I’ll keep this blog short since 75% of my blog readers lived this trip but, here’s a short recap!
After Vietnam, I decided to go back to Japan to visit my friends from study abroad. It was a quick trip, only a few days, but it was good to see everyone again! A surprising amount of my friends are still in Japan, teaching and working, so I got to see five of them just in the Osaka area. We mostly just wandered around, ate really good food, and relaxed. I did go to an owl café though! Look how cute!!
The only downside to this trip was my lack of internet. So, when Mom and Dad’s flight got cancelled, I had no idea! Not only that, I spent 2 hours in the airport upon my arrival in Japan switching my flight to be the same as theirs! So, I finally got a spot of wifi, found out their flight was cancelled, and was now on a flight, 3 times longer, 3 times more expensive, with a long layover….and no parents ): ): I also had to call Lakyn and beg her to switch our big taxi van to the next day and to fix my dinner reservations! Such a mess…stupid snow!
After an exhausting traveling day, I went to bed and woke up the next day refreshed and ready to go back to Taoyuan (de ja vu?!) just a few hours after I had left there. Then, they finally came!!!! WOO! Moment weve all been waiting for…all six Herricks in Taiwan! It was night time so the views on the way home weren’t great, but we ate sushi (nomz Sushi Express!) and chatted. Then, everyone checked into the hotel and I went back to my apartment.
The next day, we explored where I live in Luodong. We spent our morning in the Sports Park, which is my favorite spot! It’s right across from my apartment and is so beautiful. We wandered around, taking pictures, dad trying to buy coffee from a very confused woman (the coffee was actually $100 NTD, not $1 NTD), and enjoying our day. A few people tried to chat with us in their broken English, trying to learn what state we were from. It was a great introduction to Taiwan I think!
We also decided that since they had arrived a day late, we would scratch our plans to go to Green Island in the south and spend an extra day hanging around Yilan. There was so much more that I wanted to show them! So, after some schedule re-arranging, some hotel room switches, we were in Yilan another day.
We went to Jaoxi, famous for hot springs and we went for a quick hike. Quick because the point of our visit was not exercise…it was eating of course. So, we made our way to my favorite restaurant in Taiwan. It’s at a five star hot spring resort, Asian fusion buffet. It’s Taiwanese and western and it’s all you can eat…what could be better?!?! I think everyone loved it as much as I do, so we were STUFFED.
Being stuffed was a common trend while we were in Yilan. I wanted to fit all my favorite places into a short time. We ate Shark Bites Toast for breakfast (ice cream on waffles!!!), my favorite Buddhist noodle place for lunch, hot pot for dinner, my favorite Taiwanese food restaurant (all homemade traditional dishes), scallion pancakes, ice cream rolled in an egg roll wrapper with peanuts, candied tomatoes and so much more! NOMZ! (And a chicken foot and pork floss…hey, you win some you lose some)
Anyway, after a previously failed attempt to go to the Center for Traditional Arts (website hours translated into English clearly gone wrong…), we went the next day and it did not disappoint. Since it was the Chinese New Year, sheep were everywhere! (Happy Year of the Sheep by the way!) Jamo and I even got a picture with Sean the Sheep! Again, because of the New Year, it was packed with people. But, it was still really cool. It’s one of my favorite places because you get to see so many different art forms and foods in one place. It’s set up like a traditional old street and almost every traditional art you can DIY there! So that means, if you want to paint an umbrella or make soap, you can. Pretty cool. We wandered around the center for a while, and even sat through a tea tasting! Mom and Melissa picked out their favorite tea from the tasting to bring home.
After we had been in Yilan for a few days, it was time to travel south. Personally I think we could have stayed in Yilan the whole time, but everyone else (Su-Ao teachers, Dong-Guang teachers etc) convinced me that was a terrible idea and we must travel. So, off we went. Our first stop was Kenting. So, we took the bullet train for about 2 hours (all the way from the top to the bottom of the country!), and then we had to take a bus for another 2 hours. People here have a way of under-exaggerating things. They told me the bus ride would be short and easy….well it wasn’t really. No one could tell me the right stop. Then, people are telling me the stop I want is the same as a stop listed on the map (it wasn’t). Mind you, this is all happening in Chinese, so I’m our only hope. UGH. I finally got it figured out, and checked with the bus driver about four times while we were on our way to make sure he would get me off at the right stop. We finally arrived at the stop. It seemed great until we kept walking, and it kept getting louder and louder. The teacher who helped me said the street with this guest house was the only place we wanted to stay…it was near everything….so great. Well…….the street was also a huge, loud, all night, night-market. Not so great. Not only that…it wasn’t really a guest house (guest houses are hugely popular in Taiwan…it’s like staying in someone’s house…almost like an inn in America), it was more of a motel. It wasn’t even a full building…it was above a scooter shop. The people spoke no English, so my confusion could not be taken away. They lead the six of us up to…..wait for it….one room. One. For six people. There were three mattresses on the floor. Good.
