Looking back on 2016…

It’s early evening on New Years Eve and I hope that everyone has had a good Christmas period and has a happy New Year.

I’m in the midst of working out what to do tonight, I’ve spent most of the last 2 weeks working and enjoyed a good night out on Christmas Eve with a couple of quiz nights either side of that. In a few hours, there’s no doubt drinks of some kind will be flowing and for me, 2016 has been a successful year.

Let’s be honest, not much has really happened. It’s been a year that can described as ‘meh’ and it’s not a bad thing at all.

My trip to Hong Kong in February sums up the year, enjoyable but unspectacular and without any drama.

There’s not been much in the way of football (7 games!) and aside from Hong Kong, I went to Hualien for 3 days. I watched a lot of baseball, had a lot of good nights out and had a short relationship over the summer. The relationship didn’t work out and it’s almost a distant memory now, which is maybe how 2016 will be seen in years to come.

I look back few months after that relationship ended, things are going as just as well if not better. I’ve been in Taiwan about 16 months and I know plenty of people in this city, I can go out and bump into someone I know. That’s the good thing about tonight and this city, good nights are there to be had all the time.

The whole year has been almost as I wanted it, I’ve settled down with not much drama and I’m still in Taiwan in the same job which is the most important thing.

I look ahead to 2017 in a positive frame of mind, the year has ended well and I have enjoyed my overtime over the Christmas period. I feel settled and I look to 2017 without any other plans than Cambodia.

What do I want from 2017? I want to be writing on December 31st 2017 talking about another pleasant year, in a 3rd year contract in the job I absolutely love doing.

I want 2017 to be more of the same and I wouldn’t mind retaining my hair as well, as at 24 I’ve got male pattern baldness which does occasionally linger on my mind.

Thank you 2016, you’ve been fairly good to me.

I leave you with that, it’s the end of the road for this blog, I will move to http://www.chapeltom2017.wordpress.com in the New Year when I get round to setting the site up.

Enjoy your New Years Eve and the rest of the holiday season, bye for now,

Tom.

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Looking ahead to 2017…

The year is drawing to a close and my trip to Cambodia is under 6 weeks away. I could just end it at that, but I won’t…

2016 has been the year that I wanted it to be, there has not been that much drama particularly compared to 2015 and I remain very happy with life in Taiwan. I’m settled, I know how things work here and I know I want to stay here at least another year. Given the choice, I’ll be in the same job, same apartment in a year’s time.

I have a week to go before my work schedule changes over the Christmas period, I’m going to be doing a bit of extra work and it’ll keep me quiet in the week.  With Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Years Eve and New Years Day all being on weekends, I’m looking forward to enjoying a couple of relaxed nights out. I can’t remember the last time I drank at the weekend, aside from at a baseball game!

I mentioned Cambodia, and the first few days after I booked the flights were excellent, then the excitement died away. I dabbled in a bit of research but nothing heavy, I had other priorities. Last weekend I started to do some proper research and this weekend, I’ve spent a lot of time working on ideas.

I’m trying hard not to over-plan but, compared to how I used to plan trips, my style this time is very different.

Believe it or not, since that first ground I ticked in my first ground-hopping season back in July 2009:

  • I have never done more than 5 nights away in one trip
  • I’ve not done more than 2 days away in over 3 years.

I used to seriously over-plan trips in the past. I remember back to 2013 and 2014 when I did 6 foreign trips in 14 months, I was always eyeing up something up. This was a time when I was building up experience bit by bit as a 20 year old, I went to places like Prague, Tallinn, Belgrade before I was 21. Those experiences were invaluable.

Weirdly most of my domestic trips in the UK at the time were lazily done but whenever I went abroad, I spent excessive time planning.

Being autistic, having a schedule is important but I’ve learnt to control the urge to plan every bit out. Since my 3 days in FYROM in 2014, I’ve done 3 days in Hong Kong, 2 short visa runs to Laos and 2 nights in Kuala Lumpur. This time, starting research with 6 weeks to go is almost the other way but it’s good.

Despite never having taken on a trip like this, I feel relaxed about it. It’s almost as if, the timing is absolutely spot on. I’ve been in Asia for over 2 years, and I’ve finally got the chance to create some awesome memories, I’ve wanted to do Angkor Wat and Cambodia for nearly 4 years.

There is a feeling within me that I need to get it right, and balancing out the autism in me, and creating a solid 2 week itinerary is incredibly difficult. I’m mindful that I need to use my time effectively, and if that I under-plan, it will be a wasted chance.

I will be traveling with an idea of what I want to do/want to be on each day but there’ll be no hour by hour strict schedule. Much of what happens on the day, will be planned on trip. There will be some bits booked in advance, which is just sensible planning as it’s peak season in Cambodia. By the end of this week, the rough itinerary should be all but sorted, and some accommodation will be booked.

I’m not going to be revealing much before I go but you are definitely not going to find me in Sihanoukville or hanging around on the islands. Beaches, islands sat around doing nothing all day just don’t interest me at all. The focus is on the outdoors and doing things.

I can’t wait, but I have a few things to do. I need to go into work, enjoy that and sensibly just pick away at pre-trip tasks. I need a new camera, my old one needs replacing after 19,000 photos in the last 2 years. I’m mindful that in Cambodia, it’s likely that I’ll take about 5,000 photos and I want them to be as good as possible!

In other news, I will move to a new blog into 2017… http://www.chapeltom2017.wordpress.com as the current one has ran it’s course. Initially the blogs were set up to match the football seasons, but since leaving the UK it’s not necessary anymore. I had tried moving the original Chapeltom blog to the 0910 season, and free up the domain name but I was unable to do so. Back when I was 16, I had no idea how long my ground-hopping exploits would last and it didn’t get a season name. 7 years on, I’ve been to 501 sporting venues and have lived abroad for 2 years, hindsight in an amazing thing.

