I landed in Newark airport last Thursday evening and I was welcomed by the frigid embrace of winter. Feeling the cold winter air all over my face and body reminded me of my time living in Brussels which brought a warm smile to my face… “Good times”, I thought to myself. After a couple of minutes of wandering around, I managed to find my friend , Felicia, and we headed to her place. Our itinerary was light on Friday since she had to work during the day, so we just decided to crab dinner with another friend at a banging Cuban restaurant. After dinner, we went to a nearby coffee shop and listened to a group of musician play Jazz. We ended up staying there for almost two hours before calling it a night.
I spent my last day in Taipei exploring the city and shopping for some gift. After going to back to my hostel to grab my luggage and to change, I headed to the airport. Unfortunately, I got miserably lost at Taipei Station and ended up missing my train and my flight. Luckily a very kind Taiwanese man who spoke English helped me get in contact with an agent from my airline company. He reassured me that I could still catch my flight back to the USA in Manila (Philippines) via another flight that was leaving Taipei later that evening. Long story short, I made it to Manila in one piece and I was able to get to catch my flight back to the USA.
My stay in Taiwan was a bit overwhelming mainly because I didn’t know the language and much about the culture. However, I am glad I went because it was a wonderful experience! I met so many wonderful people and learned so much about myself! Next time I go, I will make sure to go with someone who speaks Chinese fluently and who knows all the cool spots because I feel like there is more to be discovered.
I did a lot of exploring on my second day in Taipei with some of the guests from my hostel (one of them was one of my roommates). We weren’t supposed to hang out together but we ended up running into each other at a market near the hostel. I was super glad to see them because I was having the hardest time finding my way around and communicating with people (the little bit of Chinese I learned for a semester was no where to be found).
We ended up having breakfast together and exploring the city. We went to Ximending (a popular shopping district), Bopiliao street (known for its ancient architecture) and had lunch together. After that we parted ways for the day and I went to Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall. There, I met a Korean tourist who was super sweet and we ended up doing a bit of sightseeing together. We had tea together and we chatted for a while. Later I went back to my hostel to get ready to meet some of my friends who live in Taipei. Once I met them, we ended up having dinner together and we had a great time.
I arrived in Taipei in the evening after a two hours layover in Shanghai. After purchasing my bus ticket, I headed outside. The bus didn’t take long to come which was a relief because the air was super humid and muggy. Despite enjoying the pleasant bus ride, I couldn’t help but to feel overwhelmed because I started to realize that I wasn’t prepared to be alone in Taiwan; I had forgotten all the Chinese I learned for a semester (expect for a few greeting phrases) and I wasn’t very familiar with the culture.
My fears were confirmed when I was at the subway station trying to get to my hostel. It took me a while to find the correct subway platform because I kept getting lost. Once I made it to the correct platform, I was having trouble buying a ticket from the ticket machine (it wouldn’t take my money for some reason) and I started freaking out because the machine was now only speaking in Chinese and there was a line of people behind me! Thankfully, a young girl came to my rescue and explained that I need to use coins instead of bills (we mainly communicated by pointing at things). Before she left, she suggested that I go see the clerk at the ticket booth, which I did.
I spent most of my fourth day in Seoul exploring the city. I went to Buchon Hanok Village where I took a tone of pictures and met some lovely people (Koreans, Chinese, French, and Malaysians). After resting for 30 minutes at a cute coffee shop, I made my way to Seoul Museum of Art. I was so exhausted from the heat and the walking I did earlier that I didn’t even look at the exhibits. I just sat in the “rest area” and skyped a friend.
After an hour of talking and resting, I went back to the university district (idae/이대) because I really wanted to see and take pictures of Yonsei University. Getting to Yonsei took longer than I expected because I kept getting lost but I was able to find it with the help of some nice locals. The campus was so pretty and I wish I had more time to explore it but I had to leave because I was meeting Hailey (my friend who came to pick me up at the airport) in Hongdae. Once I met Hailey, we walked around Hongdae for a while and then we decided to grab a bite at a popular restaurant that served western style foods. Later we went to a coffee shop that recently opened in Hongdae called You Are Here Cafe, by Eatyourkimchi and talktomeinkorean (youtubers). After enjoying some yummy macarons and a lovely conversation, we headed home.
On my third day in Seoul, Esra (my roommate from Turkey) and I spent the morning shopping for gifts in Namdaemun Market. I wanted to buy so many things but I had to stick to my budget because I wasn’t planning on being broke in Taiwan and I didn’t have much space left in my carry-on luggage. After a brief stop at the market’s “food court” for about half an hour, Esra and I split up for the day; she continue shopping while I went back to Namsan Park to visit the Hanok village since I didn’t get to go last time.
At the Park, I met a French family of Guadeloupian origin and we had a pleasant conversation (in French). They told me that they were visiting from Paris and that they’re having a good time in Korea. They were a bit confused about me speaking French since I told them that I was visiting Korea from the US. I told them that I was born in the Congo and lived in Belgium for 5 years (French is spoken in both countries) and this seemed to have answered their question.
On my second day in Seoul one of my roommates (Esra from Turkey) and I decided to go to Namsan Park to see Seoul Tower. I was very happy to go sightseeing with her because she was a great navigator and taught me how not to get lost on the subway.
It was so nice walking around and taking the subway while doing some people watch. I was specially mesmerized by the lovely fashion depicted by many young Koreans, I couldn’t help but stare away. I’ve always been a fan of Korean fashion but seeing it “live,” so to speak, was pretty nice and I kept thinking that I wish I could have brought a bigger luggage so that I could do some major shopping. After about 20 minutes of riding on the subway we made it to Namsan Park. We could see the top of Seoul Tower from the Park and we thought that it was close enough for us to walk there but we were greatly mistaken!!