Here’s the original post on my name blog: Names from My Travels – Part 2
And if you missed Part 1, check it out here: Names from Travels
Here’s the original post on my name blog: Names from My Travels – Part 2
And if you missed Part 1, check it out here: Names from Travels
It wasn’t until college that I had Taiwan recommended to me as a destination. Honestly, I barely knew its political status related to China, let alone its location on a map. But Christopher (my good friend and former roommate) talked about how amazing it was, how much he enjoyed traveling there. So when we were booking flights through East Asia and added Taiwan to the mix, I had positive associations with it already.
During the four months traveling through Japan, Hong Kong, and southern China, we met dozens of travelers who had been to Taiwan already – and every single one of them LOVED it. We heard almost nothing negative about the entire island, which was a first (every destination has lovers and haters) and I began to pay closer attention. What about Taiwan makes it a place that all kinds of people enjoy?
We’re now in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, looking back at six weeks spent exploring Taiwan’s cities, coasts, and national parks. Here are some thoughts (in no particular order of importance) on the Republic of China (Taiwan’s official name).
In every city we visited, we found museums and cultural centers dedicated to promoting the cultures of Taiwan’s indigenous peoples. Exhibits on history, lifestyles, and practices filled huge buildings; we saw shows on traditional dancing and singing. At every tourist stop, mentions of the tribes local to the area were included in pamphlets and gift shops.
While I appreciate my elementary’s school’s lessons about the Chumash Indians, it’s pretty well-known that native peoples in the United States rarely get their history included in the education system or in local museums. Seeing Taiwan’s determination to share the lives and stories of indigenous tribes was a breath of fresh air, but brought up some difficult questions.
By promoting these cultures in museums and shops, there was a heavily commercialized aspect to it: “Buy these recreations of traditional clothes!” “Take your picture with an attractive female dancer!” “Join us on a tour through a ‘real village’!” It felt very uncomfortable and exotify-ing, as if this was just another tourist trap rather than a way of life for thousands.
I recognize that travel is often like this – going to another country to see how “others” live, and commenting on it as if your own way of life is superior/natural/default. So perhaps I’m not the most qualified individual to talk about the commercialization of a group of which I’m not a member. At least it’s made me a bit more aware of my actions as a foreigner in another country, and how best I can respect/appreciate other ways of life while avoiding fetishizing them.
Within an hour of arriving in Taipei, I turned to Ethan and accused him of tricking me into coming back to Japan. The basic similarities were striking – the prevalence of convenience stores, the cleanliness compared to mainland China, the amount of shopping everywhere – and I noticed it immediately. Through traveling the island, I learned a lot more about Taiwan’s history and relationship with Japan, and just why the Republic of China felt so Japanese.
One comment quite a few travelers made about Taiwan was as follows: “It’s like the best of both China and Japan in one place.” That did feel true a lot of the time. The organization, infrastructure, and ease of travel felt like the streamlined experience of Japan, while the delicious food, diversity of people (in terms of race/class/clothing) and the language, of course, was thoroughly Chinese. But there also developed a distinctly Taiwanese feeling after spending a few weeks meeting people and studying the island. There’s a sense of pride in being Taiwanese, excitement about their own history and struggles, and a friendliness in wanting to share the love of their country with visitors. There seemed to be a greater feeling of community that I hadn’t experienced in either Japan or China, though, a kind of camaraderie that felt refreshing and unique. It certainly made me miss my fellow Californians.
How to talk about the night markets… They were another aspect of Taiwan I was told about by many travelers. Similar to other open-air markets I’ve experienced – lots of people, mix of games, food and shopping, in a specific neighborhood in the evenings – but there were dozens of them throughout the island. I tried to find out more about what makes them so popular in Taiwan specifically, but haven’t found too much online. If you have an answer tell me in the comments?
My favorite dishes were barbecued corn (coated with four layers of sauces and spices, yum), giant pieces of fried chicken (as big as my head, and I have a large head), xiao long bao (I could eat ten dumplings a day for the rest of my life), and spiced beef skewers (returning to a primarily vegetarian lifestyle in California is going to be next to impossible). I realize I’m courting heresy with this next comment, but I don’t like boba tea. Feel free to yell at me about this controversial opinion when you see me next.
And maybe this is because I am a weak Westerner, but I cannot stand the smell of “stinky tofu” (臭豆腐) and I do not understand its popularity. Why? For what reason? How is this a thing?
I’ve always been drawn to the water – pools, lakes, hot springs – and being in east and southeast Asia has certainly been a treat. (There’s water everywhere!!! As a Californian, I can’t figure out where it all comes from??? Why don’t these regions run out???) Taiwan was particularly lovely for this reason.
At Taroko Gorge (north of Hualien), we scootered through the winding roads of the mountains, along the route of the Liwu River. At one point, we parked and hiked off the main road, climbing around a fence to get to a natural hot spring area. We found a couple of other travelers and a few Taiwanese locals there, sitting in the hot water along the edge of the roaring river. Stripping down to our underwear, Ethan and I jumped right in (while Nancy soaked her feet like a lady) and climbed around the calmer points of the river. The color of the water was a beautiful blue-grey, and being surrounded by marble cliff faces was awesome.
