My first memories stemmed from a summer in Taiwan when I was three years old. I remember the brown river flowing next to the house. I remember my grandpa’s dentures sitting in a cup next to his bed. I remember riding on his moped through Taichung. I remember a sparrow flying and getting stuck inside the house. These are the recollections that I am certain are truly mine and not some fabricated “memory” from stories told to me.
Though I don’t visit often, Taiwan holds a special place in my heart. It was the birthplace of my parents, and they still keep up with news about the country’s complex politics. On this trip, I (along with my uncle, aunt, and cousin) visited a lot of family, some of which I had never met. It was surreal and eye-opening to learn so much about this part of the family. Yes, I stumbled through with my elementary school level mix of Mandarin and Taiwanese and struggled recalling which term was supposed to be used for which relative. But somehow, I still felt comfort and joy in meeting them.
We traveled around the entire island in two weeks. One of our first destinations was the new Chimei Museum, which opened up last year. Chimei Museum was built by one of the wealthiest men in the world to house his private collections, including an extensive assemblage of over 1300 violins. Originally, he wanted to donate the museum to the city of Tainan, but they could not afford the maintenance costs. He still owns it, but all residents of Tainan can enjoy free admission with reservations.
At the southern most tip of Taiwan lies Kenting. It was a beautiful place to relax, with warm waters and clean beaches. One of my mother’s favorite films, Cape No. 7 also has scenes filmed at Chateau Beach Resort, where we stayed.
Next up was a stop at the Hot Air Balloon Festival at Luye Gaotai. Nestled between mountain ranges, this location teemed with people watching and waiting for a ride.
Temperatures here were in the mid-80s with 80 percent humidity. Perhaps my only solaces were the great views and that the mosquitoes were fewer and more merciful at higher elevations.
After hiking in the sweltering heat, we wanted to find a hot spring. They are incredibly relaxing – even in humid, summer weather! We took a detour to 60 Stone Mountain, which was enjoying peak tiger lily season. These flowers must be picked before fully bloomed to be edible and are quite tasty.
During the afternoon, we heard about a famous ice desert place in Hualien. When we got there, they had just sold out, and the expectant crowd was turned away. For dinner, we chose another famous restaurant that was known for their wontons. Unfortunately for us, all were sold out by 7pm! Alas, it was not meant to be, and we drove to the Zi Qiang Night Market instead. It’s definitely one of the smaller night markets and not as good as one you would find in larger cities. Barbecued skewers are popular at nearly every night market, but one we attempted to order from had a ridiculous two hour wait. We opted for a different stall with a one hour wait and walked around for some other goodies. These Taiwanese spring rolls from 北港春捲 were almost as delicious as what my grandma used to make.
Here, we took one last look at the beach by the highway before heading back into the mountains.
Part II coming next week.