June 2015, National Chiao Tung University, Taiwan.
We started of from Taipei at a Saturday morning, squeezing ourselves onto a bus and joining the big crowd leaving the Taiwanese capital. The weather was good, almost too good, and everyone wanted to enjoy a nice day away from the city.
As soon as we got of the bus we found this volcanic area. The smell of sulfur was really strong and not too nice, but I loved the view. I am not sure if I have seen volcanic activity live before.
I realized that there was an excellent walking path starting from where we were standing, and I got excited for climbing up the mountain. That was when I realized that my travel mates never planned we would actually go hiking. After some discussion we decided to give the mountain a try, and after buying a couple liters of water and applying sun lotion we started the hike.
It was warm, just as warm as Taiwan can be on a sunny April day. The sunshine came right from over our heads and the low bushes around us did not provide any shade. One of the friend immediately opened his sun-umbrella, and I could not keep myself from laughing and making jokes.
As we kept on walking my skin became more and more burnt. Maybe it was stupid to only buy a cream with sun factor 15, but in Sweden I think that is enough for me. In Taiwan? I guess at least a 30 would be needed for me here!
The intense of the sunshine, the lack of protection for my sore skin and the very heat of the day – soon we were all hiding under the same umbrella. He who laughs last, laughs best – so much for my umbrella jokes!
We met two old ladies who were looking for herbs along the trail. They had easier taken a course in Chinese Medicine, and a guide had taken them here to find different medicinal plants. Now they came back trying to see how much they could remember. They talked happily to us and showed us some of the leaves next to where we were standing.
An Indian Forest Skink was enjoying some sunshine. As long as we only say skinks and not poisonous snakes, I was very happy.
The top of the Yangming Mountain was very busy. There was people everywhere, and the air was full of huge butterflies. We were trying to sit all of us under the umbrella and wondering how we could decide to go for such a long hike without bringing anything to eat.
Did you ever see a hostel in Taiwan?
No, I guess you didn’t. Because they are impossible to find! (Or because most of my readers are living overseas, haha)
Just as an example: look at this small place. At a street somewhere in Taipei our friends found this impossibly small door. The door lead up to a private staircase all the way to the second floor (or third if you count floors in Taiwanese way) where the small hostel was placed.
When trying to find the hostel I booked I mostly find myself walking around the streets , with a gp in hand, and still not finding the right place. Once I found that I passed right outside the door a couple of times already. Another time we came to a door with no name or number at all. Someone on the street told us to knock at it, and voila, it swung open and we found our place to stay. Why are the hostels in Taiwan always hidden in such a subtle way?
This spring we went to Keelung. Or Geelung, as I thought it was to be pronounced. Taiwan is so confusing: most of the cities have names that doesn’t help you to know how to actually say the name. Taipei is to be read as “Taibei”, Kaohsiung becomes “Gaoxiong”, and Hsinchu is actually Xinzhu. Now when reading Wikipedia I realize that the name of Keelung is actually to be read “Jīlóng“. Even though older written names like Chi-lung still seems to be around. Conclusion: Does writing Chinese with Latin alphabet really has to be this complex?
Keelung is a city on the north tip on Taiwan, a small distance from the city you can find Yehliu Geopark.
The Geopark of Yehliu is famous for stone formations. The geological conditions made the soft stones shaped by weather and wind, and looking like all kinds of funny figures. Above you can see the “tofu” stones, and below one of the higher structures.
The most famous (and crowded are) was at “the queens head”. Once upon the time the stone might have looked like a proud females head. But today the surface of the stone has lost so much the head is almost unrecognizable. Nature is creating it’s own live art, under constant reconstruction.
We did not really know where the path was taking us, we just kept walking higher and more far away. But when we reached the end point it was like someone had planned it perfectly for us: we got to a small pavilion just to enjoy a dramatic sunset. Can you see the man finishing on (the second picture) below?
Landing in Sweden felt like entering into a memory or a dream. Is this real, is it really happening? Was this here all this time when I was away? Everything looks the same, nothing here is unexpected or hard for me to grasp. I make my way through my life here within the safe path of habits and I’ve done this before. And yet my eyes are so sensitive to everything I see, and my skin shivers at the slightest touch of cold wind.
I was away from Sweden for a long time before. It was two years ago, and coming back to Europe again was a disastrous feeling of confusion and hopelessness.
This time coming home was easier. No life-changing moments. No feeling of turning myself inside out or upside down. I was even mentally prepared for moving from a tiny dorm room – into the lifestyle of plenty that I grew up in.
I was in Sweden for less than 24 hours, enough time to get a good nights sleep and some great Swedish meals, before my parents announced it was time to go travelling. The weather was finally becoming warm. And during summer in Sweden we have a golden rule: never waste good weather! You never know when it will get cold again.
One of the most famous songs of this country goes something like “Summer is short, most of the time it is raining. But now when it’s here: enjoy. Fall will be here soon. Maybe it’s only sunny today.” Encouraging, isn’t it?
So instead of sitting home waiting for the jet lag to pass, I was taken to sit on a boat, and wait for my body to get used to the new conditions.
I must say that Sweden is amazing. What kind of place is this, really? The air is so clean, the towns so quiet. If you wanted you could drink the water even in the muddy lake of my hometown. (Some other parts of lake Mälaren is quite clear, but right outside Västerås the water is really brown)
But one unexpected thing got me annoyed: the daylight. Hey, it’s ten pm, I have a jet lag, and I desperately want to sleep. How come the sun is still up? And how is it even possible to walk in a forest at 11 pm without any need for artificial light? (The two pictures below)
My body got used to the regular early sunsets in Taiwan. That’s the issue here in Sweden. The summer nights are impossibly long and fantastic, and winter nights are impossibly dark and … less mind-blowing. We have a”uneven distribution of sunlight” as an engineering friend so beautifully described it.
The small towns. The overly cute and petite little towns of Sweden. Like miniature worlds, complete with pizzerias and stone churches. This is taken in the town of Strängnäs. But after the hustle and bustle of Taiwanese cities even my town Västerås feels very small.
Yes, I guess to. I could fancy living almost anywhere.
In the end of the day: Sweden is not really home. I love Sweden. If anywhere is home, it would be here. But I am not thinking we are supposed to get overly attached to our lives.
I imagine life as a long journey towards the real heavenly home waiting for us. What is around is now, is just for now. It is all just passing by. Only the final destination will remain constant.