Hello and welcome back, readers. I’ll admit, COVID has once again really been getting up in my grill recently, especially with the advent of online lessons. In order to escape the monotony of these online classes, we caught a high-speed rail train to Taiwan’s southern former capital city, Tainan, where we stayed in a charming house with a café underneath it. Here, we did our classes every morning (by every morning I mean just the Thursday morning after we arrived because I conveniently wasn’t woken up by my alarm on Friday). Known as Taiwan’s former capital city, Tainan is full of temples and forts preserved from periods of Dutch colonisation. In addition, it is known as one of the best places in Taiwan for food (which is saying something!) and has some of the biggest and most famous night markets heaving with people, arcade games and delicacies. Our first day took us to Tainan’s Confucius Temple and the area’s surrounding art galleries. We had dinner in a fish restaurant complete with an entire wooden boat in it and then went to the only club in Tainan, which, as it happens, was closed, presumably because of COV*D. We ended up in a rock-n-roll themed bar nearby, which was completely empty apart from our group, another victim of the virus.
The following day we mounted our motorbikes and tootled on down to Anping Fort, or Fort Zeelandia as it was known by the Dutch colonists who established it. I somehow drew the short straw and ended up stuck in a group of male friends who gathered round at squealed at cannons at regular intervals, discussing whether they were rifled (whatever that means) or not. During these periods, I would mull over the phrase ‘ignorance is bliss’ and feel a sense of gratitude to the universe for not knowing, or having an intention to know, certain things.
I somehow drew the short straw and ended up stuck in a group of male friends who gathered round at squealed at cannons at regular intervals, discussing whether they were rifled (whatever that means) or not.
At around sunset, we decided to head home via the scenic route, which seemed like a good idea at the time but in hindsight probably wasn’t. We drove north to a national park full of luscious paddy field-adjacent scenery, where, much to my friend’s chagrin, I fretted and backseat drove the whole way, which blended in harmoniously with the sounds of nature around us. Upon encountering several packs of ‘night dogs’ (‘yè gǒu’ – we’ve also heard them referred to as wild dogs, called ‘yě gǒu’ in Chinese, so we might have got the ‘night’ bit wrong), we quickly skedaddled away from said paddy fields. At this point, my friend and I discovered that both our phones were dead, hence no more google maps, and our bike was running very low on petrol, hence no more driving. After losing our only other friend who had a charged phone, we ended up stranded in the middle of Tainan and its convoluted traffic system with no petrol or means to get home. It’s one of those year abroad moments (or YAMs) in which one decides to hastily re-establish a relationship with the divine and pray for a miracle. Fortunately, God’s help hotline was open that day and we quickly managed to find a petrol station and, by a sympathetic twist of fate, reunite with our friend who had a charged phone. Despite my nerves being rather shot after this incident, I was soon revived by a 7-Eleven hot-dog, and we ended up at Datong night market to sample some snacks and see if we could win any stuffed toys (successful on both fronts).
It’s one of those year abroad moments (or YAMs) in which one decides to hastily re-establish a relationship with the divine and pray for a miracle.
Our final day was marked characteristically by torrential rain. After our group splitting up to see various exhibitions, museums and forts, we ended up sheltering in the tranquillity of an old-style teahouse where we honed our pouring and steeping skills that are customary and necessary in a tea ceremony. A three-hour train took us back up to Taipei, where I am now safely back writing this. Nothing feels like more of a homecoming than arriving back to a notice on the door of our apartment building warning of a routine power cut. Trying to buy a bottle of water in 7-Eleven in a queue behind others paying taxes, picking up packages, doing dry-cleaning, buying train tickets, booking cabs, printing, etc., feels like a familiar comfort. No other place better exemplifies the phrase ‘one-stop-shop’ more than good old 7-Eleven. I am now back to attending in-person lessons and have just a few weeks of term left now. Time flies or whatever. CC xx
Image Description: The title “Tea from Taiwan with Cicely Hunt” next to a cup of boba tea