Taichung (Jan 30-Feb 2): Rainbows, Windmills, and a Moving Ceremony

My first stop in Taiwan has been one of the highlights of my entire trip, due to the company and the experiences. It was just nice to get away from hostel life for awhile, and spend some time in a house where I even got my own room AND bathroom – a luxury for a backpacker! I arrived in Taipei just before 4pm, went through customs, and got some money exchanged. I had saved some Thai Baht to exchange into Taiwanese dollars since they are nearly equal (1 THB = 0.98 TWD) but when I went to the currency exchange, the rates were 0.83, so I’d be losing a lot of money! I only exchanged a few bills just so I’d have SOME cash with me. Then I looked into getting a SIM card, but all of the phone companies were offering one month of unlimited data for 1000TWD ($44.80AUD), which was a bit too much for me. I decided to try to get by with just using Wifi. I had to get to the High Speed Rail Station (HSR), so I took the MRT (metro) for 150TWD ($6.67). I got there at 5pm, bought a ticket to Taichung for 540TWD ($24), and had to wait until 5:45 for the next train. This was one of those rare instances where I decided to pay more for transportation since I had already been travelling all day and my friends were waiting for me in Taichung. I was starving at that point because I hadn’t eaten since 10am that morning, so I walked around and just picked up a croissant with egg salad and a hot chocolate at Miss Croissant for 109TWD ($4.84). While I was walking around, I was surprised to see the Canadian store “Roots.” I had always assumed that if I saw someone wearing a Roots sweater, they would have gotten it from Canada but I guess I was mistaken. This Roots even had a cafe… I don’t think the

Canadian Roots even have cafes!

Anyway, I got on my train at 5:45 and arrived in Taichung 40 minutes later (these high speed trains can reach speeds of up to 300km/hour!). However, when I got there, I couldn’t find any wifi anywhere. To connect to any of the free networks, I needed a Taiwanese phone number, which I didn’t have. I walked around for about 10-15 minutes in the station and FINALLY found a wifi connection so that I could contact Yeh and Carina, my friends who worked with me at the tomato farm in Australia and who lived in the room next to me in my first Warragul house. I hadn’t seen them in nearly a year (when they had decided to quit the tomato farm and move to another town called Griffith), so it was nice to catch up again! We drove to the Fengjia night market, which is a famous night market in Taichung. There, I tried a bunch of new foods! The first was grilled shrimp. But not just a shrimp that you put on the BBQ, de-tail, de-head, and eat. No, these ones were grilled so you could eat the entire thing – shell, head, eyes, and all!

I was a bit apprehensive at first, but it was actually really good, especially with the lemon flavour added to it! I then tried guava for the first time, which was also tasty.

Then, we went for chicken steaks. They were absolutely humongous! But it was deep fried and tasted like KFC, so naturally I liked it. I tried some deep-fried sweet potato balls, some sea-flavoured clams (which really did taste like the sea! 😉), and then we went for some milk bubble tea.

Afterwards, Yeh asked if I wanted to try a Taiwanese hotdog, where the bun is a sausage made with rice, which was another new thing for me.

All of the food was sooo good, and I was extremely full when we left! We went back to Carina’s family’s house and I met her mom and dad, who were so friendly! They just moved into a gorgeous house that was four floors, with the kitchen and living room on the bottom, two bedrooms on the next floor, another two bedrooms on the next floor (one was Carina’s and I got to stay in the other), and a god/temple room and laundry on the top floor. All of the bedrooms had their own bathroom, which was amazing! The family was planning a traditional ceremony to officially move into the house in two days, and they said that I could join in. It wasn’t difficult for me to quickly feel comfortable in their home! Even though Carina’s family didn’t speak English, I still felt the warmth and kindness of her family.

On Wednesday morning, I got up and visited with Yeh while we waited for Carina to finish her spin class. Yeh had done some research the night before and found a 30-day phone plan for 699TWD ($31.07) and even though this was still more expensive compared to Malaysia, I figured I should get it for convenience since I’d be meeting up with multiple people in Taiwan. We got the SIM card and then they took me to Rainbow Village, which is painted by a former soldier named Huang Yong-Fu (now known as “Grandpa Rainbow”). The shocking thing is that this man was born in 1924 and just celebrated his 95th birthday a couple of weeks ago! He still gets up at 4 or 5 in the morning to work on the paintings, which is so impressive – I couldn’t imagine how much work would have to go into it!

After spending a half hour in Rainbow Village, we went to a hotpot restaurant called 輕井澤•拾七 拾鍋石鍋 (my mandarin is improving 😉). We each got our own bowl of broth and a lunch combo, which came with a variety of vegetables, tofu and seafood, and my main meat was beef.

We stayed for at least an hour and a half while I attempted to eat everything. I got through most of it but I was so full; it was a lot of food! After lunch, we went to the Science Center for an hour and a half, since it closed at 5pm. Most of the exhibits were only written in Mandarin (a few updated ones had English added onto them) but being a science teacher, I was able to get the gyst of everything.

I always enjoy myself at natural history and science museums, and they tend to be the ONLY museums that I enjoy in most circumstances. After the museum closed, we stopped for a quick snack before heading back to Carina’s house. Carina had to stay and help her family prepare for the ceremony the next day, so Yeh toured me around that evening. However, when he said that the traffic was really bad so it would be better to take his scooter, I wasn’t too excited. I’ve never been on a motorcycle or scooter before, mostly due to the fact that I can hear my mom’s voice in my head, telling me not to ride them. I didn’t have a choice this time…

I got on the back of the scooter and my heart was pumping so fast – I was beyond nervous! Yeh and Carina found it pretty entertaining, as they’ve grown up riding scooters since they were kids. My first scooter ride was nearly 40 minutes long, and I was tense the entire time. When I got off, I could hardly walk because my muscles had to be stretched out again! I said how tense I had been and Yeh’s response was, “Yeah, I could tell..” Perhaps I learned something new from the python I saw in the rainforest last week… Anyway, we went to the National Taichung Theatre, which is an opera house with a really spectacular design – there aren’t any vertical walls! We looked around inside because they have a lot of cool craft shops, and then we made our way up to the rooftop garden, which looked amazing in the nighttime!

