Who doesn’t love a good thunder storm? The best is when it is summertime and I can sit on my family’s front porch, carefully protected from the downpour, watching the sky turn murky and the erratic lightning bolts illuminate the world around me in bursts of sudden white. The smell of clean, fresh water permeates the air. All the while, roaring trains of thunders boom overhead…with no religious overtones meant, Mom used to say it was the angels bowling up in the clouds. I still like to think that sometimes.
Which is why it finally struck me today, as I was woken up to soft rolls of thunder, that I had yet to experience a true thunder storm in Taipei. Sure, it certainly rains here more often than it doesn’t, but the thunder storm had remained elusive until today. I idled on my balcony watching the rain fall this morning, hard as ever, nothing out of the ordinary. It still smelled like a city. And although I was nagged yet again by another old Taiwanese lady about not wearing a jacket, I was able to tell her “不太冷” (it’s not too cold). It’s true, the temperature still held since yesterday at a balmy 69 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius). So again, Taipei remains a mystery. Where did this thunder–absent of lightning–suddenly come from? And why does it not occur more often?
Any meteorologists in the house?
Anywho, let’s catch you up on the highlights of the past month.
Week A was spent in Kenting 墾丁–the southernmost part of Taiwan during Chinese New Year. There, I met up with my roommate and her two colleagues for some Beach-Going:
(As you can see, we did not quite luck out with the weather)
Also included was some Hot-Springing and a ton of Eating. We stayed a cozy little “hostel” in Kenting that was about a 10 minute walk from 南灣 (NanWan) Beach. It cost $2000NT for 4 nights. Talk to Joann (she speaks English as well as Chinese, of course) and see: http://onewayfun.blogspot.com/ for more info.
I spent Week B by shopping for classes during the first week of the semester at NCCU. I finally settled on “Culture and Development in Asia”, “National Policy Development in the Asia-Pacific Region”, “Connoisseurship of Chinese Art”, “Internet & Civic Life”, and “International Intellectual Property Law”. I also take Chinese classes for three hours each day. Whoo! It’s a bit more than last year, but I am looking forward to a busier and more intellectually stimulating semester.
I also went to 平溪鄉 (Pingxi Village) in Taipei County on the last day of February for the 上元節 (ShangYuanJie) Lantern Festival. In sum, it was a sight to see once in one lifetime, but the thousands upon thousands of people took away a lot of the charm.
I do have to hand it to the Taipei Department of Transit for a job well done in maneuvering scores of bodies to and from Pingxi without too much of a headache. Yes, the lines for the buses on the way back were pretty atrocious, but I thought the transit system handled it the best way it could. We waited 20 minutes on line at Taipei Zoo MRT station for seats to Pingxi. There was also a separate queue for standing-room-only spots on the bus if you didn’t mind not sitting for about an hour. Total cost for round-trip: $50NT. We went on the “standing” line at around 7pm in Pingxi for the ride back and boarded the bus fairly quickly; however, we ended up having to wait an hour (we sat down in the aisle eventually) on the bus before we moved anywhere.
Finally, Week C consisted of falling into class-mode and eating an authentic Korean meal at Dubu House (highly HIGHLY recommended) with the NCCU Dinner Club–I’ll tell you more about that another time.
On the weekend I took a trip by myself to the “countryside” to visit my boyfriend Pete’s near-entire extended family in 苗栗 Miaoli County for the first time.* If you are wondering where that is, it is here:
The trip from Taipei Main Station to Miaoli by train was 1 hour and 37 minutes long. Standing. Make sure to book a ticket at least a week in advance if you want to feel a bit more comfortable.
Miaoli County is a hilly region inhabited heavily by the Hakka people (客家人 kejiaren）. Hakka is an ethnic minority group in mainland China, located primarily in the southern Guangdong and Fujian areas. Many immigrated to Taiwan hundreds of years ago, bringing along their own language and customs to the island, which can still be observed strongly today. The family I met (and I suppose, by default, my extended family) are Hakka as well and they embody the best of what it means to be 客家人, in my opinion. 客家人 literally translates to “guest people,” and the Hakka were originally dubbed as such because they refused to assimilate to the larger culture. However, I interpret “客家人” as hospitable people–people whose homes are always open to guests. Plus, it reminds me of the word ‘客氣’, which means ‘generous’.
I was picked up at the train station by Pete’s mom and her older sister and brother-in-law, after which we proceeded to a restaurant to eat a traditional Taiwanese 12-dish meal. We took up two full tables since there were 24 of us in attendance! Before I went to Miaoli, I researched a bit about what there is to do there. Not much, I found out, but Miaoli is known for its agricultural products. Indeed, I saw many crop plots all over the place growing taro, Taiwanese dates, wax apples, and STRAWBERRIES! Yes, it is now near the *end* of strawberry season in Taiwan, so we all made it a point to go strawberry picking after lunch. We picked 7 full boxes and I got one to take back home.
During the evening we went to a place called Lavender Cottage, a picturesque little park sanctuary and garden next to the Mingde Reservoir in Miaoli. There, I got to write a wish on a leaf and tie it to the Wishing Tree. The whole place was very cutesy and entirely un-Taiwanese. Rather, I felt as if I should be somewhere in the middle of New England–all that was missing was some fresh blueberry pie and white people.
The next day I went with Pete’s mom, cousin Allen and Angela to 三義鄉 SanYi Village, which is known for wood-carvings. We walked and shopped up and down the town’s lao jie (old street) and also visited a small wood-carving museum.
Finally, I don’t want to forget to tell you about lunch. We went to a very popular Hakkanese style restaurant called 福樂麵店 （FuLe Mian Dian)。 Also highly recommended. The noodles are superb and I also really liked the Hakka-style dumplings and mustard greens soup. The pork intestines I probably could have done without, as they were rather chewy. If you are in the area, this is the address: 苗栗縣公館鄉福基村121號 and phone number: 037-224-455. Sorry I don’t have any drool-worthy pictures to show you; I was too busy feeding myself to take a picture. Just know that it was 非常好吃！
All in all, it was a great weekend. It is a wonderful feeling to be welcomed by others, to feel immediately as if you belong, and to simply feel appreciated. 謝謝你們， 我很感激。
*Yes, so if you were wondering, this is basically how I was feeling on the train ride to Miaoli:
But it was all good in the hood in the end 🙂