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[personal profile] jingning in [community profile] taiwanderland
The Moon Festival (中秋節) is a very important holiday in Chinese culture that signifies the reunion of good friends and family, in which people make their way back home to spend an evening eating delicious food and Moon Cakes (月餅), while enjoying the beauty of the full moon. The holiday is held every year on August 15 of the Lunar calendar, which usually ends up being near the end of September and the beginning of October. This year, the festival was on September 22. First, however, there was a need for some spontaneous exploration of downtown Taipei, graciously hosted by a Taiwanese friend of ours that we had met in the States.
Enter Joyce.

Lara and I had arranged to meet with Joyce at a nearby MRT (subway) station two nights before the Moon Festival. Joyce had been spending the last part of her summer break visiting her family and getting her Taiwan fix and she wanted to spend the last few days showing us the area around the biggest subway station, where all of the different lines meet: MRT Taipei Main Station (捷運台北車站).

From here, one can shop along long stretches of underground labyrinthine hallways, lined with rows and rows of boutiques and food stalls, then emerge to find an endless festival of blinking city lights, malls 8 stories in height, and complexes dedicated completely to inexpensive electronics. From here, it is also possible to catch one of the many buses to the farthest reaches of Taipei county as well as a high-speed rail that can whisk one away to Kaohsiung (高雄市), at the southern-most tip of the island, in about
two hours for the equivalent of US$15.

Needless to say, Taipei Main is amazing.

At night, throngs of people crowd at the major intersections, waiting for the traffic control personnel to signal -- with a loud whistle and a glowing red stick -- to those who have the right of way. Yes, there are traffic lights everywhere. But, during the busier hours of the day, extra guidance is definitely required. Whenever the pedestrian lights turn green, depicting a pixelated stick figure wearing what seems to be a fine bowler hat, I can't help but laugh as I imagine myself and all those crossing people as warriors calmly charging into battle against each other, the walkers being infantry and the cyclists being cavalry. I nearly hold my breath before the first of us meet in the middle, waiting anxiously for the first blow, but time and time again I find myself shamefully disappointed that no one pulls out any swords or shields.

After grabbing some taro milk tea with sweetened green beans (and, consequently, having extreme indigestion later due to the lactose intolerance I've been occasionally ignoring...), Joyce lead us into what I would soon hail as the most genius place to shop ever: a Taiwanese mall. Taiwanese malls are extremely different from malls in the United States. This particular mall is called Shin Kong Mitsukoshi (新光三越). Yes, the romanization was displayed in Japanese romaji.

Firstly, instead of spreading out, as malls in the U.S. customarily do, Taiwanese malls reach up some 6-8 stories high, and have an additional 1-2 basement floors below.

Secondly, instead of the mall being sectioned-off horizontally by store (in the U.S. you have Macy's, J.C. Penny's, Game Stop, etc.), the mall is sectioned-off vertically by merchandise type. For example, if you are looking for women's shoes, there will be a whole floor dedicated to just that. Instead of walking to each store's shoe section to find the right shoe, you can just look up the women's shoes floor on the easily found store index (which display both English and Chinese), and then take the escalator or elevator to the appropriate floor. On that floor, there will be several businesses with separate open booths that sell that item and items related to it. There is also no shortage of dressing rooms, although they seem to all be booths with curtains or thin wood, the mirror hanging outside the booth. It's not a problem really... people don't really need a lot of space to try on clothing.

The basement floors are dedicated entirely to food, the first floor being a vast food court with several different choices, and the second floor being a grocery store of sorts. In addition to this, the top floor of the building almost always has a fancy restaurant or two, and each mall has it's own unique combination of restaurants. The one we were exploring had two restaurants: Shanghai-style food and Japanese-style food. It also had a small bookstore.

Words cannot describe how utterly impressed I was with the ingenuity of this layout. This will definitely be something I will come to sorely miss about Taiwan, as I happen to love to shop for clothing, but get easily fatigued due to the layout of malls in the U.S. Until that day, however, I am taking full advantage of these super-efficient malls.

EDIT: I've been informed that these types of stores are, in fact, called department stores. Upon recently visiting Taipei 101 (the second tallest building in the world), I discovered that Taiwan does have malls that resemble malls in the United States. However, department stores here seem to be the norm and are still quite a different shopping experience from any kind I've experienced in the States.

