Tue, Jul 14, 2009 - Page 1 News List

COMMUNITY COMPASS: Traveler finds home in Taiwan

'LIBERATING EXPERIENCE' A short, low-budget trip to Taiwan and one great foot massage was the start of a new life in Taiwan for Japanese travel writer Yuka Aoki

By Shelley Shan  /  STAFF REPORTER

Japanese national Yuka Aoki wears a traditional Amis outfit while visiting Atolan Village in Taitung County in January.

PHOTO COURTESY OF BOODAY WORKSHOP LIMITED

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Japanese national Yuka Aoki has lived in Taiwan for about six years. She was recently chosen by the Tourism Bureau to promote its campaign to encourage foreign tourists to post their travel stories from Taiwan online.

Aoki has written three books about living and traveling in Taiwan, all of which have been translated into Chinese. She recently published a Taiwan travel guide for Japanese women with a focus on how to pamper oneself.

Apart from being a writer, she is the host of Taiwan’s One-Person Tourism Bureau, a new travel program that airs on Wednesday nights on Japanese Entertainment Television (JET TV). She runs a hostel for backpackers and sells rice and vegetable rolls.

Now 36, Aoki admits Taiwan was not on her list of top destinations when she started traveling at age 20, but that changed.

“I had a colleague in Japan who came to Taiwan a lot and she invited me to come here with her on a four-day trip,” she said, adding that she was on a tight budget.

On that trip, Aoki had a foot massage in Taipei that she describes as a “liberating experience.”

“My body was filled with genki [energy],” she said.

That energy-charged experience, though painful, led Aoki to come back in 2002 to study foot massage techniques.

“Now I can have [foot massages] every day,” she said.

Aoki spent six months studying with a foot masseuse, but even after she finished, the warmth of her Taiwanese friends inspired her to find ways to stay.

While she returned to Japan for three months in 2003 during the SARS outbreak, she came back the next year and started writing stories about life in Taiwan for several Japanese magazines.

In her books, Aoki mentions her experiences visiting Matsu (馬祖) and Aboriginal villages. She also describes the delicacies to be found at Taipei food stalls and the hot springs Taiwan has to offer.

Her writing is interwoven with personal experiences of interacting with Taiwanese and learning about their everyday lives and culture.

To Aoki, one of the delights of living in Taiwan is discussing shopping tips with strangers.

“I went to a traditional food market one time and was checking out the fish sold by one of the vendors,” she said. “There was an ojisan [old man] standing behind me who I didn’t know and he said to me: ‘Take it from me, don’t buy that, it’s no good.’”

“The other day I was on a bus and a woman came up to me and said: ‘Hey, nice bag, where did you buy it?’”

“In Japan, you don’t give advice to strangers or ask people for their mobile phone numbers the first time you meet them. Those who do are considered weird,” she said.

The Taiwanese are not afraid of expressing themselves, an impression she says she got from hearing people fart in public.

While not a meat eater herself, Aoki said she is always intrigued by the booths selling yansuji, or salted crispy chicken, on the street.

“You can see these pretty, nicely dressed young ladies who seem to be having a good time gnawing chicken necks and nibbling chicken butts,” she said, mimicking their motions.

However, Aoki said there are things about Taiwan that frustrate her too, including the public toilets.

“You always see a full trash can with a big pile of used toilet paper because you cannot flush the paper,” she said.

The garbage-collecting schedule can be a hassle at times, too, she said.

Nor is she a fan of Taiwan’s insects.

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