Anyway, that’s it for now. I’ll bring an update in a couple of weeks time with usual Christmas/New Year thoughts.

Tom

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Europe v KBO –AND– CPBL v NPL West – Winter Baseball double.

About 6 weeks ago I found out the Asian Winter Baseball League was taking place in Taiwan in November/December. A bit of research told me this was a tournament for rookies and inexperienced pros, designed to help them give them some experience and match practice.

Last year’s tournament had been held mainly in Taichung at the Intercontinental Baseball Stadium but this year Taichung’s old stadium and Douliu were also being used for games. Since arriving in Taiwan, Taichung’s old stadium hasn’t held any fixtures to my knowledge and in recent years has rarely been used so it was a good chance to get it ticked off.

The fixtures showed me the first weekend was a good a chance as any, with a fixture at 12pm in Taichung but also in Douliu at 12pm and 6pm. There was a chance to get a double done, and I went ahead and booked the bus/train tickets to get to Taichung and down to Douliu from there.

I left my flat around 7:45am and took the 8:50 Kao Kuang Bus up to Taichung, Taiwan’s 3rd biggest city. I had attempted to see a Uni Lions game at the Intercontinental Stadium in April but it was rained off, on arrival in Taichung at 11:20, the weather was once again drab.

The bus ride had taken longer than expected and I didn’t have long to make the 1.5km walk to the stadium which was just to the north of the city centre. The ground was itself hemmed in and tickets were sold from a portacabin in the car-park for 150 dollars, it felt pretty low key but there was Asian Winter Baseball League signs everywhere.

On entry spectators were given a tournament programme and iPass, which was useful given my iPass was broken and I hadn’t bothered paying 100 dollars to get a new one! The programme itself was both in Chinese and English and a very good read.

I went inside and it was easy to see why the stadium hadn’t hosted any professional games in nearly a decade. It was old, run down but it remained a bit of character. The seats looked like they needed replacing, the steps weren’t always in great condition and some places could have done with some paint.

Behind the home plate was a 2 tiered stand covered to the rear whilst down both sides were about 16 uncovered rows of seats, but like at Li De in Kaohsiung, the dug-outs were not sunk into the stadium and slightly impeded the view. About 2/3rds down the sides, the outfield ring started and was noticeably lower a lot lower rest of the ground. There were also practice areas at the front of the infield stands which again, slightly impacted on the look of the stadium.

Pictures from the sides:

I decided to start to watch the game from the back row of the 1st in line with the first base. The match turned out to be very good with KBO (Korean Baseball Organisation) taking a 5-0 lead after an inning,  Europe conceded a walk, a single then a big double to make it 1-0, before another walk, and a 2 RBI single to make it 3-0. A 2 RBI double then made it 5-0 before 6 was ground out.

During the first inning the rain had started and I moved to the cover behind the home-plate after the 1st inning, which is where I would remain for the rest of the game.)

I feared for the European side, and it got worse in the second. They scored a run to make it 5-1 after 3 singles and a walk but their pitching was once again lacklustre. They conceded two hits and an error, before the catcher missed a pitch and 52 strolled home from 3rd. No 50 then smashed a huge home run to left field  make it 0-1 KBO with 0 outs, fortunately despite another double, KBO failed to add to their tally, 9-1 KBO after 2.

In the 3rd Europe pulled one back before a double play and ground out at 1st ended their hopes of any more. No 9 then smashed the second 3 run homer of the inning after Europe conceded 2 walks, 12-2 after 3.

Europe improved massively after that, and made 4 hits, including a 2 RBI single to make it 12-4 and then a triple made it 12-5 with 2 outs. 12-5 was how it stayed as Europe pitched better and didn’t concede in the bottom of the 4th.

Into the 5th and three singles and a struck batter led to a run to make it 12-6 before a sacrifice fly to centre field made it 12-7 and the game was getting interesting. Sadly, any real hopes of a comeback were dashed when the impressive 9 struck a wonderful 2 run homer to make it 14-7 after just 5 innings.

I was beginning to think my record of 24 runs in a game was under threat and when Europe added 2 in the top of the 6th, I was just one away from leveling that. I was also beginning to get concerned about time, with my train at 1611 and at 1426, only 5.5 innings had been completed.

I was not in luck with the runs, but was in luck with the time. Artur Strzalka pitched up two very impressive innings for Europe, giving away absolutely nothing and struck out 2. There was to be no more runs as good pitching took over, and the game faded away after the top of the 6th, the game finishing at 1517 with the last 3.5 innings taking a little over an hour.

Here are my pictures from behind the home-plate:

I made my way back into Taichung after stopping off for some food and a can of beer for the train journey, still had some time to kill… or so I thought! It turned out Taichung’s old ground-level station was eeriely deserted… because there was a new elevated station behind it. It felt strange to walk round the old station with the tracks abandoned but the new station was very impressive, even if it was a good 5 minutes further away.

The Tze Chiang train was on time and I arrived in Douliu just after 5pm, giving me an hour to kill before game 2.

It was my 3rd trip to Douliu, a small city in Yunlin County and I’ve always been amazed how such an insignificant place could have such a good stadium. I had a can in 7 Eleven which I had whilst I used the wi-fi.

Onto the stadium and I arrived not long before the start of the 6pm game between the CPBL – a side consisting of mainly farm league players and the NPL West who had a couple of players with major league experience. I took up a seat high above 1st and in a crowd of 500 had quite a few Japanese supporters around me in their teams shirts and they even had a drum which probably made the experience more enjoyable.

It started off as a decent game but there was a difference in class that became more apparent as the game went on.

NPL West took the lead in the bottom of the 1st through a sacrifice fly after a single and double, but 1 was all they managed, 1-0 NPL West after 1.

