Saturday, December 5, 2009

I'm now Blogging at, or, the 15th reason I miss Taiwan...

The Drift Got a Makeover!

And it's now found its home at

Newest Post:
14 Reasons I miss Taiwan
...and 5 Reasons I don't.
[click here]

If you'd like to continue following my Journey,
click here to subscribe to the new blog.
Find me on Twitter
or write me: thedrift [at] chaseandre [dot] com

Friday, September 25, 2009

California (Cell Phone Camera) Photo Reel

After a year without a cell phone (a beautiful, unleashing experience, might I add), the first thing I did when I arrived home was head to my local Sprint store and activate the phone that's been in a closet this year.

It's been strange carrying it around, but one benefit (besides being able to tweet anywhere) is having a camera-on-demand again.

Here's a couple shots I've snagged over the last couple weeks (With Commentary!)

Photo #1: Chili Cheese FriesI'm fairly certain Ben, one of my life-long best friends, tried to kill me the first day we hung out. After an incredible welcome home meal at In'n'Out (which nearly did the deed in itself), Ben took me to a place called "The Hat" where we ordered something that could have been called "Death by Chili Cheese" and in fact, probably was.
This is only a taste of the American Food my American Friends are feeding me. What they don't realize... I don't think my stomach is American anymore...

Photo #2: Proof I exercise...some.
Living in the city was fun in its own right. But nothing beats a taste of nature. This is the less-than-natural trail behind our suburban track homes. I'm trying to keep up my walking, eventually graduating to running. My friend Yazz has been dragging me around the city lake every now and then. That helps.

Photo #4: Surf City, USA
What good is a trip home to California if you don't make it to the Beach? In theme with staying healthy, my dad, brother and I did a good 6 mile walk/run before enjoying the waves some. (Note to self: Going once does not equate to a healthy habit)

Photo #5: Front Seat Driver
Another activity I didn't do much of (at all) in Taiwan: Driving. But, I'm home now, and I've been doing the big-brotherly carpooling lately, picking up from school and dance and other activities. This time, I had company. (But she tends to bark out orders, so I made her sit in the back) (That's a lie)

Photo #6: California Sunset
And finally: I took this on a drive with Colin Biggers. Everything halted when we saw this sunset; conversation, car, time itself. Then I think we may have been honked at. Note the green light. Green means go, but that sunset meant stop and take in the moment.


Other news:

I'm sure you know, but I've launched The Drift (1.5) over at

come visit!

This week, I'll be featuring fellow bloggers in what I consider to be the Drifter Community. We're made up of a unique bunch, many of whom are doing some pretty cool stuff. If you're interested in displaying some art of yours (whatever the form may be) email me: thedrift(at)chaseandre(dot)com

Also, and of course, you can follow me on Twitter!

PS Drifter Community Member Kelvin over at Daretothinkdreamdo asked me to guest post! Check it out.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Drift (1.5)

I know it's Earthquake Day in Taiwan, today. So, in reverence for the event, I'm trying to avoid cheesy and inappropriate cliches like "earth shattering news" or "groundbreaking new blog" or the like.

But, I don't want to undermine my excitement for this next evolution in my blogging.

Will I continue to post here at the Taiwan Drift? Occasionally, and for a short period of time during this transition. Since the beginning, I knew that "The Taiwan Drift" will stay about my journey to Taiwan. It will follow me home only to the extent of transitioning from foreign to familiar.

But, I continue drifting. So I continue writing. And I hope you'll drift with me.

Tonight, I'm leaving on my next drifting adventure, and the only place you'll hear about it is on the new site. Because the real is not finished, I've released a wordpress blog as a holding place until The (true) Drift is complete, thus the "1.5" bit.
So bear with me during the construction and transition phase.

Life is a Journey, and it's not always neat and organized and running as smoothly as can be. :)

But, without further ado, I nonetheless invite you to join me on
The Drift (1.5):

Subscribe to The Drift 1.5

"This Day in History..."

Though the effects remain, Typhoon Morakot passed through Taiwan over a month ago. The storm brought the worst flooding in over 50 years, and more than 500 lives were lost.

But ten years ago, today, Taiwan was rocked by an Earthquake registering 7.6 on the Richter Scale. Thousands were killed, and an estimated 100,000 left homeless. Throughout my year in Taiwan, this was brought up dozens of times. The tragedy, and the National heartache carried from the 9/21 earthquake is on scale with our 9/11 or Katrina.

One of the valuable lessons I learned while being submerged in another culture is to uncover the experiences that create common ground. As members of the human race, one experience that unites us all is heartbreak and tragedy. Though my students were young when this national disaster took place, we were able to share our experiences in the classroom and doing so brought us closer together as a class.

Learning that we're all human, and we're all in this thing-called-life together was a big lesson for me this past year. People are People. Burn away the cultural quirks and the difference in language, appearance or religion, and what you will have in front of you is a person. Really. A person just like you. In fact, so much like you they could be a member of your family.

And to me, many of them did become part of my family. Aligning myself with the troubles and hardships of the people around me - really understanding what the hurt they've been through, and sharing in that burden with them - has taught me what it is to be a member of this race called human-kind.

As my journey moves me from foreign to familiarity, I hope, and even pray, I never grow deaf to those with needs that I can meet. I hope I never grow so comfortable that I forget what it is to be displaced.

Though I'm far from my friends, and my family, in Taiwan, I know the lessons they've taught me have not left my side.

Photo Credit: here

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Future Driftings...

One year ago I drifted to Taiwan. Over the course of this year, I've intentionally sought ways to expand my view of the world. Some of it came by the default of living in another country and culture; and some of it because I continued to look outside myself and learn of life beyond my scope of vision.

This lead me to an organization called Faceless International. Though I've known about - and loved - their work for over a year now, I have never found a way to get involved. That is, until they announced their social justice campaign to India this winter. Faceless is teaming up with The Emancipation Network for an educational, hands-on trip to learn about the horrors of Modern Day Slavery. As I informed myself more of the reality of human trafficking and modern-day slavery, a weight settled over my heart to act. Signing up for the Faceless trip, I found a timely start.

What I love about Faceless and The Emancipation Network is that they enter the schools and communities where girls are at risk of being sold or bartered into the slave-trade, and teach the children how to support themselves so that slavery never becomes a viable option for the family to sustain itself. Both organizations are seeking change in a tangible matter. I look forward to joining Faceless in their self-declared mantra, by the words of Ghandi, "Be the change you wish to see in the world."

The cost for the trip is $3000, and I will only reach that goal with the help of those who feel able to support me. I have paid the $500 deposit, and $1250 is due at the end of this month, with another $1250 due at the beginning of December. I will be blogging of this new leg of my journey here at The Drift, and am thrilled to have your support as a reader. If you feel you could also support me financially - in any amount - please click on the paypal "donate" button below.

