I have to be honest, I’m so sad that out of the four Chinese words/phrases I know- “hello”, “thank you”, “yes” and the newly acquired “Happy (Chinese) New Year”, I can’t use the latter anymore. I became basically fluent in Chinese for a good couple of days over the Chinese New Year period with this one phrase, but alas have now regressed with its passing. In any case, even now I continue to wish people “Xin Nian Kuai Le” because it gives people a chuckle, especially because everyone thinks I am Taiwanese.
No joke, it’s like my time in Japan all over again where everyone thought I was “full” Japanese (as opposed to “ha-fu” which means half Japanese), but this time, when people start talking to me in Mandarin I have to say “sorry, I can’t speak Chinese” and they look at me mystified- “But, you look so Taiwanese!”. I guess it will be a good thing once I can hold a conversation, but for now it doesn’t really help me! It’s funny traveling or living in an Asian country being Asian, because many people will just speak to you, and only you, in their language, even when it’s very clear there are more fluent “Western looking” speakers in your group.
The reason I bring up Chinese New Year is because I had an absolutely FANTASTIC one. I traveled with Amy, Connie, Ricky and Rebecca to Chang Hua, which is south-west of Taipei. We all piled into Ricky’s car and took the three or so hour trip. It was a bit more congested than usual as most people go to their home towns over the Chinese New Year break to celebrate with their families. (This previous section was written quite soon after my road trip, hence the “I can only say four words” line. The part below is written a whole month later- when I can say only five words).
It was a very loud car ride, with us girls singing crappy but awesome songs the whole time (sorry Ricky and Connie!… actually, nah, I’m not sorry at all. I’m sure you secretly loved it). When we arrived, we checked out a street market as we had some time to burn until we met Amy’s friend, Lily, whose house we were gratefully staying at in the nearby city of Taichung.
Street markets are one of the awesome things about Taiwan. When you feel like some fast, delicious (but often strange) and cheap food, just stroll around for a bit and you surely find yourself in an arcade of food stalls. Street markets often have lots of bizarre arcade games to play too! As you can see below, Connie tried his hand at a balloon darts game, and Ricky with a ball target game.
For dinner we ate at a local eatery. I love “eating local”. The food is often tastier, more “authentic” and cheaper than other places, so it’s hard to find a flaw! (apart from the often lax attitude to pets inside). It was pretty typical Taiwanese fare. I was so brave and I tried the traditional egg, which has quite a confronting appearance. Alright, brave may be overstating it- it did take many exclamations and deep breaths. Taste wise- it was like an odd jelly egg. Personally, I like my jellies and eggs separated. But, in the interests of being with my mind and mouth, I am trying to try everything that’s put in front of me, and so far that’s resulted in trying pigs ears, chicken bones and other non-descript specialities.
The next day we headed back to the same street markets. We stayed for hours walking aimlessly in the same vicinity because it was so easy to entertain ourselves, lost in the colours, bustling noise and all the things which drew our eyes, noses and ears in. And yes, much of that walking was food-in-hand walking. Even when we tried to escape, it lured us back in because it was the only place open for dinner. Everywhere else was closed on account of Chinese New Year.
Enjoying noodle for lunch!
(L) Taiwanese people take their dog fashion seriously (R) We were lucky to catch a random fireworks show
The following day, we visited a magnificent site. It had an enormous Buddha statue (comparable in size and appearance to Hong Kong’s one) which we marveled at. We could even go inside the Buddha which was surprising! Inside were displays of Buddha’s story, and there were also a number of shrines. The grounds surrounding were expansive but somehow homely. Grand in size but not gaudy. I took a moment to reflect on my surrounding and found myself appreciating the tranquility despite the sheer number of people sharing the space. To me, those things are part of the beauty of many Buddhist sites not found at other popular religious sites.
After – you guessed it- we went to eat (awe, you all know me so well now). We sampled Changhua’s famous dish, which is a giant dumpling. The place we went to actually set a Guinness Record for making the largest servng of dumplings (665kg- whhaaa thaaaaa!) It was unlike any dumpling I have ever tried. It was a glutinous, tasteless and chewy outside skin enveloping an oversized meatball which was slathered in sauce. Hmmmm. I hate to offend anyone in Changhua, but I have got to say it wasn’t my favourite. I had no beef with the meat (god, I’m funny) or the sauce, but I generally have issues with textures, such as this dumpling skin, which require me to chew until I go into jaw lock. I do not want to have to work for my food (but for you crab, for you baby, I’ll do anything 😉 )
Our night time activities were filled with markets, lanterns, gongs and fireworks. We basked in the festivities of Chinese New Year by strolling along the lively and highly stimulating night market found in Lugang. It was so much fun “Ooing” and “Ahhing” at all the different foods and drinks the vendors were selling. The road of vendors stretched on and on for what seemed like no end. There were so many things to sample it was like heaven to me.
Honestly, when I see a free sample I am literally the happiest person in the world. (My mum will tell you about how when I was a child in Japan I managed to get myself three servings of free-sample gyoza (Japanese pan-fried dumplings) by somehow fooling the lady giving out the samples into having a conversation with me, despite that I spoke no Japanese. Gathering from my excessive use of “hai” (yes) she generously handed out the samples, thinking I would eventually commit to buying the product. My rouse came undone when she asked me a question and my “hai” was totally inappropriate. Story of my life).
On top of samples of delicious meat cake (somehow, it works so well), I ate fried sweet potato pancake, a chinese sausage with a bun made out of rice (definitely in my Top 5 favourite Taiwanese foods), cheesy bread, Turkish icecream (the vendor so kindly gave us all free icecreams!), and bites of shallot pancake. I think I was definitely heavier by the end…
We also visited a beautiful, famous temple called Tian Hou. It was packed full of people paying their respects through prayer and offerings, and all of us gawking at the unique, stunning architecture. We all lined up to have a turn banging the giant gong in front of the temple. I think given the timing, it was symbolic of ringing in the new year. We then set off fireworks in a park nearby Lily’s house. As you do. God, I love the liberal firework laws in Asia! We bought a whole heap of fireworks for around AU$15 and had the best time setting them off…
Correction, myself and the guys had fun setting them off, while all of the other girls hid behind a bench.
It was so thrilling to set them off, especially the big ones. That mixture of a tiny bit of fear and excitement as you set the wick alight and see the firework blast off into the sky. For DIY fireworks they certainly delivered a loud and spectacular show. Though I admit, it was rather intimidating to meet something louder than me 😉
The trip was the perfect way to reign in the Year of the Sheep/Goat. Friends, laughter, food, singing, adventure, learning, exploring and insights. Just what you could possibly hope for in a year!