In Taichung, we stayed at a hostel that offered a trip to the “Double Dragon” waterfall, closer to the interior of the island (Taichung is on the west coast). After hiking a ways through thick forest on a tiny trail, we reached Taiwan’s largest suspension bridge – which had pretty much no solid railing. With our Taiwanese leader and four Malaysian travelers, Ethan, Nancy and I traversed the bridge, stopping to take pictures and/or swear. (Nancy helped a particularly fearful teenager conquer his fear of the bridge, while the rest of us pretended not to be frightened as all hell). When we reached the end of the bridge, we found the Double Dragon falls right above us, crashing down the cliff face. One pool nearby was deep enough to jump in off a boulder, and we were able to wade all the way in under the waterfall, an exhilarating experience.
South of Taipei, Ethan and I took a rickety bus all the way up to Wu Lai, a small village with a mining history, and now a tourist attraction for its beautiful waterfall and natural hot springs. Similar to Taroko, we shimmied down to the hot spring area where a ton of locals had set up their own spa, piping water from the hillside to fill large plastic tubs and cement pools. They even hung blankets above and around a rocky area to make an indoor sauna! While Ethan enjoyed the hot water, I took it upon myself to explore the river. The current was incredibly strong, but a rope was set up on one edge to allow you to swim while still connected to the bank. After playing around with that, Ethan and I both followed the “footsteps” of the locals and jumped in upstream to swim to a calmer spot downstream, allowing the current to push us quickly along the edge of the village. Relaxing at the end of a long day, I laid on the bank with my feet in the river, and was treated to an impromptu pedicure by some tiny fish, who enjoyed nibbling the dead skin off my feet (free spa treatment!) Definitely my favorite part of the trip.
On one of our last days in Taipei, Ethan and I went to two museums dedicated to the 2/28 Movement, as well as the 2/28 Memorial Park. For those who don’t know, this commemorates a huge protest in 1947 by the Taiwanese people against oppressive censorship measures of their government, which resulted in the death and imprisonment of thousands. In the past few decades, the government has begun to recognize the tragedy of this time in history, and have begun working with activists to set up museums and memorials to educate the public.
It’s something that greatly impressed me about this place, that the leaders were willing to admit past political wrongdoing and take steps to apologize to the public and make sure the tragedy isn’t swept under the rug. I wish the United States were better about admitting mistakes/errors of judgement/etc in their past, and were willing to make reparations to the groups wronged. To be proud of your country is one thing, but to refuse to admit that your country has ever hurt its own people is another. For me, the only reason to be proud of a place is to see it progress over time, to see it continually get better for all of its citizens. Otherwise, it’s like a stagnant pond that keeps filling up with mosquito larva and pond scum (see our current state of affairs).
That’s all I got for now. Message me to chat about Taiwan 🙂
While Skyping with my sister yesterday, she jokingly asked me, “So are you all ‘enlightened’ now that you’ve traveled around the world?” My initial response was an eye roll and immediate assurance that I have not changed all that much; the only changes that I could think of at the time are that I’m more open to eating other types of foods (which is actually a milestone for this incredibly picky eater) and I’m more used to living each day with fewer material objects. But her question stuck in my head after the conversation ended, for a few reasons.
The backpacker life comes with quite a few cliches, both the ones that are projected upon us and the ones we create for ourselves. In the former category, there are the assumptions that we’re all trust fund kids with superiority complexes who don’t actually care about the places we’re visiting as long as they provide good backdrops for Instagram photos. In the latter category, there is a culture of self-righteousness about our amazing journeys that allow us to discover our life’s true purpose through learning from “other” (non-white or non-Western) peoples. While I have met two or three individuals who match up to these stereotypes, they are few and far between. Yes, a few of us have read Eat Pray Love (guilty) or wear loose elephant-print pants (you know who you are) or wax poetic about “life on the road,” but the majority of people I’ve met have been… normal, for lack of a better term.
Some travelers have saved money for their trip, others work on the road to keep themselves afloat. Some wear makeup daily, others have quit looking in mirrors altogether. Some haven’t talked with a friend back home in weeks, others Skype their families every day. Backpackers of all kinds spend a lot of time watching their favorite shows online, complaining about the foods they miss, chattering about their pets, comparing prices of items at convenience stores, asking for tips about their destinations ahead; there’s no singular type of traveler I’ve come across, really. Occasionally I’ve talked to others about the “reason” why they travel, but somehow it’s assumed as a given among the group – if you have the means and time, why not?
Ethan and I went into this trip with similar feelings – we both want to see more of the world, this is a good point in our lives to do it, our financial situations are stable enough for awhile. Very quickly into this trip, Ethan brought up the quote: “Wherever you go, there you are.” We’re the same individuals who left Berkeley 5-6 months ago, just with a higher tolerance for mosquito bites and snoring roommates. I don’t think either of us expected an epiphany while climbing a mountain or a realization of some subconscious goal while eating a dumpling.
Still, there’s always a nagging feeling that we’re not doing/seeing/learning/experiencing enough, that somehow we’re traveling incorrectly. If my previous statement is true, that we’re traveling not for enlightenment but because we can, wouldn’t it be more cost-effective to stay at home and study these places? I could glean more about Chinese history in a week at a desk than I could schlepping a backpack through Sichuan for two months. An immersion program at a Japanese school in San Francisco would teach me more language skills than what I picked up at a hostel in Tokyo. Removing the physical activity, social stress, and money-spending inherent in travel would certainly make learning about these cultures much easier and arguably more amusing.
