As I’m sitting in my hostel in Taiwan reflecting my last few months and my incredibly short time left, there are so many experiences, memories, challenges, and feelings overwhelming me for the first time. Between teaching, my own schooling, hanging out with my students and my coworkers, and keeping in touch with my friends and family back home, I haven’t had much time or reason to think about my upcoming departure from this place I have called home for the last five months. Now, alone in a foreign country for my last visa run, I am feeling emotions building up that I don’t know how to express in words. Thoughts about my return to Canada, what I will miss from Asia, how I will return to life as it was, everything I still need and want to do during my time here, and how I will say goodbye are all going through my head. The more I think about it, the more I realize that all of my most cherished memories and experiences from this trip always find their way back to the amazing, inspiring, and kind hearted people that I have met along the way. My students and coworkers, the surrounding community of Dhokita, and the kind strangers are what have shaped my experience here. They have helped me grow, appreciate the moment, and take on new perspectives on life.
First off, my students. Living, working, and learning with a group of people has been a challenging yet beautiful experience. I have woken up everyday to the sound of their voices as they sing Karenni love songs and Ed Sheeran while doing their morning chores. I have eaten the food that they have lovingly prepared for us. I have seen them grow in terms of their academic performance, and I have gotten the chance to see their personalities shine. I will miss their blunt- yet hilarious- comments that have surfaced as they have become more comfortable around me. Some of my favourites include: “I can see your blood through your skin” to tell me how pale I am or their giggles as they paint my toes that they later confess “look like their grandfathers”. I am grateful to have gotten close enough to these individuals to become a victim to their loving jokes.
Most of all, I will miss witnessing their kindness towards everyone and their inclusion and love towards one another. Whether they are cuddled up on their bamboo mats together, hanging onto one another while they walk, huddled around the outdoor stove cooking yellow bean soup, or simply sitting in groups out in the sun, it is rare to see any of them alone without their arms wrapped around each other. This sense of community and collectivism is something that I have mentioned in every single one of my blogs as it is something that still warms my heart to see 5 months in. I will miss seeing this community where everyone works together as one. Where individualistic pursuits are always trumped by collective ones, and where people always come first. I have learnt more from my students than I could ever dream to teach them and although it is hard to imagine saying goodbye, I am incredibly grateful to have gotten the opportunity to meet them.
The constant commotion and energy of the people in Dhokita and Nai Soi is something else I will miss. I will miss the smiles I receive from the locals on their motorbikes as I walk down the dirt trail to Nai Soi. The lady who brings us delicious yellow bean chips, donuts, and cupcakes to our doorstep every day. I will miss seeing the neighborhood children playing and the constant flow of new faces throughout the weekends. I will also miss the kind hearted individuals who always pick me up and provide me with transportation to the nearest city, Mae Hong Son. As there is no public transportation from Nai Soi to Mae Hong Son, I have greatly relied on hitchhiking to get out of town. So far every one of my rides has been a positive and memorable experience. My first ride involved a quick trip to a temple and a skype call with the women’s son before heading to town. Other trips have been with families or in the back of a pickup truck. Every ride has ended with the driver either offering their contact information for the future or an offer to visit their family home.
Although the language barrier is often there throughout all of these interactions, it has also allowed me to bond with people on a different level and it has made the connections that much more meaningful. The people that I have met have been nothing but patient, welcoming, and kind to me during my time here. I have had shopkeepers go out of their way to try and understand me to the point where, by the end of it, we were both laughing and meowing (I was trying to by cat food) together in the shop. My most recent encounter with an incredible human was in the East Coast of Taiwan where the only other person in the hostel saw me in distress (I had arrived at the hostel late after missing my train and was exhausted, starving , and couldn’t find the manager of the hostel) and took the time to first google translate what I was looking for, call the manager, and lead me to a restaurant all while keeping a conversation through google translate. He spoke very little English and I speak absolutely no Mandarin, but by the end of the evening we were friends and we spent the entire next day together exploring the national park. Just having another person by my side in this new foreign country was so comforting and completely changed my experience.
This human, along with the many others during my trip had no reason or need to provide me with comfort, friendship, or direction. They could all have easily gone on with their days or lives without taking that time, but they didn’t and I am so grateful for that. Travelling in foreign countries where you don’t speak the language or understand the customs can be challenging, scary, and lonely at times. It would be a lie to say that this experience has been easy for me, but despite the challenges, it has also been incredibly rewarding and humbling. I have learnt a lot from these interactions and I hope to take this with me when I return home. I am, without a doubt, looking forward to seeing my loved ones in Canada, but I will not forget all of the kind hearted people that I have met in Asia. I thank you all for your smiles, laughs, conversation, and comfort.