Tianxia in Tainan: ✨a blog✨
The roads of Tainan technically don’t have pathways. What there is of the space between the storefronts and road is owned privately so that the path’s tiles frequently change as one section of a building ends and another begins. This means that one pedestrian’s pathway is a million different people’s workspace, restaurant floor, storage space or front yard. With every few steps you might be picking through tables heavy with talk and food, walking amongst piles of fabric, or strategically timing your walk behind a street front shop counter to dodge the workers ferrying hot trays.
The big roads speak in faded signs and one thousand scooters per minute. The small streets speak in potted plants and a small-village aesthetic. Trees populate the busy roads as much as the traffic does, and winter is very hot half the time and very cold the rest of it. Ornamental, layered temples crouch between high columns of skinny buildings. The modern shops are a sparkling minimalist, and the old eateries show their age in their wood panels and unlit fridges of coke and beer.
You can get almost anything you need in the 7-Eleven 200 metres away from you, including the essential bus card. These are less ‘cards’ in the way your regular Hop-Carder might expect and are more Hello Kitty plushies, watch straps and mock miniature cartons of Tainan’s favourite snacks. Mine’s a hula-hooping hamster.
The food’s cheap when it comes from Tainan and not a chain restaurant. The green man at a crossing is more of a suggestion than a safe means through. Dogs wear diapers when travelling by scooter, and bubble tea is a daily necessity.
I believe that’s all that comes to mind for the moment. There’s a lot to take in and even more to get down.
We moved from our hotel into the university dorm yesterday. It was one bus trip, two elevator trips, and many trips to and from my suitcase before I was unpacked and moved in, perhaps in two hours or less. The change felt as immediate as it was. Our hotel was located in one of the busiest sections of Tainan. The rooms were brightly lit, noise worked its way up from the street rapidly, and we lived out of our suitcases, too weary of the week passing by quickly before having to pack up and move again. In the dorm, our rooms look softer and dimmer with their wood surfaces, the air on the balcony feels lighter with less information being carried up to us from an emptier street, and my possessions look much fewer now that they’re unpacked and on the shelves, compared to when they were streaming from my suitcase.
Perhaps I feel a little homesick, which is not to understate the excitement and newness that has underlined the experience so far. But now, being unpacked, more settled, and well into the vast, treacherous sea of homework to be crossed while at NCKU, I won’t deny that I’ve felt a small comedown. But the comedown brings a kind of travel experience that I haven’t had before– a long-term stay in a foreign country with a routine reminiscent of ‘normal’ life at home. We go to uni every day; we have homework, free time, and a weekly routine. It’s an exciting prospect, though a little daunting now that the workload has been unveiled to us all. But hey, even if I miss home a bit, my Chinglish sure doesn’t. Bye-bye broken, English-peppered Chinese, hello, slightly less-subpar Chinese. Or, as we might say in Chinglish: 再见 unilingual-ness, 你好 bilingual-nes.
And 我的天啊, the food is good. And cheap. One could never miss Auckland prices. A fat plate of pork and cabbage dumplings bathing in a thick umami sauce: 90 New Taiwanese Dollars, 4.50 New Zealand Dollars. A packet of golden, flaking egg rolls: 45 NTD, 2.30 NZD. Iced coffee, blessedly, beautifully, costs the same as a hot one. That extra 3 NZD sits in my pocket at peace, knowing that it wasn’t spent on the hard labour of solely producing ice to place in the coffee.
Us 外国人 (translation for my audience– hi Mum and Dad– wàiguórén = foreigners) certainly draw attention from the locals. Most seem to be interested, others are slightly amused (to whom I like to grin and wave; it’s received well), and the littlies mostly look shocked. But whatever their initial reaction, everyone is incredibly friendly, unless it’s a busy restaurant where the staff don’t have time to wait for the cogs in my brain to slowly grind and turn, trying to separate their rapid speech into distinct syllables.
At the moment I’m sitting in the university library, trying to run through the past week in my mind. It’s almost golden hour and the light is coming cleanly through the window, sitting in broken slants on the desks and floor. The light looks thin and delicate here, and the library is quiet. It’s hard to picture the restless feel of the last week. The city, accommodation, homesickness, food, prices, the locals, what else to cover– complaints about the workload?
Just kidding… already done that. 😜
Plans for the rest of the day: finish studying, grab an obligatory study reward beverage, Tainan-style (bubble tea), and do a bit of Christmas shopping if there’s time (Christmas is in a week?! Tainan’s few traces of holiday zeal have made the mounting festive fervour in the countdown to Christmas untraceable, so that was this morning’s shocking revelation).
Goals for the rest of the week: take the pressure off myself and embrace being vulnerable in class with not knowing traditional characters (we learn simplified characters in New Zealand, a slightly different system of writing), do as much work as I can to leave Christmas day unencumbered by 功课 (gōngkè = homework), and eat more vegetables (that one’s dedicated to you, Mum and Dad).
That’s 天霞 (translation for beloved parental audience: Tiānxiá = me, Tess, your favourite child xoxo) signing off. Until next week’s episode of Tianxia in Taiwan: ✨a blog✨, 下次见！