Taiwan bloggers 1: Marisol of getupandgetlost.com!

 

In my latest interview series, I’d like to introduce Taiwan-based bloggers. Since coming here, I’ve already met many promising writers and it is my pleasure to share some of the greats I have come across.

Marisol is a Canadian who runs getupandgetlost.com, a blog about travel and her unique take on raising a family while living abroad. Check out the post Camping at Wuling Farm for a good example…

She even happens to live in the same region of the ROC as myself, Hsinchu.

Well, she can introduce herself best in her own words. Interview begins here: 

 

First off, how would you best introduce your website?

My blog getupandgetlost.com is about our life as a travelling family, currently based out of Taiwan. It’s about our family experiences here as we navigate this new culture and discover the beauty of this diverse country. It’s about the ups and downs and funnies of everyday life for us. It’s also veering towards becoming a guide for other families wanting to live or travel in Taiwan.

 

What originally brought you to Taiwan?

The answer to that is more complicated than one might expect. The simple answer is that my husband accepted a position as a high school math and art teacher in Taiwan. It was in our plans for a long time that after baby number three, that we would embark on a yearlong adventure abroad. In Canada, one parent receives a maternity/parental leave salary for the first year after the birth of a child. This factored greatly into our timing. We chose Taiwan, in part because of it’s proximity to Beijing. Our oldest child is my husband’s daughter from his previous marriage. My husband’s ex wife was eager to move to Beijing, but we were no so inclined. Taiwan’s proximity to Beijing means that our daughter can live with one family while still visiting the other family frequently.

 

You write about raising a family while living in Taiwan, how would you rate the country when it comes to kids and families?

From this expat’s point of view, I would probably give it an overall pretty good or 7/10. For us, we don’t speak Mandarin, and we have found it very hard to find things to do for our kids. Luckily, I made local friends soon after our arrival here, so they have helped me navigate the language barrier.SAFETY: For the most part, Taiwan feels very safe. I send my 10-year old to run errands for me in the community. I don’t have to worry about my kids walking on drug needles at the park. Community members generally keep an eye out on each other’s children. Streets safety is basically our only issue here. Cars and scooters are not very pedestrian friendly.

COMMUNITY: If you put some effort into connecting with people here, both locals and expats, you will become part of a great community. People here are very welcoming and supportive of each other. From my experience, the locals are incredibly kind to foreigners.

MEDICAL: The medical system here is efficient and inexpensive, but it feels very transactional. You can easily access things here that would take months to access back home, such as an MRI. From our experience, however, we find most clinics to be very busy, and doctors tend to treat the symptoms first (and quickly! – five minutes would be a long visit), rather than look for the root of the problem.

EDUCATION: I think education varies from city to city, and I don’t know enough yet to really comment much on it. It seems like many schools here are very focused on rote learning. Outdoors time, brain breaks, inquiry-based learning, and other current trends of learning are less common here. I have seen some schools, however, that are implementing very impressive and contemporary methods of learning.

AMENITIES: These seem far and few between. As an expat parent who doesn’t speak Mandarin, it’s been tough to find kid-centric centres that are free or low cost. I’ve found one free government run play centre for kids in my city. Pools, for the most part (in my city at least) are very dull and not that exciting for kids. I feel like there are pockets of great things for kids to do, but it’s not consistent within cities or in the country. It would be great to see the government take a bigger initiative here.

OUTDOORS: Taiwan has amazing natural diversity. If you are committed to the outdoors, you can definitely go out and find things to do as a family. There are natural water holes and lovely walks. Again, as an expat, I often struggle to easily explore outdoors because I am simply not aware of where to go.

 

What are some of your favorite places you’ve been to in the world?

Ollantaytambo, Peru:
One of the favorite places I’ve been to was a small town in the Sacred Valley of Peru called Ollantaytambo. Our time there was very chilled out. The town is built on ruins, and there are hundreds of ruins surrounding it. It’s a great place to chill, hike, explore and enjoy work by local artisans.