When I look back on this trip – about 100 days until its end, just a bit past the midway point – I don’t think about all of the history I’ve learned or the museums I’ve seen or the souvenirs I bought. I think of it in terms of moments: watching my mother successfully coax a frightened Malaysian teenager across Taiwan’s largest suspension bridge; singing Eagles karaoke at a Family Guy-themed bar until 4:00 am in Osaka; sitting in an alleyway in Kyoto with my boyfriend at midnight, frustrated after a stressful day of switching trains and climbing stairs. I think of all of the people who I became close with because we were in the same city at the same time and spoke the same language, people who I’d love to see every week for the rest of my life, but can’t because the world is too big.
I guess I don’t travel to become more enlightened; I travel to fit more “life” into my life. And really, one doesn’t need to be in a foreign country to try new foods or meet new friends or have more fun – it’s just that travel reminds you how to do those things when your life at home feels ordinary. The most challenging part of this trip, for me, will be learning to make new adventures without a backpack on, to extend the exhilaration of novelty into a place I already know. So, little sister, get ready to get enlightened right along with me when I come home next year. We’re gonna have some fun.
I don’t remember what made us decide to visit Macau in the first place. We needed a plane ticket out of China, I think, so we hastily bought the cheapest flight we could from Hong Kong/Macau to Taiwan (yes, they’re all technically part of China, but we’ll cover that more in a later post about Taiwan), and ended up in Macau for two nights. We booked an AirBnB (cheaper than a hostel in this region) and set out from Hong Kong by ferry, no idea what awaited us on the other side of the Pearl River Delta.
While in China, I did some reading on Macau’s history and tourist spots to figure out exactly where we were headed. I was surprised to hear it had once been a Portuguese colony (my colonial history knowledge has never been stellar) and wondered whether it would remind me of the Azores at all. My paternal family is from this tiny group of Portuguese islands in the Atlantic, with the past five generations of Cardozas born and raised in San Luis Obispo county, California (losing the language along the way, but not the appetite for fish nor the desire to cultivate fruit trees). A few years ago, my grandparents were generous enough to take myself and ten other family members to visit the homeland – Pico and Faial, specifically – where their parents and grandparents were born. Beautiful in both nature and architecture, the small towns on these islands amazed me with their ornate churches and breathtaking views of the Atlantic. I was also stunned at how many of the islanders looked like they were related to me – and in truth, many of them very well could have been. We were even lucky enough to meet a very distant cousin – an older man named Manuel who had a hobby of building miniature windmills – who looked a heck of a lot like my grandfather.
Back to the other side of the planet – here’s a brief history of Macau, for anyone who doesn’t know (I certainly didn’t).
Prior to the sixteenth century, Macau was primarily inhabited by the Tankas, an ethnic subgroup in China, as well as Han Chinese people. The Tankas are “boat people” who live by fishing, with community histories in southern China and parts of Vietnam. In the early 1500’s, Portuguese traders arrived in Macau and were allowed by the Chinese government to set up a commercial center. Over the following decades and centuries, the Portuguese influence expanded: a Roman Catholic diocese took root, the Iberians formed their own unofficial Senate, and the Portuguese even defended the region against attacks by the Dutch (well, their slaves did). After the Opium Wars, China ceded Macau to Portugal in 1887, making it an official Portuguese colony.
But the world wars and rapid governmental shifts that shook the globe in the twentieth century didn’t miss Macau. Partially as a result of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, Macau’s inhabitants demanded change from their Portuguese administration; and after Portugal’s own Carnation Revolution, overseas colonies began to decolonize. In 1999, Macau was officially absorbed back into the Chinese sphere of influence, making it a special administrative region (SAR), like Hong Kong.
What does all of this history mean for Macau today? Well, their official languages are Cantonese and Portuguese, despite the fact that 95% of the population is Han Chinese and only 2% is Portuguese. This actually made traveling around the city much easier – with my intermediate French and Ethan’s beginner Spanish, we were able to read Portuguese signs and navigate through the historic spots more easily. We also ran into a ton of Portuguese travelers, on their own and in groups, who were exploring the region (and a bunch of them looked like my dad and his siblings. It’s truly bizarre). Macau also has a really great infrastructure set up for English-speaking travelers, providing free walking tour maps and guides (and an app).
Aesthetically, I felt like I was back in Portugal. The black-and-white cobblestone streets with their intricate designs matched my homeland exactly; the brightly colored buildings with European flair made my jaw drop. When I walked into the São Lourenço church, all of my memories of Western architecture classes came flooding back. The older sections of the city feel like a town in eighteenth-century Europe was transplanted to the other side of the world, and China filled in the blanks. Hearing Cantonese outside the Portuguese embassy (an historic building near our AirBnB) felt dissonant, but oddly worked perfectly with the Macanese lifestyle we witnessed.
And the FOOD. Macau has its own flavor, a special mix of Chinese and Portuguese cuisines with a ton of fish and spices (and cheese. Bless my people). We were directed to a nearby Portuguese restaurant by our AirBnB host, and we were not disappointed. I’d post pictures, but we ate the food so quickly that nothing survived to be Instagrammed.
One huge part of Macau that I’m not mentioning – its reputation as the “Las Vegas of the East.” Macau has quite a few large casinos, with eastern branches of the Venetian and the MGM Grand. We didn’t end up checking out these fine establishments for a few reasons: 1. We were only in Macau for two nights and 2. The only traveler we met who had been to Macau told us they weren’t worth our time, comparing them to “shitty Vegas, with no free drinks and the stakes are higher”. Next time, I think I’ll give them a look-see, though.
