Thursday, October 12, 2017

this American's experience with universal health care

Let me be clear about this: I am a liberal-- or a snowflake or libtard depending on your social circle--and I absolutely have an agenda.

The lengthy list is:

I want a complete separation of church and state (and I will laugh in your face if you try to tell me we already have that), I want a gun free nation, I want to protect the environment, I want a woman's right to choose, I want marriage rights for all, I want to address racism, I want affordable higher education, and I want universal health care.

[Note: The definition of universal health care is a health care system that provides health care and financial protection to all citizens of a particular country.]

That is my dream for America. 

I find myself so jaded by so many of my fellow Americans and their choices that I no longer believe this version of America is possible, and every single day, I desperately wish that America would break up into smaller nations so I could live with like minded people. 

That said, I have the best consolation prize available: Taiwan. 

Taiwan is a free and democratic nation. It has a female president, it has total gun restriction, it has equal marriage rights for all, it has affordable college, and it has universal health care.

Today, I am just going to focus on one of these elements: universal health care. 

I feel like it is my duty to offer real, first hand accounts of my experience with universal health care to balance out the voices of those Americans who try to make inflammatory statements about it despite the fact they have never experienced it themselves-- or, as is likely, actually been to a country that has it. 

First, let me hit you with this truth bomb in the form of a map:
The countries in gray do not have universal healthcare, the countries in blue do, and the countries in green are beginning to implement it. In regards to this issue, America has more in common with Africa and the Middle East than it does with the nations we like to compare ourselves to in Europe, Oceania, or Asia.

[Bonus points for you if you can find Taiwan on this map. Hint: it's blue.] 

HISTORY & OVERVIEW OF TAIWAN'S NATIONAL HEALTH INSURANCE (NHI)
Below is an abstract from the U.S. National Library of Medicine. You can the whole study here
Taiwan adopted a national health insurance system in 1995. It is a government administered insurance-based national healthcare system. Although, like the UK, Taiwan has a single payer system for healthcare, there are several differences between the two systems. The characteristics of the Taiwanese system include good accessibility, comprehensive population coverage, short waiting times, relatively low costs and a national health insurance databank for planning, monitoring and evaluating health services. The weaknesses include variable quality of care, a weak gatekeeper role and increasing financial pressures.
PERSONAL COST
I think this the first thing Americans talk about when debating the possibility of NHI in America, so I will be as transparent as possible.

[Note: Taiwan's universal health care is paid for through premiums, which are largely based on payroll taxes and then supplemented with co-pays, out-of-pocket payments, and government funding.]

Since the largest contributor to NHI is payroll taxes, let's look at one of my pay stubs: 
I make 115,119 New Taiwanese Dollars (NTD) monthly, which is the equivalent of $3,837 USD. As you can see at the bottom of my pay stub in the column labeled "Health Insurance Deduction", I lose 1,296 NTD monthly to NHI, which is the equivalent of $43 USD. In one year, from my salary and guaranteed bonuses, I earn $55,636 USD. In the course of that same year, I pay $516 USD to NHI, which is a whopping one percent of my income. I will reiterate: I am sacrificing one percent of my income in payroll taxes to fund Taiwan's NHI.

The copay at every single clinic or hospital is the same: 150 NTD, which is $5 USD. Often when I go to the doctor, this is the only fee I pay. This is true when I pop by our neighborhood clinic for flu or ear infection treatment, or when I was pregnant and would get an ultrasound at every appointment along with a urine test, or when I had to see a GI specialist about a polyp in my gallbladder. Please understand what I am saying: the fee for seeing the doctor and any medication is 150 NTD.

The only times this has not been true for me were when I had my elective c-section and when I went to the ER for said polyp as well as when I was 36 weeks pregnant and experiencing complications. My elective c-section and my 6 day/5 night stay in the hospital cost me 30,000 NTD, which is $1,000 USD, because it was not covered by insurance. My two trips to the ER, one of which included an x-ray, an ultrasound, a urine test, a blood test, the consultation of two doctors, and two prescriptions, both cost me 600 NTD each, which is $20 USD.

I understand that this is only true for Taiwan's universal health care system, and apparently there is "increasing financial pressure", at least according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, but I am clearly being charged a negligible amount of money to receive quality, comprehensive health care.