British Columbia, Canada:
I may be biased, but my home province is such an amazing place! For anyone wanting to visit, you won’t go wrong visiting any one or more of the following places: Vancouver, Victoria, The Okanagan, The sunshine Coast, Tofino/Uclulet and the Rockies.

Avignon France:
This is just such a cool town. I lived there for a year during a university exchange. The old city is beautiful and the history is super cool.

 

What were some of your best experiences living in Taiwan?

The first would honestly have to be becoming part of my community. Most of my friends here are locals who live within a block of me. Connecting with locals and making friends has given me such an insight into the culture here. It’s been awesome! The second would be a 200-kilometer cycling trip we did along the East Coast. We tugged our two younger kids in the trailer and the older one rode her own bike. We joined another family and cycled from Hualien down to Taitung, camping along the way. It was amazing!

 

How would you compare life in Taiwan with Canada? 

DIFFERENT! Life here is less expensive than back home. We can kind of manage on one salary in Taiwan. In Canada this isn’t remotely possible. Life here is simpler and runs at a slower pace, or so it feels. Taiwanese people here are extremely friendly, more so than Canadians on the whole. I know there are different aboriginal groups in Taiwan as well as people who have immigrated here, yet I feel like in Taiwan, there is a firm cultural identity and set of rules or normative values which dictate how we behave towards one another. In Canada, it’s less set in stone as people have so many different beliefs and backgrounds. As a family, life is a bit harder for us, but that could be due to the language barrier. I feel like many families spend a lot of time inside. We struggle with this as we love to be outside with the kids, but the weather makes that challenging at times.

 

Would you recommend Taiwan more as a place to visit or a place to live?

It depends on your purpose I suppose. You could easily spend a week or two in Taipei, eating great food, strolling the streets and exploring the nearby hikes and hot springs. I think you would come out of that having had a meaningful trip. That said, Taiwan is so diverse and the people so kind and interesting… I really believe that you only truly experience and understand this when you’ve lived in Taiwan (or maybe slow traveled).

 

Do you think you will be inspired by travel writing in Taiwan for the long-term?

I’m inspired by the humanity I encounter as I travel and meet people. I’m also inspired by the resilience that I see in my family – especially my children – as we travel and discover the world.
My husband’s contract is for two years and we’ve just started year two. We’re still not sure of what’s to come. 

 

Lastly, do you have any advice for other travel writers passing through Asia/Taiwan?

I can only really speak to Taiwan, but I would advise: 1.) Learn as much Mandarin as possible, starting with numbers (buying things). 2.) Get to know the locals. This is how you truly get to know Taiwan. When a stranger starts to talk to you, engage with them for a few minutes. Taiwan is very much about who you know. Connections get you very far here!
 

 

Thanks, Marisol! Look forward to reading more of your adventures in the future…

 

 

 

Advertisements

Brief update: Hsinchu, Taiwan

Suffice it to say that I have been busy lately.

But not too busy to write a brief update on Week One of my new Taiwan life…

First of all, I cannot stress enough how much work it is to move. Moving indeed sucks But it’s a necessary part of life sometimes. All in all the move wasn’t that bad; it was the normal amount of sucking that one would expect when moving to a nearby country-not-country but still basically a totally different country.

In the weeks before leaving Shenzhen, much of my time was spent asking local convenience stores to donate me cardboard boxes so I could pack up everything. Eventually, I got about twenty boxes to stock up my books and clothes and boardgames and books and toys and comics and even some pillows/blankets but mostly books.

It was a highly heavy process.

On the second to last day, a local shipping company came by to take all the stuff. Later, they got back to me and said that it all weighed 266 kilograms.

It was a pretty good deal at 17 RMB per kilogram. If anyone is moving out from Shenzhen, I can happily connect you to these fine people. No they are not paying me to say that.

However, that was not the end. Still didn’t include my giant suitcase which I filled to the absolute brim. Plus there was my giant backpacker backpack, which they really shouldn’t have let me use as a carry-on for the flight.

