Taiwan, winter break '15 // 01

Every winter break I go back to Taiwan to visit relatives. Since my family and I only do this once a year, we have very many relatives to visit and very little time to spare. The experience is more tiring than heartwarming as I don't share many memories with them, but they never fail to welcome me with open arms, commenting on how much weight I've gained and subsequently offering me tons of food.

They take us to nice restaurants for hotpot and seafood, but nothing beats a Taiwanese night market. Vendors line the street, some with clothing and some with food. In between, crowds squeeze their way through. Somewhere in the mass you'll see me with 珍珠奶茶* (bubble milk tea) in one hand, 咸酥鸡 (popcorn chicken) in the other, and my camera dangling around my neck.

*珍珠奶茶 is my FAVORITE! My personal rule is that whenever I'm in Taiwan, I need to drink it at least once per day. It's not the healthiest choice in the world, but it's certainly delicious. Taiwan has the best 珍珠奶茶 in the world! (I may be biased.) Sometimes it's called 波霸奶茶, which is how you get the English translation of boba milk tea. However, 波霸 refers to big tapioca whereas 珍珠 refers to small tapioca, but many people use 珍珠 to refer to either, so sometimes you need to specify whether you want 小珍珠 (small tapioca) or 大珍珠 (big tapioca). Anyways, ordering 珍珠奶茶 in Taiwan is great, because you get to customize the sweetness and the amount of ice you want in it. These stalls/vendors are everywhere. It's glorious.

Other foods you need to try out are 蚵仔煎 (oyster pancake), 蚵仔面线 (oyster noodles), 臭豆腐 (smelly tofu), 烤玉米 (Taiwanese BBQ corn), 大肠包小肠 (small sausage (Taiwanese sausage) in big sausage (rice sausage)), 卤味 (?), 卤肉饭 (minced pork rice), 糖葫芦 草莓串 (caramelized strawberries kebab), 米糕 (rice cake), and 胡椒饼 (black pepper bun). Usually I also try to buy a bunch of 凤梨酥 (pineapple cake) and 太阳饼 (sun cake) to bring back from vacation for friends.

And that's about our only outing of the day. And it's not even a day outing. What do we do with all our time? We argue about whether we want to go out (parents) or stay in (kids). It's quite an exhausting routine. It doesn't help that the five of us are usually crammed in one room of our grandparent's house.

I admit, I used to always want to just stay in, but after I started blogging, I've been more willing to exert energy, go outside, and experience life, much to my parent's delight. But this isn't a "how blogging changed my life for the better" post. By the end of winter break, my main reason for going out was simply to escape, because I didn't know how much longer I'd be able to maintain my sanity stuck in a little room with my family. I love them and all, but they also drive me batpoop crazy.

Winter and summer break '14 were the worst breaks in my life (but my life has been pretty good, so that's not really saying much so don't worry about it. I just have really low EQ, or that's what my mom tells me anyway haha). These were the last breaks I had before I would be off for college, so my family really wanted to make the most of it, but perhaps they overcompensated--too much of a good thing(??).

When college finally started, I felt so relieved. Freedom at last! Since I've been in college (mid-August '14), I haven't called my family once, though we have a family Skype group chat that I check into every so often. It's not something to be proud of, that is, not calling family, but this system works for me--absence makes the heart grow fonder. Maybe I'm still trying to replenish my family time energy bar after draining it during winter and summer break '14 haha. What I am proud of is that, since being away, I've felt homesick less than three times, each when the campus dining hall food got especially bad.

Unfortunately I haven't experienced much of this beautiful country (I met up with a friend from Japan in Taiwan and she was the one taking me around haha). Some of you have asked me where I get my things and it's really hard to answer because I usually do all my shopping abroad at obscure shops, usually in Taiwan (this bag is often asked about, both online and irl). Anyways, I thought I'd just plop the names of the places I shopped at in case you ever find yourself here: Red House, Liville, Joan, Coco Rea. And the green tea red bean waffle photographed was from an afternoon at Rose Garden.

Now here's the exciting part. A milestone for Brunch at Audrey's! I got my lovely friend Kathleen to help me out with this post, because I really can't tell you anything about tourism here. She was in Taiwan for her first time, on a tour with her family, and was kind enough to write a little something about it. Check out some of her photos from Taiwan here. And also check out the rest of her photography too!

I don't usually enjoy guided tours (or feeling like a tourist in general), but this time it was somewhat enjoyable to travel around half of Taiwan on a bus. Taiwan is relatively small, and we got to see the city, the ocean, pebble beaches, lakes, and mountains, all in one go. I get the feeling that I wasn't too bothered about being a tourist in Taiwan because everyone was so welcoming and friendly.

Everyone, actually everyone we met was so polite and kind! We stopped by a ukulele store and one of the salesman spent a good half hour talking to us. he also taught us how to play 月亮代表我的心 ("The Moon Represents My Heart"?) on the uke and gave us some sheet music for the road.

Night markets are a quintessential Taiwanese thing, and it's a strange kind of place--where you can stuff your face whilst walking down the street, carrying as much food as you'd like but no shame at all. I distinctly remember balancing bubble tea and octopus balls in one hand, while trying to wolf down some sort of ice-cream-waffle confection using the other hand. All while struggling through the crowded streets, packed with hundreds of other people walking around in a food-ridden daze.

On one of our last days, we stopped by the road to stare at the ocean, something I still remember vividly--the water and the sky both impossibly blue, warm warm sun, and this feeling of great incredible calm from knowing what an incredible place you have had the great fortune to visit.

Writing this post and thinking back to last winter break, I feel so thankful and lucky and blessed to have ever-hospitable relatives who always insist on treating me to a meal, buying me gifts, and inviting me to come back, despite seeing me only once a year and hardly being fluent in my own native language. And also to my parents who love and care for me unconditionally, no matter how bratty and ungrateful I'm behaving, no matter how distant I am, no matter how unwilling I am to be that good kid who calls back home even just once a week. Maybe it's about time to call home or at least make some other gesture to express my gratitude and reciprocate the love they've shown for me. Snail mail?

PS: fall break in Princeton and New York City, Thanksgiving break in San Francisco
PPS: #tbt to winter break '14 in Taiwan - 3, 4, 5, 6-7 (warning: tangents and bad photography)