My time in Taipei was longer than what I had planned, due to the fact that one of my Melbourne friends was in Taiwan. She’s from Vancouver but her family is from Taiwan, and she made a last-minute decision to come to Taiwan to spend Chinese New Year with her family. I had actually been looking into doing some Couchsurfing while in Taipei because the prices of hostels were a lot more expensive in Taiwan, especially since it was the Chinese New Year holiday. Liah had (thankfully!) invited me to stay with her and her parents, so I took her up on the offer. I left Tainan at 2:20pm and arrived in Taipei over four hours later at 6:30pm. Then, I had to figure out how to get to Liah’s house in Linkou. I was using Google Maps, which was telling me to take a specific metro, but I couldn’t find any signs to get to it. After walking back and forth from one side of the main station to the other, I finally asked some people where to go and they seemed somewhat confused as well. They pointed me in one direction, which ended up being right. Yeh had given me his spare travel card (called an Easy Card) so I loaded some money on it and then got on the metro. I got to Linkou Station about 30-40 minutes later (just after 7:30), and Liah was waiting for me in a car (phew!). We picked up her parents and then the four of us went to a restaurant called Shin Yeh Bistro for dinner. Liah was really good about going back and forth between English and Mandarin, and translating anything that her parents were saying, although both of her parents spoke English quite well.
On Monday morning, it was Chinese New Year’s Eve so we got up and had breakfast, and then we started making dumplings. There are tricks to rolling the dough so that it won’t rip when you put in the filling, so Liah’s dad taught me how to do it. Then, Liah’s mom taught me how to put in the filling and fold the dumplings. I thought mine looked pretty good, but the family was laughing at how different mine looked compared to everyone else’s. Oh well, at least they all taste the same!
After making dumplings, Liah’s family was going to visit family so I took the bus into Taipei. I decided to check out the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall, which had a whole bunch of beautiful buildings. However, the actual hall was closed for Chinese New Year, but I’m not sure if I missed out on much.
After spending about an hour there, I got back on the MRT and got off at Xiangshan, where I would do the walk up Elephant Mountain. By the time I got there, I was so thirsty so I found the closest bubble tea spot and got a milk tea for 50TWD ($2.22AUD). It was a very overcast and foggy day so I wasn’t sure if it would be worth doing the walk up the mountain, especially after seeing the view from the bottom of the mountain.
However, I was there so I figured I might as well go up. Even though it’s winter in Taiwan and it was about 19 degrees with a misty rain AND I was drinking a cold bubble tea, I still managed to sweat my way up the mountain, hating all of the steps that I had to take up. I actually might have to slow down on doing stairs on my trip because I’ve really been starting to feel it in my knees when I go back down. The struggle of getting old.. Anyway, I finally made it to the viewpoint (which is about halfway up the mountain – I wasn’t going any higher!) and if I was reeeeally patient, I was able to wait for a moment when the clouds didn’t completely block the view of the city.
I headed back down and made my way back to Liah’s to arrive just before 7pm, which was our agreed time to come back for dinner. Liah’s mom is a great cook, and made us a bunch of amazing food the entire time that I was there!
We had dinner and then the family had to set up the table for their ancestors. Liah’s grandfather had passed away a couple of months earlier, so she came back to Taiwan to be with her family for this moment. Liah’s dad spent the evening practicing his calligraphy because he had to add his father’s name to their family scroll, which includes all of the family members who had passed away. Normally, Liah’s grandfather is in charge of writing the names, but this time Liah’s dad had to take over.
After he finished the scroll, Liah helped him set up the tablecloth and banner across the table. Then, they set up all of the food on the table, which would be offered to the ancestors.
We waited until midnight (which was obvious just by hearing the fireworks go off) and then the family bowed down to the ancestors, and we all had dumplings (which is tradition). I only wanted one because I was already so full from dinner, but they “accidentally” cooked too many (which tends to happen A LOT here – I’m offered food 24/7!!) and because they were so good, I ended up eating more. After eating our dumplings, we all went to bed.
On Tuesday morning, I got up and ready for the day because I had plans to meet with my friend, Viola for lunch. Viola and her boyfriend (Allen) were my best friends in Warragul, and they both lived in my first house when we started working at the tomato farm. They’d always invite me for dinner, or take me on their day trips to Melbourne, and we still met up even after I moved from Warragul. Viola moved back to Taiwan a few months ago, and Allen is still working at the tomato farm in Warragul. I had to leave Liah’s at 10:45 in order to make it to Taipei 101 by noon, and then Viola and I walked to the Breeze Centre, which is a huge shopping mall. What I didn’t realise was that since it was Chinese New Year, most places were closed except for this shopping centre, so most people had the same idea that we did. The place was absolutely packed! The restaurants were on the 5th floor, so we finally made it up all of the escalators, found a grill restaurant, and they said that we could make a reservation for 1pm. At that point, it was 12:30 so it was just enough time to find a coffee shop and have a coffee (as I still wasn’t fully functioning yet). We had to go down a few escalators with the crowds of people and then when we found a coffee shop, we had to stand in line and wait. By the time we got our coffees and made it back upstairs, it was already past 1pm. We were seated and given iPads with the menu. You would think that since the menu was electric, they would have an English option but they didn’t. However, a few random words were written in English so when I saw “Sirloin,” I decided to go for it. I assumed that it would just be sirloin on rice, but it was so much more than that!
We weren’t even able to finish our meals because there was so much food. After eating, we FaceTimed Allen (Viola’s boyfriend), who was back in Australia. Then we walked around the shopping centre for awhile and found a cafe to sit at.
The cafe had a minimum 150TWD per person spend, which was the exact amount for a coffee. I paid for both of us since Viola paid for lunch, and our two drinks came up to 352TWD ($15.65AUD)! More than Starbucks, for sure – it’s insane! Viola had to be back home at 6pm for more Chinese New Year festivities so we got on the metro, said our goodbyes, and I headed back to Liah’s. I didn’t actually end up having supper that night since I ate so much for lunch, so Liah and I just went to Family Mart, bought some drinks and snacks, and chatted until late.
On Wednesday, we spent the day with Liah’s mom’s side of the family. With Chinese New Year, you spend the first day with the dad’s side of the family and then the second day with the mom’s side of the family. Pretty much everyone gets the week off, so people are constantly travelling and traffic is often really bad. My friend said that the “migration” in China during Chinese New Year is the biggest movement of people in the world! Anyway, we went for lunch at Liah’s aunt’s and uncle’s house, where I got to meet a few aunts and uncles, cousins, and grandparents.
After lunch, some of the family played Mahjong, which is a strategic game played with tiles. Only four people could play at a time, so I sat and watched so that I could understand the rules. Just when I thought I was getting the hang of it, Liah would play something that I didn’t even notice!
After a couple hours of Mahjong, Liah and I played a card game with her cousin. Then we had dinner, which was most of the same lunch stuff. In Taiwan, a lot of families have hired help so in this case, the aunt’s hired help did a lot of the preparation and clean-up. It was interesting for me to see because I don’t think I’ve ever been exposed to something like that. We got back to Liah’s house later in the evening and we were all worn out, so we all just went to bed. Liah and I had plans to leave the next morning so that we could visit her godparents so on Thursday morning, we got up, packed up our stuff, had breakfast, and started our trip to Nantou, which I’ll save for another post. Love always