For those of you inside the US, Faceless International is a 501c3 and all donations are tax deductible. If you are looking for a tax deduction, or wish to keep your donation anonymous from me, click here.

Though my time in India will be much shorter than my time in Taiwan, I expect this trip to be another milestone in my Life Journey. Taiwan, I feel, laid the ground work for how I live the rest of my life. I desire to always be sensitive to the plight of others - in and out of my immediate scope of vision, and I hope to always realize I can do something about the injustice of this world.

Above all, I hope that my journey continues to inspire those who hear it. My heart's desire is to see humanity, as a whole, restored to something better, but I realize that must start with me: I realize I must be the Change I wish to see in the World.

And that's what I'm hoping to do. Life is a Journey, friends.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Like riding a bike...

My first week in the States has rode on by. It's a strange feeling being back. Nothing's changed. Really. It's almost as if Taiwan was just a creepy forgotten episode of the Twilight Zone. And I'm back in Suburbia where the neat little boxes are lined up in rows, hedges clipped clean and SUVs parked on the driveways, hubcaps aglow. Reverse Culture Shock? Maybe.

I'm still readjusting to the sights and sounds. Yesterday, I met a friend at the mall for dinner (we had the Korean BBQ, I used my pocket chopstick set). Before arriving on Taiwan, a mere 53 weeks ago, I lived another life; 90% of it, in that mall. Not all of you, dear readers, know this about me, but allow me to air some dirty laundry: I used to be in management at a dual-gender fashion retail store.

I spent a lot of time in that mall. A lot of time. Most of my meals were spent in that same food court, breaks spent walking the halls. It was strange being back.

This week, I'm fixing up the car I left behind, and will soon be driving - for the first time in a year. Also, I went out and signed up for a cell phone plan. I cringed at the one more added expense, and the first time it vibrated in my pocket I clung to the ceiling fan like a cat in a Looney Tunes cartoon. But I guess now I can blog while driving up the 5-North.

It's weird for me to think I survived without these modern "necessities" for a year's time...but I did.

Undoubtedly, the highlight of my week was coming home to the Welcome-Home Party (that I planned...). After a full night's rest Saturday night, I woke up and spent my day with over 50 of my favorite friends and family. It was an incredible experience to see and be with the faces and people I've spent a year without. Our time was spent recapping our year and recounting our journeys.

From time to time, I would tell a story and someone would say "I remember reading about that," (all my best stories are on the Drift), and each time it warmed me all the same. It was encouraging to know these key strokes I'm sending into the abyss of cyberspace have been read and noted and remembered.

I've said it before, but the Drift has been crucial to the process of this Journey. I love that a community has formed here on this site, and I hope it continues.

That Sunday, I was able to extend the Drift's virtual-community to the "real world". Early on in my driftings, I came across a blog filled with pictures of an old stomping ground of mine. Being a lonely solitary expat in Taiwan, seeing familiar sights was comforting. A comment an email, and a year later, Don and I have still kept in touch.

I'm no stranger to meeting "online" friends "offline", but there's always that air of apprehension wondering if your perception of them will vary in 3D. This wasn't the case with Don. I felt as though I didn't so much hear him speak as I did read the words leaving his mouth. Talking to him was like reading the latest entry he's posted.

As we were bidding our farewells, he reached behind the front door for his shoes. Glancing at the unintelligible heap on the other side of the entry way, he said "I'm a man who lives off the beaten path," just as I was thinking, that's so like him. It was a great experience being able to make that connection and solidify what the Drift has been for me this year.

I'm looking forward to further reunions with my friends and loved ones - and on a deeper level than a 50-person-thick get-together.

Slowly, I'm starting to find my barrings again in my hometown. My equilibrium has settled as I've fought from leaning too far in any one direction. Balance is essential. It's as essential in re-entering a country as it is to riding a bike. But, as they say, old habits die hard. And though it's been awhile since I've rode around the streets of suburbia, I'm pretty sure it's all coming back to me now.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Drifting Home

So, it's been a year. Likely, one of the most distinct, important and influential years I'll ever live. Through the Drift, I've been able to chronicle my journey, and create space to openly and honestly reflect in and through my time.

My appointed mantra "The Journey is the Destination" is one that could - and should - be continued even after one "Destination" is reached. And so, I keep writing. And reflecting. And, if anyone will join me, creating an open space - a community where people are safe to probe and question and examine life in a way that, I fear, far too few do.

So, while I won't be writing on an expat's trials and travails in a foreign land, I have a sneaking suspicion that many of the themes I found in my life in Taiwan. Just, you know, not so much the Taiwanese stuff...

The last week went by in a haze. Saying Goodbyes stretched out through Saturday, and I didn't finish packing until the moment it was time to leave. Friday night was a melancholy goodbye from the Neighborhood. After we all hung out one last time, I said my farewells, gave my hugs, and walked away from the others. It hit me how fast the goodbyes were. Like peeling off a band-aid, maybe? Honestly, it felt much more like a see you later than a goodbye. I hope that it was. When I made it to my house, I sat outside on a bench to absorb the night and reflect over the people and places I would miss.

Ten minutes in the brisk, post-midnight air slip passed me before I stirred from my spot. It seemed surreal that I would be leaving soon. That these places and routines that became so familiar - the same ones that were once so foreign - would soon dim to forgotten. I reflected on what I sought to learn. Goals I set for myself that I didn't achieve moved in and out of my mind as I pushed them away realizing their unimportance in the grand scheme of things. And the only goal I had left once again became burden enough to move me from my seat. In 16 hours, I would leave for the airport. I needed to pack.

But even after I climbed the four staircases to my room, my mind hadn't wandered from reflection. I wondered about my change in lifestyle, thinking, and habits. Would they stick? As I loaded up my carry-on, I allowed myself to dwell on my biggest fear: returning home the same person I was when I left.

Too much time had past, I told myself, I've learned too much to go back. But it wasn't until I reached out, instinctively, and grabbed a pen that my fears calmed. As I slipped the pen into my carry-on, I knew that this year could never be a waste. I had learned what I come to learn, and I would carry it with me wherever I drift to next.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Eat the Feet?

With only two days left, I'm attempting to absorb my favorite part of Taiwan's culture - The People. Every day for the last couple weeks I've been out and about spending time with as many friends as I can. It's turned into the family joke, every day they ask "So where you going to night?" (Roughly translated..)

On Saturday, my friend Ring brought me to a part of town I'd yet to visit. Before we ventured down "Art Street" - much reminiscent of Laguna Beach... minus the beach... and the blonde hair - she told me "Every time I come here, I always get three things to eat."

The first was a Taiwanese Hamburger of sorts. No problems there.
The last was an iced desert. Delish.

But between those two tasty treats, she said, "Now we're going to have Ji-Jiao"

"What's Ji-Jiao?" I asked hesitant, as I translated it in my mind.

