We took the Shinkansen early in the morning back into Tokyo for our flight to Taiwan. I wasn’t anticipating returning to Taiwan all that much, since I was wary of our apartment. When my parents first took me back, our apartment was the dingiest, sketchiest, most frightening place to live. My grandfather had left it to my dad’s side of the family, in case any of us ever returned to Taiwan and needed a place to stay. It smelled of mildew and mold. Everywhere. The paint had peeled off most of the walls; the floorboards came up and were broken–even the cement underneath was slightly chipped. The couches were ripped; the stuffing was falling out. There was only one light per room: we navigated mostly in darkness. When I would walk to the kitchen for some water in the middle of the night, I could hear the light scratching of fast-working legs: cockroaches. Sometimes I’d catch a glimpse of their shadows cast against the walls from the dim light of the kitchen. Working lights flickered on and off sporadically, and gave of a snotty yellow glow. Dust covered every centimeter of the place. Shower tiles were broken; the bath tub was a disconcerting greenish huge. Mirrors were speckled with rust. And the water pressure in that house…awful. A schizophrenic water heater: showers would go from 50-degree water to 80-degrees within seconds. All I could do was jump in and out of the water, scrubbing furiously when it was at a transient medium. Not to mention the toilet. It took 3 flushes every time, just to get the toilet paper out, since the handle was so loose and on the verge of breaking. Perhaps the freakiest part of our place was a little doll that sat on one of the footrests by the large, antennae TV. Small, beady, glistening eyes. A smile. I don’t know, dolls scare me. Especially in run-down, dark places full of unexplainable knocking, dripping, and rustling at night.
But my mom had persuaded my dad to renovate the place since we last visited. My expectations weren’t high, so seeing the “new” place was a very pleasant surprise! The air was breathable, and the floor was shiny, and the bathroom had soft, beige tiling closer to the warmness of inns than the garish turquoise it had been before.
Over the next few days, my mom took me hiking up in the mountains–I forget the name. Apparently, Taiwan has the largest number and highest density of mountains over 9000 ft. Wow. The hike was terrible for me, even though there weren’t really trails hanging off the cliff-sides, like there are at Big Bear. Simply having steep climbs freaks me out. What if I slip and break something?! Knock my head against a big rock?! Concussions, anyone?! Heights are a serious no-go for me. But I nevertheless, soldiered on. Seeing hives of extravagantly-dressed and colored butterflies definitely offered a distraction. Never had I seen so many different sizes, colors and shapes of butterflies. It was a feast for the eyes. In Los Angeles, the most exposure I had to butterflies was the simple white and yellow cottage butterflies or the occasional (but rare) monarch.
While I still can’t say that I like hiking, I’m more willing to do it now just because that first hike in Taiwan showed me that there are some pretty nice views up at the top of the mountain. Is it always worth it? At least in this case it was.
On our second to last day, one of our family friends took us to a rather unusual “coffee shop” outside of Taipei. 伍角船板 ‘Wu Jiao Chuan Ban’ in Neihu. It was a few stories high, for one, and carved entirely out of wood. Absolutely exquisite architecture. I couldn’t get any good shots of it, but Google it! There were huge fountains and waterfalls and koi ponds inside. If anything, it kind of reminds me of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. Can’t say why. The snack foods weren’t spectacular, but the flan! Man oh man. So creamy and rich without being saccharine. Bursting with caramel flavor.
I would have to say that highlight of the trip was getting to meet one of my best friends in person. Sounds strange, doesn’t it? The both of us were in our crazy anime/manga phase and had met on an artists’ forum online. We’d been friends since I was in 5th or 6th grade and decided that since both of us would be in Taiwan at the same time, 4 years after we became friends, that we should meet up and have a sleepover. It was awesome meeting her in person! We got along famously–albeit after an awkward first hour or so of being like, “whoa…you’re real!”. Friendship happens in the strangest and most unexpected places. 🙂 Still besties to this day!