Mist falls as I walk around a neon glow reflecting off the puddle surfaces in the street. A resounding feeling of calmness drifts over me as I can’t help but smile over the beauty of it all, the beauty of Taiwan.
I wake up at around 5 am, to the neighbors of my room waking up to see the sunrise. I wish I had the energy and wherewithal to join them, but I can’t be dragged out of bed this early in this humidity. I do finally get up at around 8 am, and stumble into the kitchen to see the two neighbor girls awake and cheery. I say good morning, and decide to go out for a coffee. The gate to the hostel has a security door that can’t be opened from the outside, until the owners open it fully. I wasn’t expecting them to wake up until about noon, so when I left I kept the door just a crack open chanting the prayer “Please don’t close the door, neighbor girls, please don’t close the door.” I run out for coffee for five minutes, and come back to find that the door is glued shut. The girls have left, and left me outside without my phone.
I try everything to get that door open. Reach broomsticks into unknown crevices, put umbrellas down random holes just to try to spring something lose. Nothing happens. I’m a bit mad, so I just sit down on the street and drink my coffee hoping that the owners open up the hostel. I sit for about an hour with no noise or movement, just sitting in the scorching sun progressing my sunburn before I realize I can run to Izone’s sister’s bakery downtown and ask her to call.
When I arrive after the fifteen minute walk, I’m greeted by Izone’s sister’s boyfriend from New Zealand. He calls up Drori, who is begrudgingly awoken, and when I head back, I find Izone and Martin wide awake having opened up the hostel. That timing never works out in my favor.
Regardless of that silly morning, we sit and drink coffee and enjoy each other’s company.
The people at this hostel have been absolutely amazing. I’ve felt so much love and kindness from strangers, which is one of the most precious things one can gain from travel. After many hugs and loving goodbyes, I walk with my backpack through the city and too the train. Today’s destination is Taichung, Taiwan’s third largest city and my final destination before flying to Hong-Kong. To get there, I sit on another train for about four hours, at the price of around $18. I don’t have to change trains at all, but the seats I’m in are booked in random places so I have to change seats three times before finally making it to Taichung.
I arrive fairly late, around 17:00 and in the rain. I don’t have the space for an umbrella in my big back so I’m forced to take refuge going from coffee shop to coffee shop, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing because watching the rain is one of my favorite chill things to do. Instantly, I can tell this city is a bit more rough than Taipei. There are many more immigrants here, which I learned as I’m heckled by a group of Indonesians followed by some Vietnamese while walking from the bus station. Aesthetically, Taichung doesn’t feel so different from Taipei. Maybe it’s a little less crowded, but other than that the buildings look pretty similar with the same restaurant lay out and basic city design. I’m staying with a couchsurfer tonight, and she won’t be ready for me until about 20:00, so I take my time in between noodle shops and coffee shops to watch the rain.
When we do finally meet up, I completely get the address wrong. I walk into a building, show the doorman the address and ask “Here?” he shakes his head from side to side, and says.
What is that supposed to mean? I call Su, the couchsurfer, and make sure. She says I’m all clear so I take the elevator up and knock on the door, to be greeted by a middle-aged lady in her pajamas who is outright horrified to see a 197 cm Caucasian on her doorstep. I say “Ni hao”, but she just looks at me and slowly closes the door, wondering why on Earth I knocked on her door.
I give Su another call, and she says she’ll come down to meet me. Turns out I was in the wrong alley. We walk across the street, to the correct alley, and go up to her apartment.
She’s an English teacher, but she wants to be a chef. Her two kids, 7 and 9, aren’t home tonight so we take some time just to talk. It’s interesting to finally stay with a Taiwanese person and see their home. She has a fairly decent apartment, but she sleeps on the couch because she gives the big ‘guest’ room out to Airbnb’ers and couchsurfers. I think it’s incredibly hospitable, even if she gives the excuse of it being because her kids are afraid to sleep far away from her. I sleep like a baby in the big guest bed.
I wake up and meet Su in the kitchen. I sit drinking coffee, looking out on her view of the rainy city. She gives me some advice on things to see for the day, then all of a sudden she shouts ‘GO! What’re you still doing here?!” followed by uproarious laughter that fills the room. She’s the good kind of crazy.
