Better November

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

In seemingly a common concept, I've had a bit of a weird summer. The kind that is built up like shaking a fizzy drinks bottle and letting somebody unwittingly open it; the spillage so vast and messy that it's kind of infected parts of my autumn too. Although I think the notion of autumn gets lost on Manchester, going from shorts and barbecues to Big Coat Weather pretty much overnight, which saddens my October-loving soul. Today is the first day I've resigned to digging out the aforementioned big coat, and I've expressed profusely about the temperature in dismay to just about everybody who greets me this morning. So typically British, I know. "It's only October!" I end every statement with, which is only so shocking to me because I am completely and utterly head over heels with October and it seems to have zipped past me in the blink of an eye.

Some people talk about firsts of the months or Mondays or New Year's Day with a focus and a fondness, as if this magical day that starts off a given period of time holds the golden key to beginning or stopping something, or changing something deep in your life. Thoughts like this bother me to the point of cynical laughter - surely there's no time like the present, and if you want to wait until Monday to make that adjustment, you're not ready at all? That being said, I always feel like it is time to refresh myself in October. The autumn to me is what spring is to other people: I yearn to deep clean and minimalise my life, change my wardrobe entirely, actually make an effort at being presentable for work, dedicate myself to the gym and better eating, read books, write my little heart out, make plenty of plans centered around all those autumnal events like Hallowe'en and Guy Fawkes Night. I also like hibernating and procrastinating with Netflix boxsets, eating a twin-pack of sticky toffee puddings as I do, and sending unwanted scarves to the charity shop whilst buying double the amount more. We're all only human, right?

But I had a bit of a freak-out the other day, which set me off like a trail of dominoes. I accidentally ate chicken.

I love my job to the highest degree and I think it loves me too. but if there is anything I need to remind my team on the daily, it's that 1) my name is not Katie, and 2) I am vegetarian. I have been since the clock struck midnight and 2016 was underway, and for the most part - as in 98-99% of the time - I have stuck to my vegetarianism like glue. I'm reasonable though and I see it as a gradual thing; there have been a couple of times that I have eaten fish, but literally only a couple. And I have been known to accept a meal that has clearly been cooked within meat or poultry juices just to be polite. Sometimes, I'll even pick meat off of pizza. I clearly know that really, when it boils down to it, all of this means that I'm probably not a vegetarian at all. But I also think that it's not only hard for me to make that transition; it's the people around me too. Which is why, for now, I will always accept a meatified meal and just pick out and give somebody else the offending produce. I hate being fussy and I hate waste even more.

At work last week, at the beginning of the end of a long day of meetings, I was handed a gorgeously steaming slice of pizza by a colleague whilst I operated a PowerPoint presentation with one hand. Multitasking at its finest. I leaned over and asked, "Is this veggie?" to which they whispered back, "Yes." I trusted it and I took a bite. And after two or three more, I realised that it was in fact not veggie at all. I made eyes with a colleague across the room, whose own pair widened in horror in return and they immediately came over and swapped my half eaten slice for two actual real-life slices of vegetarian pizza. But after that, I could not eat. I didn't want to. I felt a bit sick, actually. And it was the first time in ten months that I had felt so adverse to meat, that I suddenly realised that I had changed somewhere along the way.

I went home in a bit of a frustrated heap and kept myself up until 2am watching YouTube videos about veganism and documentaries on the processing of animal produce and researched how I could turn my make-up bag completely cruelty-free, inexpensively (answer: it's difficult, but doable). Exhausted, I crashed into the land of nod and fully expected to wake up forgetting of that insatiable itch to change. Except I didn't. Granted, I may not have jumped out of bed and screamed, "VEGANISM YEAAAAH!" but I did wake up aching to make all these little adjustments to try and have a more positive introduction to winter.

So this is how it goes:

• From 26th October until 25th November, I am going vegan. I've time-limited this one. Purely because, I don't realistically think I could keep this up beyond a month, nor would I want to at this point in my life. I love cake and cheese too much, plus the Christmas Markets are coming to Manchester and I want to have a flat-out day of dairy-licious merry-making. But it's for more reasons than just my one-off, chicken-licking freak-out. My skin is terrible, and I want to cram in as many extra fruits and veggies as possible to give it a helping hand. I also seem to be sapped of energy at this moment in time and I think the lack of dairy for a little while will help give me a boost, which is oh-so important to me as I really want to get back to the gym in full. And also, you never know, there may be something in all that I omit from my diet for that month that cause my migraines. So it's a bit of an experiment really. I'll be sure to document it.