WAIT TIME & EASE OF SYSTEM
This is the second thing Americans rage about when talking about instituting NHI in America: wait times to get appointments to see doctors. Once again, it is my endeavor to be as transparent as possible, so let's break this down as clearly as possible.

Yesterday, Sean mentioned that he wanted to see a dermatologist to get a few moles and freckles checked out. Within three minutes of him mentioning that, I had already booked him an appointment online for today for him to see a dermatologist. How? I will walk you step by step through the process.

Everyone, meet Mackay Memorial Hospital.
Mackay Memorial Hospital, Hsinchu City
[Note: In order for you to understand the process, you will need to open a tab with this website.]

This hospital is a five to ten minute drive from our apartment depending on traffic. In Taiwan, hospitals are a collection of doctors' offices as well as emergency services. For example, I went to Mackay to see my OBGYN throughout my pregnancy. It is also where I delivered Ruby. It is also where we take Ruby to see her pediatrician. It is also where she was hospitalized in the baby unit when she was one month old for her severe GERD. It is also where I went to the ER due to extreme stomach pain about one month ago. It is also where I consulted with a GI specialist and underwent testing for different abdominal conditions. It is also where Sean visited a dermatologist to get tested for skin cancer. It is also where he had physical therapy for back pain from a tennis injury. It is also where he had a series of rabies shots after he was bitten by a monkey in Bali, but that is a whole story in and of itself.

Do you get the picture-- need something done? It's simple: go to this one place where you can have anything and everything done.

There are two other hospitals just like Mackay in Hsinchu City alone, but we go to Mackay because it has the best reputation in Hsinchu City and we know it well. However, at any point in time, I can see any doctor at the other two hospitals in Hsinchu City, or, if I wanted, I could see any doctor on the island. For example, we took Ruby to a children's hospital in Linkou, a suburb of Taipei, just for a second opinion about her GERD medications and their dosages from a pediatric GERD specialist who was recommended to us by one of Sean's student's parents.

You may be wondering how it is so easy to make an appointment at any of these hospitals, and I will show you. Let's pretend that I am making an appointment for Ruby to see her pediatrician later today because she woke up with a fever. After going to Mackay Memorial Hospital's homepage, I follow these steps:

Step 1: Translate the webpage to English
Step 2: Click on "Network Registration"
Step 3: Translate the webpage to English
Step 4: Click on "Network Registration"
Step 5: Translate the webpage to English
Step 6: Click on the department I want, which in this scenario is department #30 Pediatric
Step 7: Translate the webpage to English
Step 8: Find Ruby's pediatrician #4543 Li Sijia (whom we adore by the way) on the desired day of the week at the desired time, which is either the morning, afternoon, or evening
Step 9: Find the date; appointments can be booked three to four weeks in advance.
Step 10: Enter your medical ID # and date of birth

And that's that. You did it. Congratulations. That is exactly how I made Sean an appointment in less than three minutes yesterday so he could see a dermatologist today.

[Note: Each hospital in Taiwan has a similar online registration system.]

Using Mackay's website, you can also cancel appointments or double check the date and time of standing appointments.

Here are some things you should know:

First, if a pediatrician has a full schedule, you will not be able to choose that date on Step 9. In that case, you could choose a different doctor who has an opening on the same date. In the entire 5+ years I have lived here, I have never had a problem seeing a doctor when I needed to. Further, every single time I have needed to take Ruby in without advanced warning, I have always been able to take her to see her pediatrician. I never had to make an appointment with a different one. I am sure if we stayed here for another five years, it may happen once, but really, who cares? If I need to, I can see a doctor that day.

Second, if you miss more than two appointments in one month without cancelling first, you will not be allowed to make anymore appointments that month. However, that is just for that one specific hospital. You could always make an appointment at a different hospital. However, as it takes less than one minute to cancel an appointment online, I don't know why anyone wouldn't just do that.

