Sarah is from Plano, TX and participated in the 2018-19 Chinese (Mandarin) Academic Year program in Taiwan.
In Taiwan, I spent most of my time at the university or with my host family. Whenever I found a free moment, though, there was one place I always returned to. It was a mountain called Chaishan (柴山), about a twenty minute bus ride from my university.
I often climbed the mountain with my elderly Taiwanese friends. They were dedicated to the mountain and maintaining their health, and they climbed every day. Although our ages and nationalities were different, we found mutual understanding in our passion for climbing. Most of them climbed with 20 kilogram water tanks on their backs, which they used to brew tea for other climbers at the top of the mountain. When they saw my dedication to the mountain, they showed me how to fill a water tank and climb to the top with them. Together, we sweated and struggled, and at the top we drank tea in celebration. They welcomed me into their group of friends and taught me new Taiwanese words, hiking skills, health tips, and a love for nature. I always looked forward to meeting them at the base of the mountain.
Many days, though, I climbed the steps alone, the sound of nature buzzing in my ears. On this mountain, I found peace amidst the stressful life of living in a foreign country. I could breathe out the clean air filtered by thick tree canopy. I could watch the monkeys sunbathe and lazily groom each other's fur. I could just sit down on a rock and, blessedly, do nothing. It was a stark contrast to the busy days of NSLI-Y and university classes, and I always craved it.
Attached is a sound recording that I took while climbing Chaishan. I hope that by listening to the recording, anyone can find the peace that I experienced while climbing. The recording was taken as I climbed the wooden stairs that lead to the "Hero's Slope," the steep, rocky trail to the top. I took the picture from one of the highest points on the mountain, which overlooks the Taiwan Strait and all the ships coming into the Port of Kaohsiung.
As I listen to the recording, I feel transported back to the mountain. I can hear the wind howling, the insects droning, the voices laughing in Chinese, the satisfying sound of my shoes smacking against wooden planks.
I truly felt a connection to the universe that day. Some being saw me and acknowledged that I exist, despite how small I am compared to the rest of the world. Maybe it was God; maybe it was the spirit of the mountain; maybe it was just a connection with my deeper self. But I met the universe that day as I climbed, and I'll never forget it.