Today’s first stop is Sun Moon Lake, a photogenic and postcard perfect lake up in the mountains South-East of here. To get there, take bus 6670 from Shuangshi Road, just next to Taichung Park. Taiwan also uses the EasyCard, which is a little card you can buy at a subway stop for $3, charge up with money, and which you can use to pay for all transportation in the country, public bikes, food, convenience store purchases, and more. The ride was supposed to take about 1:30, but due to unforeseen reasons it took about 2:30.
When I arrive, I realize I can only stay for about 1:30 hours so that I can make it back to the city in time to see everything else. I give the lake a little walk around, although it’s the second biggest in Taiwan so walking around the whole thing would take forever. But well worth it if you have time! It was raining the whole day, so my views weren’t as picturesque as they could have been.
While it may not be as picturesque, the weather certainly does provide a contemplative atmosphere.
I walk around a bit more, hearing monkeys howling in the distance and bikers pass by in the mist.
I hope you’ve liked these little videos, I find it calming to make them somehow. Let me know if they’re cool!
It’s pretty, no? I wish I had more time to spend here, but the next thing I want to see closes at 18:00, so I have to make the bus back just incase it takes 2:30 hours again. The rain has started to pour at this point, and I sit beneath the bus station waiting in line for the bus back to Taichung.
Luckily, this bus takes the promised 1:30. I arrive at the Taichung High Speed Rail Station and take a bus for 15 minutes to the Rainbow Village.
It’s a spot where a man started painting around in the buildings of his neighborhood, and he’s been doing it for decades. It’s become a bit of a tourist attraction, even in the rain.
I love walking around, seeing the vibrant paintings of people and text. It’s a great way to beautify a neighborhood.
A forty minute bus ride gets me the National Theatre, which is an effort to modernize the city’s architecture.
But I think the neighborhood it’s in, in the North District, is very modern and beautiful. It feels exactly like some neighborhoods of Tokyo, with shining high rises, little boutiques and bakeries. The added drizzly rain makes the atmosphere even more Japanese. I walk around in the rain, dropplets coming down from my umbrella and feel an unequivocal sense of calm.
I walk about twenty minutes, to slowly the awakening Fengjia Night Market. The first two night markets I went to in Taipei were smaller scale. Fengjia is a full blown Night Market, going on for blocks of neon glow and fried squid butts.
Today’s longest line was as close to the squid butts I may get. These are Osaka style octopus balls. Start out by frying some octopus bits. Then, add the pancake batter. Toss and turn and jingle them around their little hole until you’ve got a gold brown ball of molten octopus goo. Eat it lava hot, fresh off the griddle, because it gets pretty gross when it’s cold. When I went to Osaka with my family as a kid, I was afraid to eat it lava hot, so I made the mistake of waiting until they were room-temperature. I remember putting a cold ball of pancake into my mouth, feeling is smoosh into a liquid pancakey goop. It was disgusting. This time, I made sure to eat them straight off the griddle.
I really really wanted to like them. I love pancakes, I love octopus, I love Benito flakes and Kewpie mayonnaise. But I really hated these. They were just as gooey and gnarly as they were when I was a kid, the only difference was that they were giving my mouth a good third degree burn this time. At least I tried (and they’re probably better in Osaka).
But as in any night market in Taiwan, it doesn’t take long to find another food stop.
The neon glow is so enticing, I feel like a mosquito flying around these streets.
I love it, all of these people and colors and the smell of fried goodies floating through the air.
I want to make sure the last thing I eat in Taiwan is worth it. I wander the streets for an hour, looking relentlessly through stands of chicken feet and intestines and sautéed mushrooms. Then, I find them.
Delicate, elegant, freshly made and steamed right in front of me. Soup dumplings, oh how I’ll miss you so. I eat the little dumplings, savoring every last bite without caring how the other customers feel about my obvious looks of ecstasy. Oh how I want to be a vegetarian, but how can I ever when things so perfect as this exist in the universe. From now on, I just want to be a dumplingtarian. Vegetables only until I find soup dumplings. Seems smart.
