Clockwise from top: street art in Taipei’s shopping district, garbage collection in Hualien, and Taipei 101

Gorge-ous, delicious, scoot-scooting, better China

These are the five words that sum up my recent spring break to Taiwan.  Though much can be said about the stunning sights and scrumptious grub I had the pleasure of encountering, my main focus is on the discovery of a better China.

After residing on the mainland for half of a year, I’ve identified plenty of standard behaviors, misconceptions, cultural differences, and spectacles worthy of criticism or sometimes, albeit rarely, praise. I approached a visit to Taiwan with great curiosity and intrigue given the obviously deep, conflicting connections between China and Taiwan and the endless commentary I’ve collected over the years from fellow travelers comparing the two nations. What I found in Taiwan was, without a doubt and simply put, a better China.

International travel seemingly promotes constant comparison–your mind approaches every new experience as though you’re completing a venn diagram, charting the distinct differences and charming similarities between all that you’ve partaken in prior. Arriving in Taiwan, I immediately felt a surreal sense of being somewhere intensely familiar–Chinese syllables engulfing my eardrums, signs scrawled with intricate, unknown characters, views of dilapidated constructions long past their prime, food carts touting intimidating cuisine, etc..

However, as swiftly as I recognized these totems of my current home, there came a barrage of clear signs that I wasn’t behind the Great Firewall any longer. Those unknown characters flooding my field of vision with every glance were noticeably depicting traditional characters (much preferable to read for beginning Chinese learners, such as myself, as the characters tend to depict pictures that clue one in to the meaning of the word, a value lost with simplified characters, which are commonly used in mainland China); wifi was accessible all over the place and so were beloved social media sites, even the NYT, rendering my VPN wonderfully useless; the chaos of using public transportation was completely absent as people waited patiently in line, in the demarcated space, for passengers to exit before calmly stepping onto the train; sidewalks were shockingly clean of bodily fluids and other general waste; gorging on street food didn’t instantly make one’s stomach turn inside out from questionable hygienic practices or mystery ingredients; the hurdles to obtaining train tickets or just about anything were nonexistent and missing the oft expected bureaucratic nonsense.

Taiwan was a delightful shock to the senses and provided an appreciated view of what China might be like if I could simply wipe away so many of the grievances that induce a general tension and irritation when trapped inside this monolithic place for too long. By no means is China a lost cause; in fact, I encourage everyone with the means to experience this weird and fascinating country, rich with history and dense with power to reshape the world, for better or worse–just be sure you’re ready to see a baby shit on the sidewalk if you do pay the mainland a visit.

Ethical Tourism with Tao Expeditions

This site has been quiet the last few weeks as my partner and I took a break from teaching and ventured off to the Philippines for the Chinese New Year holiday. Though we spent some time relaxing in the well-traveled paradises of Palawan, the bulk of our trip was spent on the water traveling from El Nido to Coron on the Balatik–a stunning, wooden sailing vessel designed after the ancient paraw ships of the Philippines. For six days and five nights, we maneuvered across the brilliant blue waters, our captains Toto and Gener at the helm, tracing our way around remote island villages sprinkled throughout this span of sea with 24 fellow guests, nine crew members, and one fearless Jack Russell, Datu. The sights were, no surprise, completely breathtaking and oh-my-god-amazing. Though I could brag at length about the painted sunsets, intricate and ornate coral reefs, abundance of exotic neon fish, and belly busting feasts prepared by our ship’s very own Chef Jeff, I mainly want to highlight the invaluable work of the organization behind our life altering adventure, Tao Expeditions.
Displaying IMG_8797.JPGPhoto credit to fellow guest Janet Tejada
Tao developed from humble beginnings as two friends with a passion for sailing and exploration transformed their remote expeditions into a business plan. From their simple dream, Tao evolved into a mixed breed of aid organization and travel group. Tao Expeditions is very explicit with guests that their trip offerings are not tours–though they take guests to beautiful sights and comfortable base camps (emphasis on camp), the experience one has is mostly up to the individual. Your day can be spent relaxing and reading on the boat, sun bathing and snorkeling, swimming and hiking at base camps, or whatever else tickles your fancy.
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With the money Tao generates from sharing some of the Philippines’ most incredible sights, they provide services and training to under-served locals residing in communities spread across the islands. These services include building and operating schools in villages, providing quality, sustainable materials for building homes and structures in their village, and assisting with garden and farming projects. Additionally, Tao plays a role in improving the economies of these small villages by not only offering locals the opportunity for training in specific skills and trades, but also guaranteeing them a market by which to generate income through the guests that visit while on expeditions.
On our expedition, a portion of our payment to Tao went to the village women who were trained masseuses and thus an evening of our vacation was spent having our sore muscles massaged beneath the starry night sky. Similarly, Tao will pay villagers to use the structures they’ve built, with materials donated by Tao, as base camps during expeditions. Tao also trains young, interested Filipino’s in the ways of the sea–providing training in all aspects of sailing and boat management–and the especially gifted end up working and earning wages as crew on Tao’s small fleet. These are just a few of many ways in which Tao has aided in improving the quality of life for Filipino people, particularly those that are outside of the common zones of government assistance.
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As an organization, Tao Expeditions has a demonstrated and palpable mission of sustainability, empowerment, and celebration of Filipino people, land, and culture. I didn’t have to look very hard or far to bear witness to the powerful positive impact this group has had on human lives and the environment. Despite the cliche, it’s no stretch for me to proclaim this adventure a life changing one and it certainly re-affirmed my passion for learning as much as I possibly can about the economics of sustainable development in order to best serve those in need. Organizations such as Tao, and the faces behind it, give me hope that we can meet our shared goals as a planet to do and be better for each other and our Earth.

Greetings and welcome to Paper Beats Rock

What’s in a name?

Shakespeare’s questioning title remains a value held today; what something actually is matters far more than its label. However, with that said, it’s worth explaining the logic behind this blog’s title.

As is typical for many, the game rock-paper-scissors was a staple of my childhood–an efficient and effective means of decision making and a thoroughly entertaining competitive game of prediction. What has delighted me throughout my personal history of living and working outside of the U.S. is the universality of this simple game. Despite common barriers of communication, everywhere I have visited rock-paper-scissors is well understood. As an educator,  this method of conflict resolution has been especially useful in the classroom: “you both want to write with the single red marker? Rock-paper-scissor for who gets to.” Simple. Efficient. Universal.

What paper beats rock reminds me is that despite our myriad of differences, be it income inequality, gender, race, language, education, etc., people are all simply that, people. We’re all here on this strange planet together and, somehow, we must find a way to make it work. I believe through focusing on the pillars of sustainable development–social inclusion, shared economic well-being , responsible care of our environment, and fair governance –we can, indeed, do better than simply make it work, we can thrive.

Paper Beats Rock is, at its core, a blog intent on sharing observations from my life working and traveling around the world while maintaining a focus on progress–sustainable development– and interesting things I’ve learned (TIL) along the way that have enriched my understanding of our world and may benefit you as well.

Greetings and welcome to Paper Beats Rock.

Stay gold,

Chelsea Marie Hicks