After looking at more shops, Joyce lead us to a nearby shaved ice store. It was my first time trying shaved ice and let me just say: the name shaved ice does not even begin to describe the sheer beauty of this Taiwanese dessert. In the U.S., shaved ice usually refers to a Snow Cone, a dismal cone of paper filled with shaved ice and topped with artificial fruit flavoring that is ofttimes too sweet.

Image found on Google Images.
With the power to change your tongue into unnaturally bright shades of cancer-inducing purple.

In Taiwan, however, shaved ice (Chinese: 刨冰; Taiwanese: 挫冰) is not really about the novelty of the ice and the happy coloring. It's all about the toppings.

Three orders of shaved ice with various toppings.
With the power to BLOW YOUR MIND WITH DELICIOUSNESS. The ice has pretty much melted in all of the dishes except for the blacker one. Toppings pictured range from a soy bean jelly-like substance, whole sweet red beans, sweet taro chunks, glutinous taro chunks, "grass jelly", mango chunks, and sweet milk cream.

Ice is first shaved into a bowl, which is then filled to the brim with all kinds of jellies, fruits, beans, and sweetened potatoes. As we happily slurped and chewed, the comfortable night breeze rushed past the open-air shop; the sounds of the city accompanied our boisterous conversation and laughter. Several people gave Joyce looks of interest, as I'm sure it appeared strange for a Taiwanese girl to be speaking English so enthusiastically with a couple of foreigners. After some time of us totally failing to speak Chinese, we remembered our extremely broken vow to speak Chinese as often as possible. Joyce suggested that I read the characters on the wall behind me out loud to practice; they told the story of the people who created this, now successful, chain of shaved ice stores.

Story of the owners of the shaved ice store.
A story emphasizing the humble beginnings of this shaved ice chain owned by a couple that wanted to use fresh ingredients to make delicious food. Not sure as to the credibility of the freshness now but it was delicious and the story was cute.

Joyce helped me with characters I didn't recognize every now and then, telling me the meaning in English. I discovered that making this kind of thing a habit would be a good way to practice my Chinese reading outside of the classroom. And, getting bits and pieces of the individual stories that make up the Anthology of Taiwan is a always a pleasure.

On that note, Joyce took us back inside the subway station, where we exchanged hugs before parting ways. We live to the south of the station, while she lives to the north. Before leaving, we arranged to meet again the next day -- this time, she wanted to come with her father to pick us up in his car and spirit us away to her hometown, Sansia (三峽), about an hour away from downtown Taipei.

Sansia is apparently a popular travel destination for the locals, as well, and, after hearing about the famous Sansia Divine Ancestor Temple (三峽清水祖師廟), the delicious snack foods (小吃), the historical Sansia Old Street (三峽老街), we were more than convinced to go. She also wanted us to meet her family and spend some time at her house, where her mother would prepare a home-cooked vegetarian meal for us. It was more than hospitable and, after expressing our immense happiness and gratitude for all of her kindness, we jumped onto the train and waved goodbye to Joyce through the lightly tinted glass windows.


When you've lived on the other side of the world, you begin to feel an indescribable feeling welling up inside of you. It is a feeling that transcends all the feelings of doubt and worry, one that makes you feel like all of your troubles are ephemeral, that the world is vast, and that while you stay up late at night writing inane things in your travel blog, there is someone back at home getting ready for work in the morning, making breakfast out of last night's leftovers, or just starting to fall asleep from a long night of video games and energy drinks.

Indeed, the world is so vast I almost feel as if I will be consumed by it. However, being all the way over here while everything I have ever known is all the way over there is not swallowed up by loneliness. I feel that I have friends that are going about their lives all across the globe. And, even while I sleep, there are amazing things happening and amazing people thinking of me, of you... somewhere. There is always something in between the distance, connecting you to me.

我們一定有緣。 (We are definitely tied together by fate.)

Thank you all for being in my life.

-- Sara

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taiwanderland: Sara and Lara outside National Palace Museum (Default)
何靜寧 & 何靜嵐 --- Sara & Lara

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