"Chicken Feet~!"

51 weeks in Taiwan, and I'd avoided this "delicacy" until then. Ring wouldn't take no for an answer, I knew, so I buckled down and tried to enjoy...

But she loves it! As do many Taiwanese...

(that's a toenail in her mouth, by the way)

I'm thankful I tried. But it's not going to become a dietary habit, by any means. If you must know, well, it tasted like chicken. Pun only slightly intended.

Here's my beef. Let's forget the mental image of what this chicken was stepping in when it was alive and cluckin', I'm not crazy about savagely eating meat off the bone (boneless buffalo wings, please), and I've been known to peel even my grapes of their skin. So, the idea of gnawing on some sagging loose ankle flesh is just less than appealing to me.

But I did it.

Frankly, I prefer the Stinky (fermented) Tofu.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Saying Goodbyes

"He said We all will miss you," translated the Medicine Man's Wife.
"And I will really miss you all," I reciprocated back to them in Mandarin.

"I will not miss you." The Medicine Man stated flatly. His wife laughed.

"I miss no one. I visit them in my mind. If I miss them, it only causes trouble."

...and that was my goodbye from the Medicine Man. He asked me to write, and promised to learn how to use Skype, and said we could talk about life and writing and more of Buddha's Method. And I told him I was looking forward to it all.

I'm down to about 5 days until I leave this great island of Taiwan. My last week, as well as the next few days will be filled with goodbyes like this one.

The "20-Somethings" group at the church I attend here in Taichung threw me a surprise KTV party. I knew about the KTV, but I didn't know they planned for it to be a going-away party for me. If you know me well, you know I hate surprises. At the moment where everyone jumps out and yells "SURPRISE!" (this time, Poppers were also involved), my mind races and all at once I make sense of the clues that they were planning this. Simultaneously feeling frustrated about not picking up on the clues, I'm agitated by the fact anyone would put that much effort into something for me. I eventually get over it, though, and appreciate the gesture.

The group went a bit over the top with their gifts and a card that everyone signed. The front was illustrated by my translator, Ring:

That was a week ago, and tonight is the last time I will likely see many of them. The fact of the matter is, I will miss them, whether I tell my mind to do so or not. We say things like "I'll come back to Taiwan" or "You should come visit me in America" but we really don't know for sure. As is normally the case, the wisdom in the Medicine Man's words slowly sets in and I think I'm beginning to understand what he meant. Looking forward to the States, and not knowing when I'll visit the Island again, I'm focusing on the friendships I've formed here and the good times we've shared over the past year. I will miss this place, but I won't let that feeling of loss hinder me in moving forward in what's next.

What's next, you ask? There are a few projects brewing, and I'm excited to release them. For now, I need to pack, and get myself off this Island. 9.05.09...

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Interview with a Former Expat

Just two weeks before my sister visited, I met an American Girl about my age who was on the Island for an internship. She was living with my pastor, another American, who introduced us and asked if I'd show her around for a bit while she was here. Of course, I agreed. The thought of having another Foreigner to show the sites around town was quite fun.

It turns out Gabrielle and I share more in common besides being temporary-expats to Taiwan; not in the least is the fact that she is also from California. Beyond that, though, we share both a passion for travel (admittedly, she's much better at it than I), and a desire to give voice and face to the faceless.

We discussed life, and plans, and family, and God, and social justice issues, and the art that brings our attention to it, like the movies Crash and Blood Diamond and Hotel Rwanda.

She traveled with me by bus to my Mandarin class, and by bike to the school I teach at. We wound through the streets of Taichung not just discussing, but living life in a foreign land. At one point, we both hit our brakes hard, as a car cut through lanes from the left to make a right hand turn – a common practice in Taiwan.

You get used to that sort of thing...” I said

Well, T.I.T.” came her reply.


...This is Taiwan” She smiled, and laughed a bit.

Oh.. right” I returned the smile, sheepishly, a step behind her “Blood Diamond” movie reference.

Recently, Gabby and I got back in touch, and I was once again reminded of her insight and love for life abroad. I wrote her and asked if I could “interview” her about her time here. To all our delight, she accepted.

So here it is:

Interview with
Gabrielle W.

Could you tell us what brought you to Taiwan? When were you there, and how long did you stay?

I came to Taiwan to do an internship for my last year of university. One of my professors recommended me to stay and intern with the Atkins, a missionary family on the island with an Adult English teaching ministry. I stayed for three weeks, between Western New Year and Chinese New Year.

Was the experience all that it promised to be? (How did you do on your internship project?)

Once I got there, I ended up doing a lot fewer actual work hours than I had originally thought. It all worked out, though. Overall, I was glad to be able to experience a variety of different EFL styles and settings. This included observing in a CRAM school, guest teaching an adult English class and attending a couple classes with…Chase Andre, who is an awesome EFL teacher and great at navigating bicycle routes through cut-throat, sidewalkless streets, by the way! In a nutshell, it was not what I expected, but it worked.

(You're too kind.) So, it's been half a year since you've been to Taiwan. What do you remember as being your biggest Cultural Surprise?

I’ve traveled to many places, but this was the first place I’ve been where I could not understand any of the signs or literature. It really is a shock to step into a world where reading is hardly an option. This really gave me a renewed empathy for ESL learners who come to the USA for the first time and are struggling to understand their environment. Also, for anyone with latino friends or family, the non-touchy-feeliness of Taiwanese culture can come as quite a surprise. I was expecting it to be this way, but I still found myself wanting to give people hugs and handshakes.

Wait—I take all that back—I experienced the highest form of culture shock, by far, in my mouth, when I tried the stinky tofu. I really wish I was super worldly and could say that I loved it, but my gag reflexes totally betrayed me on this one.

Briefly fill us in with what you've done since Taiwan, and what you plan to do next.

I graduated from university (yay!) and earned a TESOL/TEFL certificate. As soon as I save the funds, it’s Spain or bust! I’d like to do a lot of things in the long term, but next on the agenda is getting some TESOL experience.

You said you've traveled before. What countries have you been to? What was your favorite, and what felt the most "foreign"?

I’ve been to Mexico (just Baja CA), Panama, France (1 day layover), Israel, Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe, and of course, Taiwan. It is way too hard to pick a favorite. The world is a beautiful place and I am always falling in love with new faces, food, languages, and landmarks. Most foreign—you know, when you’ve got the travel bug, you feel most foreign in your good ol’ hometown.

Your list is pretty diverse, but, what is one common thread you've found in each culture - including your own.

Love. Different cultures and individuals have different manners of expressing it, so you may have to look closely. All you have to do is open your eyes, be receptive and someone nearly everywhere you go is bound to light up your heart. I’m not talking about romantic love; I mean hospitality, sacrifice, appreciation—a gift given from the heart, helping those in need—these things represent love to me.

