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…

 

 

 

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Interview: Darcy Shillingford

Interview with the amazingly well-traveled Darcy Shillingford, Canadian novelist and blogger for the travel site travelingspaceopera.com

 

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Pic info: “just as I was about to hop on a bus, leaving Cabanaconde to head to Arequipa, then eventually Cuzco. Caesar, who I’m pictured with, was our host in Cabanaconde.”

 

What is your writing process like?

It varies depending on the kind of writing I’m doing. With my travel blog posts, I try to put myself in a relaxed, informal state of mind. I give myself freedom to let my stream of consciousness flow, while trying to maintain some kind of structure and thematic consistency. Imagery is important to me, and despite the fact that I can throw in as many pictures as I want, my goal is for my writing to be able to evoke colourful detail with or without them. I want the reader to feel like they’re walking alongside with me.

As far as fiction goes, I can’t force creativity. I can sit there looking at a blank page or computer screen for a long time and nothing comes to mind. Other times, I’ve been lying in bed at two in the morning and suddenly think of an idea concept that I have to write down and develop a little bit before I can go to sleep. When I’m on a role, though, I try to let it snowball and see how far I can take it. The only fiction I’ve put a lot of effort into is in the sci-fi genre, and I try to write what I would want to read if I were to pick it up myself.

 

How do you compare travel writing with fiction writing?

For me, fiction writing has been far more time consuming. In addition to creating a plot, out-of-this-world (literally) settings, characters, and so forth, there is a great deal of research involved due to the genre choice. I’m no scientist, but I do take advantage of the relatively unlimited academic resources at my disposal and have put in countless hours researching elements of astrophysics, the gathering and employment of military intelligence, planetary and solar physics, religious and political history at a global level, various elements of the social sciences, philosophy, and so forth.

 

What gives you inspiration for fiction?

It depends on what aspect. I get inspiration for characters from my daily interactions with all kinds of people. I work at a restaurant and meet dozens of people a day. Also, the people I’ve met traveling are so varied and interesting that I can’t help but be inspired by them. When it comes to plot, I’m inspired by my education, particularly in the realm of history and politics. I like grand, I like big, I like epic, but I also like obscure. Random bits of military or colonial history that were glossed over in school, or missed altogether, fascinate me.

 

What are your favorite books?

Use of Weapons and Feersum Enjinn, both by the late Scottish author Iain M. Banks are certainly in my top five. I also appreciate classic or golden-era sci-fi, but I also think some of the classics haven’t aged well, particularly in regards to their social commentary. I also grew up loving the Harry Potter series. Stephen King is awesome as well; very psychologically immersive and vivid.

 

Why did you choose to spend your time in 2013 traveling in Southeast Asia?

I simply had to. I was at a point in my life where I’d recently graduated from university and didn’t quite know what I wanted to do with my life. My girlfriend and I had done some all-inclusives, but had also discussed doing some “real” travel. What began as an idea for a month or two in South America turned into half a year in Southeast Asia. When I look at a picture of the two of us at a wedding a couple days before we left for this trip, I get jealous of that guy. He has the best adventure of life just on the horizon.

 

Is it difficult to write about your experiences going back two years? Did you keep journals at the time or anything like that to help you to write about it now?

I did keep journals, but I rarely need to refer to them. I usually only look at them to remember the name of a person I met along the way. Having taken a couple thousand pictures makes it fairly easy to track everything we did, but every so often, a detail or nuance will creep into my memory that I hadn’t thought of since it happened.

 

You most recently traveled in South America, correct? What cultural differences have you come across that contrast with the Southeast Asian experience?

I actually wrapped up the Peru trip in mid-April. We were there for 18 days. The first thing I took into account were the similarities with Asia: the scorching heat, the abundance of cheap stall food, the hokey tourist areas where local merchants spout silly lines to travelers in order to charm them into overpaying for whatever product or service. All great stuff, in my opinion. The thing with Southeast Asia is that I visited seven countries so there are dozens of differences even between those countries. I found, though, that the food in Peru is a lot heavier and starchier. Also, the weather was far more erratic, perhaps because we spent much of the journey either in the Andes or the Amazon Jungle.

 

Which country or countries (Southeast Asian and/or South American) gives you the most inspiration?

Vietnam may have been the most inspiring, but as I’ve written in the past, I have a heavy bias. My girlfriend, Teresa, was born in Canada but her parents are from Vietnam and she speaks, reads, and writes it fluently. This had a vast impact on our experience there when it came to interacting with the locals and we really got to know people there more than anywhere else we’ve ever traveled. Also, Vietnam has a great deal of variety (accents, landscapes, cuisine) and its geographical makeup made it really easy to travel in a fairly straight line without missing too much along the way.

 

Do you prefer the bustle of developing cities or the splendor of natural, untouched-by-man places? Continue reading