The CPBL leveled the game up in the top of the 2nd as Yang Chia Wei hit a beautiful home run, smashed to the left of centre going about halfway up the outfield stand, 1-1. 3 ground outs followed and the Japanese retook the lead after 2 singles, 2 stolen bases and a double. Notably, 67 was forced out. 124 hit a shot, but in trying to save the run, the CPBL threw it to the catcher and with 24 advancing to 3rd, 67 had nowhere to go and was tagged out. The next play saw 39 ground out at 1st and 24 get home, 2-1.

Neither side managed to do anything in the 3rd, and in the bottom of the 4th, NPL West extended their lead dramatically in a 20 minute half inning. A walk, a hit batter and 2 singles made it 3-1, but 67 was ground out at 2nd. A further walk left it bases loaded, and another walk made it 4-1, before 48s bunt got 124 home and it was 5-1, 59s hit then made it bases loaded again but 36 was struck out and the inning was over, 5-1 NPL West.

Nothing again the CPBL in inning 5 but NPL West added another run, 124 hit a double before an error gifted him a chance to run home from 3rd, 6-1.

Tung Tzu Hao managed to pull 2 runs back for CPBL in the top of the 6th after Chan Tzu Hsien walked, it was a huge shot to centre left field most of the way up the outfield stand and it was a rare hit for the CPBL side.

Any hopes of a comeback were dashed in the bottom of the 7th in a big inning for the NPL West side. A walk, a hit and a sacrifice fly made it 7-3, before two walks and a single left it bases loaded. 59 then hit a 2 RBI single to make it 9-3 after a great shot right into the middle of centre left field before any run followed, 10-3 and it was pretty much game over.

The bottom of the 8th saw three errors by the CPBL side and they conceded 3 runs that really shouldn’t have happened. With a 10 run deficit and having only made 5 hits, the game was going to be over pretty quickly and the 9th inning lasted just 5 minutes, final score: CPBL 3-13 NPL West.

Having hoped for the game to finish after 2110 to give me chance to get some beers, I really couldn’t be bothered drinking and just wanted to get home. I managed to miss the 2124 train by 5 minutes and the next express wasn’t until 2210, with the next train, a local at 2204 being useless as it got back to Tainan 45 minutes later.

The wait at Douliu was long and I received 2 very nasty mosquito bites on my neck whilst waiting for the train sitting in the waiting area inside. Eventually the 2210 turned up and I was back in Tainan an hour later. It was a fairly quick walk home on a cool but dry evening, and I was back inside by midnight.

A long day but 39 runs in 2 entertaining games. The mosquito bites aside, it was an enjoyable day out with a new ground ticked off and a good revisit to Douliu.

Next sport is likely to be in the New Year. I’ll probably post something in the next few weeks, but until then, bye for now!

Tom

 

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Royal Blues 2-0 Fu Jen –AND– TPFC 4-0 Ming Chuan

Around the time of my last match, Timor Leste v Chinese Taipei I discovered the Taiwanese league season had been back to January. I also found out there was a tournament called the ‘Northern Conference Cup’ set-up by a few sides to help bridge the 9 month gap between the 2 seasons.

The round-robin tournament was entering it’s 4th round, and it gave me chance to 2 grounds and 3 games in one day. By contrast to many of my usual trips I didn’t plan it out until the night before, partly as I knew bus tickets were still available.

I used the all Chinese iBon machine but my usual bus company, Kuo Kuang didn’t have a bus as early as I wanted so had to go with Ho Hsin. I made a slight mess of buying the tickets and it printed saying ‘Beizhong’ to ‘Sanchong’. Most colleagues at work seemed to agree I’d messed up, until I tried 1 final person as I was leaving work. She actually made a phone call, and ‘Beizhong’ was right, Beizhong Street is off Beimen Road in Tainan.

Sanchong wasn’t in Taipei, but in New Taipei and after getting home, it transpired it was actually nearer to Fu Jen University, the venue for my first two games!

No sleep as ever, and I took a taxi to the station at 4:40am. Beizhong was indeed on the name plate of the building, Ho Hsin had two stations and economy buses left from 25 Beimen Road, higher classes from 49. For 340 dollars, it was perfectly fine and the journey up took under 4 hours.

I got some sleep but I realised I was going to be awfully early. I wanted to try and see if I could stay onto Taipei Bus Station as it was the same price. Sanchong stop came, and despite trying to stay on, bus driver said ‘Sanchong’ and I got off.

I’ve always wanted to be dropped somewhere without knowing where I was, without a map, and try and find my way to somewhere, I was in that position.

I didn’t have any idea where I was, just somewhere in New Taipei City but I knew if I walked for long enough I’d find an MRT station. 10 minutes later I was at Cailiao on the Huilong branch of Yellow Line. I got an One Day Pass for MRT for 150 dollars and with 1 hour 30 still to waste, I decided to head off and ticked off the Luzhou branch of the Yellow Line.

As well as football grounds, I’ve always liked ticking off train lines too. I’m sure everyone is a bit of completist in some way or another, people try to do every mission in a video game, watch every episode of their favourite show, I just do it with train lines but only if I have time to do so!

I got off at Luzhou, straight back on and changed at Daqiaotou back down on the Huilong branch to Huilong, and then 2 stops back to Fu Jen. 1 hour had successfully been wasted and Fu Jen University was about a 15 minute walk from the MRT.

The venue was not as expected. Google Maps shows a stand, but that side of the ground was under redevelopment and it was simply a 3G surface inside an athletics track. There was a tiny bit of shade behind one goal, but the athletics track was wedged in by construction work on one side and a softball field on the other.

I put my things down on a little patch of grass next to the softball field, which had an advantage because there was a bit of a step to sit on, and the netting provided limited shade.

The first match was between Royal Blues and Fu Jen. The ‘away side’ hit the post from 40 yards in the opening minutes but apart from that not a great deal happened. There were a couple of half chances for either side in a boring first half, but Royal Blues had started to looked more dangerous as the half had gone on.