Third, all Taiwanese citizens and alien residents (which we are) have an NHI card. Your NHI number is the medical ID for Step #10. Every single clinic and hospital has a machine that can read the chip, and it contains your medical history. It looks like this:
source
When we first came to Taiwan, we obviously needed to apply for our NHI cards. I got one instantaneously because I was employed. Sean had to wait six months before he could be covered under NHI because he was not working, and therefore not paying into the system (albeit I was paying for him with my NHI dependent payroll deduction). However, he could still visit a doctor at any time. Instead of entering his medical ID # for Step #10, he entered his passport #.

In fact, every single one of you reading this blog post could make an appointment at Mackay Memorial Hospital now that I have shown you how to do it (but please don't, okay?).

GOING IN FOR AN APPOINTMENT
The entire process of going to a doctor appointment in Taiwan is very, very different from the process in America. Once you have completed Step #10 for making an appointment to see a doctor, you will be given an online confirmation with the following information:
The conformation for Sean's appointment, which has been poorly translated into English by Google
  • the date of your appointment
  • your doctor's name 
  • the hours of your doctor's clinic (morning clinics are from 9am-12pm, afternoon clinics are from 1pm-4pm, and evening clinics are from 5pm-8pm)
  • the floor of the hospital your doctor's clinic is found on
  • the room in the clinic in which you will meet with your doctor 
  • your patient number
The most important pieces of information to take note of are the clinic hours and your patient number. For example, I made an appointment for Sean to see a dermatologist (Dr. Lin Shang/#4222) during a morning clinic, which runs from 9am-12pm, and his patient number was 41. The number system is much like the one at the DMV where you pull a number and wait your turn. Today, that meant that Sean was the 41st patient the doctor met with during the morning clinic, and he had to wait for the 40 people before him to meet with the doctor before it was his turn. 

Your most obvious question should be: How do I know what time to go to the hospital if I don't have a specific time to meet with the doctor? When we first moved to Taiwan, we just guessed when to go, and we spent a lot of time in waiting rooms. However, after a few months, we learned that there is a feature on Mackay's website (and every other hospital's website) that allows you to check which number the doctor is on for those particular clinic hours, so today, Sean headed to the hospital when the doctor was on patient 37, and he waited less than five minutes to see the doctor. 

Another obvious question should be: What happens if I miss my number? When I was pregnant, I made all of my check ups during evening clinics, which occur from 5pm-8pm, so Sean could be there. However, those are peak rush hour traffic times. Sometimes, we would get to the clinic and the doctor would be on a number after my patient number, meaning I wasn't there when it was my turn to see the OBGYN. How does the hospital deal with that? You knock on the doctor's door to let the nurse know you are there late, and then you have to wait two more numbers before they will squeeze you in for your turn.

The exception to this system is getting a procedure or scan done. For example, when Ruby was admitted to the hospital when she was one month old, her doctors discovered that she has an ovarian cyst. Their recommendation is that we monitor it every three months to check its size. In September, she had her first follow up scan. We were given a specific appointment to have the echo done, so we knew exactly when to go to the hospital. The same was true for my ultrasound scan to check my abdomen.

MEETING WITH DOCTORS
I think a lot of Americans worry that their quality of health care will suffer if universal health care is instituted. In this regard, I can only speak of my personal experience. Never once have I felt rushed in and out of a doctor's office.

Ruby's pediatrician regularly spends at least 15-20 minutes with us for her well baby check ups, and when Ruby was ill with severe GERD in the first few months of her life, her pediatrician routinely spent 30-45 minutes with us to talk about how to manage her symptoms. Further, she has also called specialists while we were in the office to see if there was anything else we could be doing.

During my high risk pregnancy, my OBGYN was meticulous in looking over my blood pressure charts and examining my other varied symptoms of preeclampsia. He did everything in his power to help up make it from my diagnosis at week 26 to 38 weeks so I had the best chance of delivering a healthy baby. He even came to the hospital in the middle of the night to double check on me when I was 36 weeks pregnant and experiencing complications, so all I can say is I never feel like I sacrifice quality for cost here.

