Five in the afternoon and it’s time to split. I’ve had an interesting time here in Manila—and a good day of work here at Toby’s Estate—but I’ve a plane to catch. Timing my departure is difficult due to the threat of absolute gridlock on the way to the airport. My plane is scheduled to fly just after ten but I rather arrive early than succumb to a last-minute panic. Time and tide wait for no man, nor do commercial flights. (And as chance would have it my flight was delayed by nearly two hours and I didn’t leave the Philippines until close to midnight.)
I left home today and almost immediately noticed a mantis on the mirror of a scooter parked near my place in Xinyi District 信義區, Taipei 台北. This afforded me an opportunity to snap a rather unusual self-portrait, as you can see. Right after taking this photo the mantis surprised me by jumping onto my pants and crawling up to my shoulder. It soon disappeared out of sight, though I could feel forelimbs brush against the back of my neck. Not wanting to possibly crush it by accident, I wandered down the street until I found a row of trees where the mantis gracefully disembarked. If I were to anthropomorphize this resplendent creature I’d say it was in some distress on that scooter and gladly took the opportunity to hitch a ride to the relative safety of what nature remains in this highly urbanized area, a service I was happy to provide.
I resided in Zhongli 中壢, Taoyuan 桃園, for two months at the very end of 2015 for reasons outlined in my first dispatch. In short: I wanted to try out living in another city in Taiwan 台灣 and had a few good friends in the area, one of whom is fellow Canadian blogger Josh Ellis. In my time in Zhongli I captured numerous scenes from everyday life in this burgeoning conurbation of half a million. This post is meant to convey a sense of what it was like to live there for a while—just as I previously did for my time in Wenshan District, Taipei 台北. It is not meant to be a comprehensive guide or a review; think of this as a loose collection of snapshots and impressions of a middling Taiwanese city not commonly documented in English.
Flashback to January 2014. Having previously visited Tainan 台南 on my round-the-island bicycle trip I return for a few days to suss out whether I’d like to move down south or not (which, of course, I do). On my way out of town I snap this photograph of the ticket booths at Tainan Station 台南車站 before walking out to the platform to take the train north to Taichung 台中. I was bound for Taichung Airport 台中航空站 and a brief stay in Hong Kong 香港 to satisfy my visa requirements.
The first day of the new year is customarily a time of reflection—if one can even think straight after a night of heavy partying, anyway. Like most of the rest of the non-Asian population of Taipei 台北 I rang in the new year down by the riverside in Songshan District 松山區 with a decent view of Taipei 101 and the crazy fireworks show that follows the countdown. It was an absolutely mad night, one that set a few things straight even as a few others were knocked out of alignment.
One thing I feel good about is the achievement of a resolution I made the previous year to be more social and less disconnected during the holidays. This is one of the main reasons I moved back to Taipei 台北 about a month ago. And last night turned out more or less as intended—I was with some of my favourite people for the countdown and saw many familiar souls among the many thousands of bodies scattered along the banks of the river. I’d call this a success!
At one point someone asked me: “What is your intention for 2016?” I have emerged from the ashes of last year with at least one hard-won realization: living in fear is one of the most self-defeating things anyone can do. To live in fear is hardly to live at all. Fear is at the root of both insecurity and its manifestation as jealousy. But fear is usually something you have some measure of control over (though there are some very legitimate exceptions to this statement). You can often choose to change your attitude and outlook, to adopt belief systems and ways of interacting with the world that vanquish fear (or at least reduce it to the point where it no longer adversely impacts your life and your relationships). Live and love more fearlessly! Yes, that’ll make for a good intention for the coming year—and all the years to come.
Tonight I went for a leisurely bicycle ride to Xindian 新店 and back along the riverside bikeway. Just before crossing back into Taipei 台北 proper I stopped for dinner at a sushi restaurant that I have been meaning to check out at the foot of Zhongzheng Bridge 中正橋 in Yonghe 永和. Not feeling all that decisive I opted for the assorted sushi platter (not an exact translation of zònghé shòusī 綜合壽司 but it will do). Hilariously, when the platter arrived it was fully stacked with a bunch of things I dislike or never order: ika (squid) and crab stick nigiri, some kind of giant prawn nigiri I have never seen before, a salmon roe “ship roll”, a peculiar slab of tamago (egg), and something I have always been interested in trying: uni うに, better known in English as sea urchin (and in Chinese as hǎidǎn 海膽). But that’s not the meat or the eggs of the urchin you see in the photograph—those pasty ochre blobs are the the gonads of the organism.
I have to admit that after a long ride I was looking forward to some familiar comfort food but the sushi chef obviously had a different plan in mind. Alright, so it’s a new year, time for some new experiences, right? Time to mow down some alien blobs and test my gastronomic fortitude! I wolfed it down in one bite and yeah, it had an incredibly weird taste. Not a bad sort of weird, just downright what-the-fuck-was-that weird. And no wonder: uni has a rather unusual composition. Eat enough of that stuff and you’re likely to get high—or maybe horny? Whatever the case, one dose was good to start. I wasn’t an instant fan and I doubt I would order it outright in the future… but if another one of these blobs lands in front of me I suppose I won’t let it go to waste.
Today is winter solstice, the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere, and it is a record-breaking 30°C in Taipei 台北. In Chinese culture it is customary to consume tāngyuán 湯圓 (glutinous rice balls typically immersed in hot, sweet soup) on winter solstice, better known to locals as Dōngzhì 冬至, a time when families gather together and celebrate growing one year older. Since I have no family here I will be lining up at 36 Yuánzǐ Shop 三六圓仔店 for a bowl sometime later on—though I might just skip this particular ritual if the line-up is too crazy. Two years ago I was informed, contrary to expectations, that you won’t actually age without eating tangyuan on dongzhi. If I miss it this year I suppose I won’t mind.
Last winter I stayed in an apartment near the train station in Changhua City 彰化市 for about six months. This post is all about that apartment: why I decided to move there, how I found the place, what it cost, what the amenities were like, and so on. I am sharing this information mainly for other non-Taiwanese and nomadic types interested in exiting the Taipei 台北 bubble without necessarily speaking a lot of (or any) Chinese or even knowing much about Taiwan 台灣. This isn’t meant to be an endorsement of living in such a place, it’s simply a straight-forward account of what it was like. But first of all, why move south? And why Changhua 彰化 of all places?