Woke up to sunlight streaming through the window. Though bleary-eyed and barely functioning, I already know today’s going to be a great day.
Fast forward to the afternoon and I have the sun on my face and the wind in my hair as I whizz down a bike path along the Xindian River (新店溪河段). Today I’m making the most of the bright weather with someone I think is pretty special.
Sujin, an engineering student from Korea, moved to Taiwan to study Chinese. Like many expats, she made a conscious decision to move here because learning Chinese would be a big boost for her future career. Her decision to move though was based purely on practicality – her dad’s friend is already here, so there was support if she needed it; and in her opinion, China is already full of Korean nationals, and since mingling with people from home wouldn’t do much for her language learning, she’d decided upon the less-popular destination of Taiwan.
We were lumped together in the same class at NTU’s Chinese Language Division. Both shy to speak because our Chinese language skills were practically non-existent. But since we were both embarking on the same fresh expat/student experience together, it wasn’t before long Sujin and I became friendly (probably helped that I’m not Korean).
All kidding aside, ask any person who’s lived the expatriate life and they will tell you that making friends overseas can be as fickle as Taipei’s weather. Sometimes due to new environments, loneliness, or whatever unconscious stress that comes with the expat life, you may seek the company of people you wouldn’t necessarily hang out with back home. You meet, have amazing chats and chill like best buddies, but just as quickly as that seemingly great friendship began, so too will it end. As damning as this sounds, it happens.
Fortunately the alternative to this is you will meet some of the best people while on your journey. Afterall, it’s highly likely they will experience the same hopes, excitement, anxieties and disappointments as you which come with living outside the usual comforts of home. I consider myself rather fortunate that there are few friends I’ve shared these raw commonalities with from the very beginning. And Sujin is one of them.
By the middle of our first semester, we already embarked on a short getaway to celebrate her birthday. We spent a night with soju and from what I can remember, it was the first time I conversed in perfect Chinese (I am now a strong advocate for inebriated language-learning). She went along with my urge to ride a bike at 4am, dog-tired as she was after a night of dancing with no complaints. So when I decided randomly to check out Guting Riverside Park, she was in her usual good spirits to join in.
Guting Riverside Park (古亭河濱公園) takes up a section along the Xindian River, between Zhongzheng (中正橋) and Yongfu Bridge (永福橋). As with practically all of Taipei’s riverside parks, you could do whatever your heart desires here. Play tennis, go rock climbing, walk your dog, shoot some hoops, take a nap, and of course ride a bike (with music blaring if you so choose). I knew all this already because riding along the river in Taiwan is a favourite activity of mine.
But on this bright sunny day, there is more to the usual lush green of the riverside.
Ride from Yongfu Bridge due north, past all that tasteful urban art that pinpoints notions of love for absolutely smashing wedding photography, and you’ll come across a teeny grass hill sitting solo in concrete-laid ground, opening to more green lawn. Here, when the wind is perfect, you can fly kites.
To two grown (but young at heart) women, this is a huge deal. Sujin recalls how this a pastime she shared with her father when she was younger. For myself, I am pretty sure the last time I laid hands on a kite was well before I hit the double digits. Abandoning our bikes we rush to a street vendor, and for 150 NTD, join families with young children on a new venture of kite-flying.
We pass some impressive-looking kites (there is a particularly mesmerising dragon) until we reach our sweet spot. Sujin holds onto the spool as I pelt the ground holding the rest of it to catch the wind. Looking like pros, our wee modest kite took flight, and the accompanying squawks and squeals from our mouths become intangible with those of the kids nearby.
There is such a free feeling that comes with running along with the wind and then letting go of something that moments before you were holding tightly to. Perhaps too corny of an analogy for life, but I couldn’t help but reflect on my decision to drop everything in Australia and move here. Hell, I’m doing something I haven’t done for the longest time, creating memories with someone akin to a sister, and in pleasant, sunny surrounds. No cares in the world, thanks to a humble kite and Guting Riverside Park.
We flew our kite until dusk. We made no mention of it to each other, but I’m very sure Sujin felt the same way.
If you were to ask me what has been some of the best things I’ve experienced in Taiwan, I can tell you that unplanned, yet surprisingly eventful days like this one are what makes up the most of my memory bank. Most of them have something to do with the outdoors and physical activity. All of which are shared with a bosom buddy.
And they start simply with a little sunshine.