Anyway soon came the last day, and Bronwen and I took a ferry from the new Shekou pier in Shenzhen and were off the Hong Kong airport. Thank goodness for those trolley things or I likely would no longer have a working spine.

The flight was only one and a half hours. Recommended as well.

Luckily, we got a driver at Taoyuan Airport out of Taipei, and were driven to Zhubei city which is in Hsinchu county. It’s not far from Taipei, and there’s a high-speed train for quick access, so though I am not a Taipei-er for now TPE will still be my airport of choice…

The next few days consisted of much shopping and organizing of the household and generally exploring the town. I have so far concluded that I like this place and I am happy to live here. The next on my checklist is a bicycle with which to further explore and get around.

Finally, several days later the packages arrived. Then more work.

Some books and stuff

 

Things seem to be stabilizing now. I plan to continue to keep myself busy here, and hope to achieve many a goal in the coming Taiwan-based years. Home is lovely, and I must admit I am feeling somewhat optimistic. Which is a rare feeling for me.

What the hell, I wholeheartedly and happily announce that I am into living here 😊

 

Well, wish me luck and please come visit anytime! (Americans note: You do not even need a visa in Taiwan)

 

 

And so now I conclude this brief update blog with a quick tour of the place:

Come visit! I has home. #homesweethome

A post shared by Ray (@raelianautopsy) on

Announcement! #Taiwan

Here it is, what you’ve all been waiting for, my announcement:

As some of you know–and some of you don’t–after a whopping eight years in China, I am finally moving out of Shenzhen… I will soon be living in Taiwan, which is sorta China but like a different kind of China.

#台湾 ✈

A post shared by Ray (@raelianautopsy) on

 

I am excited about this move. To be honest, I like the People’s Republic of China in many respects but I have always thought I should move on one day. The human rights issues and internet censorship for example have gotten worse of late.

I always thought I would end up in Hong Kong, but after visiting Taipei last year my girlfriend and I have given much thought to Taiwan. I think it will suit me better. While Hong Kong has a lot of English-langue publishing to be sure, the stressful workaholic lifestyle just isn’t for me. There is a bit less money to be made in the R.O.C. (Republic of China), but I absolutely love the chill atmosphere. Also, they speak Mandarin. Also, there is a thriving art scene. Also, culturally it’s a mix of Japan and China but less crowded. What more could I ask for?

Now I just gotta brush up on my traditional characters.

On July 31st, the last day of the month, Bronwen and I will be living in Zhubei within Hsinchu Country out of Taipei. That’s where the jobs were. So I visited last week to secure an apartment and explore, and while I hope to end up in Taipei eventually I’m happy to be in the Hsinchu area for the time being. Lovely place.

I must say I am liking this city of #Hsinchu

A post shared by Ray (@raelianautopsy) on

 

I will surely miss Shenzhen. I still say it’s the best city in mainland China, and perhaps I’ll visit from time to time. No other city has given me so much and I will always treasure the memories. So personal struggles and accomplishments in this city. One might say it’s where I ultimately grew up into real adulthood. One doesn’t have to say that, but one could say that if one was so inclined.

It’s been a lot of work moving. Apparently I own a bit too many heavy books. There were several a terrible choice in throwing away clothes and shelved toys, deciding who will get discarded and who will get to come, and then boxing away the rest. Today, the moving company picked up all this stuff and now my apartment is very empty.

#Moving!

A post shared by Ray (@raelianautopsy) on

 

And that’s about it for my life in Shenzhen. This past month I had a great going away party, some last-minute meetups with friends at book exchanges and improv nights and Hong Kong pubs, and I am ready to move on the next phase of Life Ray. Meeting the landlord on Sunday and flying one-way on Monday.

Wish me luck!

Lastly, please more people come visit me because it’s a great advantage that now there’s no need for a visa for all my American friends (and most other countries, except for South Africa but that’s a whole other conversation but at least it’s easier than China). Just come visit.

Well, look forward to more political posts about Taiwan and soonish–