I’ll absolutely be returning to Macau to learn more about its history and see more of the city. Next time, hopefully, with my family in tow 🙂
We’ve been in mainland China for the past seven weeks, navigating our way from Shenzhen to Chengdu, with several stops along the way. While I’ve wanted to write more about this experience, it’s been hard to find any singular topic – for me, so much of the experience has been mixed. I’ve had some of my most fun moments of travel – zipping through the countryside on an electric scooter, snuggling baby kittens, going to an incredible hot pot restaurant – as well as my least fun – mosquito attacks, losing half of our clothing, food poisoning (ugh). I’m also nothing close to an expert on China’s politics, history, and cultures, so am I even qualified to write this? Here goes:
By the time we got to Hong Kong, Ethan and I had started feeling incredibly tired. After some doubt about our own abilities to undertake long-term travel, we found that it’s not uncommon for such people to experience travel fatigue (check out articles here and here). Often, people refer to our trip as a “vacation” or something else flippant, and I begin to bristle. Sure, we recognize that we have a level of privilege that allows us to do this, but the lifestyle is anything but relaxing. And China has certainly tested the level of discomfort I’ve experienced as a Westerner.
The Guangzhou train station is by far the most chaotic environment I’ve ever experienced – we missed our train the first time we tried to catch it, and ended up coming back the next day (two hours early). I’ve found that many bus/train/subway stations aren’t much more organized, and that quite a few Chinese citizens haven’t embraced the concept of “lining up.” Most “tourist information centers” don’t have English-speaking staff, either. While the buses between cities are fairly regular, it’s incredibly hard to figure out where the bus stations are, as well as how to buy tickets for them.
After getting spoiled in Japan, we’ve been confronted by wooden beds (without mattresses/pads), squat toilets (my least favorite thing in the world), and a lack of available drinking water. Public urination and/or defecation isn’t uncommon either, especially among young children (at least THEY have an excuse). While I was warned about all of this ahead of time, getting used to it has been… hard.
The Awkward Parts:
You know how you felt as a teenager, that everyone was staring at you all the time and judging you? Well, that actually happens to us. I’ve never been stared at as much as I have in this country. At first, it was funny, but after people started taking my picture (or video) without my consent, it got annoying. Just ask, people! I’ve asked locals why it is that I get more stares than Ethan, and I’ve gotten a few answers – “Because you are tall” (I am usually the tallest woman in my line of sight) or “Because you are beautiful” among them. While I appreciate the flattery, it’s hard to believe that my beauty is potent enough to affect small children – who frequently point and yell “WAI GUO REN” (“foreigners”) at us. I’ve responded to this by waving, winking, or pointing at those I catch staring, which usually surprises them. Quite a few other travelers (especially women) have mentioned this phenomenon as well, and while the staring doesn’t usually lead to a come-on or even a conversation, it’s certainly unnerving.
It’s been much harder to communicate with people as well. While Ethan is making great headway in his Mandarin practice, asking questions beyond a few words is very difficult. We’ve responded to this by typing into Google Translate and holding up the results, or using a very complicated gesturing system. Usually, Chinese speakers have a decent sense of humor about our ineptitude, but we’ve been in quite a few uncomfortable situations in which the language barrier seemed particularly acute.
While we have driven motor scooters and the like through the countryside, we have yet to get behind the wheel of a car. Part of this is trepidation about driving in China, where the two rules of the road seem to be “Drive aggressively” and “Always be beeping.” As a Californian, I adhere to the policy that using one’s horn for anything other than a near-fatal accident is unnecessary. But here, horns are for communication – honk when you drive by another car, honk when you’re behind someone, honk if no one is around but you feel like making your presence known. Also, lines on the road are more suggestions than rules – many of our taxi drivers have spent at least half their routes driving against the traffic flow.
When Things Are Good, They’re Really Good:
Even with us lao wai (slang for “foreign”) tourists, so many people in China have been incredibly friendly. We’ve been challenged to ping-pong matches, offered free food and drinks, and generally helped by locals in every city. I’ve seen many more smiles here than in Japan, and received quite a few enthusiastic “Hello’s!” from strangers and passers-by. It’s nice to feel as though you’re in a safe community no matter where you are, and that people are aware of one another.
To continue that, China has felt very safe the entire time I’ve been in the country. Before we left the US, one of the more common questions we got was “China? Are you sure it’s safe?” The fact is, average citizens don’t have access to guns (the local police don’t even carry them), the city streets are well lit, and since people are always outside, hanging out or walking around, you never feel like you’re going to get snuck up on or even bothered. The United States is far more dangerous than anywhere I’ve been in China (especially recently), and one of the more common questions I’ve gotten from Chinese citizens is “America? Is it safe?”
Let’s move on to something we can all agree on – FOOD. Every single meal I’ve had has been awesome, and I don’t regret a single one (okay, maybe whatever gave me food poisoning, but other than that…) I enjoyed Japanese cuisine, but their favorite spice appears to be salt. Here in Sichuan, every meal has at least 20 different spices thrown in, plus garlic, onions, and all kinds of flavors. We were both challenged by hot pot – in Chongqing, it’s not just a meal, it’s a lifestyle – and the traditional ingredients – goose guts, chicken feet, beef stomach. Still, we persevered, because anything cooked in a Sichuan sauce is worth eating.
