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 Xìnyì 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 Zhōnglì 中壢, Táoyuán 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 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 Sōngshān 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.
Tonight I went for a leisurely bicycle ride to Xīndiàn 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 Yǒnghé 永和. Not feeling all that decisive I opted for the assorted sushi platter (not an exact translation of zonghe shousi 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 haidan 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.
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 tangyuan 湯圓 (glutinous rice balls typically immersed in hot, sweet soup) on winter solstice, better known to locals as Dongzhi 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 Yuanzi 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. 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?
The seasons are changing here in Taiwan. It is getting cooler up north—and winter rain is sure to follow. People on the streets are starting to bundle up and some are even wearing parkas and such. I am holding onto summer as long as I can, sticking to short sleeves until I can’t stand it any longer. Admittedly it was rather chilly today—but it warms the cockles of my heart to play the role of oblivious nordic emissary here in subtropical Asia.
Today I stepped out into the crisp afternoon air and noticed an unusually striking blue and white Christmas tree in front of the Taiwan Adventist Hospital 臺安醫院 in Sōngshān District 松山區. This apparition failed to stir within me any feelings of nostalgia and holiday cheer. Instead there was something oddly alienating about the scene, a feeling similar to what I sometimes experience when taking a chance on western food in the more remote parts of the nation. Imagine ordering “french toast” only to have it materialize at your table without ever coming into contact with anyone who’s actually had french toast before. It might be the same general idea but there’s something off about it.