Meeting Strangers: Strangers You Meet Between Places


Daily Origami is a way for us to record our off the cuff thoughts, feelings and observations about the world around us. Published every weekday, Monday through Friday.



Ivan here.

Last April, I took two weeks off to bike around Taiwan with 300+ high school students and my dad, the school principal. As father and son, we biked 965 km (or 600 miles) over 12 days. Here’s the route we took:

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Naturally, I trained for zero hours beforehand and flew into Taipei the night before we were supposed to leave. I figured I could just work off my jet lag by pedaling faster, right? 

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The heat, elevation, and the literal butt-hurt of sitting on a bike for 6-7 hours a day turned out to be excruciating. You should’ve seen the looks on the faces of these kids by the end of each day. It was as if they just found out that the family pet had been euthanized. 

Along the roughest legs of my journey, I sent Jennie several (unsolicited) texts updating her on my status: 

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Despite the self-inflicted emotional and physical abuse, I met several interesting people on this trip. It’s one of my favorite things about travel: conversations you strike up with strangers while you’re both between places. 

By the time you part ways, you'll find yourself ever so slightly, but irrevocably, changed. 


Part 1: A Stranger In Taiwan


1. Train Journey Down Eastern Taiwan

Because of roadwork along a section of our route, we loaded our bikes onto trucks and took a train into Hualien Station, a welcome relief for my sore butt and the health of my future offspring. 

The east coast of Taiwan is rural, with miles upon miles of idyllic rice fields overlooking mountains on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other.
 

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On this journey, I also got to meet the official mascot for Hualien City: the unfortunately named Oh Bear (aka Orgasm Bear). In this video, he looks like he’s having the time of his life: 

2. Old Man Looks Back on His Life

I was seated next to an elderly man in his seventies, on his way to see his grandchildren in Hualien. We struck up a conversation when he asked me where I was taking the students. I told him the kids were turning sixteen this year. The plan was to bike around the island before they held their coming of age ceremony, which would mark their official transition into adulthood. 

This was when the old man told me about a similar trip he’d made in his youth. 

3. Challenges of Adulthood

This was back in the eighties - before I was born. He and a few college buddies set out on spindly village bikes, with a single gear, held together by wire and string. At one point in the story, they couldn’t make it down the mountain before dark and got caught in a typhoon. They were trapped in the mountains for two nights, surviving on limited rations and rainwater. When the storm passed they had to walk their bikes for miles down muddy, washed out roads. 

“It’s good to experience things like this while you’re young,” he said. “It’s the tough times you overcome that matters most in the end.”

4. our Struggle Matters

I don't know who to attribute this quote to, but I think it's true: pain is inevitable, suffering is optional. 

Which is to say that our struggle against adversity make up some of the best parts of who we are. 

In the end, despite all the pain we've experienced and the pain we've yet to face, a stranger aboard a train taught me to focus on creating good memories with the people I love - even from the wind and rain.