We then walked to Maple Garden Park, which has a pond in the middle with huge fish.

I then had to get back on the scooter and we went to a dumpling restaurant called 饕之鄉. Yeh knew of the dumpling restaurant that Yang and Ron took me to in Shanghai (since it originated from Taiwan), but he said that it was overpriced and we could get dumplings that were just as good at this place. And he was right!

The main thing that I’ve noticed about all of the places that Yeh and Carina have taken me to for dinner is that all of the restaurants have their menus written in Mandarin and don’t have translations, so I’m curious to see how I’ll get by without them around! After dinner, we stopped at a market stall to try pancake-like desserts with red bean inside.

We then took the long scooter ride home, where I got to meet two of Carina’s aunts who were there helping to prepare for the ceremony. We had to wake up at 7:30 the next morning, so we all went to bed at about 11.

I got up at 7:30, got ready for the day, opened the windows and turned on all of the lights as I was told to, and then went downstairs to wait for further instruction. Yeh had brought some breakfast (and coffee for me!) for us to eat while we waited for the ancestors to arrive. Basically, this ceremony was very important because they had to move all of the (deceased) ancestors from the old house to the new house, so they brought in a priest to tell everyone what they needed to do since it was everyone’s first moving ceremony (not just mine!). We got a phone call just before 8:30 to say that the ancestors were almost there so we all went outside to wait for them. Yeh had made a fire in a pail outside so when the urn arrived, everyone had to step through the smoke of the fire after the ancestors, carry in something (such as a bottle of wine), and say some words of good luck when they entered the door. They taught me how to say some words in Mandarin and I had to keep repeating it in my head – I was so nervous that I was going to mess up! After we all came in, they brought the pail of fire into the house and set a kettle on top.

We went upstairs to the top floor, where the priest prepared the area. He did a lot of praying, burned some paper money, and blessed the wooden tiles with all of the ancestors’ names written on them. It was quite moving to see, and I felt really honoured to be a part of something so important to Carina and her family. Carina’s mom went around the house and threw coins in all of the rooms, which was to bring wealth and fortune to the family. We then had rice balls in a sweet, syrupy liquid. There were six balls in each bowl because it signified good luck.

After that, the rest of the family started showing up – aunts, uncles, lots of cousins, great aunts and uncles, etc., so Yeh and I went upstairs to sit in Carina’s room with her friends from high school. When we were ready to go for lunch, we all got in multiple vehicles and drove to a restaurant nearby. Carina’s parents said that they were expecting a maximum of 30 people but then 8 tables filled up, meaning there were 80 people there! This meal was another one of those meals that never ended, which had 10 courses plus an extra dish and dessert.

From my experience in China, I knew better than to fill myself up on the first course, but I still definitely slowed down by the time the 7th or 8th dish came out. We were there for a couple of hours, and it was nice trying all of the food and talking to Carina’s cousin since she was one of the few people who spoke English. We went back home for a a quick half hour rest and then went to the Luce Memorial Chapel, which is another unique building to see.

The chapel is on a University campus, so it was a big green area that was nice and quiet. After that, we went to the Gaomei Wetlands in hopes of catching the sunset. However, it was a pretty cloudy day so we weren’t able to see anything. It was a nice walk along the boardwalk next to the humongous windmills in the distance. However, the further we got from the mainland, the colder and windier it got. I was even cold by the end of it! Some people were getting off of the boardwalk and walking through the water in order to get some pictures closer to the windmills, which was crazy to me. I felt the water and it was freezing! The things people will go through for a picture…

We went to another nightmarket, which is used more for Chinese New Year shopping. Yeh said that most kids will get to shop for new clothes during Chinese New Year (similar to when we get to go shopping for clothes when we do back-to-school shopping). I got some taro milk (taro is my favourite!) and I tried a quail egg.

The only thing that I refused to try during my time in Taichung was the pig blood soup and cake – it was a bit too out of the ordinary for me! However, everything else was great! Yeh, Carina, and I went to a little restaurant and got noodles and soup, and then went back home. We arrived at about 9pm and by that point, I was about ready to go to bed – I think all of us were exhausted after such a busy day! After Carina went to bed, I decided to go as well.

The next morning, we all got up at 8:30 and I packed up my stuff. We went to 7-11 to buy my ticket to Tainan that afternoon. I got a 12:15 train, which would take 2 hours and would cost 363 TWD ($16.10). We then went to a restaurant called jai宅, which is such a cute restaurant that’s really artsy and has a lot of character. It has lots of areas to take pictures around the restaurant. For brunch, I got a crispy chicken sandwich with a salad (my first real salad in ages!) and potato wedges, along with a mango/banana smoothie. Everything was delicious! Although a tad pricier than what I normally pay at 400TWD ($17.78), but it was totally worth it!

After brunch, we drove to the train station, said our goodbyes, and I made my way to Tainan. I had such a great time in Taichung, likely due to the amazing people I was with, who are so friendly and hospitable. I was sad to say goodbye to them in Australia and sad to say goodbye to them again in Taiwan, but hopefully we’ll all be starting our second year in Australia at the same time, so we’ll be able to meet up again! Love always

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