3 minutes into the second half Royal Blues were ahead. The ball got played over the top down the right, the attacker flicked the ball over a centre half’s head, he squared it across the 6 yard box and 7 slide in the opening goal. More half chances followed before the second goal with 68 minutes played and it was game over.

Fu Jen looked very limited which I was surprised aboutt given they were top of the group. They had a late flurry but neither side really tested the keeper after Royal Blues scored their second goal, final score Royal Blues 2-0 Fu Jen.

The teams went off and about 25 minutes later it was time for the second game, where there was another excellent crowd, of 7 spectators! The game pitted TPFC against Ming Chuan University, I’d never seen TPFC play but I had seen Ming Chuan win 2 Inter City League games in 2015.

This game kicked off a bit late partly because the referee didn’t show up and so one of Fu Jen’s players took over. He didn’t have much to do and refereeing this would have been very easy work indeed.

I’d had a feeling this game was going to be better and I was proved right. Ming Chuan went at TPFC from the first whistle, and had 4 shots in the opening 5 minutes but were unable to convert any of them. It was TPFC who almost took the lead on 6 but an attempted tap in was cleared off the line. The first 15 minutes were frenetic with 9 shots but no goals.

Number 29 really should have put TPFC ahead on 25 when he was tasked with tapping in 10’s head across goal from 2 yards but he somehow put the ball a long, long way over and wide. He quickly redeemed himself when he put TP ahead a couple of minutes later, the Ming Chuan keeper came out his goal, completely missed the ball, 29 rounded him and smashed the ball in from about 12 yards. 1-0 and that was how it stayed at half-time.

The second half was all TPFC, but the game was played at a high tempo and so the entertainment levels didn’t falter.

TPFC’s number 10 turned out to be the star performer, passing in a second goal on 53 minutes to make it 2-0. 29 then missed a good chance to make it 3-0, hitting the underside of the bar this time when unmarked 12 yards out. On 72 minutes 10 converted a penalty to make it 3-0 before getting his hat-trick on 77, he finished off a nice interchange of passes with a low shot from 20 yards to make it 4-0.

There were chances for both sides even after the 4th but no further goals. Ming Chuan gave it a real go and had 13 attempts at goal, on another day they’d have scored a couple of goals. TPFC looked a good outfit, and it turns out they are Tatung, who finished 2nd in the Taiwanese League last year.

(Pictures of the ground below)

I left, went into central Taipei for late lunch. I took the Yellow Line to Zhongxiao Xinsheng and changed onto the Blue Line for Zhongxiao Dunhua. I was going back to Tu Hsiao Yueh, a restaurant selling Dan Zai noodles, which was pretty odd because Dan Zai noodles are a speciality of Tainan which is where I live! I knew the menu was in English and being 4pm, there was plenty of room.

I ordered one bowl of Dan Zai noodles with the classic wheat noodles, another bowl with rice vermicelli, some braised pork rice and splurged on asparagus with shrimps.

 

The food was as good as last time, with a small cup of hot tea complimentary. I came to conclusion, I will probably have to go Tu Hsiao Yueh in Tainan at some point, and not make Dan Zai noodles a twice a year treat!

I had time to waste, because I supposed to be heading to Tatung Reserves v Inter Taipei at 7pm. I had a walk past the incomplete but rusting Taipei Dome,  through the park surrounding SYS Memorial Hall and over to Taipei 101. It was starting to go dark not long after I passed the Dome and by the time I reached the Taipei 101, it was dark. There were bus loads of tourists, I took my photos and I got myself out of there pretty quickly.

I walked back to SYS Memorial Hall and took the MRT to Jiantan. This is where the Shilin Night Market is held, and there was scores of tourists. In no mood to hang around, I made my way towards Bailin Playin Fields, a large sporting complex by the Tamsui River. I eventually got near after negotiating a rabbit warren of streets and was faced with a 25 foot walk, behind which I knew was the ground.

I couldn’t see any lights, and I started to worry. I climbed the steps, and there was just a walk way, I walked 10 metres to my right and the pitch was 25 feet below, there was a large concrete ‘stand’ 15 rows high extending as far as the eye could see to the left and right but the floodlights/pitch itself was enclosed by netting, with a driveway between. No wonder I hadn’t been able to see the floodlights.

I got there at 6:40 and saw kids training on the dry pitch which looked a bit uneven and bare in places. It was perfectly normal in Taiwan as pitches change use. I even saw a group with a camera ready to film something, presumably the game.  I waited and waited and waited… by 7:30 I was starting to get bitten by mosquitoes.

There was no sign of the kids moving but there was 3/4 adults in shirts practicing, I had a feeling they were players but because there was only lot of adults, concluded they were just training.

Time moved on and as it got to 8pm, I knew I wasn’t going hanging around much longer. I was fed up of being bitten, and given the game had been advertised as 7, how long do you leave it? I only stayed till 8 in case the kick off was wrong. Reluctantly I left, and was understandably a bit annoyed, the last game had finished at 3 and my bus wasn’t till 11. It felt like I’d wasted my time and I still had 3 hours until my bus back to Tainan.

I decided to tick more of the MRT off, and headed north on the Red Line to Beitou, then changed onto a Tamsui train. It was only there I realised there was a small branch to Xinbeitou. On leaving Tamsui, I decided I would get off at Beitou and get the Xinbeitou branch done.

It was about 9:05 and I got off at Beitou, waited 5 minutes, took the next train to Xinbeitou. It let passengers off, then went straight back to Beitou, I changed platforms and was immediately back on a Xiangshan bound train.

It was now 9:50 and I had time to do more ticking. I took a Green Line train from CKS Memorial Hall but got cold feet one stop later at Guting and bailed, because I realised the Xindian branch was 8 stops long and I had no idea how long it would take.

