Self Realizations From Living Abroad: I’m A Tourist

This guest blog is by Ava Apollo. When she’s not writing for MSW, she’s blogging about adventure travel at

For the previous post in this series, click here.

Winter was an exciting time in Taipei for a few reasons; it was nearly time for lunar new year, it was too cold for mosquitoes to keep tormenting me, and lastly, my family was coming to visit and take me on a little trip around Taiwan! To say I was beyond thrilled would be an understatement.

So, in came the mother and the brother and out went the homesickness I had been feeling.  First, we took the famous high-speed train to Sun Moon Lake, one of the prettiest lakes I’ve ever had the pleasure of hiking around.  It was like the stereotypical “Asian” lake in Hollywood movies, complete with misty mountains and golden and red pagodas.

It really exists, you guys.
After that, we hopped on a bus tour of the rest of the Island.  One of the stops was a tea house where I drank my own weight in oolong cha to subdue my appetite after realizing that the “dumplings” were crab, the “noodles” were still moving, and another dish appeared to still have eyes.  My mother and I sat there perturbed while my brother (only 11 at the time) kept picking up things like squid tentacles with his chopsticks and saying “will you give me $100 if I eat it?!” to which my mom typically said yes, given that it only equated to USD$3 and she wanted to encourage this intrepidness she and I both clearly lacked.

But then he realized he could keep doing it.

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After being told to make SURE we had used the restroom, we hopped back on the bus and, of course, I had just drank a good gallon of liquid, and we had a few hours left to go.  The tour guide was asleep in the front of the bus, and I froze with fear.  Knowing that nobody could be mad at a little boy, I turned to my brother and asked him to pretend like he was the one who needed to pee, and could he ask that we please stop the bus?

A devilish grin came across his face.

“Sure, I’ll do it for $300,” he ventured.
“You little twerp” I retorted.
“OK, fine then YOU ask him,”
“Nooo I don’t want to! What about $100? Please? For your big sister?”

After some back and forth, it became clear that the going rate was a firm $300.  I don’t think I’ve ever taken a more expensive piss in my life, pardon my French.

But I have to say, he was a good actor.  He scurried off the bus as soon as we stopped and I, being his big sister, had to non-chalantly saunter after him, you know, to make sure he made it back on the bus alright and didn’t make any wrong turns.

At the end of the evening we made our way to Hualien  where the sidewalks are paved in marble (for real).  The next day’s activity was a tour around Taroko Gorge, where we experienced the hanging bridge:

It be hangin'

The Eternal Spring Shrine:


The tunnel of 9 turns:

That's a lot of turns

And thanked my lucky stars we didn’t tackle this via scooter (you may recall, I consider scooters to be chariots of doom) like many do.

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It was simply Gorgeous (I know, I know, there I go with the puns again).

It was enlightening to finally understand Taiwan as a beautiful country that was worth touring.  So often when speaking with my friends back home, we would say things like “I’m dying to go to Thailand,” or “I want to study abroad in Amsterdam,” but nobody ever said “I’d really like to take a tour of Taiwan, I heard it’s lovely this time of year!”

I have to admit, had I not been taught Mandarin by Taiwanese teachers at my university, I might never have even considered living in Taiwan myself.  I had no idea what it would be like.  I thought of it as a poor, barren wasteland where all of my plastic belongings came from.  I could have never expected to see Fendi stores throughout Taipei, marble gorges in central Taiwan, nor gorgeous beaches in the south of the island.

Finally, the term “formosa,” (“beautiful,” in English) coined by Portuguese explorers in the 16th century, made sense to me.  This island was indeed formosa, and without coming here to see it myself I would never have known it.

Nor would my mother and brother.

My brother would also be $10 poorer, so there’s a perk.

Self realization after month 5: It’s fun to be a tourist at home.

For the next blog in this series, click here!

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6 thoughts on “Self Realizations From Living Abroad: I’m A Tourist

    Alex Berger

    (June 23, 2011 - 5:53 am)

    Beautiful photos!


      (July 6, 2011 - 12:25 am)

      Thanks! I wish I could say I took them, but even these don’t do justice to the natural beauty!


    (June 23, 2011 - 6:21 pm)

    I find the tunnel of the 9 turns very appealing. That photograph is one which has me wanting to visit.
    My realisation was also that I am a tourist after living in Chamonix for five months. But also that lots of people dream of changing the world,then came to the shocking realisation that I was changing the world. For the worse, through my carbon footprint!


      (July 6, 2011 - 12:25 am)

      That’s true, it’s hard to realize you can’t always make a change, but I think realizing it is half the battle. Hopefully you’re finding ways to reduce your footprint!


    (July 1, 2011 - 7:15 pm)

    Great article, outstanding photos really beautiful. Stella Sage and Bella Blue? Are they stage names? You did say California didn’t you Ava?


      (July 6, 2011 - 10:29 pm)

      Stage names? Absolutely not! I’m also a shadow perpetually brandishing a whip with “SB” in purple emblazoned on my chest. This life chose me, AJ, this life chose me.

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