29 Oct 2018

How I Ended up in Taiwan

A story about opportunity

Opportunity is a funny thing. It’s elusive, startling, and sometimes only makes sense in hindsight as it constantly lurks in our every-day lives. How many times have we heard in our lives the following phrase: “X amount of time ago, I would never have imagined I would be doing Y”? Why is it so random and unexpected? Why does opportunity take whatever shape it wants when it enters our lives, and it’s our responsibility to both recognize and seize it for what it is? How exactly does something fall into one’s lap without at least some guidance? I certainly don’t have the answers, but recently, I was confronted with yet another demonstration of opportunity’s aforementioned persona. This time, for some reason, it looked like a typhoon, took place in Taiwan, and was done on a bicycle.

I had sent my resume and an application to go on a cycling trip to Taiwan sponsored by the Taiwanese Tourism Bureau in late 2017. Word of the opportunity had trickled its way through to me through friends, which had been trickled to them through other friends. It seemed fun, exciting, random, scary, and not at all achievable by me - even in my wildest dreams.

After being rejected after sending in my application, an application which I admittedly did not invest a large portion of my mind or soul into, I wasn’t bothered. I actually felt relieved. Rejection meant that I didn’t have to stress over a million useless what-if scenarios of this opportunity and slid back into the familiar comfort of school and my own bed.

In my own head, I talk big of adventure. I dream of sailing the world, performing at music festivals, earning lots of money developing software that helps life in every corner of the planet, travelling just to capture the magic of the places I’ve been to so far, and dreaming of the places I have yet to see. These dreams are ironically met with irrational anxiety about travel, and leaving the comfort of my every-day life. It’s really an ironic battle at its best, and a melancholic story at its worst. Either way, this irrational anxiety is most certainly a first-world problem. How lucky am I to have the opportunity to travel in the first place, and how privileged am I to choose when, where, and how? That’s a rhetorical question. I’m obviously insanely lucky and privileged to have a home so comfortable and safe feeling that I hardly want to leave it… Not to mention the inherent safety of existing as a white-cis-hetero male.

Nevertheless, you can probably imagine the panic, thrill, and excitement when I received an email from the Taiwanese Tourism Bureau last August asking if I would like to participate in the 2018 cycling trip. This time I knew the immensity of this opportunity I was given even though I may sometimes have a love-hate relationship with adventure and comfort. So I took both of my hands, ignored the noisy parts of my brain magnifying my worst fears, and seized it.

What I didn’t expect was to what extend those noisy parts of my brain would test me. Before leaving, I knew absolutely nothing about Taiwan, so I did my due-diligence, saw a travel doctor, developed a loose back-up plan, and read government advisories.

Taiwan is a developed country in the heart of Asia. Everyone I had spoken to that had been said it is a great place, they loved their time there, and the people were warm and welcoming. Before the trip, I had no doubt that this would also be my experience. And for the moment, I had won the battle and knew that Taiwan was a great place to be.

The day before the trip, I checked in on the Canadian government travel advisories, not expecting to see any changes or updates - but this is where it gets interesting. If you’ve been able to empathize with my anxiety so far, just imagine the racket it caused after reading from the Canadian government that there was a category 4/5 typhoon that had just demolished Tinian and Saipan and had been forecast to impact the areas of Taiwan which I would be spending most of my time.

It was so startling that I considered cancelling the trip, but after slow and rational thoughts, I ended up going for it not sure of what to expect on the other side, but confident that I would be safe - or at least find a way to remain safe. This was my way of staring opportunity dead in the face - trying not to flinch. Fortunately, I landed well before the typhoon was even close - but it was getting nearer which large uncertainties on where it might end up. This photo is from my first day. The sun was shining, the typhoon was momentarily out of my mind, and I felt safe, comfortable, and completely cared for by the group I was travelling with.

So that’s how I ended up in Taiwan. The next few days were interesting to say the least. We certainly still felt the force of the typhoon, but I’ll save that for another post.