#DawningInTaiwan: Localizing in Hsinchu

Sampling food in local farmers’ markets, visiting a temple, taking a walk to the mountain park, running after dogs everywhere, and living in a modern Taiwanese home – these all happened in a span of one day and a night!

Before coming to Taiwan, I received a lovely message from Jenny on Couchsurfing. Quoting her,

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This offer from this couple spiked my excitement in coming to Taiwan. Exchanging messages with her and her husband, Poly, I gained a feeling of ease on traveling solo around this new country. (Some people thought the idea of wanting to traveling a whole country alone especially for a female was crazy and impossible!) They tried to know which activities I liked to do and suggested some plans for when I visit. We actually planned for a two day trip. However, I had problems with my card.

Another funny side story: I didn’t do the money exchange prior going to Taiwan. I figured that I could just withdraw from any ATM using my Visa card as it automatically converts my Philippine peso to New Taiwan Dollar. The smart-ass Alenna went to an ATM in one 7-11 near my dorm and tried to withdraw cash. “Error: blah blah blah…” it said. I thought to myself, “Maybe it’s not compatible? I’ll just try in another machine later.” When I took a morning walk, I mapped an exact bank with the Visa logo just to be sure. I tried again, but it displayed an error. Trying two more times, I gave up and went to a Family Mart to try their ATM. Inserting my card, I realized that I typed the wrong pin for so many times in one day already! The machine ate my card. (Honestly, I almost cried. I couldn’t breathe for a second there.) So, I asked for the clerk’s help and she gladly assisted me despite the language barrier we were having. I kept on apologizing, but she kept on assuring me that everything is fine and I will get my card soon. She asked me to wait for the security personnel that will retrieve my card. While waiting, she handed me a cup of coffee and said, “Welcome to Taiwan.” I was so embarrassed since I didn’t know how I could pay for the coffee with NTD, I only had PHP. Her smile made my cold day warm. The security personnel arrived earlier than expected and a man asked me to fill out a form to receive my card. It was actually really fast, probably 10 minutes. They asked me to try using my card again, but it has been blocked for having multiple wrong password trials. I told them that I’ll just reuse after 24 hours. The man was so worried that I don’t have any cash with me and asked if I needed some money for the day. I informed him that I have other Filipino friends I can borrow some cash from for the day. Again, another “Welcome to Taiwan.” greeting was said to me. Indeed, it was the perfect first impression.

While the rest of the Filipinos were in their deep slumber, I creeped out of the dorm to start #TravelingDawn’s #DawninginTaiwan. Leaving Zhongli by train that Monday, I arrived early at Hsinchu train station. The wind was chilly, though not as bad as in Taoyuan. Since Jenny and Poly’s home was about 30 minutes away from the train station, they asked me to wait for about 10 minutes. It was actually good as I was able to look around the city for a bit and rest from the 2 hour train ride.

Arriving in a white car, Poly waved at me while I was standing at an area with WiFi. I gladly crossed the street and met the lovely couple. We did our introductions while driving to a local market in a mid-sized town called Zhudong. I was so shocked on how similar the market in Taiwan is to the Philippine market so called palengke! It was actually fascinating – stalls with colorful fruits and vegetables, abundant seafood, different kinds of meat, various dainties; thus, a whole lot of food selections. There were even mops, mirrors, knives, etc. You can picture the striking similarities, right? However, there’s a tiny bit of difference: the free food samples. Everywhere I looked, there were small plates with bite sized versions of the products they were selling. Duck eggs, meat, chicken feet, peanut bars, tea; I tried all of them.

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Reaching the end of the local market, we had a nice breakfast of sticky rice and tofu. It was actually heavy on the stomach considering the serving size. The lady in the restaurant started talking to Poly in Mandarin so I didn’t understand a thing she said, but she kept on looking at me while talking. After their talk, Poly told me that she thinks I’m beautiful and was asking where I was from and how old I was. I laughed a bit. (I was thinking, “I’m so toasted from the sunburn, I must look terrible.”) When she knew, she was so shocked. She said that she didn’t expect me to be from Asia and to be so young. We took photos together.

