Monday 26 December–Sunday 1 January
Visiting a tea house
NCKU organised a trip to a picturesque tea house in Anping for us. The owner showed us the traditional method of serving tea to guests. The ritual welcomes a guest to your home and allows each participant to demonstrate their urbanity or lack thereof, as in my case. More prosaically, the point is to enjoy good tea. There are two teapots, one of clay and one of china, each serving to accentuate elements of a tea’s fragrance and taste. And each person has two differently shaped cups. You use the taller to appreciate a tea’s aroma and the stouter to enjoy its flavour. We learnt that a tea’s fragrance and taste vary with its temperature. For example, a tea’s fragrance may shift from something berry-like when it is hot to something more earthy as it cools. It was fun to have a crack at this intricate tradition with Yina and Amelia, and the Oolong tea was superb.
Next, we went downstairs to appreciate the tea house’s beautiful koi pond. The fish were entrancing, but we were quickly enticed into the dining room to enjoy the delicious hot pot dinner organised for us.
Later in the week, NCKU took us to a bakery specialising in 漢餅 (Chinese-style cakes). The chef walked us through the process of first creating the dough and then encapsulating a ball of red bean paste in the dough before placing the dough ball in a wooden mould. Once I’d flattened the ball such that it reached the edges of the mould, I had a great time bashing the mould until I finally coaxed my cake onto the bench. The chef put our cakes in the oven for us. I ate mine the next day, and it was delicious.
Adventures with Sky
Sky took me to the Tainan Spring — a deconstructed shopping mall transformed into an urban lagoon. It’s currently the Taiwanese dry season, so it was dry to conserve water. It is nonetheless a stunning example of creative reinvention.
Later that night, Sky introduced me to a night café suffused with an offbeat charm. We enjoyed tea and coffee as we sat studying cross-legged into the night. I’m looking forward to taking Selle on a date to the Tainan Spring and this night café when we go to Taiwan together!
Celebrating New Year’s
Amelia, Bonnie, Charlie, Laura, Rachel and I boarded a slow train on New Year’s Eve to ring in the new year in Taipei. It was a four-hour journey, and we watched several of Taiwan’s coastal cities pass by before the final sunset of 2022 arrived as we passed through Miaoli County.
We were fortunate to have reserved seats, but many travellers had not, and so had no choice but to stand for the duration of the long journey. With each stop, our carriage became thicker with people. As we approached Taipei Station, it felt as if the carriage’s walls might burst open. My shock at the sheer mass of people continued when we arrived at the station. Meanwhile, Selle was about to ring in the new year with friends and family at a packed bar in Auckland. Despite the noise and crowds, we both managed to video call in time for a kiss as the clock struck midnight in New Zealand. I was so happy to experience that with Selle, even as thousands of kilometres physically separated us.
Shortly after kissing Selle goodbye and wishing my family a Happy New Year, the Tainan crew met Ruby and Scotty, two classmates from Auckland, at Taipei Station. They’re studying Chinese at a university in Hsinchu near Taipei. We took the metro together to Xinyi, a glitzy part of the city boasting the famous Taipei 101 skyscraper.
The weather was wet and cold, but we didn’t let that get us down! It lent the city a cyberpunk vibe as the low cloud refracted and softened the piercing lights of skyscrapers.
Ruby, Charlie, Laura and I waited together for fireworks to launch from Taipei 101, which would signal the beginning of 2023. The fireworks more than surpassed our expectations.
After partying into the small hours of the morning, Charlie and I took the metro to the Presidential Palace to witness the flag-raising ceremony, which commemorates the founding of the Republic of China on 1 January 1912. It was an impressive display of patriotism, and locals generously gave Charlie and me Taiwanese flags to wave.
Charlie found us an Australian-style café for breakfast. Despite the café’s unfortunate Australian inspiration, the bacon, egg and avo transported me back to delightful breakfasts I’d enjoyed at home with Selle and my family. It was a great meal to start 2023 as I prepared to make the most of the rest of my time in Taiwan and looked forward with excitement to returning home.
After a delicious breakfast, we went to Taipei Station to catch the train back to Tainan. The quiet streets were striking after the mass excitement that had filled every corner of Taipei just a few hours ago. Once we got on the train, we all promptly passed out and slept the entire way to Tainan before enjoying a restful sleep back in our dorms.