One unique aspect of visiting a doctor in Taiwan is that during the appointment, he or she will use the patient's health card to pull up medical records on a computer and update the records in real time. All medications and previous tests & visits are available to peruse with the click of a button. I find it to be very helpful (and time saving) not having to explain things to new doctors. For example, last month, I went to the ER due to extreme stomach pain. While there, I had an ultrasound, x-ray, blood tests, and a urine test. After being sent home with some medication, I made an appointment with a GI specialist at the recommendation of the ER doctor. When I met with the GI specialist, he could examine the results of the ultrasound, x-ray, and labs. He was also able to schedule an appointment for me to get a more thorough echo just three days later during which he found the cause of my pain: a polyp in my gallbladder.

Overall, I have no concerns about the quality of treatment I receive or the timeline in which I receive it.

PHARMACIES
Each hospital has its own pharmacy. If a doctor prescribes you medication, he or she will electronically send it to the pharmacy in the middle of your appointment, so while you are still meeting with the doctor, the pharmacy technicians are already filling your prescriptions.

Once you are done meeting with the doctor, you will receive an invoice and prescription, and you will take them to the cashier. At the cashier, you will pay the co-pay, and they will stamp your prescription. Then, you go to the pharmacy (in the hospital) and show them the receipt. Then, they will walk you through anything you need to know about how to take the medication or possible side effects.

I have never been given a medication that was not covered by my $5 USD co-pay.

TO CONCLUDE
I strongly suggest you read this literature about Taiwan's universal health care, but I will review its salient points.

  • NHI is compulsory in Taiwan, so every single citizens, which includes me, has it. 
  • Taiwanese people sacrifice 1-2% of their annual income in order to contribute to NHI. 
  • Anyone living below the poverty line receives NHI for free without contributing any payroll tax. 
  • Doctors are well trained and go through the same schooling as American doctors, and they are still paid well and earn on average $110,000+ USD annually. Considering the GDP is $22,000 USD, doctors are certainly still in Taiwan's upper class. 
  • Since instituting NHI in 1995, the life expectancy for both men and women in Taiwan has increased, and the discrepancy between the health of the rich, middle class, and poor has narrowed significantly. 
  • The system is convenient and there are no "waiting lists" to see doctors or have procedures
  • There are literally no limitations about which doctor or hospital patients can seek care from or at

Moving forward, it will be very hard for us to go back to America's health care system and not cast harsh judgment, and I already know what some people will say: if I think Taiwan is so much better than America, why don't we just stay?

Here is my response: is it such a terrible thing for me to wish my own country to be a more humane, people-centered place instead of a corrupt, profit-centered place? I mean, really, come on you guys: refusal to cover preexisting conditions and health care bills that cause bankruptcy? Is it really such a terrible thing that I wish we could be our neighbor's keeper like the people of Taiwan are, and all contribute to one pot that helps every single person?

Is it really such a terrible thing to take an honest look around and think: we can be better and do better, so let's?

If you think it really is such a terrible thing, well, then, I guess I am really not all that surprised because 67 percent of the population seems to agree with you, which is really something I just cannot wrap my mind around, which is precisely why we are getting our permanent citizenship in Taiwan just in case we feel we need to return. 

After all is said and done, what do you think?
Do you want America to at least try to be better in this regard?
Do you want to see universal health care in the states?

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

buffalo meadows

Over the long weekend, we headed to Taipei with some friends to visit Yangmingshan National Park, which is one of nine national parks in Taiwan. Somehow, in the five plus years we have lived in Taiwan, we have never made it to this gorgeous albeit small park. Our friends live just 15 minutes outside of the park, so we decided that a visit with them and a hike in the park was the perfect way to spend one day of our long weekend!

We were constrained by time because we could only be away from Hsinchu and Ruby for eight hours due to our nanny's schedule. Half of our time was eaten up just by getting to the park: 15 minutes to scoot from our apartment to the high speed rail in Jhubei, 30 minutes on the HSR from Jhubei to Taipei Main Station, 20 minutes on the metro from Taipei Main Station to Zhishan Station, 10 minutes in a taxi from Zhishan Station to our friends' apartment in Tianmu, and 30 minutes in their car from their place in Tianmu to the Qingtiangang (a.k.a. Buffalo Meadows) parking lot in Yangmingshan.


However, it was all completely worth the seriously long and complicated journey (even though we had to wait 40 minutes just to get in the parking lot because everyone in Taiwan decided to spend their day off in the national park).