(Fantastic answer. Awesome)

Why do you go out of your way to learn about and experience other cultures?

I’m addicted! When you learn about other people and how they see the world, chances are your worldview is going to change, too. International addicts aren’t comfortable with one pair of bifocals.

(Amen! haha)
If you had one piece of advice to someone (like me) who wants to travel as much as you have, what would it be?

Make it a priority. You may have to make material sacrifices to make it possible. Don’t go for the most expensive vacation trips. Go with a volunteer experience, an excursion, a study/work abroad program, or something like that. It will make it more reasonable cost-wise and, in my opinion, give you a richer experience.

And one last question: In one paragraph (3-5 Sentences, for the readers who aren't teaching English...), what does "The Journey is the Destination" mean to you?

I suppose it means that though we may have an idea of what we are working toward, we can’t just focus on the future because we will miss out on the present. Our lives aren’t like movies where we reach that one goal and then the sappy music plays and credits start rolling. It goes on and there are always multiple destinations we are headed toward, whether we are aware of them or not.


Friday, August 28, 2009

Morakot Watch pt 3: Mud and Mess

Winding through the small Taiwanese town, the narrow streets showed some signs of poverty, but hardly a hint of disaster. I was almost disappointed. Other than a toppled palm here and there, I could see no sign of Typhoon Morakot.

At the entrance to a bridge, our small blue truck was halted, then waved through by the military personal directing traffic. My Taiwanese driver spoke in Mandarin Chinese: "Do you know why we were invited through?" Before I could respond, he pointed at the school-bus yellow safety vest ad matching rainboots I was issued back at the relief center.

Immediately upon crossing the bridge, the roads changed from dry and dusty to wet and muddy. We stopped once so a lady could pick up her fallen scooter out of the thick muck. As the truck rolled further down the road, water rose higher than our hubcaps.

But at a week and a half after Morakot made landfall, the water in the streets was not directly from the sky. This was one of the mudslide sites. And the murky water filling the road gushed out from inside the homes of the residents lining the street.

Armed with shovels, brooms, and any other tool that might do the trick, the relief teams filed into the houses and workplaces and began pushing, scooping and sweeping the mud and water out of the building. In some places, mud as high as four feet coated the entire first floor of each home.

As time went on, I could see on the tired, loss of hope grow on the victim's faces. It's as if their strength recedes with the water leaving their houses; what's left, a mud-covered shell and the realization that this won't be going away any time soon.

For me, that was the hardest part about being down there. Knowing they were still surrounded by mud and water in their broken home. CNN has long since considered this "Breaking News" but it'll be their reality for months to come.

I applaud, though, the CCRA for the helped they offered. What a well-oiled machine! To be able to mobilize 200-500 volunteers every day, truly remarkable. Five days in PingTung was a great choice for me. I met some great people down there, and got to get my hands dirty and hopefully give back to Taiwan some of what it's given me over the past year.

Keep the Morakot Victims in your mind and prayers. It's still a mess down there, and will be some time until all is well in their life again. And may we look at what we have and what we consider necessary, and remember what truly matters most to us along this Journey's trail.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Morakot Watch pt 2: Help Needed, Community Answers

Since my own personal run in with Nature's Forces, I've carried a special sympathy for Disaster Relief. Before I make my way to Morakot I wanted to update you all on where you can donate, if you feel so inclined.

Able to do this much better than I, Michael Turton, an expat-megablogger in Taiwan has compiled a thorough list of Global Aid and Taiwan Non-Profits determined to assist the displaced survivors of Morakot. You can find all of that information here.

A few Morakot Statistics:
Also, youtube footage of an incredible, devastating hotel collapse:


It's encouraging to me, though, to watch communities stand together in support of their neighbors-in-need. At the moment, I'm writing from Retro Coffeehouse. The Stackers, one of my favorite acts to play locally, are hosting a benefit show here. All profits from drinks and door donated to relief funds. The Refuge has also joined forces with Michael Turton to accept cash and goods donations to transport to afflicted areas.

In times like this, things like government initiatives and corporate infrastructure, even social or religious differences, tend to matter a lot less. We remember what we have, and what it is to give. We rally around and remember we're all human beings and we all have needs wanting to be met. We act within the Golden Rule.

In other words, we do what we should.

But, despite the tragedy, it's my joy to see people engaged with each other. As it's said at the Refuge, and as I believe: Community will Change the World.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Morakot Watch pt 1: The lasting effects of a Hurricane, 5 years ago

Five years ago, today, my family (mom, dad, two sisters, a brother, a gecko and a hamster) and I huddled in our laundry room as our house shook, roof tiles slaughtered our neighbors windows, and water began to forcibly enter our house in every way possible.

Have you seen the movie Twister? Remember the scene at the very beginning where the storm rips open the storm shelter and pulls out the father of miniature Helen Hunt? There was a moment in that laundry room where that scene flashed across my mind, followed by a question:

Is this it? Is this what my life has come to?
...That was also the exact moment I knew I'd survive.

For two weeks following that storm, we lived without power or running water. Our refrigerator rotted, and our house never recovered from the musty stench of mold forming and growing in the rain-soggy walls. Mosquitoes began to find their way into our house through the holes in the roof and broken doors.

Once, our water spigot outside began to leak. The six of us danced and bathed in the drip for the first time in a week.

Before long, though, our nightmare ended. But for those two weeks, we relied entirely on the compassion of others, and FEMA, to eat and drink and survive.

This past weekend, Taiwan received over 80 inches of rainfall - more than its been known to get in a year. The regions of south Taiwan are now plagued by flash floods and mudslides that have wiped out entire villages.

What was once my greatest trial is only a speed bump on the road the survivors are facing. I know from first hand experience that the disaster is a reality long after media coverage fades (especially American Media coverage...).

Next week, I have plans to head down to the disaster sites in hopes to offer any help I can muster. I'll be sure to report here on The Drift with photos/videos and stories.

Also, I'll be keeping my feelers out for any grassroots (and scandal-free) organizations accepting donations. I do know World Vision is down there right now, providing relief, and if anyone feels like giving what they can, they would be a great avenue to look into.

Please keep the victims of Typhoon Morakot in your thoughts and prayers.
Stay with me. More updates soon...

[Photo Credit: Here and Here]

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Eleven Resolutions to Seeing Wonder in the Ordinary

Author and professor, Clyde Kilby, left a legacy of eleven resolutions to
"overcoming our bent toward blindness for the wonders of the ordinary."

