My first experience with public transportation led me to avoid it for months afterward. I’ll preface this by pointing out that before I came to Taiwan, finding my way around was one of my greatest weaknesses. I was what the Taiwanese call a 路痴, or a “road idiot.” When I took my first bus in Austin, it took me so long to realize I was going the wrong direction that it was more efficient to ride the bus for its full route rather than switch buses and go back. After that adventure, I made sure I was with a friend at all times when riding the bus (my roommate from last year knows this all too well). I didn’t trust myself to find my way around without a map or another person, so most of my solitary “explorations” in Austin were to spots on Guad, or if I was feeling really daring, Spider House.
After spending almost four months in Taiwan, I have learned to embrace public transportation. Riding a bus is like befriending a cat: they may seem intimidating and standoffish at first, but once you get to know them, they become irreplaceable. I ventured onto the buses solo for the second time when I needed to travel to my campus and internship. I had been using the metro system before, enjoying the straightforward signs and color-coded routes, but the amount of time I would save using the buses was too tempting to resist. After getting used to the regular bus rides to and from campus and work, I started venturing into more locations. On occasion, I would catch myself going too far or not far enough, but I’ve used those missteps as excuses to walk through Taipei’s streets. Though the bus system is convenient, nothing compares to the experiences you’ll have on foot; setting aside extra time to walk amidst the bus rides can help you connect even more with the city.
But thanks to the convenience of the bus, I have taken more solitary trips to spots all over Taipei. Instead of taking the metro that mostly runs underground, I take the bus to see more of Taipei and pinpoint new spots to visit. Visiting so many new places in Taiwan, though, has made me realize that I know so little about my own hometown. Though I’m learning so much about Taiwan as I study here, I feel confident that when I return home I will still have so much more to understand about the city where I’ve lived my whole life.
Even if you’re planning to study abroad, make sure to explore in and around Austin in your semesters on campus! When you do visit another country, people will ask you about life back at home. I’m sure it will feel even better if you have specific personal stories to tell of Austin’s quirks and oddities rather than saying, “I’ve visited a few places with friends, but that one time I tried taking the bus…”
Photo credit: https://unsplash.com/photos/qoyFxkolN40