A week as busy as the one we just had merits an extra special weekend, don’t you think? After our first full week of school, we finally got the chance to unwind by meeting up with an old friend.
If you read our last blog, you might remember Jeff. While we were living in Miaoli County, he took it upon himself to introduce us to his friends, take us to some of his favorite spots, and help us get a real sense of the local community. We’ve stayed in touch over the past two years, and it was actually him who introduced us to Yulun and Ren-Hong. So if it wasn’t for Jeff, we might never have found Toucheng, or even made it back to Taiwan so quickly!
Jeff had plans in Taipei on Saturday, so we decided to meet up with him that morning to catch up and spend some time together. He’s been even busier than we have in the two years since we saw him last, so it was great to catch up and swap stories over a delicious lunch of Indian food (yet another box we can tick in our International Tasting Across Taipei repertoire).
Afterwards, we headed to a popup flea market near Longshan Temple. We were able to see the temple up close last time we were in Taipei, but this time we stuck to the floor just underneath that had been taken over by antiques, games, clothes, and cultural education stations for the weekend. We mostly just walked circles around market, browsing and enjoying one another’s company, but we did end up buying a small board game and a vintage Taiwanese flag to decorate our room with.
Seeing as we spent the better part of half an hour hovering around the board game booth, deciding whether we were brave enough get a game entirely in Mandarin (turns out we aren’t that brave quite yet), Jeff had the idea to go to a board game cafe down the street afterwards. Apparently, board game cafes are very popular among younger people in Taipei, and when we got to the shop it was absolutely packed with students and young people. If you know Ryan and I, you know we LOVE board games, so we grabbed an early dinner of noodles and bubble tea to go, and settled in for a few rounds of games. We noticed a few of our favorite titles on the shelves (“Betrayal at House on the Hill,” anyone?), so we’ll definitely be back for more games before long.
We ended our busy day in Taipei with a quick walk through the picturesque Bopiliao Historical Block, a red brick neighborhood that dates back to the late 19th century. It used to be a bustling commercial district, but these days it’s a tourist hotspot with a sprawling museum showcasing the area’s history and culture. We got a security guard to snap a few pictures of the three of us, reunited once again. As you can see, he had a bit of an…artistic eye, but as Jeff put it, we’re the best models he could have asked for!
Finally, we said goodbye to Jeff as he headed back to Miaoli for work, with promises to come visit soon. Once class starts winding down a bit, we definitely plan to take a weekend trip down to see him again, and visit all our old friends from Miaoli!
Instead of taking our usual bus home, we hopped on the train that took us up along the northern coast and right to Wai’ao, where Drifter’s was holding an Independence Day bash. These past few months have been a pretty strange time to be an American, especially an American abroad, but it was nice to enjoy some of the more positive reminders of home, namely pizza and folk music. There was even a fiddler! What’s more American than that? The two of us spent our actual Fourth of July in class and held our own private celebration at the only McDonald’s we’ve been able to find for miles, so it was nice to have a proper acknowledgement of the occasion.
The next morning, we gave ourselves permission to sleep in a little after our busy day in the city. And good thing too: we ended up spending much of the afternoon getting our hands dirty out in the sun. Yulun and Ren-Hong told us they’re planning a press conference for the festival this week, and they wanted to spruce up the front of the house a bit in preparation. I haven’t talked too much yet about the place we’re staying or the art festival that we’re here for (that’s coming real soon, I promise!) but this was our first major bit of prep work directly for the festival, and it was a great chance for Ryan to put his gardening talents to good use.
Yulun and Ren-Hong gave us some plants donated by neighbors, some cinderblocks, and some wood, and gave us free reign over the front patio! Ryan has been studying and working professionally with public gardens for the better part of two years, so it was a fun opportunity to show off some of his skills. Some repotting, rearranging, and hasty box-construction later, and we got something that looks awfully like a front garden! We’re hoping to get a few more plants and some décor to fill things in later, but I think it looks pretty darn press-conference-ready.
Now that we’re pretty well adjusted to Taiwan and settled into our classes, things are going to start ramping up here in Toucheng. We’ve already had some pretty exciting experiences leading up to the festival, and we’re about to start having lots more as it gets closer (less than two weeks away now!). I’m going to give you all a better sense of what that means for us, for the town, and for the people we’ve met in the next few days, but for now, I’ll leave you with this amazing video (starring some familiar faces!) that pretty much sums it all up.