Aged 17, Venus Tsai (蔡慧蓉) hitchhiked around Taiwan solo with NT$2,000 in her pocket. She completed the journey in 13 days and a total of 25 rides and on finishing found herself in the national news. The Yunlin County native — a Taipei vocational school student at the time of her trek — wrote a book about her experiences.
Locus Books in Taipei released A Gift for Adulthood (十八歲的成年禮) on June 1.
“It’s a dream come true,” said Tsai in a recent interview over fried rice and tofu in Chiayi City. “I always wanted to hitchhike around Taiwan, and I did it … I am very excited and psyched, and this is just the beginning. I plan to travel around Malaysia this summer, and then go to Australia on a working holiday visa for a year.”
When asked why she wanted to hitchhike around Taiwan by herself at such a young age, Tsai, who grew up in Yunlin County’s Peikang Township (北港), said she had watched The Most Distant Course (最遙遠的距離), a film in which a young sound recordist circumnavigates the country recording its natural sounds.
“That movie inspired me to go on my own solo hitchhiking adventure … ” she said. “I wanted to go out and find my dream, to make my dream come true, and also I wanted to learn more about who I am and what I can do by myself, on my own, so I did it. I just wanted to leave the real world behind and embark on my own adventure. My father wasn’t very happy about what I planned to do, but he trusted me enough to let me go, reluctantly.”
Having completed her second year at Shilin High School of Commerce in Taipei, Tsai is taking a hiatus from studying and leaves for Malaysia on July 26. “I plan to finish [my] senior year … later on, when I come back to Taiwan,” she said. “I’m young and full of life, and I feel that this is the time to travel, so I am doing it my own way.”
When asked how she caught the travel bug, Tsai said: “My parents both work in the tourism sector, my father is a bus driver and my mother is a tour guide, so I guess I have the travel bug in my genes maybe.”
Tsai was “discovered” by a TVBS camera crew and an Apple Daily reporter by complete chance, she says, setting her on the path to becoming a teenaged published author.
“I was on the final leg of my hitchhiking trip when I found myself at a traffic light in Taichung and saw a car that had stopped at the intersection. I decided to knock on the window of the car and ask for a ride north,” she said.
“The three people turned out to be television reporters, and when I told them what I was doing, thumbing my way around Taiwan, they said this would make a great news story,” Tsai explained.
Tsai noted that because she was a minor when she signed on with Locus Books, the publisher asked her father to sign the book contract for her.
“I’m still young,” she said.