Bright Lights Big Cities
Here are some highlights from each city – if it’s mentioned, it’s recommended!
Ethan and I were lucky to be granted ten-year visas, allowing us to enter and exit China without issue for the next decade (for 60 days at a time maximum). And after spending a month and a half in the southwest, I can say that I’ll be looking forward to more Chinese travel experiences in the future. Though I’ll bring my own supply of DEET next time.
*Cross-posted on NothingLikeAName.blogspot.com*
While traveling, I’ve been explaining my interest in and study of names to all kinds of people, leading to some cool conversations about naming conventions in other countries. Here’s a list of names and stories I’ve come across so far – apologies if I asked you about your name, then forgot to write it here!
Last names (and anything particularly identifying) have been removed!
Christopher called Kit
A good friend of mine told me how he got his nickname, one that’s unusual for our age group. He enrolled late in preschool when he was about three, and the teacher told him and his parents, “We already have two Christopher’s and two Chris’, you’ll need to pick a new nickname.” So they researched alternative options and found Kit! He likes his name, and it suits him well.
Sibset: Yua and Kanoa
These two sweet girls have equally sweet Japanese parents, who were very gracious about answering my questions about the kids’ names. They likes these names particularly because of their meanings, which I remember as “good help” and “kind help” (but Google is being unhelpful on confirming this!)
An American friend living in Japan (who I miss dearly) comes from a big family – and he sent me a detailed explanation of all of their names! (One of the many reasons Frank is the best). Pretty much every child has been given names to honor a close friend or relative:
“Frank Rowley, I’m named after a minister who lived… in Colorado and was as a grandfather to my mother. My father as a gift gave her the choice of my name and that was her choice.
Joseph Charles is next. Joseph is my mother’s father’s name and Charles is my father’s father’s name.
Mary Ellen Rose is the third child. (First name Mary Ellen) Her name is my father’s mother’s name and his grandmother’s name.
Fourth is Billie Ann Margret. (Billie Ann is first name, double names for every girl actually) Billie Ann is my mother’s mother’s name, Margret is my mother’s grandmother’s name.
Fifth is George William, George is my father’s name and William is my father’s grandfather’s name as far as I know.
Sixth is Helen Elizabeth Mae. Helen is my father’s stepmother’s name, Elizabeth and Mae I’m not sure about.
Seventh is Maureen Kimberly Alice. Maureen and Alice are my father’s closest sisters name, and Kimberly is my mother’s youngest sisters name.”
A fabulous Australian woman told me that she was supposed to be named Marissa, but her mother was helped by a kindly Kate whose birthday was near her baby’s due date. She said “If the baby is born on your birthday, I’ll name her after you,” not thinking that it could actually happen. Lo and behold, baby Kate was born on that exact day.
One of my favorite names! I met an Aya at a concert for the band YAY – she pointed out to me and the band members that it was her name flipped. Perhaps that’s why she attended?
Apolline (called “Apo” or “Apple”)
I was introduced to la belle Apolline while working with her a hostel in Ehime prefecture. Another worker told me her nickname was “Apo,” which I misheard as “Apple”. I definitely think that name-nickname set could work in the US! Note: the Japanese word for apple is ringo, and my boyfriend began referring to Apolline as “Ringo-chan,” much to the delight of our Japanese hosts.
A new Turkish friend told me her name meaning via email before I even asked – of COURSE we became friends. It means “origin,” and is used for girls in Turkey. She apparently gets called Ashley a lot, though.
Youhei, Kouhei, and Kyouhei
Three of our hosts in Ehime had VERY similar names, listed above – one of them joked we could call them all “The Hei’s.”
Twins: Sydney (f) and Tucker (m)
Their mom was ahead of the curve – these two are 25 years old, but their names sound incredibly modern. I like that the names fit well together but don’t feel matchy-matchy. Sydney recently had a baby girl named Maeve – a very stylish choice.
While her official name is Yiwan, meaning “beautiful cloud” in Chinese, Yiwan told me that she goes by Yvanne when working with English speakers since it’s easier for them. But once I heard her name’s meaning, I had to call her Yiwan!
While in Osaka, I met a friendly Frenchwoman named Nadia – which intrigued me, since I thought that the name wasn’t popular in France (checking the data, that’s an incorrect assumption!) She told me that she was named after Nadia Comăneci, the first gymnast to score a perfect 10 at the Olympics. So cool!
Disclaimer: we were speaking at a loud open mic night, so there’s a chance I misheard his Chinese name! While talking with a family in Hong Kong, I met a man with two interesting name stories. His Chinese name, which I heard as Momen, means “no news” (can’t confirm online, but he probably knows better than Google). For years he didn’t know why his parents named him this, but as an adult his father told him the name comes from the saying “no news is good news,” echoing the virtues of peace and contentment with the present in Buddhism. His English name Morgan comes from a movie that his parents watched and loved, called “Morgan!” (1966) – but the main character spends the movie descending into madness. Sounds like this man’s parents were a kick!