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Moving on to Beipu, we drove for a while. I then knew that Poly is working in Zhongli and Jenny is now a yoga teacher. They shared stories about their lives and facts about Taiwan as well. It was a very educational drive. As soon as we reached Beipu Farmers’ Market, we headed to the temple. Standing at the middle of the stalls that sells different kinds of things from food to tea to household items, this main temple of Beipu amused me. The vivid colors feasted my eyes while appreciating the details of the structure. Before entering this majestic place, we stopped for a good five minutes to watch an old man while he made peanut bars. We were handed warm tea in small cups, for free! People started flocking to watch and drink some tea. As soon as the show finished, they handed us the freshly finished product for tasting. It was a sweet treat! Seeing that I liked it, I was handed a bunch more. “Xiexie!” We then started approaching the temple.

I don’t think I have seen an architectural subject as intricate as these kinds of temples. Luckily, Jenny studied about temples and gave me information I wouldn’t discover for myself. That particular temple had dragons facing upward rather than downward. She didn’t state the particular reason, but she told me it’s very rare for these kinds of temples. Making our way in, they pointed out every tradition that’s performed inside. All the prayer methods varied with different gods. It was fascinating.

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Taking an unbeaten path on our way out, we wandered around ending up on the mountain park. It was relatively a small hike, but the view from the pavilion was serene. A lot of couples were spending their time there. My favorite sight was actually the dogs running with their owners, which made me happier.

The long walk hungered us, so we waited in line at this famous restaurant. Locals crowded the area, so I assumed it to be very good. Finally snagging our table, Poly brought me to the section where we can choose which ingredients we wanted to be included in our dish. Everything looked so good! Tasting it, the meal was gastronomic. At that point, I definitely loved Taiwanese food. It won my stomach over! During my meal, I was informed about the Taiwanese culture of holding your bowl near you since it symbolizes that you value the food that is prepared for you.

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The afternoon was approaching sunset so we made out way to their part of Hsinchu which is in the industrial park. They brought me home and I was amazed on how lovely their home is. It perfectly pictured how lovely they are as a couple. Their home was clean, neat, organized, spacious, and homey. I easily became comfortable. An interesting point of their home is their wall of traveling pictures. They had photos for their travels in and out of Taiwan. Moreover, also photos of people couchsurfing in their home. Those were literal #goals! Jenny and Poly had a dedicated room for their guests, a room with an ocean theme. I would have to say, I had the best sleep on that cloud like bed!

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They took me out for a walk and showed me around their residential area’s garden. From there, we walked to the park. Seeing families spending the late afternoon together, I immediately knew that the area is an ideal living place for families. Green fields, playgrounds, what else could you ask for? For dessert, we had this taho-like Taiwanese dessert. It was good since we could choose what to put in it! Afterwards, we shopped at organic stores for ingredients since we’re going to cook our dinner.

Returning back to their home, we met up with their friend, Leo. He joined us to play cards and make dumplings! Jenny and Poly shared that they once traveled to another country and took a cooking class. They must have enjoyed it since they wanted me to experience the same thing! I did some chopping and Poly (whose dad is a chef) taught me techniques! For the best part of the cooking lesson, we started making dumplings. To start, hold the wrap on your palm and apply a little water around two sides. Put some of the mixed meat and vegetables at the middle then tuck the middle of the wrap tightly. Then, press the two remaining sides while making sure it’s hidden between your fingers to ensure it’s closed pretty well. Pressing the, together, gradually pull them again. For checking purposes, the dumpling must stand! I was so terrible at making my dumplings stand! Leo too, so it was okay. You can check out the live video recording here.

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While waiting for everything to be cooked, we started playing cards. I won the first round, then Poly, then Jenny, then I won again. Leo never got the chance to win! As the food was finally cooked well, we satisfied our tastebuds with the four course meal of dumplings, vegetables, bamboo shoots, and the famous specialty of Hsinchu which are rice noodles. For dessert, we had fruits and pineapple cakes. Again, 好吃!

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It was the perfect day. Having a great sleep, I eventually had to go back and finally start my university life in Chung Yuan Christian University. Poly drove me to my dorm after I said my goodbyes to Jenny. We bid to see each other again soon. I truly appreciate their invitation of having me in their lovely home where I learned so much about Taiwan and its culture and traditions. I would say that it’s the best welcome one could ever have for traveling into another country. Again, thank you, Jenny and Poly. I hope to see both of you soon!

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