• As soon as I get paid in November, I'm buying myself a Garmin and running like the clappers. I have an end-goal in mind but I don't want to utter it just yet, for fear of a curse or heaping too much expectation on myself at such early days. I know running is something that I can do on the gym but I absolutely detest being confined to a treadmill and also, it's not representative of real-life running on the road either. I always find that with running outdoors I am way more focused and stronger and able to distract myself from wanting to stop and walk every three minutes, coaxing myself along to the next lamppost, and then the next, and then the next... I had a bit of a plough through my old Fetcheveryone account from years back and surprisingly reminded myself that I was frequently pacing between 9:45 and 10:15-minute miles. And I recall how disappointed with myself I was at the time, because all I ever wanted to do was go faster but I just couldn't push myself. Now, I scoff and wonder if I can get that speedy ever again. I know I can, I just need patience and a strong will to succeed. It all starts with one run.

• For the very first time, I am going to take part in NaNoWriMo. Otherwise known as 'National Novel Writing Month', NaNoWriMo is an online challenge whereupon amateur writers try to hit a total of 50,000 words in the month of November, or 1,667 words a day. The key to NaNoWriMo is writing every day, and I have needed this kick up the backside for a long time. Basically last year whilst I was travelling in South East Asia - in November, funnily enough - I started writing what had been an idea for a novel in my head for a very long time. One day, on a particularly long and brain-numbing bus journey through Thailand, I started jotting down all these little chunks of dialect and description that I had floating around at random, and turned it into prose. I managed to write 10,000 words of this story but while I had vowed to keep it up when I returned to the UK, when the reality of home occurred, life got in the way. And since then it has just sat there, gathering cobwebs, with not a single word added to it since then. In November, I'm dusting off that Word document and getting my writer head back on - with hopefully 50,000 extra words to show for it at the end of the month.

• I'm going to try my hardest to blog as much as I can. No promises, because you know what I'm like, and I know what I'm like. But I would like to think with this daily routine of writing that I may want to brain-dump here from time to time. So hopefully there will be a much more frequently updated blog not just in November, but as a continual thing. I think sometimes we adults grow out of our need to constantly document things but there are times that I want to blog to keep those memories fresh. And plenty has happened within the last year that I would STILL love to get written down: the rest of my SE Asia trip, for example, or the week I spent in Morocco, or why I would thoroughly recommend working for a charity, just to name a few. It would nice to have that distraction from fictional writing sometimes. So I'm going to work on that.

There are other mini-goals that I am working on too, such as sorting out my wardrobe and selling it off on eBay, and beginning to attend gym classes, and being a good daughter and actually phoning my Mum once a week; but these are the biggies. These are what I feel I need to do to get myself back on track and give myself the best possible chance of carving that path to get back to fully being me again. I have this autumn-born determination in me so, for once, I have faith that I can plough through this with a beaming smile on my face. Just wish me luck and think of me; after all, you all know how much I love both cheese and hibernating.

The ignition of restless wanderlove

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Three years ago today, I embarked on the trip that changed my outlook on everything.

Don't get me wrong, it's not like I hadn't been anywhere already. After all, in my 26 years up until that point, I had seen more of the world than my parents had in their lifetime combined. I had done much of Europe - beginners skiing in the Alps in Austria, wild parties in Mallorca, sunset spying in Santorini and Ibiza, and citybreaking in various capitals across the continent. But I'd never travelled across the Atlantic, unless you count a dazzling Disney World trip when I was five years old - which I don't, because as badly as I want to remember it, the only memories I can pull up of Florida are of the balmy rain and the magnificent firework show of a night at the Epcot centre. And I had certainly never ventured alone, yet.