I met Chun Nam (English name Stephen) in Hong Kong, and he gave us an amazing tour of the Kowloon Walled City – AND answered a bunch of my name questions! When he was born, his name was Tsin (展) Lung (龍), with the meaning of “an unfolding dragon, symbolising something good, like [positive] development in [his] life.” However, another word (剪) also sounds like Tsin in Cantonese, meaning “scissors” or “cutting,” making his name sound like “cutting a dragon in half.” His parents, fearful of the implications of this inauspicious name, took him to a feng shui master to make a new name: Chun (震) Nam (楠). “Chun means shaking, like in an earthquake, and Nam is a very valuable type of good wood… The names means if you place the piece of wood in the river, it would resist the wave and stand still (won’t shake).” I love this name history for all of the universal elements of naming it brings in – parental preferences, etymologies/meanings, aural confusion, and looking to outside professionals for help.
Sofi and Rumi
Alright, so these are border collies, but I found it delightful that in the middle of Guangdong’s (China) countryside, there were two dogs with such star names – with Sofia and Sophia being the world’s current favorite for girls, and Beyoncé making waves with a daughter named Rumi.
I met the incomparable Nicolai while in the Chinese countryside, and this Danish man surprised me with (what sounds to me like) a Russian name. He’s one of five children, and their sibset is fantastic – Rasmus, Nicolai, Frederik, Christina, and Josefine.
I met wonderful and Welsh Fabian while at a hostel in Guilin – her name is actually spelled creatively, but because it’s so unusual, I’ll simplify it for privacy’s sake. She’s the only female Fabian she’s ever met! She also comes from a great sibset: Seren (m), Phoenix (f), and Siaman (m) are her brothers and sister.
I met English Katy at the same hostel in Guilin, whose name sounds fairly popular – until she pointed out to me that no one in the UK spells her name correctly (Katie is preferred). The midwife wrote the incorrect spelling on her birth records, and it stuck!
We met while working at an English school in Yangshuo, China. He’s from Egypt, and when I asked him how many Mohamed’s he knows, he said “More than you can ever imagine.” (HA!) He was born on the Prophet Mohamed’s birthday (peace upon him), hence his first name (his middle name is after his father, Ayman). He told me some great stories about his siblings’ names too: it’s customary for the grandmother to name the first child, but since Mohamed (firstborn) was named by his father, his grandmother insisted on naming his next oldest sister – Sarah. His brother Yousef was given one of the more popular names of his birth year, and in Egypt the name Yousef implies strength, handsomeness, and kindness. His youngest sister is Dina, but Mohamed couldn’t remember why that name was chosen 🙂 His mother’s name is Ghada, meaning “graceful woman” in Arabic.
Howdy folks! Ethan here (on Emily’s laptop, because she stole mine to play videogames).
On August 1, we put those Chinese visas we got to good use and crossed the border north of Hong Kong. If HK was scary, Shenzhen was terrifying; never had we felt more out of place on this trip, wandering from the subway to our hostel. Suffice it to say, staring is not considered rude around these parts, and Emily’s hair is a roving tourist attraction. As I kept stupidly saying, “We aren’t in Kansas anymore.”
However, arriving in Guangzhou (just a quick high speed train ride away) released some pressure. Guangzhou (and the broader Pearl River Delta region) is a kaleidoscope of sights, sounds, and smells, befitting of its sometimes-nickname of “The World’s Factory.” The people are direct, friendly, and have places to go, and their obvious hustle is a living testament to China’s incredible economic growth.
But, as soon as we arrived, we departed – off to a eco-village/meditation center (I know, right?) outside the city. It wasn’t the best experience (hippies aren’t the most organized folks), but it meant a week to get used to China in the surreal surroundings of the subtropical forests that ring a not-too-far-away megalopolis. There, Emily and I were put to work clearing trails that led away from the village and into the forest, armed with machetes. When we weren’t exhausted from doing that in 35 degree C (~90 degree F) heat, we became good friends with a Danish dude (not annoying) and a 17 year-old Chinese kid who didn’t speak a bit of English (sort of annoying; he’s a sweetheart though).
…and then off again! With the Dane in tow, we spent a week back in the city proper sightseeing, sweating, and eating lots of dim sum. Already, I’m eager to repeat what I said above – Guangzhou is a mesmerizing hive of activity. And yet, it’s a strangely cozy place, with plenty to eat, convenient public transit, and tons of things to do. For instance, I was amazed by not only the number of museums, but just how busy they are. Folks in Guangzhou might not be the most quiet or polite in museums…but they seem to really love learning about history, culture, science, and more. That I can really appreciate.
I write this to you now from a small village outside a slightly larger town outside a city 2 hours north of Guangzhou (by high speed train) – it’s called Yangshuo and it’s surrounded by unbelievable mountains. We’re working at an English language school for a week – our job is to talk with the students for 2 hours in the evening.
Will our heroes go have an insightful cultural experience? Will Ethan talk too fast for non-native English speakers to possibly understand? Will Emily go crazy from having to chat with – ugh – people? Tune in in two weeks.
This post is going to focus around a lot of the questions we get, as well as an overview of what the trip is like from a day-to-day perspective. If you have a question for us that isn’t answered here, go ahead and ask!
“Why are you doing this?”
Short answer: We both love traveling.
Long answer: After experiencing Japan for the first time during a trip in 2016, Ethan was eager to return (and add a few other Asian nations to the itinerary). I hadn’t been on a trip longer than one or two weeks since 2010. We spent a few months discussing the pro’s and con’s (mostly the pro’s) and deciding how/when we’d be able to undertake a long term trip.
