The title: Tea from Taiwan with Cicely Hunt next to a bubble tea

The Tea from Taiwan: Part 4

Welcome back to the final instalment of this column. This week has brought with it various activities. I had a week off university to mark the Dragon Boat Festival, which is marked by – surprise surprise – boat racing. The past couple of weeks have brought various challenges, so my friends and I decided we’d head down to southwest Taiwan to Chiayi, from which we took a bus up into the mountains to seek out the famed Guanziling hot springs for some much-needed R&R. I’ve been told on various occasions that all I seem to do is go on holiday during a year that, to most, looks like a 10-month long holiday rather than a year abroad. To this I have very little to respond to, because I think I deserve plenty of holidays. And also, you try dealing with torrential rain for three weeks straight and then tell me you don’t deserve a little steeping in the hot springs!

I think I deserve plenty of holidays.

The Guanziling hot springs are particularly special because they are some of very few hot springs containing a specific mud type, which makes the water a dark, thick, silty grey. Over the two and a half days we were there, I took full advantage of the spa and its resources and did six face masks in two days, which probably ended up having adverse effects on my skin, but I justified it in the name of so-called ‘self-care’. I did plenty of toasting by the pool amidst searing sun and tropical thunderstorms, trying not to make eye contact with literally the biggest spider I have seen in my actual entire life – I’ve seen this particular species make a habit of setting up camp on the electricity wires. I also tested out one of those ponds where fish nibble at the dead skin on your feet, appropriately called the “Dr Fish nibbling pool”, an utterly novel experience. The trick is to try and enjoy the ticklish sensation and not look down, lest you catch sight of a particularly big fishy with mouth gaping open and its intentions fixed on taking a hefty chunk out of the sole of your foot.

Having steeped to our hearts’ content, we returned to Taipei for a weekend of debauchery and, in my case, confronting chores such as cleaning my room and putting on a wash that I’d avoided. On Saturday night, my friend hosted a birthday party in a three-floor motel room complete with a hot tub, sauna, pool, shower room and karaoke. I’ve briefly mentioned the motel party moment in previous articles but it’s worth exploring the premise. Essentially, they’re mainly located out of the centre of Taipei in the outskirts of the city, but still very much in the metropolis. When you walk in past the gates, you’re faced with a corridor full of garage doors on the side. Just as you’re asking yourself whether it might be best to turn back and walk out of the situation alive, you find that the garage doors each open up to lavish rooms within. It’s an utterly befuddling experience, and one which I can only liken to Hannah Montana’s wardrobe moment. We partied there the whole night, the bravest of us staying up until 7am for breakfast the next morning.

We partied there the whole night, the bravest of us staying up until 7am for breakfast the next morning.

As I write my final article for this column, I am now in my final month of my year abroad, which feels surreal and strange that in a few weeks I’ll be leaving Taiwan and will be back in the UK. I realise now how used to life here I have become. On reflection, it’s been easily the most challenging year of my life, and looking back at myself from 10 months ago, I find it hard to believe I left home so easily and readily. It felt like moving out properly for the first time, except everything was made doubly difficult by the fact that my course-mates and I had to do everything in Chinese. While adapting to a completely new way of life, which transformed our routines, living situations, food habits and university life, I would say the most important thing that kept our spirits up was our surprisingly unwavering sense of humour, which carried us through in even the direst of straits. Taiwan is often defined in foreign media by its relations with other countries, but it is obviously so much more than that. It is a country bestowed with great natural beauty and a dynamic and diverse culture. From the first day we arrived in Taipei we were welcomed, literally on the street, by pedestrians passing by, and wherever we have travelled we have always been greeted with friendliness. I will miss life here a lot and will always feel very appreciative of how exciting and transformative the time has been that I’ve spent here. Love to you always, Taiwan! Cc xx

Image Description: The title “Tea from Taiwan with Cicely Hunt” next to a cup of boba tea