But on the 31st August 2013, everything changed. I had fidgeted with excitement for months with the anticipation of what was to come. I spent the entire month ferociously pawing through guidebook after guidebook, building up a repertoire of what to expect from my next big adventure. I bought myself a brand new backpack - 33 litres in deep plum purple from my local shopping centre's badly-stocked Trespass - and proceeded to fill it frantically with all the wrong things. I was so unprepared, but so amazingly ready to put one foot in front of the other with nobody else in tow. Nobody else but eleven perfect strangers, that is. And when the last day of the month rolled around, I took myself off to Heathrow Airport with a hop and a skip and boarded a flight to Vancouver, Canada.

I had booked my trip with Trek America literally at the turn of midnight of the brand new year some months before, umm-ing and ahh-ing over the 'Confirm Booking' button before hitting it with a vengeance as Big Ben began to chime, like some dusty forgotten old cliché. It it without exaggeration that I credit this crazy whim, as it were at the time, as one of the best decisions I have ever made. Up until that point, I had never embarked on a travel solely for myself, always having to consider one or more people in tow. Parents, boyfriends, friends and future foes - they had all played a part in my postcards over space and time. But Canada was my thing. It almost felt like my baby, something that I could love and nurture and look after and I had grown it and even though it became a shared experience, it was mine and mine alone. Canada was the best thing that ever happened to me, even if I never considered it at the time.


There is a deeper appreciation to it now. The 31st August 2013 also happened to play host to the wedding of two of my oldest friends, which I never got to attend due to my wanderlusty ways. They knew; they understood. After all they had the vagabond bug within them too, having been to Vancouver not long before I had; having themselves become engaged while on a dreamy Pacific Coast Highway trip in California not two years before that. Their honeymoon carried them to far-flung islands in the Indian Ocean and they excitedly began to carve out a life together buying the house that they so wanted, planning whimsical bouts of globetrotting and to eventually bring brand new pretty faces into the world. Back then hashtags barely existed and there was no such saying as #relationshipgoals, but they certainly embodied it.

Fast forward three years later and much has changed; drastically and cruelly as it so often can be, and their story journeys on a different fork in the road to what everybody imagined. The groom was stolen away from this planet far too young. The bride keeps on walking that path and is indeed the strongest, most courageous person I have ever come to know. But all that inner strength that doesn't for one second justify having your every dream shattered, as it has been for her. How can you prepare yourself for the end of the world? You can't. You know it's happening, and you keep on walking.

Then suddenly, in the distance, there is a twinkling of sunlight. A new dawn, an awakening. A hard-hitting realisation that the notion of life is sweet, yet precious and fragile. But that thought alone is enough to rejuvenate any soul, even if the engine is shattered. For we are lucky to have the power and the motivation deep down within us. We are lucky to have access to so many personal goals if we work hard enough for them. We are lucky to ever know love and experience it so deeply, and we are lucky to have the world on our doorstep. We are lucky enough to have any life at all. But, we only have one life, and that is not luck but fact.

In crushing moments of self-doubt I remember my friend and all what he experienced, and all what he never got to. It drives me to not be so stagnant. It stops me from rooting myself to one spot forever, yet convinces me to make my mark wherever I am. It stops me from settling for second best, an pushes me to be a something somewhere with somebody someday. It might not be today or tomorrow, but it doesn't mean that you shouldn't enjoy each and every day like it's your last. What if it was? What would you look back on and be most proud of?

Canada. I credit much of what I am today to it. I was bold and therefore sold to a lifetime of wanting to explore every nook and cranny of this world. Every time I think it's time to stop, I find something that re-ignites that wanderlust - no, that wanderLOVE - even harder. Because wanderlust is not just about scratching out country outlines on a fancy map. It's about finding the real you. The best you. And that, my friends, is why my journey must continue. 'Til death do us part.

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Let's begin at the beginning

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Oh, little blog. I forgot about you. I apologise profusely.

However it's not that I neglected to remember your existence, I just got a bit caught up. A tiny bit busy; swept away on a magic carpet ride. Which I guess is a metaphor for: I kind of got lost along the way.

The last six and a bit months have been all topsy-turvy. Not exactly a rollercoaster but definitely not plain sailing either. A myriad of celebrations and hardships, the biggest of which has been occurring recently. Now, you know me. I'm a dreamer; a wayward spirit with a sense of direction but no definite path. These aforementioned paths are many and plenty, stretching out before me in their hoards with no true way of knowing where they wind. I know they all lead to the same place, it's just the not knowing of where they'll take me along the way. And there's no certainty of which will be the easier route or what will take me to dark corners and beyond. It's a game of chance; a Russian Roulette with life as the gamble. But that's just life in general, isn't it?

