are. More often than not, they are just as ordinary as your everyday coffee mug. Or did you try the other one today?

Travelling to and fro in Taipei these two days, nothing has changed. Taipei still remains one of the most ‘open’ cities I’ve been in. People dress in whatever tickles their fancy that morning – black, green, orange, purple skinny jeans, polkadot t-shirts, ripped cardigans and pink button shirts. Their hair comes in all the colours of the rainbow (and more). The hairstyles on display in Taipei put the peculiarities of the catwalks in Paris and Milan to shame.

Taipei is the city in which anything goes. If you can’t do or wear anything in Taipei, then there is nowhere else you can go. This is perhaps not bad, but it’s probably not great either, because I don’t like it when people overstep the mark in terms of dress. Where’s decency gone? It’s not that the Taiwanese don’t judge, it’s just that don’t do it publicly. So if you wanted to, you could don your pink hair all year round. I understand why Taipei is an easy city to love for many young people. It’s carefree in Taipei, the city in which nobody really stands out, particularly because everybody kind of stands out. JSF.

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