It’s 4:30 A.M. I’ve woken up before my five a.m. alarm in the top bunk of the eight person dorm room. I can’t go back to sleep. I climb down the ladder in my boxers. I can barely see anything.
Pulling up my pants I feel self conscious as I hear others sitting in their bunks. “Oh no, did I wake them?” Cursing myself for being so inconsiderate. I have to remind myself I’m being super nice getting up before my alarm goes off. “This is a hostel! Fuck them” I think chuckling inside.
After dragging my bags into the hallway I call a car to take me to work. My phone vibrates letting me know the driver is arriving as I brush my teeth and wash the sleepers from my eyes.
The area around my work is an industrial area. No one lives here. It’s just offices with storage yards. The sun still yet to rise and the dead quiet of the street in an unknown area creates a mildly eerie vibe. The sun has yet to rise. I dropped my bags on the ground by a tree under their mailbox, fifteen minutes early. How did that happen?
I got a job building event displays. We are heading two hours south of Auckland to work at Fieldays. The company is putting me up in a house down there and feeding me dinner. This is the perfect job for a backpacker: accommodation, dinner, and a paycheck.
Lights shine into my face as a car pulls up into the gate. It’s 6:04. They’re late.
After the first day of work we head to the Hamilton house. My two coworkers are sharing a room, my two bosses are sharing a room, they send me down the short, cold hallway to a room of my own. What a treat after a week of uncomfortable living in hostel.
I make myself comfortable by emptying my backpack and spreading my clothes across the room. Having been feeling a little depressed. I use the freedom of privacy in my own room to stretch my back with yoga, leading into a guided mediation.
The week ended and we are heading back to Auckland. I feel nervous about going back to the hostel. I feel comfort in knowing a few people there. I feel refreshed from my time alone. Things are starting to look up.
The next few weeks are spent in a similar way. I go down to Hamilton Monday through Friday and live in Auckland on the weekends. A few things change. I now share my room with a new coworker, Finn, a twenty-one year old German guy. I don’t let this stop me from meditating and doing yoga. He never says anything about it.
On the weekends, I start to share hostels with my coworkers to save money on uber. I switched hostels. My coworker Sven is way more social than I. As I walk in from the street I see him sitting with a handful of people sharing beers, cigarettes, and stories. I sit down. Immediately, I’m offered a beer from an older Islander named Kali.
Before I can finish the beer I am drinking, Kali opens and hands me two more. Over the course of a couple twelve packs I learn that he is in Auckland working. He is a building a building down by the wharf.
He and his partner are from Tonga. A small island nation north of New Zealand. They share their romantic history with us. They both have had other partners, even been married, but they knew the entire time they were meant to be together. They’re both alcoholics. They are super generous and just keeping giving away the beers and cigarettes they’ve bought even though it’s clear they don’t have much money.
“It’s the Tongan way. We share what we have with people who don’t have their own drink. We don’t think anything of it. It’s just beer. Why not share?”
I am reminded about how much money I have saved up. I am reminded by the opportunities I have had that got me here. I am reminded by the safety net back home waiting to catch me if I fail abroad. It reminds me that these people without much are willing to share with me. What do I share?
I start thinking about how odd it is that i think so much just from sharing a beer with other people. Lost in a mental loop of thinking about thinking. They notice that I’m zoning. “You alright mate,” asks Kali. “I’m great.” How can I explain the depth of feelings I have just felt from getting a few free beers. I can’t believe that a few free beers remind me that I’m not living up to my morals.
It’s another Monday morning and we are heading back down to Hamilton. Monday night after work we arrive home at the Hamilton house. It’s a cold cinder block structure. It’s freezing and unwelcoming. It’s home. I have been living here longer than anywhere else in New Zealand so far.
I feel comfort in the routine. Start a fire after work, dinner at 6:30P.M., provided by the host (unless she forgets), early bed time, wake up at 6:30A.M. before everyone else and eat breakfast alone, and then off to work. We do this every day Monday night to Friday morning.