  1. At least once every day I shall look steadily up at the sky and remember that I, a consciousness with a conscience am on a planet traveling in space with wonderfully mysterious things above and about me.
  2. Instead of the accustomed idea of a mindless and endless evolutionary change to which we can neither add nor subtract, I shall suppose the universe guided by an Intelligence which, as Aristotle said of Greek Drama, requires a beginning, a middle, and an end. I think this will save me from the cynicism expressed by Bertrand Russell before his death, when he said: "There is darkness without and when I die there will be darkness within. There is no splendor, no vastness anywhere, only triviality for a moment, and then nothing."
  3. I shall not fall into the falsehood that this day, or any day, is merely another ambiguous and plodding twenty-four hours, but rather a unique event filled, if I so wish, with worthy potentialities. I shall not be fool enough to suppose that trouble and pain are wholly evil parentheses in my existence but just as likely ladders to be climbed toward moral and spiritual manhood.
  4. I shall not turn my life into a thin straight line which prefers abstractions to reality. I shall know what I am doing when I abstract, which of course I shall often have to do.
  5. I shall not demean my own uniqueness by envy of others. I shall stop boring into myself to discover what psychological or social categories I might belong to. Mostly I shall simply forget about myself and do my work.
  6. I shall open my eyes and ears. Once every day I shall simply stare at a tree, a flower, a cloud, or a person. I shall not then be concerned at all to ask what they are but simply be glad that they are. I shall joyfully allow them the mystery of what C.S. Lewis calls their "divine, magical, terrifying and ecstatic" existence.
  7. I shall sometimes look back at the freshness of vision I had in childhood and try, at least for a little while, to be, in the words of Lewis Carroll, the "child of the pure unclouded brow, and dreaming eyes of wonder."
  8. I shall follow Darwin's advice and turn frequently to imaginative things such as good literature and good music, preferably, as Lewis suggests, an old book and timeless music.
  9. I shall not allow the devilish onrush of this century to usurp all my energies but will instead, as Charles Williams suggested, "fulfill the moment as the moment." I shall try to live well just now because the only time that exists is just now.
  10. If for nothing more than the sake of change of view, I shall assume my ancestry to be from the heavens rather than from the caves.
  11. Even if I turn out wrong, I shall bet my life in the assumption that this world is not idiotic, neither run by an absentee landlord, but that today, this very day, some stroke is being added to the cosmic canvas that in due course I shall understand with joy as a stroke made by the architect who is called Alpha and Omega.
Exert from @JohnPiper's When I don't Desire God (pg 197-199).

Enjoy the Journey.


A few post-publish thoughts:
Whether you know it or not, this "seeing wonder in the ordinary" has been a theme, for me, on this blog. Sometimes, I feel like I've pulled a fast-one over on some of you, dear readers. From time to time your comments sound envious of me and my ventures, and I think to myself, "Do they know I'm just writing about sitting in the bus, or getting my hair cut?"

When I say "Life is a Journey" I don't add "when you're in another country." That's left out purposefully. It's left out because it's too limiting. No matter where we are, life is a journey. The question is, what are we doing with it? Maybe it did take me this year abroad to realize it, but status quo is never something I hope to reach. And by reach, I mean settle for. Life is bigger than the American Dream. It's bigger than my dreams.

Near that passage, Piper goes on to mention how quick we are to "Oooh and Ahh" at the special effects on a theater screen, but ignore the beauty of life we walk by every day. No longer will I simply be amazed at what I'm told to find amazing. I want to discover for myself where life can take me. And I know to do this, it will take a conscious effort, day by day. My sincere hope is that I've said something to spark in you the same desire. That maybe the lens in which you see the world is broadening, as mine has done in the last 11 months. One could only hope.

Carpe Diem, Friends.

Friday, August 7, 2009

28 Days and Counting...

Storms are vivid imagery for me. I assume this is the case for anyone that has experienced the raw, brute force of nature outside the Weather Channel.

Five years ago, nearly to the day, I sat inside my house in Florida huddled around the Weather Channel with the other 5 members of my family. In horror we listened as the newscaster announced that Hurricane Charley took a turn, and was headed straight for us.

"'ve got 5 minutes. Hunker Down.
Don't try to run."

When the storm's coming, there's not much else to do.

Storms bring out vivid emotions for me. Even today, five years later. When I hear winds howl, rattling the windows, my chest grows tight. The feeling of being trapped inside four walls that I frankly don't trust sets me on edge.

And so I'm on edge. It's the beginning of "Typhoon Season" today with the arrival of Typhoon Morakot, and I've been stuck in my house having to battle cabin fever as rain beats against my sliding glass doors. Once, in a gust, something fell on our roof while I was in the bathroom. I jumped.

We're nearing the 5 year anniversary of Hurricane Charley, the 4 year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and the 1 year anniversary of Hurricane Ike. Do you remember Ike? It landed in Texas just 11 months ago, claiming 195 lives and estimated to be the third costliest Hurricane to make landfall in the US. Long since over, the news coverage has quit headlining the nightmare in Galveston, but I guarantee you, for the people in that area, it's still a daily reality.

Whether or not we've seen the travesty of weather, life promises to bring storms. It's part of what gives life its rhythm. Like breathing. In. Out.

I arrived in Taiwan at the tail end of Typhoon season '08. Winds, Rain and Restlessness are my earliest memories of this island. But, memories I haven't revisited in nearly a year.

Yet here I am again, brought back to where I began. Cycles.

Except, I'll be leaving soon. I won't experience the tail end of Typhoon Season. September 5th is one year, to the day, in Taiwan; and September 5th, I will be boarding a plane aimed for California.

My one year cycle in Taiwan is nearly over. It's strange for me, with the date approaching, to think that I won't experience another winter here, or Chinese New Year, or LUVStock, or any of the other highlights of this year.

Admittedly, there's mixed feelings. That kind of surprised me when I realized it. Don't get me wrong, I'm stoked to come home, and will most certainly be on that plane, but I'm starting to feel the weight of what I'm leaving.

And at the moment, I'm starting to realize the weight of the limited time I have. As I type this, I'm rounding past the 28 Days mark of my countdown.

It takes 28 Days to form a habit: which means the habits I form today, I'll take with me to America.

Last time I wrote on Habits, I said I was purposely switching my teeth-brushing hand. Well, ten months later, it stuck.

Also, I listed habits I was forming and ones I was seeking to form:

I say "Thank you" in Chinese with out thinking about it.
I say "Hello" in Chinese about 50% of the time.
I drink more tea than coffee
I don't drink soda
I enjoy walking (20 minutes) to the school
I'm starting to wake up earlier

There's also a few habits in the making:
I'm starting to go to bed earlier (it helps with the waking up part, I've found)
I remember to grab tissues to use in the public restroom before I get there
I'm figuring out a routine of when and where to take off my shoes in the house
I'm starting to not go back to sleep after I wake up early...

I still avoid soda and lean towards tea. I purposely walk places. And I even fight responding in Mandarin when I'm with my native-English-speaking friends.

We won't talk about my sleeping habits, but, those other "routines" have become second nature.

