I’m back in Taiwan. A lot has happened in the interim since I last wrote, and I apologize for the long absence. Maybe sometime I’ll get around to filling in some of that missing time and writing out what has gone on, but for now I’m just going to pick up from the present.
When I first came to Taiwan a year ago, everything was new and therefore exciting. I’m still excited this time. Things are a little familiar now, in a way that they weren’t before. I know a little more about the passing of time and the rolling of seasons in this country now. I don’t feel exactly like an “old hand” but I also don’t feel like a totally clueless outsider.
It’s fall; it’s Autumn Festival (中秋節). Moon cakes pile up in peoples’ houses as they gift them to their friends, their families, their bosses, and of course, foreigners that they think need to know about Taiwanese traditions. It’s also time to eat pomelos (文旦, or 柚子). Unlike last year, I know how to eat them and am confidently ripping the thick rind and the tough membranes off, familiar with the way that the skins cause a little tingling numbness as they touch lips and tongue.
I cannot consciously catalog all little things that are the same and seem to be adding up to give me a little sense of comfort. The bright green and red mailboxes. The lonely roar of a moped motor in the middle of the night. Cooing of doves in the morning. Dingdong – entering and exiting a 7-11 .The smell, the glorious smell of the humid tropics when I stepped off the airplane! (you can’t really smell it any other time than those first couple minutes off the plane, after which your nose becomes accustomed). It’s the sense of comfort that I’m not completely lost, which is not the same as the feeling of being “at home”…but a step closer.
Mildly poetic musing aside – I’m now living in Tainan and my resident visa is for studying at National Cheng Kung University, although I plan to learn a lot more than what is taught in classrooms. I have projects that I started last year that I still want to finish (including drinking all the good tea that I can find, obviously) and new objectives as well. Why Tainan? A big reason was to spend more time experiencing Taiwan outside of Taipei – and while I did a lot of that last year, it still seems like I spent a little too much time in the expat bubble that that modern metropolis hosts.
Tainan is the old capital of Taiwan (whereas Taipei is the modern one – just in case you somehow missed that memo). It’s still a moderately large city as far as the island is concerned, but it’s not on any international maps, except possibly those for tourism. There is no international airport (go to Kaohsiung for that), hardly any public transportation (oh Taipei MRT, why did I take you for granted?), no world class modern architecture (trade-off of Taipei 101 for a handful of historic temples).
Yet I’m really enjoying the change of pace. The lack of tall buildings and the sheer density of people that they represent are both gone. Instead of buildings with stories made of floors, there are buildings with stories made from history. I bike past historical monuments as I’m simply trying to get from point A to point B. The busy streets with are messes of sign boards, yet because the buildings only go so high, they crowd together near street level. On certain main drags, the array of signboards accosts your attention so violently that each individual sign – despite how glaring the colors, pictures or lettering – still fades into a collage of general insanity.
And the weather? Surprisingly – thankfully – it’s not any hotter than Taipei.
I’ll share more on specific aspects of the city later. I’ll just end this with a photodump: uncaptioned pictures from my time in the US.