I instead got a Yellow Line train to Nanshijiao which took 10 minutes and it was immediately off, on and back to central Taipei. A change at Zhongxiao Xinsheng later, and I was at Taipei Main Station for 2235.

The journey home was tedious. I couldn’t find anywhere to get food in Taipei Main station, which is probably my least favourite place in Taiwan, it’s a hideously confusing underground maze. The bus got stuck in traffic, and after 40 minutes, we hadn’t even crossed Taipei Bridge.

I managed to bang my head on the window, as the bus hit a bump in the head whilst I was half awake and I never really got much sleep. It took a long time, it was  cold, and the lights remained on. At 3:55am I was back in Tainan, instead of sensibly getting a taxi, I walked home in about 40 minutes.

Tom

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2 years… a look back and a look forward.

I wonder what I’ll be doing after University, where will l live, will I manage to get a job? What will I become?

Those were my thoughts in early November 2013, I was a month into my final year at Uni and football was a huge part of my life. I knew that, it was the beginning of the end of that chapter and it was as equally scary as it was fascinating to think about.

Fast forward, nearly 3 years. It’s the 27th October 2016 and on Sunday/Monday of this week, I celebrated 2 years out of the UK. I live abroad. That’s a statement of fact, but looking back to how I felt/how I was 3 years ago, there’s an indescribable feeling of, ‘Wow, this is my life!’ I look at my 20 year old self who was indecisive on a career, without a path and realise, I’m doing exactly now as my 19/20 years old self would have wanted.

My 19/20 year old self couldn’t contain the wanderlust, 2013 saw me visit 8 countries. It began with the easy, Copenhagen, Denmark for 3 days and ended with the Belgrade derby in Serbia. In 2013, I build up the confidence and ability to go abroad, now I look at where I’m at, I’ve lived abroad for 2 years and travel doesn’t even faze me anymore.

I’ll freely admit, the last 2 years have had their ups and downs but it’s no surprise.  I look back and realise, that when you leave University, you know nothing. Life starts then especially given until I moved abroad, I had never lived away from home. I instead spent 3 years watching football, drinking alcohol and building up travel experience, whilst occasionally knuckling down on Uni work when I needed to.

I came out of Uni and was clueless as I had ever been about what to do. I had absolutely no motivation, no confidence and was a waste of space. I wasted far too much of my Uni life, drinking and watching football rather than thinking about my future, but have I come to regret it? No, of course not! Those 3 years served some use as when I decided to the UK, I knew, I’d had my fun.

I admit my initial decision to leave the UK was based on a gut instinct. I’d always had thoughts about moving abroad but I had no idea how to go about it. It was my Dad who had suggested teaching to me but given I hadn’t got any experience, I was going to be waiting at least a year to get on a PCGE program, and in that meantime, what could I have done?

I put two and two together, go abroad and get some experience teaching. The magic idea. Not exactly a career plan, but it was something. I weighed things up, my prospects of getting a job were low, I’m on the autism spectrum and one particularly insulting telephone interview, asking about my interests, choice of university was the last straw. The decision was made, and 10 weeks later, I left the UK.

It’s perhaps unsurprising then that the last 2 years have been a massive learning process. Never lived away from home, Aspergers ‘sufferer’ and when I left the UK, I’d been out of Uni barely 6 months.  It was always going to be a challenge and had the potential, to be a toxic combination and at first it was. The first 2-3 months was very difficult, adapting myself and my ways to live abroad. I struggled, and nearly gave up, but 22 months on from a motorcycle crash that I walked away from, I’m still out here in Asia.

Since then, contrary what my Facebook statuses would lead you to believe, the majority of my life out of the UK has been happy and stable. It’s only when I’ve got set in a routine and got bored, that my motivation has lapsed. Every so often, I need to change how I do things. The ups and downs are normal, and I have never stopped learning. I’ve learnt more in the last 2 years about myself and life, than ever before.

Yet it’s only now, approaching 24 at the back end of 2016, that I feel I have actually started to grow up a bit and take responsibility of things. I’m talking, the last few weeks and it took a bad patch as ever for me to realise, I needed to drag myself up and get things done. I gave myself a kick up the backside and now I’m genuinely happy. It’s been a long time coming.

 

I guess my latest ‘rut’ wasn’t exactly straight forward, anyway. At the end of June, one of my mates left for China and I took over his apartment. I started dating a girl. July and August’s work schedule was fun, I stopped going out as much and I was happy but I forever ducked the issue of my Student Loan. But that was ok, I was happy and motivated.

New routine in early September, me and my girlfriend split because she didn’t have enough time to be with me. It affected me a lot, and I did exactly as I told myself not to, filled the spare time drinking beer at home. Now as mentioned elsewhere, I found motivation to start to travel again but I kept drinking. October pay-day came and I worked out what I’d spent on alcohol, it wasn’t much (maybe £120 worth in 4 weeks) but it was enough. A few nights later, I sat down after work and realised, I could be doing better with myself.

It took a couple of weeks. I had a week of, ‘the solution is home’ but I know, the last place I need to be is home. It’s an easy solution to go home and revisit the old lifestyle even for a couple of weeks. I do miss my family and they know that but the time to visit has to be right. A trip back to the UK will be done but just not yet.

This week I finally got that Student Loan issue sorted and transferred my money back to the UK. I’d been actively avoiding the issue, the typical ‘ostrich’ approach. Why had I avoided the issue? Fear. I’ve been abroad for 2 years, but still get nervous as I would in the UK about going into unknown situations. A one on one transaction is simple but when I have to spend more than a few seconds (haircut, bank transfer) with someone I don’t know, it scares me. It’s the same no matter where I am in the world and I need to get over the fear.

I feel great now, there was nothing to be scared of and I know it. As I approach 24, I need to be brave and just go and do things, not worry. It was silly, I got scared of the situation, then by not resolving the issue, I get even more scared. Actually going out and solving what was a minor issue has made me feel so much better.