But, as I reminded everyone time and time again, you gotta go with the flow in Taiwan. Everyone agreed but when it got down to it…it was easier said than done. Things like this don’t bother me anymore because they happen to me entirely too often. I get lost, I wander, I stay in gross hotels, I can’t find a restaurant with vegetarian food, I order the grossest food on earth….it happens. I’m used to it. The rest of the Herrick clan was not so accustomed. Oops…sorry! I warned you though. Not that that makes it any easier, I know.
Kenting reminded me a little bit of like a Myrtle Beach type feel…which was shocking to me because everyone told I must go. And it’s a hugely popular destination here…but Taiwanese people aren’t really the type to enjoy a Myrtle Beach environment. So I still don’t really get it…but I didn’t mind. We wandered around the night market and played (and lost) some carnival games on the street. We went to bed early and decided to go to the aquarium the next day. Of course, not before stopping at Shark Bites Kenting location….nomz!
I originally wanted to go to Kenting to go to the beach since it was supposedly better weather than Yilan…but it wasn’t really. It wasn’t beach weather, so aquarium it was! It was huge and really cool. You walked through tunnels, completely surrounded by fish! It was really awesome….what we saw at least….it was too big to go through the whole thing!
Then, it was time to attempt to ask for a van to take us to Taitung. This was harder than I expected. I know how to ask for a van to fit six people, I knew the address in Taitung….but somehow, it wasn’t happening. I had to call my co-worker from Dong Guang and have him talk to the guy on the phone. Self sufficient? ….not at all. Ugh. But, we finally got that sorted out and were on our way to Taitung to attend the Happy God Festival to celebrate the New Year. Again, under-exaggeration on the time front (I’m used to Taiwanese people doing that to me by now…but it never gets less annoying when I expect a two hour car ride and its actually 4.5….). We finally made it to Taitung (after I had to Google map the address and give our cab driver instructions in Chinese…because that makes sense that he doesn’t know where he’s going…oh Taiwan). We stayed in the most wonderful guest house. A welcome sight after last night’s hotel debacle. It was a stunning house with the nicest family running it. It was a husband, wife and their young daughter, who was adorable! They chatted with me in Chinese for a few minutes before sending us off to bed. We had the whole third floor to ourselves and we all slept great in big comfy beds! The next morning, they made us breakfast! We had breakfast sandwiches (never ever eaten in Taiwan, but they accommodated the foreigners perfectly!), homemade soy milk, peanut rice milk and squash soup followed up by some homemade cheesecake. Now that’s a way to start the day! I had to fill everyone in on the intricacies of Taiwanese eating….you can’t leave too much on the plate because it looks like you didn’t like it. Even if youre full…too bad. Keep eating! Taiwanese people can eat WAY more than we can so they don’t understand why you get full so easily and just assume you hated their food. But, on the opposite end…you can’t eat it all or they will think they didn’t feed you enough. You love it, want every last bit…too bad! Stop! You have to leave just the right amount, so they think you liked it, but they know they made you enough food.
After breakfast we meandered through Tainan. It was absolutely beautiful. It was perfect weather and we were in the historic district so it was an awesome walk. I like getting to the temple almost as much as being at the temple! The Happy God Festival consisted of about five temples with all different rooms and prayers. It was really interesting to watch all the people going through. And as always, the temples were stunning along with their displays inside.
On our way back, Dad and Jamo stopped and ordered a duck. I am not up on my meat vocab (surprising I know) so ordering duck was a struggle. After a few minutes I finally realized they were asking me if I wanted a whole duck or half a duck. Those were the only options….so much duck! We got half and went on our way. The rest of us got Sushi Express on our way to the High Speed Rail.
So, back full circle. Onto the HSR we went. The next day: Taipei! Of course, even Taipei came with it’s fair share of struggles. First off, I bought 3G on my Taiwanese phone so that I could use Google maps. Well, let me tell you….it was probably the worst choice I’ve ever made. After the HSR, we hop onto the MRT (Taipei’s subway) to the yellow line. The hotel website says the hotel is just 0.4 km away from the stop. My phone says 0.4 miles….so already somethings not looking right but we thought maybe the website was wrong or translated badly or something. We walk and walk and realize my phone is taking us nowhere. Absolutely nowhere. I try running into a Family Mart to ask directions when my phone dies, so I can’t even point to the address or the hotel name. A kind woman comes and walks with us and then sends us on our way….again, in the wrong direction. That’s something Ive come to realize about Taiwanese people. They are extraordinarily kind and helpful….but they don’t always know. But…they’ll never tell you that. The woman we asked probably had no idea where this hotel was, but instead of saying she didn’t know…she just sent us in some random direction. This continued to happen for about an hour. People giving me directions. Us getting more and more lost. FINALLY, we made it to the hotel. Thank goodness!