With one month left, I've began thinking about what kind of person I want to be when I'm back in the States. What sort of lifestyle I want to lead. I'm starting to focus on my eating habits and exercise routines, and hoping to cultivate something better than the daily fast-food and once-every-six-month gym trip life I left 11 months ago.

If I was to list one fear, it would be that I return home the same person to the same life I left. The very thought of it makes my chest grow tight. I get antsy; set on edge. My biggest fear is that this trip was just a year-long pause button, rather than the life-altering experience it feels like now.

To be honest, I know this is a rash fear. Nonetheless, it is a fear. One that will hopefully keep me conscious of the changes I'll need to make.

I know this trip has changed me, and I am excited to go home and find out how.

28 days and counting...

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Taking Refuge

Making my way to the Refuge was a long time coming. Distinctly, I remember a friend telling me of its infamy in the first month I arrived.

"Just ask any foreigner in Taichung. Everyone in the music scene here knows 'Boston Paul'. Everyone."

I knew this was a guy I needed to meet. But for this reason or that, it took 8 months before I bumped into the local legend. It was at the "International Food & Music Festival" - an excuse for foreigners to get together in a park, eat Burgers or German Sausages and listen to other foreigners on stage, sponsored by Taiwan Beer.

I was there for the food and music; Paul, because his band, Militant Hippie, played. Now, Militant Hippie happens to be the perfect description for Boston Paul. A former serviceman in the Armed Forces, Paul left his life of war in the States and became an expat to Taiwan. Now, he devotes himself to promoting world-change through Community.

At the Food Festival, Paul was sure we'd met before; I was sure we hadn't. That didn't keep us from talking like we had, though. Some friendships are just like that. After only a quick conversation, we promised to keep in touch, and he invited me to his home.

Just over a month later, I finally trekked my way to the Refuge. A Facebook invite beckoned me to LUVStock -- a full weekend music festival in celebration of the Refuge Community of musicians and artists. I knew I found the excuse I needed to make my first trip.

Over the span of two days, it's safe to say I fell in love with what I found. Totally unique to any where else I've ever experienced, the Refuge prides itself on being a safe haven for artists, musicians and thinkers.

It boasts a bar, library, graffiti/art wall, demo-recording studio, stage w/ full PA and a room full of instruments ready to be brought out for anyone to join in on whatever fun is being had.

As Paul explains, the Refuge acquired its name naturally. Home to him, his wife, and their 3 year old son, the Refuge was once just a place where he would invite friends and fellow musicians for an escape from the city smog to a slightly higher elevation in the hills just outside the city. Overtime, his house and its open-door policy began to take on its now familiar title. When the realized there was something organic birthing and taking life, the hosts began to create an intentional space as their vision of what their home could become grew.

Unintentional as the naming might be, it was no accident. Author of the (hopefully) soon-to-be released book, The Tao of Community: A Manifesto, Boston Paul has set his entire life around the pursuit of love and Truth in community.

Inside the communities of expats looking for a breath of fresh air, musicians looking to fiddle with other artists, and wandering Taiwanese hoping to meet a few foreigners, there's a nucleus group of like-minded people, willing to stare culture in the face and say "There's another way to live."

This was the glimmer I saw when I first met Paul back at the Food and Music Festival, and this is what drew me, like a magnet, to the Refuge.

I've met incredible people and had amazing conversations in my short few trips to the Refuge; people and conversations that have both challenged, inspired, and broadened the lens I use to see the world.

People like an incredible family from South Africa, whose young sons pick up percussion instruments and microphones to join their father in singing Beatles, Dylan, and Cash; who have adopted a little girl named Asia-Faith, and are fostering a Taiwanese infant awaiting departure to a loving family in the States.

Or the young married couple who met at the Refuge just a few short years ago: he, also hailing from South Africa; she, the East Coast of the US.

As she and I were once admiring the Taiwanese foster child (mentioned above) - engrossed in amazement over the infant's tiny, wiggling fingers and toes - she remarked,
"I couldn't imagine being a mother in Africa or in India somewhere and holding a baby like this and having to watch it starve. But that happens, every day. What are we doing about it? We can do something about it!"
This is an international community that genuinely cares about the world and the people around them. They breathe compassion. They truly believe, as Boston Paul's mantra goes,
"Community will Change the World."
...and I have to agree with them.

Whether or not Boston Paul and the others know it, they have taught me through simply living their lives. Though my time with "the Refuge Crew" is waning, I know I will take with me the treasured examples and memories of this true Community wherever life brings me to drift.

[Photo found on "The Refuge, Taichung, Taiwan" Facebook Group, Taken by Brendan Dempster - a much better photographer than I am.]

Monday, August 3, 2009

An Evening [or 3] with Faye Blais

It was my trip to LUVStock that I first heard the name Faye Blais.

The Refuge & LUVStock visionary, Boston Paul, announced rather ecstatically that the community's beloved Faye was returning from Australia for a weekend after nearly two years of absence. I then learned that Miss Blais once was an intricate part of the Taichung Music Community, but had left to tour Australia and New Zealand. Faye was now on her way home to Canada, and, Paul was happy to say, would be spending a weekend in Taichung.

Her tour schedule:
Friday: 89k
Saturday: Retro Coffee
Sunday: The Refuge

...likely my three favorite and most frequented music centers in the city. Checking my schedule, I decided that if this Faye was worth the hype Paul was putting into her, then I may as well fill my weekend at the three venues I otherwise enjoy.

As routine, I did my homework on the new artist and instantly liked what I heard -- only further solidifying my weekend plans. A smooth, soulful voice and intriguing acoustics came through my speakers as a refreshing change from many of the industry's regurgitated pop-sounds.

Upon arriving at 89k, I near immediately picked Faye out of the sparse crowd. What surprised me, though, was that her bright smile luminated in the crowd more than the signature locks I'd seen on her myspace photo.

Escaping the drone of an opening act, I moved my way to the balcony of 89k. After a minute or two, Faye navigated her conversation with her friend across the balcony to include me, as we were the only ones above the main floor. After the three of us made introductions, I listened and occasionally chimed in to the discussion already in motion.

"Our generation is at an age where we're bursting with creativity, and we're all beginning to sacrifice and collaborate to make life and dreams happen." Faye spoke with passion.

I knew instantly there was more to this girl than just another traveling rock star.

Just as I expected, her live show lived up to her recordings and even further alluded to the depth surrounding her music and persona.

89k was just the beginning, though. At Retro, Faye proved capable of the transition between commanding a packed-crowd barroom stage to the intimate setting of a cramped-yet-cozy coffee house. Retro seemed to transform into her living room, as she shared songs from her heart with old friends.

While her peers may write about the most recent melancholy heart break, Faye rejoices in the love of her closest family and friends. Evident is her intentional pursuit of community.