So what does the immediate future hold for me? I was recently assessed at work and that went well. My motivation at work is ever present. I just need to look at how I am doing things class by class regularly. Teaching with Aspergers is a challenge but, I enjoy it. I have only just started my 2nd year contract and so it is very early days.

I just need to maintain my motivation outside of work and there is nothing bigger than this one! I am absolutely delighted to say, that I will be off to Angkor Wat and Cambodia in January.

Back when I was 19/20, Angkor Wat was on the list of places I wanted to see one day and on Thursday of this week, I booked the flights for a 2 week stay in Cambodia. I always said, I would never leave Asia without going there and in the next 12 weeks, I will just mutter the words ‘Angkor Wat’ to myself if I find myself feeling low.

It will be my first proper trip too. I have done lots of mini 2-5 night trips but nothing like what I will do in January. It’s a proper 2 week holiday, fly in and fly out and the first of my career.It’s been a real long time coming, and I’ve had to work hard, go through quite a bit over the last 2 years. I get one week off for Chinese New Year anyway, so I’m taking the one before it off to, leaving enough holiday time to go back to the UK if needs be later in 2017.

It looks like things are going to be good from here on. Finally after 2 years out the UK, I feel as I am growing up a bit in terms of taking responsibility and I have sorted things out now. I live the adult life but better! I clean/tidy my flat, cook, go to work, pay my bills and coming to live in Asia has been the best thing I could have done. It’s a simpler way of life and one that is for me.

The learning process never stops, I have a huge motivation boost and really, there is no reason why I should slip backwards from here. My desire to drink alcohol is almost nil but my desire to be productive and have fun as well is very high. Every so often, I just need to stop, think and see how things are going, rather than let issues get out of control.

2 years is complete and in 3 weeks time I will turn 24, the adventure continues and maybe, it will be the last ‘Tom update’ for a while… I certainly hope so!

Goodbye for now,

Tom

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Xiao Liu Qiu – Trip Report – 16th October

I talked about being inspired to explore more of Taiwan in my Northern Taiwan trip report, and it was always a case of ‘where next?’

My initial thoughts were to head back to northern Taiwan, but having being indecisive over the early part of the week, I left myself with my few options. It was too late to book travel for a trip north, so it had to be a short distance trip. The week progressed and I still hadn’t decided on anything and it looked as if the weekend would be wasted. For one, I was a bit stuck for ideas having done a lot of things in southern Taiwan.

Things changed late on Friday. Initially the idea was Alishan Mountain, but that was put off on time taken to get there. My second thought was ‘Xiao Liu Qiu’ a small island off the coast of Pingtung County that I’d researched before. So I went to bed, and 3 1/2 hours of sleep later, my alarm went off, I snoozed. At 5:45am, I panicked thinking I was up too late for the first bus, and went back to sleep, day wasted.

It was not to be deja vu, as even though I couldn’t get to sleep until 2:45am, I beat my alarm. A quick check on Taiwan’s bus website, and the first bus was 6:30am. I was out of bed at 5:55am, and stupidly dawdled despite my bag being packed the night previously. At 6:18am, I checked the website again and the bus was due in 7 minutes and I had to run!

Fortunately, I was a couple of minutes early and was at Tainan station at 6:40am. There were a surprising amount of people about, and Tainan was not the ghost-town like many British cities would be at 6:40am on a Sunday morning!

I got a seat on the train down to Kaohsiung and I arrived about 7:45am, now for the interesting part, getting a bus to Donggang in Pingtung County! I knew where the bus stops were but no idea on what time a bus would show up. I got to the bus stop and waited, and waited, and waited. It was 8:25 and I was considering going to another stop, when a 9117 turned up and for 105 dollars purchased a ticket to ‘Donggang’ 東港

The bus journey took a while, and even with my earphones it was a drag through the southern suburbs of Kaohsiung City and into Pingtung County. The scenery was dull and the industrial landscape in the Linyuan area was particularly awful. 90 minutes after leaving Kaohsiung, the bus arrived in Donggang shortly before 10am, which had me wondering how much time I was going to having on Xiao Liu Qiu island itself!

I didn’t know where the port was, but knew if I turned right after getting off the bus and followed the road I’d be heading north west. Sure enough, I got to a crossroads with a bridge over the water, I turned left and the port was on the right hand side. I attempted to buy my ticket in Chinese, with partly failed because I fluffed it and partly because the woman spoke a little English!

I attempted to say “我想要往返票小琉球” or Wǒ xiǎng yào wǎng fǎn piào xiǎo liú qiú” or I want a return ticket to Xiao Liu Qiu which is probably incorrect Chinese anyway!

With my ticket purchased for 410 dollars, I had about a 20 minute wait for the 10:30 crossing. Given that the previous one had been 9:00am, arriving earlier would only made me wait longer for the ferry.

The ferry journey wasn’t too bad, but there was nothing to see due to the morning haze. As ever, there didn’t appear to be any other white tourists and I’ve got used to the novelty, of being the 外國人 ‘foreigner’ or at least, the obvious one!

On arrival on Xiao Liu Qiu, my first thoughts were to put suncream on, and then find a bicycle, but couldn’t find anything and I wasn’t trying too hard anyway. Why? Maybe, because I subconsciously knew I was about to commit myself to walking round the entire island. At 6km2 Xiao Liu Qiu is not a big place, but I knew it would be a lot more than 6km round the island.

I was heading right, but didn’t know where I was on the island so found a board with a map on it indicating I was at the northern tip. The obvious thing to do, would be to go anti-clockwise round the island. A quick stop at 7 Eleven for some water and it was onto the first sight, Flower Vase Rock one of the symbols of the island.

I walked up behind the temple next to Flower Vase Rock, and there was a road, clearly the main road round the island and I followed as it headed uphill, away from the port area. The road was shaded, typically there were no pavements but they were hardly needed given the light traffic. I walked down on the partly closed Flower Vase Trail, which had been closed at the port end but it wasn’t that long and ended 5 minutes after I got onto it.