A few factors in our decision to travel now, versus later: we’re both at an age/life stage where we don’t mind “rougher” living situations (hostels, walking all day, etc); we were both ready to leave our current jobs and experience something different for a while; we don’t have too many responsibilities (like mortgages, kids, school, etc) that could affect future travel plans.
“How are you paying for this?”
When we made the decision to undertake a year-long adventure, it was about a year in advance of our planned departure date. We read a lot of travel blog posts online about how different travelers budgeted for such a journey, and came up with the figure of $10,000 each for a year of travel. We spent the year saving money, adjusting for planned expenses (phone bills, travel insurance, etc) and researching cheap travel tips (as well as Workaway and CouchSurfing). Currently, we both make money while traveling via remote working – I write articles for BabyNameWizard, and Ethan advises high school students applying to college via email and Skype. We’ve also adjusted our length of trip from “one year” to “when the money runs out” – we would rather have more flexibility/comfort now than prolonging an uncomfortable trip.
“How did you plan ahead?”
Internet! It is easier than ever to find destination recommendations, cheap flight websites, and free daily itineraries in almost every language for every country. Travel blogs written by people like us (millennial Westerners without an infinite sum of money) have been incredibly helpful. We also depend a lot on WikiTravel, Google Maps, and Reddit. Being who I am, I’ve made quite a few spreadsheets to keep track of flights and hostels, what to pack, and weekly plans (when necessary).
“Why are you traveling in Asia?”
Ethan was the impetus for this decision – being an amateur scholar of Japanese history and language (#weeaboo) and working with recent Chinese immigrants to the United States sparked his curiosity to explore these particular countries. When we started researching travel plans, we found that adding Southeast Asia to our trip wouldn’t be too difficult once we were already in the “area” (continent).
While my travel experience prior to this has been in the US and Europe, I was eager to expand my knowledge on a part of the world that I’ve learned very little about. There’s also not many places in the world to which I *wouldn’t* go – I’ve got one life, might as well use it to explore all there is to see!
“What’s in your backpack?”
Probably too much. I’m currently using Flight 001 bags to organize everything, so at least it’s not all in a jumble. Here’s a quick run down:
Being able to carry everything I own feels limiting in some ways but liberating in others. For example, I’m not very into fashion, but I really miss wearing more than three different outfits and putting on makeup when I want to. On the other hand, I’m always very proud when I find ways to use my limited tools to solve problems – tweezers and safety pins are surprisingly versatile!
“What do you do every day?”
It depends on the day!
*Because this is written by Emily, some facets of Ethan’s travel experience are not included (obviously). Feel free to message him directly if you have questions for him!
Today is my 76th day of travel (105th for Ethan), and I’ve been working for roughly half of it – 14 days in Nagano, 6 days in Osaka, 13 days in Kuma Kougen, and 4 days in Guangzhou (soon to be 5). For those who don’t know, part of the way Ethan and I have been keeping costs down on our trip has been through the Workaway program. Workaway connects international volunteers with community-oriented businesses, promising cultural exchange and a way for travelers to stay in areas that might be expensive or difficult to find. Businesses post about themselves on the site, and talk about what kind of work volunteers will do as well as what they offer in return – accommodation, food, activities, etc. We volunteers then email these places and apply to work for them, usually for a minimum of two weeks. Workaway puts in place an hourly maximum (no more than 5 hours a day, maximum 5 days per week) and allows volunteers to review the businesses and vice versa.
When I first heard about this program, it sounded too good to be true. Free food and lodging for hanging out at a hostel a few hours a day? (Childcare, farm/garden work, and English teaching are among the other popular opportunities). I agreed with Ethan, that this program could help us travel for a longer period of time, and help us explore these towns that we might never see otherwise. So, we decided to base our trip through East and Southeast Asia around the Workaway opportunities we could get.
37 work days later, my opinion on Workaway has changed a bit. Here’s a breakdown of my perspective on the pro’s and con’s of the program:
To counteract the negatives, Ethan and I have been alternating Workaway weeks with strictly travel/sightseeing weeks. This allows us to feel like we’re doing more of what we want and still saving money. We’ve also started including “work/relax” days in our plans, without any attractions/excursions, to help us catch up on much-needed mental and physical rest. As we identify possible Workaways to visit in the future, we’re more careful to get clear instructions from businesses on what they’re looking for and how they’re managed.
Ultimately, I still think that Workaway is a great option for people who want to travel, save money, and live like a local for a bit. It definitely helps if you have energy and a sense of humor! But if you’re looking for a way to travel for a long period of time without A) being rich or B) working… keep looking. And tell me how when you figure it out!
I’ll be honest, I was nervous about our trip to Hiroshima in the days leading up to it. The city’s name seems to be underlined with sadness whenever it’s said, regardless of the context. No one I’ve heard talks about the city the way they do with Tokyo or New York or London, even though they’ve also been subjected to attacks in the past. When people hear “Hiroshima,” they think “atomic bomb” and not much else. So planning an overnight trip there made me anxious.
In preparation, I tried to remember the first time I learned about Hiroshima and the atomic bomb. I read a story in elementary school about Sadako and the thousand paper cranes she wanted to fold. I’ve watched Jaws about a couple dozen times, and Robert Shaw’s infamous monologue ends with “Anyway, we delivered the bomb.” But it’s hard for anyone to conceptualize a single event which left over 100,000 people dead and an entire city flattened. It’s harder still to grow up and learn that your own national leaders ordered such an incomprehensible attack, the same men who have been touted as heroes for “winning” World War II. My grandfather was a WWII vet who fought in the Pacific during those years – what was he fighting for? What did “we” win? As an American, what should my relationship with this city look like?