Because we knew we would be strapped for time, we chose one of the shortest "hikes" in the national park: Qingtiangang, which is also known as Buffalo Meadows due to the wild bovines that roam the grasslands. Qingtiangang is a high mountain grassland that sits on a lava terrace that was created when Mt. Zhugao erupted and its lava flowed north towards the Pacific Ocean.
As is common in nearly all of Taiwan's national parks, the entire trail, which is one big loop, was either gravel, stone, or stairs. While rugged hiking trails certainly do exist in Taiwan, they are not easily found in the national parks nor do they seem very popular with the average Taiwanese person who would seem to much rather take a leisurely stroll than a strenuous hike. Since Qingtianhang is the easiest "hike" in Yangmingshan National Park, it was very crowded (except at the top of Mt. Zhugao). 

We only walked half of the loop because we diverted to walk to the top of Mt. Zhugao. From its (rather short) peak, we could see Taipei down below and the summits of other mountains, which were sometimes hidden in the clouds. It was 70 degrees with a strong breeze, which felt wonderful considering the heat and humidity in Taipei. I was a little disappointed that we didn't have enough time to finish the loop or see any grazing buffalo, but we had a great time catching up with friends and spending a few hours in high mountain grasslands watching the clouds come and go.    
One thing is certain: Yangmingshan National Park is on our must see list for our February road trip around the island, and we will definitely walk the whole loop trail with our baby and dog in tow!



Friday, October 6, 2017

on being a (temporary) expat stay-at-home mom

 
While I am not technically a traditional stay-at-home mom because I am on parental leave and will return to work in five months, I am a mom who stays at home with her baby. Honestly, never in one million years did I think I would ever be a stay-at-home mom, but then again, for a long time I didn't think I wanted to be a mom at all.

We made this decision mostly for practical reasons. We are expats living and working in a foreign country. We had no idea what to expect in regards to childcare, and we had to make up our minds about my employment for the 2017-2018 school year in October 2016 despite the fact Ruby was not due until May 2017 because of how our international school (and all of the others too) does its teacher recruitment.

While Ruby & I had a rocky start, I have to say I very much enjoy being home with her now, and I think a lot of that has to do with our unique situation as expats.

Let's get the most obvious benefit out of the way, which has nothing to do with the fact that we are in Taiwan: time. Being home, I have got to be there for it all. The first smile, laugh, babble, roll. That is certainly something I will cherish forever, and how lucky am I that I get to be home for it all for the first 10 months of Ruby's life? I have got to witness this amazing transformation:
Beyond the most obvious benefit of time, there are some other unique pros and cons to my situation as an expatriate SAHM.

-----

PRO: FINANCES
Taiwan has great maternity and parental leave (especially in comparison to America). I received full compensation for four months after Ruby's birth, which amounted to more than $12,000 USD, and I will continue to receive 20% of my income for another six months. Coupled with Sean's salary, we are not even close to hurting financially even though I am not working. In fact, we are still able to live and play well and continue growing our savings account.

PRO: HELP
Due to our financial situation, we are able to employ a part time nanny. We spend about $600 USD monthly on her services. She works three eight-hour days babysitting (and cleaning while Ruby naps) and one two-hour day deep cleaning. I think this is the biggest reason why I am so happy being a stay-at-home mom. Three days a week-- every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday-- I get eight hours to myself.

During this time, I often hang out with friends, grab coffee and write in Starbucks, grocery shop or run other errands, or explore Taiwan on my scooter. Truthfully, we could spend a lot less on a full time nanny, but we love our nanny and are more than happy to pay her an above average wage because a. she is fabulous with Ruby and we trust her completely and b. we have become great friends and know we are helping her family (and extended family in the Philippines) so much.

CON: A SMALL COMMUNITY
Most of my friends here are teachers, and they have full time jobs. I am so lucky because I do have one amazing friend who is a SAHM, but sometimes the lack of people to spend time with during the day feels stifling. I don't have a tribe of other expat moms to hang out with or talk to. To give you an idea: besides Ruby, Bubu, and Sean, the person I talk to the most on a daily basis is our friendly garbage man, and he doesn't even speak much English. While I don't think I would ever be the kind of person to join mommy groups, I do have friends and family back home who have young kids, and sometimes I wish we could spend time together. 