I realise now, reading back to everything that I hoped to achieve at the beginning of this year, that I'm barely striking it at all. I ought to feel lazy or like a failure but truth is, I don't. Whether that's because I aimed too high like I always do or whether it's because I've mellowed out with age and know better than anybody that sometimes life just happens all by itself, I don't know. But I'm okay with it. I feel almost better with the uncertainty than I did with having a definite article - because sometimes, what we're familiar and comfortable with isn't always the best for us at all. When you're 22 or 23, this freaks you the fuck out. But when you're on the cusp of 29 - that final fling of a year before you hit the next crucial decade - suddenly it doesn't seem so bad after all.

I've made Big Life Changes. There's no tl;dr version of this. That's all you need to know.

What you do need to know - and indeed what I have to tell myself as a priority - is that I'm striving to be better for the sake my own damn self. The gym thing, it didn't happen at the beginning of the year like I promised it would. In fact, it only became a main player in my life this last week just gone and while I've faced interruptions with stupid broken migraine brain drain sickness, the feeling of tighter muscles in my tummy through fierceness and not fear asserts that this is going to become a stayer in my life. The thing with fitness is, it can be hard to drag yourself out of your pit every day and dedicate yourself to the cause. But soon, after you've pushed yourself and broken barriers, however banal they are, the gloriousness of endorphins and adrenaline kick in. You feel powerful. A good friend told me that the first month is always the hardest; you question why the hell you're putting yourself through this. But after that, you need it - even when you don't realise that you do. And a wise man once said it takes 21 days to make or break a habit. This is a habit I dearly want to make. Because it's not just about the body, it's about the mind too.

Back in May, I changed jobs. I guess that was a big one for piece of mind's sake. There are some things I miss about the coffee shop life though, as it differs greatly to an office environment. The social aspect is perhaps the biggest one for me - getting to know new people, building conversations and relationships with the ones you already know, even the being on your feet all day and having to plan with a moment's notice and very little information at all. Some of these things are transferrable to an office job, especially the last two points with the company I work for. I've become even more used to just going with the flow, taking all the changes with a pinch of salt and just getting on with it. The first month here was hard, I'm not going to lie. For days at a time I didn't know whether I was coming or going, and I went from having zero workload at all in the first week to furiously working at 100mph like an octopus without an instruction manual. By the fourth week though, I got into the swing of things. I moved from a dingy office all on my own and out onto the floor with the rest of the department. I began to make connections; those important first forays into establishing working relationships. I got more confident on the phone and again within myself to take a task in my own unique direction. So far, it appears to be going down a treat. They say that office jobs make you feel like you're in a cage but I actually feel quite liberated.

Writing, perhaps my dearest love (along with travel but we'll get onto that in a minute), has unfortunately taken a bit of a backseat. Timing is always an issue - time that I never seem to find or have enough of. I'm exploding with ideas but have nowhere to put them. No, that's a lie. I have many different avenues to adoringly and furiously write myself into, but it's inexplainable what holds me back. Confidence? Wanting to feel adequate? That stupid perfectionist streak in me, the one that doesn't feel up to the task unless I know I can offer it 110%? I'll never be sure. What I do know is that it's time to stop fucking around and procrastinating, and just give it my all. The songs I want to write, the journalistic articles that may never even see the light of day, that novel that I have a thousand and one scenes playing out in my head twenty-four-seven, even this blog. It's a pleasant form of escapism that needs to be revealed.

At the end of last year, I embarked and rolled off of the trip of my lifetime in just five short weeks. It was the first time I'd ever experienced true solo travel without the security of a group or even a concrete itinerary. I just went with the flow, seeing where each day took me, sometimes even changing my routes or destinations at a moment's notice. It drove my parents crazy and it drove me crazy too, yet in completely different ways. I was totally in my element and those furtive little feelings I had about being over and done with it all was the biggest lie I could have ever told myself. I will always want to see the world and there will always be corners to explore. I still dearly want to do 30 countries by the time I am 30, which means I have five flags to collect in the next year and two days. It's not impossible, or at least it shouldn't feel like it is.