 

About 1.4km from the port, I came to Beauty Cave the next attraction after Flower Vase Rock. There was a charge of 120 dollars but it gave admission to all the sights on the west coast.

The Beauty Cave Trail was quite beautiful, which few other people and there was a feeling of tranquility. The trail was quite narrow, making its way in front of the cliffs and occasionally through narrow, low passages with some excellent views out to sea.

It was about 15 minutes walk, before there was a pavilion on the main road and opposite, another shorter section of trail.

I started to realise walking round the island was going to be a bigger task than expected and walking was proving to be sweaty, hard work! It didn’t help that it was uncharacteristically hot for October, at 33C!

I continued along the round island road, but made a mistake. I went left onto instead of right at a fork and ended up a bit inland. Fortunately there was a crossroads and I could turn right, and head back towards Shanfu Fishing Harbour back on the coast. About half an hour after leaving Beauty Cave Trail, I’d arrived at my next stop: Wild Boar Trench.

Wild Boar Trench was another trail area, a maze of paths with tropical vegetation and it felt more like a jungle in places than a small island off the coast of Taiwan. The area was littered with caves formerly used as air raid shelters, I remembered back to Pingxi and going to caves there, also used as air raid shelters!

There were main paths and ones that were unsignposted and turned out to be gluey mud passages between the cliffs.

I left Wild Boar Trench and carried on for a short distance to Geban Bay Beach which was crowded by Xiao Liu Qiu standards. Not much to see, and I moved on towards Black Devil Cave about 10 minutes further down the coast.

The road climbed high above Geban Bay then started to go steadily downhill, with the entrance to Black Devil Cave on the right. I first purchased a Pocari Sweat drink for 30 dollars which I guzzled pretty quickly before starting the trail.

This was another trail in front of the cliffs, twisting between the coral with plenty of low passages. It reached a small temple, before going in in front of it and winding along the coast, then came back around the back of it.

It was an enjoyable circular walk but I was starting to get a bit worried about time. It was 14:10 by now and I had 7km to walk back to the north of the island. I knew that 7km was only around 4 miles, but in the heat, it would take a long time.

I made it to Sunset Pavilion and there was only a couple of tourists there.

The sea views were good, and I decided to carry on around the southern part of the island at Haizikou Harbour.

At the southern tip there was a choice of a water crossing, or about 400m up and then down, round some houses. I decided on the latter, forgetting I had flip-flops with me. I’d also realised I was low on water, and as I made my way towards Guanyin Rock.

It was only a 1.2km walk from Sunset Pavilion to Guanyin Rock and it took around 20 minutes which was quite a nice pace.

The rock formations on the east coast where different and I got to a corner, which is one of more photographed sights of Xiao Liu Qiu, where the road goes between two rocks.

My concern was now not time, but liquid. It was at least 1.5km more onto Dafu, where I knew there was likely to be a shop but it could not come soon enough. As I walked along the quiet road up away from the coast, I started to feel dizzy, shiver even though it was 32C and I knew that heat exhaustion was imminent. I took my time, but had to trudge on as cursed myself for not ensuring I had enough liquid with me.

Fortunately Dafu was just 15 minutes walk away and there was a small gas station selling water. I took my time, knowing I had about 3.7km to go. I sat down in the pavilion, drank a bottle of water and rested for about 15 minutes.

Feeling better, I carried on and from here, it was to be a fairly dull walk back to Baisha Port in the north of the island.

I made my way through Dafu and then followed the coast road up past a power plant up to Sunrise Pavilion which was about halfway back. The views were yet again stunning and I could see the central mountains on the mainland.

The feeling of dehydration and glumness I’d had 50 minutes previously had disappeared. I’d done just over 5km in 1 hour 20, and had taken my time, and managed to rest for a while. The road carried on up hill after Sunset Pavilion for a short period before dropping away, and I knew that it was ‘job done’ and the walk was nearly completed.

Just after 4:00pm, I arrived back at Baisha Port after a 4 hours and 45 minutes walking round the island, the feeling was one ‘job well done’ but it was also a relief.

Walking round the island had been a silly idea but it was quite fun. It was definitely a very ‘me’ thing to do, go against the grain and do something nobody else would.

I only had 30 minutes until the next ferry back and it was back to the sinks in front of the ferry terminal. I had a quick wash down and changed t-shirt. I quickly bought some skewers from a stall opposite and it was straight in the queue for the return crossing.

I managed to get a seat up near the front but not near a window which allowed me to stand up before the ferry docked back in Donggang.

I made a quick get-away and after visiting 7 Eleven to break a 1000 dollar note to be able to pay the bus driver, was at Donggang bus station just after 5pm. It turned out there was a bus due and I was on my way out of Donggang in minutes, shortly after getting out of town, I snapped this photo…

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The bus made good time, going by the freeway but then got stuck in traffic, trying to get on the sliproad off and back into Kaohsiung City. The journey was about 1 hour and 30 in the end, getting back into Kaohsiung at 6:35pm.

Into Kaohsiung train station and there was a local train due at 6:50pm. I bought myself a couple of beers and made my way to the platform.

Sadly the train was completely crammed, but it didn’t stop me putting me headphones on and cracking open a can. It was a more elaxed journey back than I expected, and I was back in Tainan an hour later. Another quick connection, into the 1955 bus home followed and I was therefore back home 4 hours after leaving Xiao Liu Qiu.

I got back and had a think over, it was good feeling to having walked round the island, it was an unorthodox thing to do but it allowed me to see the island at a slower pace. It was well worth making the effort to head to Xiao Liu Qiu, somewhere that I’d been told was worth a visit. It’s somewhere else done, but there is still plenty for me to do in Taiwan.