Her concerts reiterated this. Though it has been over a year and a half since her last Taichung appearance, Faye's shows were guaranteed to not only be full of familiar faces, but fellow musicians standing nearby ready to pick up their instrument and join Faye in on the fun. Spontaneity. The kind that comes only from cultivated and welcoming community.

This spilt over into post-show activities, like a song-share under the canopy of trees and a midnight sky. Faye passed round her guitar as I and another sat back and listened to two songstresses trade off tunes. Retiring at a modest 12:30, the 4 of us parted, promising to reconvene the following day.

And reconvene we did. All day Sunday was spent at the Refuge, a music-house inherently focused on birthing community. Boston Paul set up a full-day festival (FayeFest?) in honor of Faye's return.

Favorites of mine, Avery Day and the Deng Yi Xias (translated: "Wait a Minutes") and the Stackers, were there to make the festival ever-more complete. We ignored the heat (best we could), and focused on the people, music, and food around us.

I spent the afternoon in a puddle of my own sweat behind the soundboard with Paul, and Faye drifted between familiar face and new friends. Occasionally, in full Refuge-fashion, an organic jam session would break out during someone's set, and friends would grab microphones and fill the stage with their instruments. As I reveled in this new community I found, both Paul and Faye entered a state of near ecstasy while witnessing the fruit of their cultivation: a truly international community coming together in one purpose. Stylistic differences, musical pedigree, ethnicity, culture, gender and age all cast aside as people picked up instruments and began harmonizing in the same language.

All-in-all over 200 people came through the refuge to celebrate Faye's return. And once again, she proved her versatility during her set. Backed by a completely impromptu band, Faye serenaded the crowd in a mellow, down-tempo set that matched the mood of the sun-setting day.

My final evening with Faye ended much the same as the first began. As the last piece of equipment was torn down, I set out in search for the hammock I spied earlier, tucked away from lights and crowd. Not-at-all disappointed was I to discover it was already occupied by Faye. (OK, only slightly disappointed. I'll admit it looked better than the ground, but I'm certainly not complaining. And was glad she put it to use.) She, too, had once again sought refuge away from the crowd, and we once again ended up in the same place.

By this time, the last bus had long since past. I was beginning to realize my ride-options back into the city were limited, seeing as most had left the night's affair, but wasn't yet ready to give up the evening.

Faye and I began to chat, recapping the weekend's festivities and enjoying our new-formed friendship. We shared stories and dreams of the future; not surprisingly, neither revolved around money and fame but friends and community. There are some people you meet in life that, from the moment you meet them, you know you share a bond that goes beyond words of quick conversation.

Before we could blink, a couple hours passed, the Refuge cleared out, and as tthey were released from entertaining their guests, Boston Paul and his wife drifted over to me and Faye. The four of us recounted the day and I listened to the stories and history of the Refuge. Time slipped away as the birds and air began to awaken. The sky grew light as our faces began to shine once again. Morning broke, but our conversation hadn't.

Around 5, though, it was time to head home. Faye couldn't manage 2 guitars, a bag and a suitcase alone on her scooter, so I hitched a ride with her and carried my weight in a guitar case. We parted, reluctantly, at breakfast just before seven. An unexpected weekend spilt out to Monday morning.

As an artist, Faye's professionalism on stage, color-filled lyrics, enchanting voice and authentic melodies put her in a class of musicianship that I reserve for very few.

As a person, Faye lives what she sings. She embodies life-as-community and attracts and creates it wherever she goes. Undoubted are the lengths she would go for an old friend, but in my weekend around her, I never once saw Faye miss an opportunity to make a new friend, too. For that, I am grateful and blessed.

She brought her lyrics to life, in my time with her. And it's clear to me that she will do this for all who take the time to reach back towards her, whether it be in song or conversation; for an hour, a day, or a lifetime.

Life is a Journey, and it's the people we meet along the way that make it all worth while.


the people i meet are fantastic
they teach me things i never knew
some happy, some sad
each, a perspective to be had
they share with me while I'm on my way
-Faye Blais, "Canvas"

Photo Reel

Attention LA/OC Friends and Readers:
Faye will be playing two shows in Hollywood, and if we can pull together for her, a few more. If you're an artist with a show in the next two weeks that she could open for, that would be great. Otherwise, any leads to venues would be much appreciated. I'll post updates as I can.

Besides that, though, anyone in the area should check out her shows and tell her hi. You'll never know where one conversation will lead.
Aug 6, 2009 9:00 PM @ The Cat Club Hollywood, CA
Aug 11, 2009 9:00 PM @ Room 5 Hollywood, CA

More on Faye Blais:
Faye's Blog

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Listening (without your ears)

I come against a constant roadblock everyday. Everywhere I go. My problem? I'm illiterate... Taiwan, anyways. I don't speak or read or write Mandarin. Sure, I know some, but... not a lot. Not enough to know what's going on around me at all times. One friend likened it to the condition of a four year old.

But I'm not a four year old. Arguable, sure. But I'm not. And so, I've fought to keep myself aware of my surroundings, engaged in conversations.

One of the members of my Taiwan Family is the matriarchal Grandmother of the house. She doesn't speak any English, but we sit down during meals, often just her and I, and enjoy conversations at length. Other family members will butt into our conversations from time to time, doubting our ability to communicate. They'll ask me what she said, and more often than not, I can give them a fairly accurate answer to the gist of the conversation.

"Wow! Your Chinese is so good now!" is their common response. But I know that's not true.

A budding vocabulary helps, but I've learned to do this by heightening and engaging my other senses. Many become so accustomed to conversing with mouth and ears (and some, just with their mouth), that many have forgotten the other elements of conversation.

Conversation is about putting yourself in the place of that person. Knowing what they are thinking and feeling. Empathizing. Not so that you can get the next word in, but because you care.

I often fear we've stopped teaching how to care.

Or maybe it's our reliance on digital communication that's forced our mind into a 2D understanding of life.

But life isn't flat.

By no means am I claiming to be an expert on this. If anything at all, I'm simply an observer, firsthand, reporting my side of the Conversation. This year, I've intentionally focused on a handful of lessons I felt Taiwan could teach me: one being Communication.

And I have learned. And I'm still learning.

But I realized, Communication doesn't happen by accident. It takes two or more people who care enough to focus on each other.

When the focus is that intentional, spoken words become merely one set of tools in the box of communication.

Tools need to be used well to be effective, but the point is not the tool. The point is not the words. The point is the people. For me, it's always the people.


How do you communicate without words? Do you do so consciously or unconsciously? With intention, or by accident?

Reasons I Miss the States - Mexican Food

Recently, my family asked me what my first meal would be when I return to the States. For sure, they thought, I would choose In'n'Out. While it was a fair and worthy choice on their part, I frankly don't know if my stomach could handle that weighty of a meal after such a hiatus as mine. If you don't know what In'n'Out is, you are undoubtedly missing out on the best burger joint of your life. Ever.

