I struggled with how I could possibly express in my inadequate words how my day went yesterday. I realize now that there may be days or moments that I cannot do it justice. I am still coming down from all the excitement I experienced yesterday with my friends.
At eight in the morning, Yi-Jun took me to the Taichung High Speed Rail Station to meet with my friends. Within 45 minutes we arrived in Taipei and changed trains to Keelung. Keelung is a port city in northeast Taiwan, and we went there for one reason: noodles. In Keelung, there is a major night market district close to the cruise port and train station. We visit an outdoor restaurant to try the dish special to this area. On the wall are autographs from many celebrities and important people in Asia. I take photos of the signatures of Jet Li, Taiwan’s President, First Lady, and other notable Asian celebrities. For $50 NT dollars, or $1.52 U.S. Dollars, we try their noodle soup. It is a simple clear broth soup with tasty vegetables, and curled up chewy rice noodles. On the table there are peppers and vinegar to add to it, if you prefer. It was delicious. The woman offers to take us to the back of the alley behind the temple to show us the man that makes these special noodles. After we finish our soups, we follow a short maze of alleyways to a man standing behind a huge wok. He is the maker of these delicious dumping-like noodles and is happy to show us his craft.
We jump back on the train to Houtong, formerly a small old coal-mining town. The coal mines closed in the 1970’s, but now is a quirky cat-lovers paradise. Dozens of white, black, gray and tan cats wander freely in Houtong’s byways, and all of us with many other visitors took photos of the cute napping cats dangling off walls, roofs, in plant pots, and other cozy places. We had a great time taking photos with them. We also visited the old coal mining buildings, bridges, and rode in old coal mining carts on display for visitors.
Cat naps in a plant pot
Next we took the train to Pingxi. I love this route and watch out the train windows to delight in the waterfalls and mountains. We also notice several lanterns floating into the sky from people still celebrating the Lantern Festival. We got off the train and along the railroad tracks are vendors selling food, desserts, drinks, lanterns, and other fun things. We find the area we want to decorate our lanterns at, and choose from a dozen choices for the colors we want them to be. I get busy using the Chinese calligraphy brushes and ink to write my wishes, blessings, and other special messages. I decorate my lantern with a message to my husband, his family, my family in Taiwan, and my own hopes for my little family.
Signing my Chinese name
My friends also decorate theirs and we stand in the middle of the railroad tracks and video and take photos of each other, as we get ready to release them to heaven. The vendor lights the “ghost money” soaked in kerosene and stuffs it in the bottom of our lanterns. Immediately the lantern puffs up and becomes hot to the touch. And on the count of three, “yee, urh, shan!” we release the lanterns and they quickly float into the sky until we can no longer see them. The belief is that the fire from the ghost money will carry our hopes and wishes to the gods in heaven and they will come true.
Off it goes
Next we were off to ShenKeng. This village was formerly an agricultural and mining town. But now it is now famous for its tofu. We find a restaurant famous for its tofu and chicken dishes. After all the activities, we were all quite hungry. But we ordered so much food, we could not finish it all. We sat, ate, and gushed over the excitement with our lantern experience. Afterward, we stopped for dessert and opted for a warm sweet soup with mochi balls of sweet potato, taro, and mung bean. I stop for some handmade fresh mochi to take home to Ai-Yi and Yi-Jun.
We all thought we would sleep on our train ride back to Taichung. Some of us did, exhausted from all of our travels. But my friend and I sat together still chatting away about our favorite moments from the day. I share with her of all the culturally significant things I have done since I was a small girl in Taiwan, today was the most special.