Monday 2 January–Sunday 8 January
NCKU organised an expert to show us to cut a traditional seal. Seal cutting is an ancient art first practised in China over three thousand years ago. We learnt how emperors and public officials commissioned artisans to carve intricate characters onto bone, bronze, pottery and stone. Leaders would then use the cut seals with deep red ink to stamp documents, projecting their power and authority. Even today, the Taiwanese government and many private entities have seals that they use to verify official documents. But the rise of digital authentication means seals are increasingly obsolete as a means of verification. Instead, Taiwanese today tend to appreciate seals for their artistic merits and rich history.
Here is the design I cut into my block of quartz compared with the design I drafted on my phone. The four characters are 我愛楚心. 楚心is Selle’s Chinese name, so the message translates to I love Selle! Anyone who spends any amount of time talking with me will know I’m the person who loves Selle, so it seemed like an excellent way to identify myself.
The seal expert inked the seal and stamped it on this piece of paper before writing in elegant script, “印刻亨利” meaning “Henry’s carved seal”, and”壬寅季冬” which was the date in the Chinese lunar calendar that day. I’m looking forward to giving this to Selle!
Dancing with Taiwanese elders
NCKU organised for us to spend time with a group of elders several times during our time in Taiwan. On one particular occasion, NCKU and the elders invited us to lead a dance class. Initially horrified to teach a dance routine, I had fun in the end. It was nice to get my blood pumping with Maia, Simona, Emilia, Yina and the elders after many deskbound days with little exercise.
The elders generously gave each of us a bag of homemade nutty sweets, and we also made balloon swords together, which was very fun.
Local fare and a zany night cafe with Sky
One night, Sky introduced me to Taiwanese-style 滷味, a type of cuisine where food is stewed in soy sauce and spices. We got to pick the ingredients we wanted from a wide selection you can see above. The chef stewed them to create a delicious dish that Sky and I enjoyed very much. And it was all very affordable, working out at around NZD 7.
Later that night, Sky introduced me to a very cool night café boasting a super cute cat, a dog, delicious snacks and beverages, a bohemian aesthetic and even a cinema to chill in with friends. Sky and I had a great time with the cat before getting cake and watching Pineapple Express, a classic buddy film.
It was rather bizarre to see a portrait of Mao Zedong in a Taiwanese café. “It’s art,” Sky deadpanned.
Capybara cafe and class prep with Amelia
Our trip to the indigenous school was fast approaching, so Amelia and I made time one night to work on the class we would give the kids together. Amelia suggested we could work on it at a nearby capybara café she’d heard about. Excited to see the animals, we walked about 15 minutes from our dorm to see them. On the way, Amelia mentioned that her birthday was tomorrow. I had no idea, and I was happy that she’d invited all of us to have dinner with her at a nearby restaurant. When we arrived at the café, the capybara were even more adorable than I had anticipated. And they lived in harmonious co-existence with a waddling of ducks. It made me think of Selle because she and I love to fawn over cute animals together. I can’t wait to go to a capybara café with Selle!
Unfortunately, the café had little space to sit down and work, so we walked to a nearby Maccas and started preparing our lesson, which we decided would centre on introducing New Zealand and some common fruits from back home like kiwifruit and avocado. Amelia has worked as a tutor, and I’m grateful to her because she carried more than her fair share of the load in crafting our lesson!
And to top off a night full of adorable animals, I found a lizard on the way home! It reminded me of the lizards Selle told me about that eat her family’s bananas back home in Fiji!
Celebrating Amelia’s birthday
On the night of Amelia’s birthday, we enjoyed delicious food at a nearby restaurant. My pork noodles were divine. Each of us had a little gift for Amelia. Mine was a pack of Oreo wafers I’d only ever seen in Taiwan!
When we returned to the dorm, it turned out that Amelia had organised a delicious chocolate cake for us to share and even papaya to accommodate Finn, who was helping to offset our flights’ carbon emissions by eating vegan. The cake was delicious. I’d never tried fresh papaya before, and I was grateful for the opportunity, but its flavour was overwhelmingly sweet for me, as it turned out. I admired how Amelia celebrated her 21st birthday with good cheer even as she was thousands of kilometres away from her family and her boyfriend. I would struggle to keep my spirits up if I had to celebrate a birthday without Selle and my family.
Thanks for reading another instalment of my blog! The next one isn’t far away, I promise!