An American in Taiwan: being a stranger in the motherland

Taipei 101, night and day. Created in Adobe Illustrator.

My brother and I grew up in America, but our Taiwanese-born parents still refer to our family trips to Taiwan as “returning to the motherland.” Our relatives there welcome us back with open arms every time. Just last month, we flew back to Taipei to attend my cousin’s wedding.

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A for Airplanes: a foreign yet familiar world

The majestic Aer Lingus

This post is part of the Alphabet Project, where I write a post for each letter of the alphabet. It was inspired by Ash Huang’s Alphabet Meditations.

I have always loved traveling by airplane. I like seeing planes lined up in a row, decked out in their airline colors, with heads like bottlenose dolphins and massive wings like wandering albatrosses. Once I’m in the belly of one of those giant beasts, I gaze outside the window as it calmly glides over the tarmac, then whirs to life. It gathers speed. Suddenly, we’re flying above civilization.  

There’s a unique culture associated with the airline industry. There’s nothing quite like packing everything you need into a small case, falling asleep in a metal container traveling at 500+ miles per hour at a dizzying altitude, and waking up to find yourself in a foreign part of the world. I’m so familiar with airports and airlines now that I’ve come to take for granted all that I learn in the process.

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Encounters with catcallers abroad

Florence at night

Visiting France and Italy as an Asian American woman was a frustrating experience, not just because I got my passport stolen mid-trip. As I walked through Paris and Florence with two other female Asian friends, we attracted comments from a slew of men.

For example, a man riding his bicycle behind us on a sidewalk in Paris called out, “ni hao!” A topless man across the street from us in Florence smugly shouted, “CHING CHONG CHING CHONG!” and bowed at us.

After living through two decades in the Bay Area and two peaceful months studying abroad in Ireland, I was jarred by this onslaught of street harassment. After I noticed that only men were yelling at us, I realized that their taunts were a variation of catcalling. My analysis made sense, given that catcalling is so prevalent in France and Italy.

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How I got tired of Europe

Dream city, dark clouds

It’s been a month since I returned home from a two-month study abroad trip in Ireland. I’ve always wanted a study abroad experience, and I got it. But after two months, I was so ready to come home. The magic of Europe faded as the  constant motion of travel wore me down mentally and physically.

I chose to study abroad in Europe out of curiosity. After all, many people dream of living and traveling there. My friends and I spent most of our two months interning in Dublin, but we flew off to various places during the weekends. It was two days in Kerry, back to Dublin for a week, three days in Barcelona, then back to Dublin for another week, etc.

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Ireland, week eight: Packing up (and yes, I’m Chinese)

Saturday 8/1

IMG_6427We struggled to get up early today to check out the Guinness Storehouse. None of my friends and I are drinkers, but we wanted to see the supposed “number one attraction in Ireland.” We smelled the beer as soon as we neared the factory, but weren’t able to  see the actual beer-making process. Instead, we toured the exhibits in a giant beer glass-shaped building geared toward tourists. They showed us the main  ingredients in Guinness and how the beer and casks were made.

When we got to the third floor tasting room, they first herded us into a white room with smells from the disparate ingredients of Guinness. Some of it smelled like chocolate. They gave us shots of Guinness and showed us how to properly taste the beer.  Truth be told, I much prefer smelling it to tasting it. We took a few pictures in the advertising exhibit and saw the 360 panoramic view of Dublin in the Gravity Bar before eating lunch in the restaurant. Fittingly, I had the beef and Guinness stew.

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Ireland, week seven: Turning up the heat

Friday 7/24

Woke up at 2:50 am to catch a bus for the airport. That’s what I get for booking 6 am flights. Immediately upon landing in Barcelona, there was a giant line to get through passport control, the airport Wi-Fi sucked, and everyone was immediately blasted by the humid heat. I waited for the other four girls to squeeze through passport control, as their flight landed 20 min after mine.

Tapas and sangria
Tapas and sangria

We spent a while trying to figure out the metro system but eventually got to city center via a slow tram. Apparently there is no ventilation system in the metro tunnels, so we were boiling in there. Lunch was at a tapas place on Passeig de Gracia (the main shopping street), where we splurged on sangrias, shrimp omelettes, and potato plates. Walked around for a bit before deciding to go to hostel and check in. Words cannot describe how disgustingly sweaty we felt by then. All of us changed into shorts.

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barcelona part 15 (i go to a wedding)

My hilarious friend Jihoon basically summed up my visit to Barcelona in pictures.

Jihoons Thoughts: A Blog for people who dont want to read a lot

people from ireland program visited for weekend.

its cold there so i took them to the beach

DSC_2241 tanline

DSC_2243 hotties

went to old gothic city

DSC_2245 basic af. blocking the road for these nice cyclists

DSC_2246 food

DSC_2247 prob for instagram.

went to see the cathedral


pretty much a tour guide now


DSC_2257 crazy bullshit happening outside on the plaza. must bring to america

next went to rambla de raval or something like that.

its the ethnic district i think

DSC_2261 funk band with dancing baby

DSC_2263 giant cat statue

then we went to a bar

they all had girly drinks

DSC_2264 i had a girly drink too. #selfbasic

nice and quiet in the early morning

should be like this all the time

DSC_2265decided to go to montserrat. which is a mountain

had to take train

DSC_2266 y r u reading a map karen. were on a train. you dont decide where to go. you are not train…

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Ireland, week six: Gift of gab

Saturday 7/18

Got up around 6 am for a day tour on a coach bus to Cork and Blarney with two friends. Our first stop was at the Rock of Cashel in Tipperary, which was also

Rock of Cashel
Rock of Cashel

called St. Patrick’s rock. The main attractions there were drab gray walls and a cemetery.

Then headed on to Cork. The bus driver/tour guide was from Cork so he drove us around his city before heading on to Blarney. We got there around noon to “beat the crowds,” but there was still an hour long line up Blarney Castle to kiss the Blarney Stone and obtain the “gift of gab”.

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Ireland, week five: In Dublin fair city

I’ve been busier this week, so there aren’t as many pictures this time. Apologies!

Saturday 7/11

Woke up at 7:15 am to visit Howth with

DART, aka Dublin BART

a friend. We took the bus to Blackrock, where we caught the DART (the Dublin version of BART) to Howth. The town was cute and smelled like seafood and fish. Mmm fish. We stopped by the famous Howth Market but it wasn’t completely set up yet so we walked around to the edge of the dock and at the lighthouse.

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Ireland, week four: Independence days

Saturday 7/4

To celebrate American independence day, I boarded a plane independently to Edinburgh, Scotland. I was awake at 3:30 am to catch my flight, and couldn’t

Ryanair bag drop line at 5am
Ryanair bag drop line at 5am

believe how many other people were also awake, on the streets and in the airport lines.

The weather in Edinburgh was horrendous when I got there, but thankfully the plane landed without issues. I tried to keep my spirits up as the bus took us to Old Town. My socks were sopping wet within a couple minutes of walking around, and the wind rendered my umbrella useless. I began to feel like the whole trip was going to be miserable, so I headed straight for the hostel.

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