Working a thoughtless, do-what-you-are-told construction job provides me with ample time to think. I can notice how the quality of the task I need to complete and the weather play a role in my attitude. When the weather is cold and wet and I have to just move heavy things around I challenge my decision to come here, to work this job. When I get the opportunity to do a little problem solving I feel much more proud of myself at the end of the day.
The truth is though, I don’t give a shit about this job. The project is for a client I don’t care about. I get paid regardless of the quality of my work, and my managers are annoyingly unorganized. What I learned is that if I want to do a good job I need to do it for myself. I need to take pride in my work for myself and no one else.
I didn’t include any pictures with branding because the client didn’t pay me to. No free advertising.
I arrive in New Zealand after 20 hours of travel from Taiwan on a Sunday. I have no idea what time it is there now. I have no idea what time it is here. I only know I’m tired.
I wasn’t ready to leave Taiwan. I have a pretty great girl there and we were having a great time together. In fact, the night before my flight, we were out until after 3 AM dancing. Even after spending two and half months together for 24 hours a day neither of us had had enough of the other yet. We both wanted more.
We spent April traveling in Southeast Asia. Cuddling on overnight buses, making love in the hostel dorm rooms, getting bored in museums, and playing “Plants vs Zombies 2” in Vietnamese Cafes. The best part about the trip was spending time with her.
Sitting in a crowded hostel on a wobbly bunk bed, top bunk. The room is full. No one says hi to me and I’m too shy to say hi to them. It feels so unwelcoming. I keep beating myself up inside for not breaking out of my shell. My mind is rambling. Negative thoughts are flooding my consciousness. I can’t seem to organize them. Blocking them out is not working much either. My mind is full of self doubt and my soul feels so empty.
It finally hits me like the weight of an overhead wave crash down: I am totally alone. I’ve found myself clear across the world, far away, from my home in San Diego and I don’t know a single person. Depression sets in. Even in this crowded room I have never felt more alone in my life. Words are flowing at a 1000 miles per hour inside yet I can’t seem to open my mouth to let even the simplest one out.
Attempting to control my mind, I start making a list of all the things to do tomorrow to get ready for the working holiday: open a bank account, get an IRD number, get a SIM card.
I’m concentrating on my breath to relax while I try falling asleep. I am transported back to a my bunk. A tiny three high bunk in a narrow hostel room in HCMC. The room has 5 stacks of bunks, each three high. There is a three foot gap down the middle, it’s filled with everyone’s backpacks. All the beds are taken buy only about six of us are present.
My girl climbs up from the middle bunk to visit me. I had passed out. She reaches out sticking her warm, soft hands on my stomach under my shirt. As she pet me, I awoke with a calm feeling. There is something about being around her that just makes me a feel tranquil. All of my anxiety is washed away. The rest of the world and it’s problems mean nothing.
Being in this mental space allows me to peaceful fall asleep.
It’s Monday morning, no it’s Monday afternoon. The traveling, the poor sleep, the time change create a force that makes waking up a slow, tiring process. I need to go to start my day. I have to force myself to get up and climb down the bed.
I walk 40 minutes to the closet KiwiBank. While opening an account and applying for an IRD number, I begin to small talk with the banker. I’m trying to be social this will be good practice. Turns out he is Taiwanese. Bragging about my Taiwanese girl, I start sharing my experiences in Taiwan with him. He points me in the direction in some cheap Chinese markets for groceries. After the bank, I get my phone set up.
Three hours after I start my day I am out of things to do and I am feeling totally lost once again. I starting thinking, “what should I do, what should I do. I can’t waste time here. It has to be used effectively.” It makes relaxing impossible. No matter what I do, my mind tells I should be doing something else.
I’m spending the week waiting day after day for an interview that is continually postponed. I’ve been in contact with a company trying to get a job for about a month before I got here. I call them to set up an interview.
I try to relax and get comfortable in the hostel. I talk to my Taiwanese girl, I talk to my parents, I talk to my friends. It wasn’t until after socializing at a weekly couchsurfing event that I finally start talking to people in the hostel.
