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Give Me Back My Name

Before coming to Taiwan to study Chinese, my language school required me to give them a Chinese name. I didn’t put much thought into coming up with a new name. Indeed, I just asked Google for a phonetic approximation of my English name, Ellie Olcott, in Chinese. It spat out敖恩靈, and thus I became Áo En Líng.   In hindsight, perhaps blindly placing faith in Google for something so important was not the best idea. “Your name has too many strokes”, I kept hearing from Taiwanese friends, “you should definitely change it.” This kindly advice did not just stem from concern that I wouldn’t be able to remember how to write my name. It also came from the fact that in Taiwan, the practice of changing one’s name is pretty common. What would be considered unusual, even raise a few eyebrows back home in Britain, is normalised in Taiwan. So…

Traveling in Taiwan as a woman (but not only)

Too often, a female traveler cannot experience a place in the same way as a male counterpart. There are always added dangers, prohibitions, assumptions, expectations and just those extra things women notice because experience and necessity have trained us to do so. If an exception exists, it might well be Taiwan. During an eye-opening semester in India, for example, I found myself not only experiencing it as another culture, but also as a country where I found myself sexually harassed multiple times. “What a lot of people don’t get,” I typed furiously to a friend after one such occurrence, “is how a woman traveling can’t see a place the same way as a man. It’s different in a certain way, though, it’s a not only, but also kind of different.” Later, I took the lead in arranging travel in Cairo, I enjoyed it not only as a vibrant city where…