The next morning was a struggle again. We went for breakfast a few MRT stops away from Taipei 101 (our first destination) only to find out it was a two hour wait. Not only that, there was not much else around. So we ended up walking to 101…a few MRT stops is quick on the train…NOT quick while walking…and hungry. Again, I’m used to it….no one else was. No one found it as okay as I did. Oops. We finally made it and ended up eating lunch instead of breakfast, then made our way to the top of Taipei 101 (on the world’s fastest elevator!) It was a bit of a cloudy day but the view from the top was still really cool. Standing at the edge was really scary since the building leans outward. We wandered around inside for a while before making our way to the gondolas.
I love cable cars, especially these particular ones. The view is spectacular and the top of the mountain is so much fun. There is a traditional tea house and if you hike a few stairs, you will have the best view of the Taipei sunset. I was all for the gondolas, so was Terean. Jamo was not so much for the gondolas. We got on and got off half way up the mountain. This posed a new set of problems in our problem filled day. I guess stopping in the middle is not all that common and no one could tell us how to get down, except to get back on the cable car….which was not an option. My poor Chinese, everyone elses poor English and the approaching sunset and impending darkness, made a stressful situation even worse. After following many a bad direction (trend here, huh?), we finally met: FRANK! Frank was this 60-something Taiwanese man with the best English I have ever heard. (His brother lives in America.) He left his wife, told her to go get the car, and walked us down almost the entire mountain. (Mind you the way down is 100% stairs….leg workout!) He chatted with us the entire time and it was really adorable. We love Frank! Frank left us to head back up the mountain to his wife (I hope I’m that in shape when I’m 60!) and we finally made it to the bottom. LONG DAY.
The next day was the first day of the spring semester at Su-Ao! It was time for the family to see school!! I let everyone sleep in and we went to Su-Ao around 10. An old lady tried to talk to us (aka me) on the train in Chinese the entire ride, thinking it was my first day teaching at Su-Ao and telling me how to get there, even though I kept telling her I knew how to get there, I’ve been here for six months. We got to Su-Ao and of course my first stop: Bubble tea for all! I went to my favorite bubble tea stand in all of Taiwan and made everyone try it. And….success! They liked it!!!! Probably not as much as me….but I hated bubble tea when I first got here, so theyre doing better than I thought. Next, I took everyone to explore the traditional market. Taiwan has a ton of traditional markets that are open from about 5-12 every morning. It’s full of old people, who buy all their meats and produce off the street. So we meandered through, looking at the full ducks hanging up, the beaks, the feet, the fish heads (GREATTTTT…..). Then, Mom and Melissa bought ginger (that they totally didn’t smuggle back into America….what?! NO. NEVER.) Then, we were back on our way to school. When we arrived, my principal took us on an extended tour of Su-Ao. We went to the Su-Ao port, NanfangAo, the Gold and Jade Buddha and a few other Su-Ao staples. After our cultural tour, we went to a huge family style seafood lunch. Su-Ao is famous for seafood since it has such a huge ocean port. Everyone loved it! Then, my principal took us to the cold spring (he is very proud since there are only three in the entire world!) and he took us to try soda that is made right here in Su-Ao. It tastes like cream soda and it was great! Of course, we couldn’t leave without a little birthday surprise for Jamo. So, I told my LET it was his birthday and before all my students left school, they all gathered together in the gym and sang happy birthday in Chinese to Jamo! It was adorable!!! (: Su-Ao was my favorite day (everyones I think!) because I got to show everyone how I spend all day every day. Everyone got to see why I love Taiwan so much.
So, my attempt to keep this short failed miserably. But, I promise this is the abridged version! There was more! Anyway, the takeaways from the trip:
1. You never know if youre truly a go-with-the-flow kind of person until you’ve gotten lost in Taiwan for the 40th time in two days.
2. Shark Bites Toast is the only good breakfast place in all of Taiwan.
3. U. S. Customs is not as thorough as we originally expected.
4. Sleeping on a mattress on the floor with five other family members isn’t as bad as you might anticipate.
5. Don’t take the gondolas….under any circumstance.
6. Making a peace sign in pictures and yelling “YEAHHHHHH” when the camera goes off is vitally important to success in Taiwan. (The Herricks mastered it)
7. Taiwanese people are sub-par at giving directions.
8. Sushi Express is life.
9. Six people trying to make a unanimous decision is hard.
10. Dad is the selfie king. Bow down.
11. Never ever eat pork floss.
12. Getting the entire family together for a trip to a foreign land is TOTALLY worth it, no matter how much happens along the way.