So what now? After blabbing about a majority of the last six months in one little text box, what do I envision for the next six and a bit? I can't say. I'd love to tell you what my plans are or what may occur but truth be told, I have absolutely no bloody idea at all. And you know what? I kind of like it that way. It's redeeming. It's not aimless to have no expectations, oh no. In fact, isn't it just the total opposite? For expecting nothing means that everything else is an unconditional bonus. And when you feel like you're on the floor, well, every little magical perk counts.

It should go without saying. But I'm going to say it anyway. Because that's what I'm here to do.

2016 will be better, I swear

Monday, 4 January 2016

It was another typical New Year's Day of waking up with a stinging hangover and a familiar sense of dread. We've all been there, right? Stuck in that mystical fog that extends much further than the initial 'I don't know what I did last night'. In addition, you kind of wonder what exactly you are doing with your life; where you have been, emotionally and physically, and just exactly where you are going. On New Year's Eve I had a good ol' classic cry about not having done much with my life at all, while another poor human soul - who, really, was just trying to have a good party - had to resign themselves to squeezing my hand and reminding me of all the little things I have achieved over the past year alone. Sometimes in all these black holes of self-doubt that are definitely not helped by the darker mornings and evenings, I forget all of these milestones. I became more assertive in my working life and my personal life. I moved halfway across the country and saved a ton of money in the process. I nurtured a long-distance relationship into everyday happiness to be shared with somebody else. I travelled solo on the other side of the world, booking flights and hostels with a days' notice. I lost weight and felt more settled within my own skin. I tried to be better to myself, inside and out, and it began to pay off.

The turn of the year always makes you stop and think, though. It causes you to yearn and plan and strive for more. It gets you reflecting on how far you've come in just 365 short days, and how different you'll be this time next year. Resolutions, I feel, are a world totally lost on me. It's not that I can't hit them goals, but more like I'm setting myself up for failure every time I say I will do this or that or the other. Maybe I spend so much time in my working life being organised and hitting targets earlier than I ever need to, that I'm kind of burnt out when it comes down to the personal side of life. This year, it's all about finding the long-term balance. I'm getting too old to still be waking up and not knowing about what I want to be when I grow up. So, rather than resolutions, instead I've just made a list of things that I would adore to be able to stand tall on December 31st and say, "Yes, I did that." With not a tear in sight.

01. Read more books. Probably the top of my list all year, every year. Last year I managed to read more books that I've read since I was a teenager, definitely aided by being a solo traveller. I've plunged back into the loving arms of my Kindle and rediscovered a love for getting lost in a literal world. Not only is it a great way to clear the mind but I also find reading hella inspirational. If I could read 30 books this year, I think I'd be a very happy bunny indeed.

02. Write more fiction. Procrastination is my enemy number one. The truth is, I feel like I've had the skeleton of a story trapped in the cage of my brain for the best part of a decade now. When I had a lot of free time in Asia this winter, I started attending to this and before I could even make sense of anything, it was as if a novella was pouring out of my fingertips to be burned onto the memory of my laptop. While I wiled away hours tip-tap-typing, I felt like I was birthing an entirely new tale. I wish I would have taken part in NaNoWriMo last year in order to get this new-found lust well on the road to success, but this is all about looking forward. I can't begin to measure how successful I would like to be by the end of the year, but I'll leave it at that I would have like to at least finished one story and started the next one.

03. Reconnect with the remainder of my creative side. Just before Christmas I fixed the beloved acoustic guitar of mine that had laid dormant, dusty and somewhat broken for about three years. It was the best thing I had done in ages; as soon as I had it working again I played it until my fingertips bled and my heart sang. I want to get good again - as in, I don't want to immediately feel my cheeks go hot and red whenever anybody inquires about my musical talents. This goes for everything: I'm shy about my photography, but I'm not half bad and I bloody love doing it. I adore cooking and baking but rarely take my cakes to anybody else for fear of ridicule. Practice won't make perfect for me but practice will certainly make me proud.

