Ling Lalekem: A Traveler's Story
Ling is a Taiwan native who has been traveling the world for more than a decade. Her travels had led her throughout Asia (Japan, Thailand, Singapore, South Korea), Oceana (Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand) and South America (Chile, Brazil), while touching parts of Europe as well as North America. In 2005 she moved to the United States where she worked with environmental companies to fund her travels. In 2014 she moved to Chiang Mai, Thailand where she trained as a Muay Thai boxer. And, in 2015 she moved to Te Anau, New Zealand, a town a few hours south of Queenstown, on a whim and became the manager of a bar/restaurant. To say that Ling has had some unique travel experiences is an understatement.
In the following interview, Ling shares some of her insight as well as some advice for young female travelers.
How does traveling make you feel? What type of travel experiences do you value the most?
When traveling I don't really feel like I'm "traveling" in the traditional sense. I'm simply living my life in different parts of the world, one place at a time. It's become a genuine part of who I am and how I live. Others may look at travel as a chosen experience, but for me it's truly who I have become. I'm a traveler in every sense of the word. My mother has traveled all over the world so I guess she passed the lust for travel and adventure on to me. Traveling is liberating for me. I enjoy the challenges that come with going to a new place and discovering the hidden gems that many cities have to offer.
I don't like visit to places for a short periods of time. I feel like I don't really get to understand the culture and people fully. I'd rather spend a lot of time in one place to really get to know it well and understand what it means to be a person who survives and thrives there. I enjoy doing things that aren't what every other tourist does when visiting. I like meeting new people, and living like an everyday person would in that place. To me, that makes for an authentic and fulfilling experience.
You've spent quite a bit of time in America, Thailand, and New Zealand. How do those experiences compare to one another?
America was the first time that I traveled by myself. I could barely speak English at that time. I remember one time I was sitting on the couch with a bunch of people and we were all watching Family Guy. Everyone else was laughing but I wasn't. I had no idea what they were saying, and that's when I knew I had to improve. America was huge to me and being only 18 it was a bit intimidating. Couple that with me being from Taiwan, just to think of the size of America was crazy to me. But, I learned so much. I became more confident, gained more self control, and became an adult. Living and working with the environment taught me patience and appreciation for the environment. As my first solo extended travel adventure, it was eye opening and awesome.
Thailand stood out because I wasn't working. I saved up and went there to just explore. I spent lots of time at the beach, learned Muay Thai, enjoyed the pleasure of simply walking around, and really got to know Thailand inside and out.
In New Zealand, I work my butt off. I do similar things but not as freely as I was able to in Thailand. It's still a very great experience nonetheless and I've met amazing people and have had some unforgettable adventures. Every corner of New Zealand is beautiful. From drinking fresh water straight from the lakes to waking up to mountain views with clean and fresh air. There are so many things that I love about New Zealand, it's hard to list them all. It's so beautiful, it hurts. You have to see it to believe it.
What's the most memorable place you've traveled to?
It was beautiful. I was able to visit for a month with a local person who showed me several of the unique spots in Brazil. I'll never forget being at family parties eating barbecue, enjoying the smell of shisha, dancing, and listening to amazing stories told by the elders. The beaches were extraordinary and beautiful, the food was delicious, and the mountain views were spectacular. I never thought that I would have the opportunity to experience Brazil the way that I did. I'm truly thankful for the opportunity and experience.
What advice would you give to young Taiwanese female travelers?
Be adventurous. Traveling has provided me with so much opportunity and so many interesting perspectives that have changed my life for the better. Not every experience is going to be the best. But I'd encourage them to make the most of every experience and keep a positive attitude. As women in general, we are underestimated. Sometimes we're only expected to stay home, have kids, and repeat the cycle. But I encourage all women to own their own lives and learn as much as they can, while they can, before they start a family. It just makes us that much stronger. So don't be afraid of the unknown. Embrace life. There's a big world out there to be explored. Have your own experiences, don't let others tell you what things are, without finding out for yourself. Be the intelligent, strong, and powerful woman that you were born to be.
What are your next steps?
I've been living in New Zealand for almost two years. I've loved it so very much that I've renewed my visa and am will be staying for a bit longer. I love my job, and the people that I get to interact with. There's always something to do. There's lakes, mountains, recreational activities, and more to explore here. Work life balance is important to the people here and me as well. I'm happy to be in a place where this is valued and I feel like I can work AND enjoy my life on a daily basis. So, the next steps for me, are to keep exploring and embrace all the opportunities thrown my way, and share them with as many people as I possibly can. Sharing knowledge and experiences is something that I value greatly. I wouldn't be who I am or where I am today without others lending knowledge to me that has helped guide me during my travels.