After attaining a cell phone with Internet and using the MRT for the first time, I was scheduled to meet my penpal, Abbie, for our trip to the National Palace Museum and Tamsui. As a bonus, we were going to Shilin Night Market later.

I was looking forward to having a guide to accompany me on my travels because I was still unaccustomed to the transportation, food, and whereabouts. I had no idea which MRT lines went where and how the bus routes worked. Luckily, I was not alone that day.

After grabbing sandwiches at a popular breakfast shop, Abbie and I set off to the National Palace Museum. As soon as I laid eyes on the grandiose structure, inspiration soared within me.

The National Palace Museum housed all manner of artifacts, jewelry, mirrors, jade, and exquisite paintings. The museum was especially crowded as there were many ongoing tours. Abbie and I wandered from one gallery to the next to view cauldrons, figurines, bi discs, and the famous Jadeite Cabbage. I saw a jade bangle featuring brilliant green, white, and orange that surely would cost millions.

I also saw an interesting cauldron carved with the likeness of dragons and deer. I'm told the museum has numerous artifacts from China. Not all of the items are currently on display so they are rotated eventually. There was also a digital gallery with interactive art. There was a touch screen table with a painting and a carved peacock that radiated with an intensity of colors.

Abbie and I stopped at the souvenir shop before we left, where I purchased some postcards modeled after the Chinese painting "Dwelling in the Fuchung Mountains."

After exploring the galleries for a few hours, our voyage took us to the seaside district of Tamsui. Abbie told me it looks funny when I make the peace sign in my photos so the heavy metal "devil's horns" replaced it hereon.

We stopped by the food stalls, where I had my first encounter with "stinky tofu." I knew it was popular in Taiwan and I vowed to try it, but I was not prepared. You can smell stinky tofu before you see it. I could only take two bites before I felt sick and gave up. I'll try it again one day but tofu in general has a weird texture. I tried caramelized fruits (pictured above), which tasted better. Alas, I was not able to try iron eggs. Sorry, Rachel.

I also tried some deep-fried squid, which tasted like chicken.

Abbie and I browsed a few souvenir shops, where I bought some dragon claws for Hassan. I tried my hand at shooting pellets at balloons. Video games prepared me well, as I hit all but one balloon and won some prizes.

Back in the traditional markets, we stopped at a shop that sold soaps and shampoos. I bought some scented oil there called "Purify." I bought a few more baubles, including some lantern keychains, before we visited a local temple.

The stroll along the seaside brought me a sense of peace that is indescribable. Looking at the architecture and immersing myself in the culture was an otherworldly experience. My gaze would often stray to the landmass across the Tamsui River as I wondered what awaited me there. We could have booked a ferry to take us across, but we were intent on catching the sunset.

It was certainly worth it. I sat at the edge while the tide lapped hungrily below and spirited me away to another place. The sun set over the ocean as Abbie and I discussed the differences between Taiwan and America.

Tamsui is one of my favorite places in Taipei. The festive atmosphere, ocean scenery, and fond memories are imprinted on my soul already.

Only a few days ago did I return from my journey to Taiwan. It has left an impression on my soul that I am still trying to understand. There is such rich beauty everywhere I look, whether I am ascending a mountain trail, strolling through Taipei at night, or meandering through a park bedizened with statues and memorials.

I only stayed there for two weeks but I feel as though I have left a part of myself there. My journey took me to night markets, Tamsui, the Lin Gardens, Beitou hot springs, Elephant Mountain, Yangmingshan, aboriginal villages, anime exhibits, waterfalls, the bizarre Yehliu beach, Keelung port harbors, and the enchanting village of Jiufen.

Tamsui

Lin Family Gardens

My journey to Taiwan also marks my first international trip--one also I ended up taking by myself! I was originally planning on going with my sister or brother-in-law, but as fate would have it, I undertook this journey by myself.

My midnight arrival in Taipei was quite jarring. I didn't have internet on my phone and I was trying to figure out which bus route would take me the nearest to my hostel. I wandered the streets and used the maps at bus stops to find Hankou Street, which would supposedly lead to my hostel. I finally found it by 1am and slept for the first time in probably 48 hours. Indeed, I didn't sleep the night prior to my flight. Not a wise decision.

Longshan Temple

Snake Alley
View from Taipei 101

The people are truly hospitable in Taiwan. I was amazed that I had a positive interaction with a stranger almost every day. The people I came across were nothing but gracious to me. A few students (I presume) once approached me at Tamsui and asked to draw my portrait, which was a fun experience. I met my penpals in Taiwan, who were all too happy to guide me to different destinations and assist me with my questions about the MRT system, basic Mandarin, and bus routes.

Elephant Mountain

One of my favorite destinations was the Elephant Mountain Hiking Trail, pictured above. It felt ancient and otherworldly to me as I traversed those steps and forest routes for a few hours. Looking down at Taipei from the ledges and balconies was awe-inspiring. It is a feeling that has never touched my soul before when I looked upon a place. There is a sense of feeling alone on this trail, but it isn't a lonely emotion. It feels as though you are the only one walking through the forests and admiring the plentiful nature and sculpted rocks. The city felt as though it was leagues behind me. I should like to return and view the city at night, alit in all of its vivid glory. I shall add more blog entries detailing my trip to Taiwan and the various destinations, what I liked and disliked, the food, and the many instances that Google maps saved my life.

Zàijiàn.

I suppose I feel content with where my life is at for the moment. Though I do feel restless on certain days and longing for something that seems to be lacking from my life, I feel calm. I am in good health, I have a plan for my education, and I have goals that I will surely attain.

It still does not entirely diminish the feeling that I lack something, however. I'm not sure anymore what will fill the void inside. Perhaps it is that sense that I want to start my life anew somewhere else. I plan on vacationing in Taiwan this December for two weeks, which I'm thrilled about. If this is where I will live a few years from now, I look forward to soaking up every detail. I want to feel immersed in another culture and way of life.

I'm still learning basic Mandarin Chinese. Hopefully I can take a course in it by next fall. In addtion to volunteering, working, and studying, I should have more than enough to keep my thoughts occupied. Hopefully it will erase this sense of feeling unwhole.

I hope I find whatever will erase this feeling, be it days from now or years. I have much to think over regarding the future.