It was a surprise the other day, when my roommate asked for some advice while fiddling around with her seating options on her return flight from Taiwan. I obviously knew that my time here would soon be ending, but there was something about the stress of travel logistics that really drove home the idea that I would soon be leaving, that in 10 days, I would simply be gone.
That logistical stress has, in turn, triggered a daily stress of wondering whether I am making good use of my last days here. Admittedly, it is hard to justify sitting inside and writing a final paper when the whole of Taiwan exists literally right outside the door. But this stress has also ushered in something somewhat less annoying but equally involved: reflection.
A view of the outskirts of Taipei while riding a gondola up to the tea fields of Maokong.
As troublesome and prolonged as reflection usually tends to be, I believe that I have come to a few conclusions about my time spent here. Specifically, what has been the greatest gift of studying abroad: the ability to approach the mundane with wonder.
Living an everyday normal life has an annoying habit of dulling my joy in the world. I would not say that I live a boring life exactly, but there are few things pleasingly peculiar about a daily routine. Studying abroad here in Taiwan, on the other hand, has allowed me to approach the world and its contents with a genuine curiosity and silly joy that I have not felt since I was a child. Maybe it is the freedom, maybe it is the new environment or perhaps it is simply the regression in my ability to communicate, but something here has inspired a revelry in my daily life that makes something as simple as walking down the street an adventure.
(Left) One of the wonderfully chewy desserts that can be found on the streets of Taipei. (Middle) A cat, previously frolicking in tea fields, takes a rest. (Right) A neon street view enjoyed while having dinner.
There is also simply joy in knowing that I do not need a plan to have fun. When I leave class, I can grab a bite to eat, hop across the street, and my adventure begins. Whether it be discovering a new color of baked sweet potato, available hot and mushy, from a 7-Eleven or sampling the exercise equipment of a small neighborhood park, I am incredibly grateful that something so incredibly mundane to the people that encounter it every day can spark such an interest in me. I can explore underground malls, new desserts from street stalls, arrays of potted flowers, trees flowing over walls, cats sitting on motorbikes, and the genius of a book disinfecting machine in the library. I have found a simple joy in the world here, and it is one I hope to keep with me, even as I return to a place I find familiar.
Beyond keeping the spark alive, of course, is figuring out how to say goodbye. I have enjoyed my time here since I first arrived, but lately, the phrase “love at last sight” has seemed to creep up more and more in the back of my head. I suppose it is simply easier to appreciate things when you know soon you won’t be able to.
A lantern, covered with good luck wishes, takes off from the train tracks of Shifen.
So, in these last few days left to me, I intend to revel in the mundane as much as I can. To spend time with my new friends as much as I can. For me, it is sometimes hard to remember that I am actually already living my life. I think Taiwan has helped me to realize that. So, while it is far too early to say goodbye— to the people and places that I have had the privilege to meet, thank you.