I wander around the glow, filled with bliss and harmony from my soup dumpling experience. Taiwanese love the claw grabbing game, and make little arcades out of them. But I’ve run out of cash so I can’t play, which is a bummer, because here’s a fun condom one.
I’ll take my condoms claw-punch free, thank you very much. They’re tantalizingly close from falling though, I should have just shaken it. But that’s another weird thing I’ve noticed, there are so many different condom brands here! In Denmark, I’ve got one brand by the cash register, two if the shop is a little bit ‘risk-ay’. But every convenience store sells at least eight different kinds, Chinese, Japanese, American, all the brands, colors and flavors of the pre-lubricated latex spectrum. I’d never be able to make a decision, with all those options. But I digress…
I walk back to Su’s apartment in Central District. I’m filled with such a strange and amazing feeling of joy. I just walk around the quite streets, enjoying every little moment and thing about them.
I really enjoy Taiwan. Maybe it is the fact that it looks so Japanese to me. Maybe it’s the fact that soup dumplings and beef noodle soup are some of the tastiest additions to the culinary universe. More likely, though, it’s the outstanding nature and the people that inhabit it. I haven’t come across a single rude or unkind Taiwanese in my week here. I’ve only received smiles and welcoming arms from the people. At times, it can feel a bit like being an Alien to be in Asia as a Caucasian. I certainly felt that in Korea, when I would sit down on a metro and people next to me would stand up (maybe I just smelled bad). Here, I get the occasional glance, which I think is due to my relatively gigantic stature in this region. If anyone does stare at me for longer, it’s probably just to make sure I’m okay and feeling comfortable. I think it’s rare to find places that make you feel as welcome as Taiwan has made me feel.
It’s also rare for me to travel to a place and say, “Sure, I’d come back here again.” I would absolutely come back. I’ve been in Taiwan for a week, and I’ve only traveled through half of the sweet potato shaped island. I’ve only seen a few things, and there are so many things I had to cut for lack of time. I should go back and spend a few days doing day trips from Taipei. I should see more on the West coast. I should see Taroko Gorge and the East coast. I should see all of the South coast. There’s simply so much to do on this island that it makes traveling here kind of difficult to plan. But every moment I’ve spent has been a happy one, and I would come back anytime.
I get back to Su’s apartment to find her asleep on the couch. The kids are back, and she’s tired. We just talk for a bit, and I take a shower while she puts the kids to bed and falls asleep with them. It’s a loving household, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to be here. I fall asleep, thinking about my next stop.
I wake up to the sound of children being little elephants. But they do make for good alarm clocks when waking up early. My flight to Hong-Kong is at 11:00 this morning, so I have to be on the bus to the airport by 7:30 at the latest. Su has made a bowl of congee (rice porridge) for me, with mushrooms and some chunks of leftover meat. It’s a great way to start the day. I play with the kids for a while, and Su as impulsive as ever says “We have to go to the bus it leaves soon!” So we rush out, saying goodbye and hugging and part ways. I wait at the bus stop for a while, and see Su and the kids across the street waving at me. They come over, and Su explains that the kids actually forgot that they’re still on vacation, and don’t have to go in for school today after all. So they wait with me, and we snap a picture. I should have put my backpack down because it makes me look like a turtle.
They’re such a sweet family, and they’ll be the first I call when I come back to Taichung. I hop on the bus, and make it to the airport for my next stop, the conclusion of my seemingly endless backpacking journey since the end of June when I first left Denmark. Now, I would finally be unpacking my bag for more than a week, at my new dorm room at Lingnan University in Hong-Kong. But that won’t be the end of my travels. While I still may have a thing called “school”, I’ll make the time to explore Hong-Kong and Asia. I am pretty excited to unpack my bag though. The plane is only about an 1:30, and I’ll be in my new home for the next four months.
Thank you so much for joining me this far! It’s been so great to write, and to allow myself the time to talk about and internalize my travels. At the same time, it’s been so amazing to have people from all over the world read about it! Thank you for being a part of my journey, and I promise to keep up with a Hong-Kong journal. There are plenty of Weekend-Rambles to come!