While some think of a cross-country trip as a rite of passage, 21-year-old Chen Ting-chen (陳廷禎), a junior in Tamkang University’s Chinese literature department, thinks it is a perfect getaway from the fast-paced, Internet-reliant lifestyle that characterizes modern society.
Carrying a backpack weighing 17kg, Chen left his home in Taoyuan County’s Pingjhen Township (平鎮) in early July to experience what it is like to live the old-fashioned way — by walking across the country without any Internet-accessible devices.
Chen did not bring his smartphone with him, saying that only by staying away from the Internet would he be able to “open up all his senses to the beauty of Taiwan.”
Chen was in high school when he took his first trip around the country, using a bicycle as his main mode of transport.
“My second cross-country tour was done by motorcycle, but I switched back to bike for my third trip because the one thing I have learned from the three journeys is that the slower the pace at which one travels, the more one can gain from the experience,” Chen said.
The idea of completing the entire trip on foot sounded a lot better than it was in reality, he said, adding that not knowing what lay ahead often disoriented him.
Were it not for the encouragement from strangers the 21-year-old encountered on the road, he might not have been able to persevere and continue his trip.
Chen said when he was passing through Taoyuan’s Yangmei City, he suddenly heard someone shout jiayou (加油) (an expression of encouragement) behind him.
“I turned around and saw a middle-aged man, who asked me how far did I still have to go,” Chen said.
Chen said he took small country roads rather than the main streets to see a different side of the country, which allowed him to meet many hospitable and welcoming people.
Pointing to a reflective safety vest in his backpack, Chen said it was a gift from an elderly man, who gave it to him to keep him safe on the road.
“Their kindness is just so simple and straightforward,” Chen said.
Chen said the most memorable part of his trip involved the historical Alangyi Trail (阿朗壹古道), a 12km hiking trail along the Pacific coastline between Taitung County’s Nantian Village (南田) and Pingtung County’s Syuhai Village (旭海).
Because he had to be accompanied by a local guide to be allowed to hike along the trial, Chen spent three days selling postcards on the streets of Pingtung’s Gangzai Village (港仔) to make enough money to hire a guide.
Chen added that he only spent about NT$20,000 (US$680) on the 73-day trip, including NT$3,000 for the guided tour to Alangyi, because he saved a lot of money by lodging at local schools, police stations and fire departments.
Chen said every step he took during the trip gave him a different perspective on life and he hopes to explore more aspects of the country in the future to find his own self-worth and purpose in life.