Instead, I surprised them by requesting Mexican Food. In Taiwan, Mexican food is the one ethnic dish that is hard to find, and harder to find done well. Japanese? No problem. Thai? We've got that. But Mexican... well, let's just say there isn't a Taco Bell down the street.

There is, however, a Nightmarket. And in this particular Nightmarket there is a Turkish couple who have immigrated to Taiwan. This Turkish couple have a small stand with a banner that hangs above head. The banner reads Authentic Mexican Burritos. And it couldn't make me happier.

To begin with, they're great people, that couple. But then again, I tend to believe food tastes better when you enjoy the people involved in its creation. Heck, I believe life tastes better when you enjoy the people involved in creating life around you.

But, good queue-conversation aside, the burrito is consistently fantastic. Authentic or not, it's hard to take qualms with a chicken burrito with a tortilla rolled from dough.

Fajitas, Tacos, Quesadillas, and heck, Nacho Cheese Chalupas, are all foods I've involuntarily fasted from for the span of a year, but I've certainly been held over by the Wen Xin Nightmarket Authentic Mexican Burritos. 好吃!

Friday, July 17, 2009

On Future Travels, and Other Driftings

Oh, deer. I have a confession to make...

All this time, I've been telling everyone I would leave Taiwan on September 9th (9.9.09, Never Forget)... but I looked at my flight confirmation again today, and discovered I would have missed my plane by four days! Better now than then, yea?

So, my official departure is Saturday, September 5th, 2009. I haven't quite yet decided what to do with the Taiwan Drift when that time comes. I do know I don't want to stop writing... or stop traveling! This year abroad has sparked Wanderlust in me something unquenchable.

In fact, I hope to take one more trip abroad before heading towards the States. I've had my fair share of Thailand, I do believe. Japan and Malaysia are still among the top of my list. I've also been leaning towards Indonesia for some time, but the recent travel warnings might make that difficult. Political protests (and you know, terrorism) aside, Jakarta and Bali both seem beautiful destinations.

Then again, in the wake of protest may be the best time to visit? I'll monitor my travel sites for another week or so to see where the best deals are before taking the plunge and committing to my last drift off the island before returning home.

Though I've found a few new sites in my travels, I still revert to tried and true for many of my flights. Recently, I was turned on to a new site, From my poking around, it has one of the most comprehensible layouts for travel sites out there. Does anyone else feel lost trying to navigate discount travel sites? Save you money?

Probably. Save you time? Maybe not...

That didn't seem the case with Hotels Combined, so I'm looking forward to giving them a shot.

Wherever I choose to travel, I'll be sure to keep everyone at The Drift updated. There is one post-Taiwan trip I have in mind, but I'll keep the suspense for a wee bit longer before I announce that one. I will also keep you all updated with the future of the Drift, for there certainly will be one.

As always, thanks for Drifting with me.

The Journey is the Destination.

[Photo: Champoo Wild Life Sanctuary, Thailand]

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Escaping Pattaya - The Treetop Adventure, or Pattaya Part Tree

The Daylight Hours between
A Nightta Pattaya, Parts One and Two

The sun was up, and I knew I wanted to get my day moving, as it was my last in Thailand. Slightly disappointed in myself for sleeping in, I rushed down the elevator in search for breakfast.

Upon entering the lobby, I was greeted by the same receptionist from the night before.

"You're up early." she stated in disinterested surprise.
"Am I?" I answered, still half asleep.

She nodded towards the clock on the wall. 6:30?! I guess I was up early.

Taking advantage of my early hours, I left the lobby and jogged (/walked.) along the boardwalk for a couple kilometers. This would be the only time I saw Pattaya Beach in full daylight.

An hour or so later, I returned and was talked out of eating breakfast at my hotel, by my hotel's staff, and directed towards the buffet down the block at their sister hotel. Strange, I thought, but I did eat my fill before finishing my morning on the rooftop pool.

After deciding on a new hotel to stay in, and catching a motorbike taxi to get there, I found a travel agent, set on discovering some of the nearby islands.

Unfortunately, I was told, all organized trips had been booked at least a day prior and left before any of the agents were open in the morning. Renting a private charter to an island just wasn't worth the money as a single traveler. Neither came as a big surprise, though both were a slight disappointment.

I asked her if there was anything else, I could do. After the previous night's festivities, I wanted out of this city. She pointed at brouchers like "Zoo" and "Snake Show." My complete lack of interest clearly transcended the boundaries of bi-lingual communication.

"You don't seem like someone who wants the regular kinds of tourism..." I grinned and shook my head to confirm her thought.

It was around this time I allowed my attention to focus on a poster I had seen several in various locations.

"What about that?" I asked inquisitively. She smiled, knowing we found the one.

Flight of the Gibbon: Asia's Treetop Adventure.

I was sold. Completing the transaction, and dashing back to my hotel room to prepare, I met the small bus back in front of the travel agent's small office. Last to be picked up, I took my seat and turned to greet my companions-in-adventure: four young Israeli men, and their Thai girl friend.

Making brief introductions, we set off for our ride. Not long later, we found ourselves in the secluded Champoo Wildlife Sanctuary, not far outside Pattaya.

After the ritualistic signing our life away, promising we know we could die and it would be our fault if we did, the six of us strapped in our harnesses, grabbed our helmets, and met Mike and Don, our Tree Top guides.

The two guides were incredible, and fully knowledgeable of the surrounding forest and history of our expedition. The pack of eager adventurers hiked up hill before climbing the first platform. It was here we were told we stood on the first of 24 platforms with 16 zip lines, and several free-fall rappels looming ahead of us. Most of our group swallowed hard, and shifted nervously; some double checked their safety lines.

One of our guides strapped in, launched himself off the safety of the platform and rushed through the trees before landing several meters away on the other side.

"Your turn," the remaining guide smiled. It was at this point I knew we were in for a lot of fun. None the less, I couldn't help but look down...

Flight of the Gibbon was an incredible adventure for your atypical tourist, and a great break from standard Thailand fanfare. I found myself bonding with 7 strangers, to the point I was sad to see them go at the end of our tree hopping. The wildlife sanctuary was breathtaking: out of city smog, and in the grasp of nature, the setting offered as authentic an experience as possible.

And the zip lines, the free falls, they were by no means watered down. At the peak, we soared over one hundred meters above the ground. The longest line lasted over 300 meters, we glided like flying squirrel - or, well, gibbon - from perch to perch.

At first, it wasn't easy to trust the cables and harness that held us. But as time went on, it was encouraging to see how each member of the group became more and more willing to dive off the ledge and let go of their inhibitions... and their white-knuckle grip.

All-in-all, I'd say my unplanned Plan B was a soaring success. If I was to chalk up the score on this Rematch Trip to Thailand, I wouldn't hesitate to say I came out on top.

Treetop, that is.