04. Get back to my previous full fitness. Almost a laughing matter. In short, back in 2011 I was without a doubt the fittest I have ever been. I wasn't in any way professional and also not in any way obsessed with being skinny, but I undertook exercise for the sake of pure enjoyment. I hauled myself to the gym 3 times a week, attended pilates classes, cycled to work and ran. Boy, I ran for days. If I remember correctly, I completed two 10k races, two half marathons and a plethora of 5k Parkruns across the south-east. I felt so strong and then suddenly, I just stopped. It's an easy cop-out to blame personal circumstances but that's what it boiled down to: moving house, gaining a promotion, losing a relationship and running pretty much straight into another. Since then, I've never quite got back on the wagon but this year it's all about to change. I guess there are a few sub-clauses to this and they are as follows:
A. I'm rejoining a gym. This is the key that unlocks the crystal ball, in my mind. For one, I absolutely hate paying for things that I am not getting maximum use out of. I also adore the challenge. The gym I'm eyeing up is about a 10 minute bike ride from my house and is pretty cheap too. Throw in the fact that a few of my friends go there already and my boyfriend Phil is up for joining at the same time as me tells me that this is nothing but a good idea indeed.
B. I'm doing a triathlon in July. Don't laugh. For starters, it's kind of like a mini triathlon - a "sprint" tri, at professionals would say. The distances are a 750m swim (about 30 lengths), a 20k bike ride and a 5k run. The good thing is that these are all distances I can already do, albeit not as comfortably anymore, the mission will be stringing them all together and getting better at them. The swim will be open water too so that will be an entirely new thing for me. However, the upside is that the tri will be in the Lake District in the middle of summer so it'll be beautiful or warm or hopefully a mixture of the two.

05. Be generally nicer to myself. Physically and emotionally. I'm my own worst enemy; but aren't we all? I guess this comes full circle to not being proud of my achievements when I bloody well should be. I'm such a classical do-gooder as well, always wanting to make a song and dance for other people while totally neglecting myself. 2016 is about looking after myself a whole lot more and while I want to feel better on the outside, I believe that this is only possibly is you ultimately look after yourself from the inside. Being healthy, getting into a good routine, sleeping the proper amount of sleep every night... that's just the beginning of it. I'm trying to have a really well-behaved month of clean eating and no drinking or other naughty things, and mentally getting into a good mindset, ready for the year ahead. Yes, plans will be broken because this is just a fact of life, but there's no point beating myself up about it. Isn't that just a waste of time? I'll always be looking forward from now on.

06. DOCUMENT THIS ENTIRE YEAR. I'm the worst half-arsed blogger you've ever met. In fact, I feel like even titling myself as a 'blogger' sets me up for a downfall from the get go. Give me a topic, I've been there, I've tried it all. I even thought it would be a good idea to begin travel blogging at the end of last year as a means of documentation but more for the greedy sense of 'perhaps I can make a bit of money off the back of this'. I managed it for a few weeks before I realised it felt oh-so wrong and very un-me. The truth is, I don't need an audience. I'm happy collecting snippets of shiny days and keeping them all to my very self. And because of this I rarely Facebook anymore, I Instagram whatever the hell I want but a whole lot less, and I turned my Twitter to friends-only which is probably the greatest thing I've ever done as now I can warble as much tripe as I like without fear of unwanted beady eyes. Seeing my friends write about the things that they are passionate about, like real-life pals Gracie and Mel, gives me so much gusto, and following the across-the-pond YouTube adventures of my besties Bee & Nick gets me wanting to throw videos into my repertoire. I might want to shoot a few clips of my amazing day hiking, or a few photos of some surprise vegan snacks I found, or I might just want to babble about general thoughts and feelings. Basically, if I like it and if it makes me happy - and probably if it doesn't make me happy too - this year, I'm going to channel it into this little space of the world wide web. Because what wouldn't be a greater feeling than having all of this to look back on in the future and thinking, "Wow. 2016 really was my year."

The top image is from; the lyric in the image is from the Death Cab For Cutie song "The New Year" and aren't those words just so apt?

Taiwan, the underdog of Asia

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Passport control, Taipei International Airport, 4am. I was stood before a facemask-clad female immigration official who, while pawing through my passport, was sternly asking me exactly what I planned to do in Taiwan.

"Errrr..." came my instant, hesitant reply. "I don't really know to be honest. I decided to come here for a few days after reading about your wonderful country." There. I thought, as I stared deep into her serious eyes. That'll butter it up a bit.

