The wise men who came up with the adage “when life gives you a lemon, make lemonade” probably did not have Melissa Wriston in mind, but the blue-eyed Canadian from Saskatchewan lives up to it.
Wriston, an English teacher in Kaoshiung City for the past six years, was the tour de force behind the idea of a community center for foreigners in Kaohsiung.
PHOTO: JENNY W. HSU, TAIPEI TIMES
Together with a few friends in the city government and from the English-speaking community, Wriston persuaded the city government to provide a small building where foreigners and locals could mingle, relax, chat over coffee or take some classes.
However, weeks turned to months and months to a year, and the center has yet to become a reality although the building has been renovated and equipped with computers and furniture since last year. Without giving an explanation, the Kaohsiung City Government has been dragging its feet about opening the center.
The center even earned a listing in the Lonely Planet travel book on Taiwan, Wriston said.
But instead of wringing her hands and gnashing her teeth at bureaucratic red tape over the long wait, Wriston took the initiative to relocate the spirit of the center to her residence, which she has turned into an international hostel for travelers and those in transition.
“It was just in the last six months where I thought to myself, hmm, I have the space to put the information, I have the space to do a common area, I am getting what I originally wanted. It clicked in my head that the original vision for the center ... we can actually make it happen,” she said in an interview with the Taipei Times earlier this month.
After talking to several expatriates in the city who shared her goal of having a place to hold classes and activities, Wriston opened the first floor of her five-story home/hostel as a gathering place where people can take cooking classes, have movie nights, hold meetings, or just simply hang out, she said.
She said a member of the expatriate community recently held a cooking demonstration there on how to make eggplant soup and another class on homemade granola and yogurt.
“When I finally realized and accepted the fact the center might not ever open, I took most of the informational brochures, fliers, books and posters about life in Kaohsiung City and brought them to my house,” she said.
Wriston also turned her garage into a quasi-resource service center. One of the walls is lined with an array of brochures on just about anything on Kaoshiung — from restaurants to World Games events to recommended tourist sites and where to go to paraglide.
The hostel, the International Friendship House, is located in a quiet neighborhood close to the high speed rail station, the World Game stadium and the Kaohsiung rapid transit system. It has welcomed people from Asia, Europe, North America and Africa since it opened in September 2006, she said.
Wriston said she hopes the hostel will not just by a place for travelers to stay, but also a home for people who are in the midst of transition, such as newcomers to the city.
Information about the resource center and the hostel can be found at accesskaohsiung.blogspot.com.
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