The trip was also clouded by a memory I have from 2015: Ethan and I went to New York City (my first time there) and made a point to visit Ground Zero and the World Trade Center memorial. After getting lost in the surrounding buildings numerous times, we finally found the site – and it was packed with tourists and selfie sticks. Malls were under construction around virtually the whole area. We ended up leaving after fifteen minutes, because it didn’t feel like a place with history anymore. It felt like a local attraction.
I didn’t want Hiroshima to be a kitschy place, but I also didn’t want it to be a place without history. There lies the problem – I was trying to predict what this place might be like now, and what I wanted from it. I wasn’t thinking about what Hiroshima is.
During the ferry trip from Matsuyama to Hiroshima, I read John Hersey’s article for the New Yorker. Published in August 1946 (exactly one year later), it was one of the first articles many Americans read about the bombing. And he pulled few punches – the fear, the chaos, the violence, and the destruction caused are all there in his essay. I followed that up with Wikipedia research on the bombing, the Manhattan Project, and the city landmarks that mark important sites. When we arrived in Hiroshima, I nearly expected a flattened city still in ruins, since my head was swimming with all of those horrific words and images.
But traveling from the ferry to our hostel proved different. A fully functioning, dense, and populous city spread out before me, full of nail salons and banks and vending machines. The people waiting for pedestrian lights and walking out of restaurants didn’t seem to be unbearably sad or burdened with the memory of their longitude and latitude. They seemed to be… regular people.
That night, Ethan and I watched Hiroshima Mon Amour, a film with one of my favorite screenplays (written by the indefatigable Marguerite Duras). Made in 1959, the film focuses on an affair between a French actress and a Japanese architect, but it quickly devolves into an exploration of the trauma of war (just super uplifting stuff, you know?) The first ten minutes are essentially stock footage videos of post-bomb Hiroshima, the burned victims and the fallen buildings and the immense suffering. But the rest of the movie was filmed in Hiroshima in 1958, giving its audience an idea of how quickly the city began to rebuild. A museum had already been built to memorialize the bombing, tour guides are shown bringing groups around the city, hotels are fully furnished, and modern cafes are bustling with crowds and booze (it’s a half-French movie, after all).
The next morning, we woke up early and prepared for our daunting walk through the city. On the way to our first stop, Ethan suddenly pointed at the roof of our covered walkway – “It’s the same one from the movie, we’re on the same street.” Fifty years after the film debuted, some parts of Hiroshima were still recognizable. And I began to see it differently.
We went to a small museum in an elementary school, one of the few buildings left standing when the bomb hit. Walking through the exhibits talking about the number of lives lost, I could hear students playing at recess outside. It was almost hard to concentrate on the pain, when positivity was so immediately present. While looking at the paper cranes made by today’s students for the museum, the docent approached me and handed me two small ones. “Gifts for visitors.” He asked me where I was from, smiled, and thanked me for visiting.
Our next stop was the official Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, a huge building with incredibly detailed and well-curated exhibits. Hundreds of people, from every corner of the world, were there together – learning and talking and bumping into each other while swarming the interactive tables. If that sounds a bit cliché, well, I suppose it was. But the museum was living up to its goal – promoting history and peace between all peoples. I saw a few tears, but mostly the smiles of children who were visiting with their parents. The heavy stuff went over their head, but the diversity of the group around them kept them engaged. It’s not every day you hear twenty different languages spoken in one room.
Ethan and I walked through most of the park, full of monuments dedicated to victims and peacemakers alike. Friendly locals stopped to say hello, and even our trek to the hypocenter – the direct spot beneath the location in the sky where the bomb went off – was with a tour group of elementary school students (inadvertently). One of the boys was very keen to impress Ethan with his knowledge of the site, and I couldn’t help but smile.
Walking through Hiroshima, I began to feel less afraid and more encouraged. One of the worst tragedies in human history had befallen this place, and yet all around me were tall buildings and families and hundred-year old trees. Not even a nuclear bomb could defeat the spirit of the people of Japan (and Hiroshima in particular), and the evidence is plain as day. The people here know their history, and what’s more, they know all of it: the centuries before, the hot day in August 1945, and the decades spent rebuilding and doggedly pursuing a new goal – peace.
Let me remain on my soapbox for just one more paragraph – it wasn’t until visiting Hiroshima that I realized just how “little” a bomb can do. I’m not trying to minimize the lives lost, the trauma of survivors, or the evils of war. But before this trip, the words “nuclear bomb” sounded to me like an ending. As we hear more and more about countries developing nuclear weapons, and we’re told the end is near, it’s easy to be totally pessimistic and anticipate the end of the world. But Hiroshima is proof that even the most unfathomable attack can’t break the human spirit. Even if World War 3 starts tomorrow, there will be those who survive, stand up, and rebuild.
As we packed up and headed to the train station, I remarked to Ethan that I’d like to travel to Hiroshima again. I saw a few neighborhoods and museums I wanted to revisit, and the overall vibe felt relaxed but engaging. He was visibly taken aback, and pointed out that that was the first time I said that about a city (that’s normally “his line”) during our trip. That may be so, but Hiroshima is a special enough place to keep watching it grow.