Moving Mountains: An Australian Hiker Moves in Taipei
We met up with Nathan Ray in a small park on Heping West Road (和平西路), just across the street from the MRT Guting Station (捷運古亭站). It’s the sort of public green space you’ll find in nearly any Taipei neighborhood if you know where to look, and it seemed an appropriate spot to chat about movement and the myriad outdoor activities offered by Taipei City.
Hailing from a small coastal town on the east coast of New South Wales, Australia, Ray relocated to Taiwan two and a half years ago to work on developing what he calls “movement education and physical culture.”
Moving to Taipei
Naturally, our first question was “What do you mean by movement education and physical culture?” “It goes beyond a specific modality or sport,” Ray told us. “It‘s really more of a lifestyle, or a perspective on life. I believe that the better you move, the more you improve physically, the better a person you’ll be.”
Ray relocated to Taipei two and a half years ago with his wife, a Taiwanese citizen who he’d met in Australia. “I’d moved around Australia for the first half of my twenties, but you know, wherever you go in Australia, it’s still Australia. But in Taiwan, everything is different.”
Earlier visits to Taipei didn’t quite prepare Ray for the intensity of life in the city, which is understandable for a man who claims to be “not a city person by nature.” According to Ray, he continues to find life in Taipei life-challenging. But it’s a struggle for which he came prepared.
“I arrived with an open mind, and I knew that I’d struggle with things like differences in language and culture, adjusting to a different climate and different types of food. So much is different in Taipei compared to where I come from, and I’ve realized that I’ve had to change who I am to survive.”
Favorite Taipei Day Hikes
Key to Ray’s being able to stay balanced in Taipei is the taking advantage of the city’s unique connection with nature. Indeed, it’s safe to say that next to his wife and family, “nature” is what keeps Ray grounded in Taipei. And one of the things Ray appreciates most about living in Taipei is how easy it is to get out of Taipei without technically having to even leave the city.
“I live pretty much in the center of town, the Xinyi District, not far from Taipei City Hall and Taipei 101. From where I live I can pretty much be hiking up Xiangshan (象山) and in the jungle within ten minutes. And that’s just scratching the surface. There are tons of other great hiking spots within walking distance of an MRT station. Muzhishan (拇指山), Zhongyongshan (忠勇山) and Jinmianshan (金面山).”
The latter hiking trail Ray mentioned has become popular with Taipei’s urban hiking crowd over the last few years with good reason. Located in Neihu, close to both the MRT Xihu Station (捷運西湖站) and the popular Miramar Entertainment Park (美麗華百樂園) (known for its rooftop ferris wheel), Jinmianshan offers opportunities for bouldering close to the top.
“That’s one of my favorite hikes in Taipei. Once you’ve crossed over and you’re on the downside towards the National Palace Museum (國立故宮博物院), you’d really have no idea that you were still technically inside of Taipei City.”
If it weren’t for Taipei’s amazing access to hiking, Ray says, he’d have a difficult time living in the city. Though he doesn’t necessarily subscribe to the whole “forest bathing” trend, Ray says there’s both a physical and spiritual benefit to getting out of the city regularly.
“I need to be outside, we all do. Having easy access out of this crazy huge city and into the jungle is key to my well-being. I go hiking fairly regularly, whether planned with friends or just on a moment’s notice. Back home I’d head to the beach, but that’s not quite as easy to do from Taipei city. But the mountains are close by, and a great option. You can see mountains from pretty much everywhere in the city. There’s nowhere in Australia that you can see such a landscape and it always strikes me when I see them in the distance.”
Movement Training in Taipei
Though getting out into the jungle is important to Ray, he says he’s also impressed with what the city’s parks have to offer for the physical fitness enthusiast.
“There are parks everywhere in Taipei, and most of them have really good, beautifully maintained exercise equipment. Chin-up bars everywhere! In Australia, the equipment would probably be vandalized, in disrepair, or more likely nonexistent. You can also find small parks on top of many of the mountains. There are plenty of 70-year-olds stretching, lifting weights or doing Taichi. This is very impressive. The elderly people here are badass. They clearly know something the rest of us do not.”
With a baby on the way, Ray plans to stick it out in Taipei, to continue building his reputation as a movement teacher. “I teach physicality from a movement perspective. Meaning, our aim is to improve our movement capacity. Not muscles, not “fitness”– movement. My teachings are greatly influenced by the world-renowned movement coach, Ido Portal, from who I studied under in Melbourne. I found no one in Taipei thinking or ‘moving’ in this way, so I decided to get the ball rolling.”
With his local partner, XiaoXien Chen (陳孝賢), Ray hosts the monthly Taipei Movement Meeting where they share different concepts and tools people can add to their movement practice. Calling themselves “Human: Movement Project,” they intend on teaching the people of Taipei how moving better can change their lives.
To readers who may consider taking advantage of Taipei’s growing reputation as one of the most consistently livable cities for expats in Asia, Ray offers a few suggestions on choosing neighborhoods for those who may be “reluctant” city dwellers.
“Even from the center of the city it’s just a short MRT ride to the edge, so you’ve got many options. But if I had to move from where I’m currently at, I’d chose Neihu. The district itself feels a bit different than some of the older parts of town. The buildings aren’t as high, the mountains are closer. It’s newer, it’s greener. But there are plenty of other good neighborhoods as well. Basically if you live anywhere near a mountain you can just walk out of your front door and be hiking ten minutes later.”
Ray is also a big fan of Taipei’s YouBike system, which he says is key to making Taipei such an amazing place both to get around in and in which to live in general. “I use the YouBike system often, and if you combine YouBikes with buses and the MRT, you can get pretty much anywhere. You don’t need a car to live in Taipei, which is another big change from where I’m from.”
So while life in Taipei may be a challenge for a self-described small-town boy, moving around inside the city is anything but. And, perhaps even more importantly, being able to move outside of it whenever the mood strikes.