CON: LACK OF TRANSPORTATION
I love my scooter, but I am not about to drive around my five month old baby on it. We don't have a car, and I would not want to drive a car in Taiwan because, hello, parking, but that means we rely on cabs. In order to get anywhere, we first have to walk five minutes down the street to Family Mart, a convenience store, use a machine to order a cab, wait 5-10 minutes for the cab to come, then try to communicate to the driver where we want to go. It is quite an ordeal, especially if I try to take Ruby somewhere by myself because I have to deal with her stroller. There is also the fact that I have to hold her while we drive, and the American in me is not really okay with that.

I am so fortunate to live in a beautiful neighborhood with great parks, a lake, a store, and our school. I can easily get out of the house and walk on beautiful sidewalks through Japanese gardens, but I can't run errands with Ruby during the day or go anywhere that requires transportation. Sometimes, that is really annoying.

-----

With everything laid out like that, I know any complaint I have is minor in comparison to everything that is so awesome about this situation. I also know that it cannot and will not last forever, so I am doing my best to enjoy this special time in my life.




Wednesday, October 4, 2017

taiwan's highway 122

I have a favorite road. That's normal, right? It's Highway 94 in New Zealand. It's the only road that leads in and out of Milford Sound. What makes it so spectacular is the landscape it twists, rises, and falls through-- mountains, rivers, lakes, sounds.

While Taiwan is not New Zealand, it has its own version of Highway 94, and that would be Highway 122. As Lonely Planet says: Highway 122 runs up a deep river valley in a rugged, chillingly beautiful part of Taiwan that is often completely cut off because of landslides. While Highway 122 may not be as spectacular as New Zealand's Highway 94, I certainly enjoy the long scoot from Taiwan's west coast to the top of the Guanwu Recreation Area of Sheipa National Park in the central mountain range of Taiwan.

For the full experience of Highway 122, one must first visit the small fishing village of Nanliao on Taiwan's northwestern coast. In Nanliao, there is a small town, some wind turbines, a popular bike path, a few sandy beaches (and a lot of people flying kites & wind surfing in the ocean breeze), and the start of Highway 122.
Highway 122 heads east, away from the ocean, through Hsinchu City and continues through Jhudong Township. For most of this stretch of roadway, Highway 122 is a four to six lane road congested with cars, buses, and so many scooters (and the occasional elderly person driving his or her personal mobility scooter in the middle of the road like it is a road vehicle). Locally, this stretch of road is known as Guangfu Road (but I have also noticed that every Taiwanese city has a Guangfu Road, and someone told me it just means "the main road" or something like that).

I have always found it interesting that every city in Taiwan looks exactly the same; the roads are spiderwebs flanked with tall, ugly, cement buildings covered in loud billboards and flashing lights. Temples, food stalls, and bubble tea stands are on every street corner. Hsinchu City and Jhudong Township may not be anything special to look at (well, except for the temples), but neither is any Taiwanese town or city.

That's just the way it is here-- the beauty is found in nature, not in manmade things.
In Jhudong Township, there is a three way fork. Highway 122 turns right at that fork and starts its ascent into the central mountain range of Taiwan. Here, the road becomes two lanes and passes through many small Taiwanese aboriginal villages covered in colorful, playful murals. There are many groups of Taiwanese aboriginals that live high in the mountains of Taiwan like the Atayal people, who live in the largest mountain village along Highway 122, Wufeng Township.

My overall impression of the Taiwanese aboriginals is that they live rough, agriculture-based lives (many harvesting tea or rice) in secluded, high mountain villages that lack many creature comforts. However, every single time I drive through one of their villages, I am always waved at by locals with big smiles on their faces, and occasionally someone who wants to use what English they know will strike up a conversation.
Eventually, as Highway 122 climbs higher and higher, it becomes uninhabited with sheer cliff faces and the looming threat of landslides from up above. After the ranger station for Sheipa National Park, the road is called Dula Forest Road, a true single lane road.

Every time I drive this stretch of 122, it looks completely different because of all the ongoing road work that occurs to fix the road after landslides caused by heavy rainfall, typhoons, and earthquakes, which all happen quite often.