A week later, it’s Monday morning again. I’ve leaving to work in Hamilton. I created a mini family in the hostel after a few depressed days and now I must leave. But I will be back for the weekend.
The plan was to wake up early and buy last minute tickets on the only daily bus to Sittwe. It leaves Yangon at 8AM.
[The title is like “Back to the Bay” the Bay Area but I was going back to Taipei which is pronounced more like Tai “Bei.” I was trying to be punning. I know it doesn’t make a lot of sense hahaha.]
After two weeks more than two years I’m flying back to Taiwan. Never could I have thought this would happen when I left in June 2015. But this trip is totally different in purpose. My friend, Justin, from exchange is coming here with his brother and we plan to hike Yushan. After that, my dad is coming out with a good friend of his as tourist.
In 2015, I arrived in Taipei at midnight and had to figure out how to get to my school in the middle of the city. Alone. The biggest difference for me is that someone will be waiting for me at the airport. This time, there is a bright shiny face waiting for me when I walk outside the arrival gate.
– – –
When I got back to San Diego from Taiwan I signed up to be a buddy for an exchange student. I was assigned Cindy. Since her exchange I have kept in touch with her. She even came back after her exchange and the two of us traveled together in the states (San Diego, Chicago, and a road trip to camp in Sequoia National Park).
We maintained contact, almost everyday since she left the states. Our relationship had grown to be more than friendly. And, now, I’m here and she’s waiting for me at the airport.
We spend the next few days hanging out in the city eating at all my favorite restaurants from when I was on exchange. The sights and the smells of the city bring back so many memories. Memories of feeling that can never be recreated.
It’s odd to go back to somewhere that meant so much to me. It had a certain energy about it while I was on exchange. I had a certain energy about me. What was once a magical newness is now the familiar. The familiar has also slightly changed. Cities change, but at the same time they don’t.
– – –
We are late to the airport to meet my friend and his brother. It is my fault. I finally found a used bookstore that sold English books. To my, surprise I found The Monkeywrench Gang on the shelf. Being that it is the book I have already reread the most, I decide not to buy it. It’s important for someone else to read it.
– – –
Getting to Yushan was a little tricky. We are taking a bus from Taipei to Sun Moon Lake. From Sun Moon Lake the bus to the base camp of Yushan leaves at 8AM. So we have to stay overnight.
We try to leave earlier than plan, hopping on a different bus. The bus arrives at it’s terminus. We haven’t arrived where we need to be. We are in a small village in the mountains with no way out. After a failed attempt to hitchhike we call a private car to pick us up.
Staying in the base camp is cold. We were the only westerners. The Taiwanese preparing for the hike were practicing with their ice picks and crampons. I watching them, realizing I have none of that. We might have underestimated the hike.
My American friends develop a different attitude. They begin to make fun of the Taiwanese for being over prepared. They didn’t even have rain jackets. Their arrogance is annoying to me, but my Taiwanese girl was on the verge of tears.
The ascent up the mountain is pretty miserable. It rains all damn day. I have two rain jackets on, both fail. I have a rain cover on my backpack, it fails. Everything I have with me was soaking wet and freezing cold. I try to keep how pissed off and uncomfortable I am at the weather inside. I shiver all night.
In the morning, I go get my rain jacket from the area where they hang to dry. It’s frozen solid. We were not allowed to ascend the last bit of the mountain to the peak because of snow and ice conditions.
Cindy and I walk down together. My friend and his brother run down leaving us behind. I don’t say anything, but this is horrible hiking etiquette you never leave your group behind. The two of us were carrying everything. What if one of us fell on the ice and couldn’t walk. That would leave the other to carry two backpacks and a friend. Meanwhile they’re well ahead of us carrying nothing. No good.
I think what’s bothering me the most is I am here to hang out with Cindy and my friends are really just unknowingly cockblocks at this point. If that wasn’t the case this wouldn’t have gotten on my nerves so much, maybe. They’re cool dudes!
Then my dad came.