Whirlwind of a Week

It’s been just over a week since we touched down in Taiwan, and I’m torn right down the middle between “Really, a week already?” and “It’s only been a week?”

Ren-Hong and Yulun, featuring a mural of Toucheng

Since arriving, we’ve made ourselves right at home in our new town, Toucheng, thanks to our wonderful friends and hosts Yulun and Ren-Hong. We’re staying in a house on Old Street called Goldfish House, which used to belong to the mayor of Toucheng a few decades back! His son even drops in from time to time to make sure the place is being kept up and taken care of, but that’s a story for another post. These days, Yulun and Ren-Hong use it as a base for organizing the Toucheng Arts Festival and other community events, and of course, hosting visitors like us.

There’s lots to say about our new home and what we’ve been doing here since we arrived, lots more than I can fit in this blog, so I’m going to save all that for a future post! In between settling in and meeting new people in Toucheng though, we’ve been doing lots of other exciting things all across the country.

Day 1: Exploring Sanxia

Our first full day in Taiwan, we met up with Yulun and Ren-Hong in the Sanxia district of New Taipei City (Which is different from Taipei, we got a bit turned around on that one too), so they could take us give us a lift into Toucheng. While they attended a workshop at a nearby café, we got the chance to explore the neighborhood a bit.

Sanxia, it turns out, is a historical area that grew out of the convergence of two rivers, and once held bustling agricultural, forestry, and mining communities. These days, it’s a thriving center for culture and the arts, with an Old Street packed with vendors and store fronts. On the advice of our taxi driver, we tried the local specialty: a kind of pastry that, translated into English, is called “two horn bread.” If you look at the picture behind the bull, the reason for that should be pretty evident. The verdict? Super delicious.

As we wandered, we also took refuge from the heat in a soymilk shop/community center (yes, it really is both!) called He Naichuan, run by a friend of Yulun and Ren-Hong’s. The shop specializes in healthy, tasty soy products like homemade tofu and soy ice cream, but they also do lots of work for the local community. Behind the shop proper is a courtyard of lined with classrooms and craftsman workshops. Their organization offers classes for local kids in need of some extra support, as well as a place for artists and community members to create and sell artisan products, like tea, leatherwork, and ceramics. We chowed down on melty cones of Matcha Soy Ice Cream as we peeked into all the workstations.

But before we knew it, Yulun and Ren-Hong were back and ready to whisk us off through the mountains, to our new home in Toucheng.

Day 2: Let’s go the beach!

After we settled into our new place a bit, we decided to head to the water to cool down. The average weather up here is in the upper 80s with 90% humidity, so a dip was much needed. Toucheng is just a short train ride away from a collection of ocean-side towns lining the coast of Yilan County, and today we headed straight to Wai’ao, a cute little village with a sweeping expanse of black sand beach.

Wai’ao felt so much like California, it almost felt like we hadn’t left home! There’s even a pizza place right by the train station (of course, it’s also owned by one of Yulun and Ren-Hong’s friends) that’s supposed to be incredible. It was closed when we dropped by, but they have music nights every Saturday, so I get the feeling we’ll get really familiar with it really soon!

Yilan County has a huge culture of surfing as well, and the beach was swarming with surfers all afternoon. Yulun is a surfer herself, and she’s promised to introduce us to her instructor so we can learn how to do a little surfing of our own soon. Yeah, the irony isn’t lost on us: we’ve lived in California our whole lives and we had to move 7,000 miles away to learn how to surf!

This definitely won’t be the last of our beach adventures, and there’s lots more I’ll be talking about soon, but for now I think the views say it all.

Days 4-7: Kaohsiung Again

Last time we were in Taiwan, we spent our last few days in the country exploring Kaohsiung, in the far south. This time we didn’t waste any time getting down there! Our first weekend in Taiwan, we took the bullet train down south and met up with our good friend Nicole, who lives down there. She picked us up from the station after our train ride with a delicious dinner of fried all-our-favorite-things and promises to show us around the city the next day.

We spent most of our first day at Lotus Pond, a small lake in the heart of the city, brimming with lotus blossoms and a pair of towering pagodas guarded by a dragon and a tiger. The two temples are said to represent heaven and hell, so just to be on the safe side, we decided to climb the tower associated with heaven! The views of the city from up there were definitely heavenly—as was the bubble tea we cooled off with next door!

We also explored the Pier 2 Arts Center, a repurposed corner of the coastal shipping ports where restaurants, museums, shops, and weekend artisan markets have taken over. It just so happened that one of my favorite artists was having an exhibition that weekend too! These are just a few of the incredible miniatures by Tanaka Tatsuya we saw on display.

We enjoyed a weekend packed full of night markets, delicious desserts, shopping trips, and even a movie (“Toy Story 4” was just about as great as I hoped), before saying goodbye again and hopping back on the train up north.

This week will be our last bit of free time before classes start, and we’re hoping to make the most of it with a little more exploring and some time spent with friends. But knowing us, a few afternoons spent napping and listening to the rain from our bedroom seem likely too. After a week like the last one, it’ll be nice to relax and let our new house really start to feel like home.

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