My husband pushes his smart phone in my face while we wait for our flight departing Osaka. The vivid glow on my tired eyes is enough to blur out the screen.
“See? There! That’s where it says it.”
With further inquiry I see that Zach has managed to find maybe the only website on the entire Internet with content warning US tourists of all the dangers of Taiwan. We knew almost nothing about the country at that point, so it was hard to ignore. I had read about the island’s beautiful coasts, lined with black sandy beaches adjacent to deep green mountains that were just dying to be explored. And that was enough for me.
“We’re going,” I replied. A few hours later, our plane skidded into Taipei and we were lost again. There is nothing more incredible than stepping into a new environment and culture where for that first brief second, nothing is understood. The language is not yours; the food, the sounds and smells are all new. The pace is set on a different level then you're accustomed to. Everything is reintroduced, like being born again.
It is instantly obvious that we are now the main attractions as we make our way to the bus stop. Zachary, being the 195-pound freckled redhead that he is, draws some immediate attention. On at least two occasions, strangers grab him by the shoulders and shout, “Where are you from!?” in a thick Chinese accent.
Zach would always smile and politely answer, “I'm Canadian,” which is a lie of course. One woman innocently asks me for our picture and another woman on our bus drops a heart-shaped folded paper into Zach's lap before running off the bus giggling. In spite of our newly found fame, we were still on a mission. A mission to find Taiwan’s best Jiu-Jitsu.
Just two days before leaving Japan we were nudged in the right direction by a female fighter training at the Miburo gym in Kyoto. She tells us about a gym in Tainan and spoke highly of the coaches, and emphasizing their passion for leg locks. However, our path took us to the south of Kaohsiung. Luckily, we would later find that Kaohsiung City was also home to the same gym owner she spoke of: Dan Imal Reid.
Our Taiwan adventures began on the outskirts of Kaohsiung in a more rural, quiet area. There, we settled into our new home with parents of a friend from the States. In order to pay for our stay we dedicated the first five days to cleaning their five-story home and hacking away at their banana field under the hot, Taiwan summer sun. Zach and I have never been a stranger to manual labor and it felt good to get our hands dirty again. We ate only Taiwanese food prepared by our generous hosts and spent our free time walking around town, purchasing goods from the market and looking out at the South China Sea. We quickly learned that Google had greatly misrepresent this country. Taiwan is one of the safest places we have had the pleasure of visiting.
photo by Rome Lytton