Next up? I’m not sure. I’m heading to Taipei for football on the 5th November, rain is expected this week and I may well be headed out on 29th October. My next tourist trip may not be till the 12th November. I certainly will not be going anywhere on 19th November as it’s my birthday two days later.

Until next time,

Tom

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Final CPBL weekly round-up.

The CPBL regular season is all but over, and it is time for one last proper CPBL round-up. The identity of the second side in the play-offs is now known and there are just two regular season games left. Here is how the table looked at this point last week.

1 ) EDA Rhinos – 32-23-1

2 ) Chinatrust Brothers – 28-26

3 ) Lamigo Monkeys – 24-27-1

4 ) Uni Lions – 24-32

On Wednesday evening Lamigo Monkeys kept their faint play off chances alive after an incredible comeback v EDA Rhinos in Taichung. The Rhinos would have presumed after scoring 5 runs in the bottom of the 6th and to take a 9-1 lead that that would have secured victory. It did not! They conceded 3 in the top of the 7th and 5 in the top of the 9th, as Lamigo Monkeys levelled at 9-9.

Neither side could score in the 9th or 10th inning, but Wang Po Jung hit a 2 run homer in the top of 11th to put Lamigos 11-9 ahead. The Rhinos could not reply, and the Lamigos remained in the hunt for a play off place for at least another day.

In Tainan, Uni Lions secured a 4-2 victory over Chinatrust Brothers. Brothers led 1-0 after 3 but then Brothers starter Chiang Chung Cheng gave away 4 in the bottom of the 4th as the Lions stormed 4-1 ahead. Brothers would only get a single run back in the top of the 5th and in the end it was a comfortable victory for the Lions.

Onto Thursday and Lamigo Monkeys play off hopes started to fall away again as they were easily beaten by Chinatrust Brothers in Taichung. Brothers led 1-0 after 4 but then turned on the style, adding 4 in the 5th and once in the 6th to lead 7-0. Both sides scored 2 in the 8th, with no score in the 9th, final score Monkeys 2-8 Brothers.

On Friday Lamigo Monkeys and Chinatrust Brothers met again, with the Lamigo Monkeys play off hopes all but ending. Their miserable run of form continued, and after going into the bottom of the 9th leading 4-3, they presumably thought they had a chance of winning the game.

Lin Chih Shiang tied the game up at 4-4 before Wang Sheng Wei sacrifice flied to give Brothers a walk off 5-4 win. This result left Lamigo Monkeys needing to win every game and hoping the Rhinos would lose the remainder of theirs.

There was a full weekend of action scheduled and Chinatrust Brothers secured an easy 8-1 win over Uni Lions in Tainan on Saturday. Brothers continued their impressive run of form heading into the play-offs and only conceded in the bottom of the 9th when the game was well out the Lions reach. Strangely, the Lions run in the bottom of the 9th kept their run of scoring in every game going!

Congratulations to EDA Rhinos who finally secured their place in the Taiwan Series play offs and the 2nd phase title courtesy of victory over Lamigo Monkeys in Douliu. They led 2-0 going in the bottom of the 7th before smashing 6 runs to lead 8-0. Monkeys would pull back 3 but it was nowhere near enough and the Rhinos ended a 3 year wait for a play off place.

Jared Lansford gave away just 2 hits over 6 innings and struck out 11 as he deserved got MvP. It is now a very long time since Lansford lost a CPBL game and Rhinos pitching has been a major part of why they are in the play-offs.

This result meant the final games were dead rubbers. Sunday’s game between Chinatrust Brothers and Uni Lions was postponed due to rain but Lamigo Monkeys v EDA Rhinos went ahead.

Lamigo Monkeys 4-1 after 5 but then their bull pen gave away the game. They conceded 1 in the 7th and 2 in the bottom of the 9th as the game went to a 10th inning. Wu Chung Chun won it for the Rhinos in the bottom of the 10th with a walk off single, final score Monkeys 4-5 Rhinos.

Monday’s rearranged game between Chinatrust Brothers and Uni Lions went ahead with both fielding mostly back-up players. The Lions led 4-1 after 3 but then conceded single runs in the 4th, 5th, 7th and 8th, going down to a 5-4 loss. The Lions record in Tainan has not been great, and in the second phase they have produced a home record of 10-0-19, which is simply not good enough.

EDA Rhinos ended their regular season with a 9-2 defeat to Lamigo Monkeys in Taoyuan on Monday. The game only lasted 5 innings due to rain, but it was more than enough time for the Lamigos to secure an easy victory.

Here is how the table looks with the season coming to a close:

1 ) EDA Rhinos – 34-25-1

2 ) Chinatrust Brothers – 32-27

3 ) Lamigo Monkeys – 26-31-1

4 ) Uni Lions – 25-34

There are just two final fixtures to go, and here they are:

Chinatrust Brothers v Lamigo Monkeys – On Wednesday in Taoyuan

Lamigo Monkeys v Uni Lions – On Thursday in Douliu.

The Taiwan Series begins next Saturday, the fixtures have been released but tickets are not yet on sale. I’m hoping to get to one of the games in Taichung next weekend, but given Brothers huge fan base, I’ll have to keep my eye on ticket info.

EDA Rhinos v Chinatrust Brothers – On Saturday 22nd/Sunday 23rd in Taichung

Chinatrust Brothers v EDA Rhinos – On Tuesday 25th, Wednesday 26th and *Thursday 27th in Taoyuan

EDA Rhinos v Chinatrust Brothers – On *Saturday 29th/*Sunday 30th in Taichung

*= if needed, it is a best of 7 series.

I will be writing a quick report on the final two games as part of an extended look back at the regular season. It will be an end of season review looking back at the season, and all of the teams, strengths, weaknesses and what went right, and what went wrong. That will be published at some point before the Taiwan Series begins next Saturday.

Until then, bye for now,

Tom

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