She looked back at me and for a few seconds, the air was tense. Then, she laughed and I could suddenly see a smile peek beyond the boundaries of her mask. "Ohhh!" She marvelled. "You will love it here! I am so happy you came to my country! I am very proud! Please enjoy yourself and don't be afraid to ask anybody for help!"

My passport was returned to me with a stamp and with that, I was on my merry way.

When I first even thought about Taiwan as a travel destination, I remember exactly where it came from. I'd just discovered Lauren's wonderful blog Never Ending Footsteps and read her rave reviews of this wonderful island destination way out there in Eastern Asia. For her, it was her gateway into a brand-new continent near the beginning of her long term travels, and I soaked up every last morsel of her posts with wide-eyed wonder. I thought to myself, "Tai-wanna be startin' something?"

...I didn't really but I had to shoehorn that in somewhere!

I originally wanted to spend way more time in Taiwan, making my way across the whole island from the slicker cities of the north and east coasts to the tropical forests that lay more inland. When my first itinerary came out at 7 weeks, around 10 days of that were solely dedicated to Taiwan. In the end I cut down my trip to a square month and in a last minute booking frenzy, I chucked three full days in Taipei in there. I couldn't not, really. Flights in and out were costing no more than £30 in total and I was addicted to the mere notion of going to Taiwan, knowing no-one who had personally be there. I had the hunger to be a pioneer.

Firstly, I am totally glad I squished in some Taipei time. On the other hand I am completely gutted that it was so short. What was I thinking? I ended up with even less time as at this point I was still getting over jetlag (I'd been away a whole week, do I win any records here?) and one of my Taipei days was spent, again, in bed until 4pm. I was totally unprepared for how much I'd like it, more or less falling head-over-heels in love almost instantly.

I say "almost" because from the moment I landed, I just wasn't sure I'd made the right choice after all. After landing from Macau at 3:30am and with nowhere really to go at that point, I decided to wait in the airport until a more reasonable hour, fuelling myself with coffees from 7/11. 8am finally rolled around and I headed to the bus station to make my way into the centre of the city. This was all a bit frantic, as after buying a cheap ticket I was ferried onto a local bus that smelt of smoke and hosted a driver with an interesting approach to driving (although now I'm in Thailand, I'd go back to that bus in a heartbeat!) The journey into Taipei took about half an hour and you get dropped off at the main station, a central hub for all buses, trains and MRT services, that sprawls out as far as the eye can see. I stepped off the bus, looked around at the uninspiring landscape that surrounded me... and I just wasn't sold.

After struggling with Google Maps a bit in trying to find the best route to my hostel, I resigned my desire to walk everywhere to failure. It was 30 degree heat and I was wearing skinny jeans for crying out loud. I decided to take my first MRT journey of the trip so far, having avoided it in Hong Kong previously. I felt like I'd given up - I didn't want to be hidden away underground, missing all the sights. I wanted to be a proper savvy traveller, soaking it all in and wasting no time at all. But I told myself that I could literally sweat no more and just wanted to dump my 9kg backpack at my hostel and chill the eff out. MRT it was. I suppose this is the perfect time to say that cities like London have a lot to learn from the MRT systems of Asia. Taipei's, I feel, is a force to be reckoned with in the most positive way. Here we have a transport system that is on time, sparkling clean, everybody is polite and totally unpushy, and it costs circa 40p a journey pretty much anywhere on the network. Once I'd got through the initial attempt to buy a ticket without a hitch and had found a seat on the next service, I suddenly felt pretty serene.

The stop closest to my hostel was Ximen and as soon as I peaked at the escalator, I breathed in a sigh of awe: this was more like the Taipei that I had imagined. It felt like Hong Kong but without the crowds and way more vivid. It also smelt just as interesting, but totally different. As I walked down the street lugging my backpack with a map in hand, looking every bit the backpacker, I didn't feel vulnerable at all but instead totally welcome. Locals would smile earnestly at me, sometimes offering a wave, and a couple even stopped when I was probably looking around in a tad of confusion to ask if they could help at all. That's one of the greatest things going for Taiwan, is how friendly everybody is. They are really happy to see tourists in their country - and in return, I was finally incredibly happy to be there.

Has anybody else been to or ever considered going to Taiwan?