Dula Forest Road culminates high in the mountains above the clouds at the Guanwu Recreation Area. There, one can hike, camp, or stay in the resort. In total, scooting from the start of Highway 122 in Nanliao to the Guanwu Recreation Area takes 3.5 hours (that is without stopping to take thousands of pictures of the beautiful scenery).


One of my favorite things about Taiwan is that I can literally scoot from the beach after dipping my toes in the ocean to the top of Taiwan and sit in a cloud all in the span of just a few hours. 



Tuesday, September 19, 2017

alone in the mountains

Yesterday, I decided to do something I have never done before: scoot deep into the mountains of Taiwan all by myself to get lost.

I did this because I had the time to do so and the desire. You may wonder how on earth a woman on maternity leave with a 4.5 month old baby could say she has free time, but I do. Every Monday and Wednesday, our nanny comes from 9am-5pm, so I am free as a bird to have coffee, breakfast, or scoot adventures with friends-- and, originally, yesterday's scoot adventure into the mountains was supposed to include a friend, but her daughter had a hard time at preschool, so only I could go.

At first, I wasn't sure if I was going to go by myself.

The voices of so many other people ricocheted in my head saying: it's not safe to scoot into the mountains of a foreign country all by yourself, but I realized pretty darn quickly that if I was going to wait on other people to do the things I truly want to do, I may never actually do them.

We have lived in Taiwan for more than five years now. I have been scooting around Taiwan for more than four years now, and I have been zipping through its wondrous, glorious, lush mountains for more than two years now. So far, the scariest thing that has ever happened was being chased by a pack of rogue mountain dogs that scattered when I turned around and drove straight at them yelling and honking my scooter's pathetic horn.

Feeling like an adventure was in order, I packed my backpack with water, my cameras, and my cell, and then I drove out of town and towards a mysterious road I read about in Lonely Planet that connects Beipu to Nanzhuang:

"A few kilometers past the hot springs, the road splits again. Left takes you up a winding uninhabited road back to Beipu..."
That road called out to my spirit of adventure. I looked on Google Maps, and thought I located this "winding uninhabited road", which is actually called Daping Road. This road connected a waterfall I wanted to see in Nanzhuang with the cold springs I frequently visit in Beipu, so I decided to try to find Daping Road and drive down it as far as I could. I was not disappointed, although Lonely Planet is wrong because the road is inhabited by some homes, farms, and a strange Buddhist temple and its many chickens.

Daping Road is a true single lane road; sometimes its width didn't even seem wide enough to accommodate a car, and we are talking Taiwanese cars here, which are super tiny and clown looking. Daping Road took me past beautiful rivers, across single lane, shady looking bridges, and by green, tree covered mini mountains that looked close enough for me to reach out my arm and touch.

Eventually, the road forked and the only true way forward looked so narrow and overgrown I doubted it actually could connect to Nanzhuang (my Lonely Planet is six years old, after all, and Taiwan has been known to completely abandon roads-- even major ones like its central cross island highway-- that take too much maintenance). I decided to turn around and save any further exploration for a day out with friends in case my bike broke down on the bumpy, dilapidated road.
Since I still had some time on my hands and because it was a beautiful fall day, I thought I would drive to the top of Five Finger Mountain for the glorious views of the mountains tapering off as far as the eye could see. However, when I got to the fork in the road to go to Five Finger Mountain, I decided to turn left instead of right.

I had never been that way before, and I was curious what was around the bend in the road. I was not disappointed!

Turning left brought me behind Five Finger Mountain and gave me an incredible view of the range that I had never seen before. It also opened up into a great river valley. I drove down and down this road, which after consulting Google Maps, I discovered was Country Road 37-4. I drove past gazebos and beautiful vistas for 20 minutes, but then I had to turn back to go to the grocery store and feed Ruby. I am so eager to return to Country Road 37-4 to see what waits for me in the river valley.
I know how fortunate I am to have this time-- time to do more than survive the daily grind. It is my endeavor to make the most of this free time I have to do the things that bring me joy and make me feel alive. 

Because of that, I can assure you there will be many more adventures ahead-- with or without the company of friends. 

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