There’s a Tibetan saying, “Wherever you have friends, that’s your country, and wherever you receive love, that’s your home.”
Three months ago, a message popped up in my Couchsurfing inbox.
Vincent Chen invited me to visit his home to meet his family. I gladly accepted his invitation and we kept in touch through Line and Facebook prior to my arrival in Taiwan. Talking to Vincent, he always asked about my day while I was in the Philippines and updated me constantly about the conditions in Taiwan. He was nice enough to send me traveling tips and tourist information about the other cities in Taiwan. Having hosted other couchsurfers, he sent me videos and photos of his previous guests.
Finally, arriving in Taiwan, Vincent made sure that I settled in Zhongli first and told me to take my time before planning my visit. He told me that it would be a great time to come on March 10 to 12. His exact words were, “The good news is I will go to Sun Moon Lake and one beautiful place on 11th and 12th. I really hope you can join us that time.” I was able to decide on coming not until three days later. I didn’t regret my decision.
As the trip approached, he consulted me if I would be okay with sleeping in his son’s room for the night before going to Sun Moon Lake. Of course, it’s more than a couch. We discussed about what time I can go so that he could pick me up from the train station. Since it was a Friday afternoon, he invited me to join him and his friends on their regular basketball get-together.
Day 0: Arriving in Taichung at around 18:30, Vincent drove to the train station to pick me up. He specifically told me that he will be the guy wearing a black jacket who is looking very handsome! When we got to the car, his son, Neil was seating at the back. I blurted, “Ni hao! Ni jiao shenme mingzi?” Well, that’s how far my Chinese goes. We started talking and getting to know each other’s stories while driving to Vincent’s hometown, Changhua, where they would play basketball.
I immediately clicked with Neil since he’s a very sweet boy. Even though he can’t speak much English, we were able to easily become great buddies! While Vincent played basketball with his long time friends, Neil brought me to the playground where we had our own basketball session. It was actually quite fun! This kid taught me how to dribble and shoot, silly me, I know. It was my father’s birthday and my family was celebrating it that time, we had a short video call when I was bonding with Neil. After a few hours, everyone got tired of playing and decided to grab beers. It was my first time to drink in Taiwan, I finally was able to try Taiwan beer! We had a nice chat while eating Taiwanese street food. Before heading home, Vincent handed everyone basketball shirts with a Chinese writing that translates to “I got it!” It was a really nice welcoming gift.
Reaching Vincent’s home, I met his lovely wife, Miranda Lin. We didn’t have the chance to talk much since it was too late and we went straight to bed.
Day 1: The next morning, I woke up to a cup of coffee and breakfast wrap. Miranda was taking care of Felix in the living room while Neil was out for his English class that morning. Felix is an adorable baby boy who I played with while we waited for Neil to come home.
As everyone got ready, we rode the car and took a one hour drive to Nantou County. The views were definitely stunning during the drive. As we were on our road trip, I got to know more about the family. I easily became comfortable being with them. It wasn’t an exhausting ride. It was actually a fun one! Finally, Sun Moon Lake!
Sun Moon Lake is one of the most famous destinations in Taiwan for tourists. The day was made even better by the great weather. It was sunny and windy at the same time; the perfect combination for a day of biking!
We rented out bikes from one of the many bike rental shops in the area. I got the mountain bike while Miranda got the lady’s city bike and Vincent rode with Neil and Felix on the electric bike. Spinning out, we rode around the gigantic lake and feasted on the breathtaking scenery.
All 360 degrees of the area was photograph-able. We had a couple of stops to take photos and videos. It was enjoying to relax around the refreshing nature this place has to offer.
As the sun rose even higher, we got a bit tired and hungry at the same time. So, we decided to have lunch at the famous Pizza Factory. It was an open area. We parked our bikes and got our table. It was also a great coincidence that their friends were at the same place having lunch! I met this other lovely family where there are two beautiful daughters that I got to play with even though they were both really shy.
After lunch, I headed off by the lake to breathe some fresh air. The children went to the playing area. Snapping some good shots of the lake, I then joined them to play with the rocks. We met other kids to play with too!
Waving goodbyes to the other family, we continued our biking escapade or whatever you want to call it. We spotted a lot of spots for great photos.
We even reached the 360 viewing area of Sun Moon Lake which was fascinating. It was best spot to view the whole area and just relax for a few minutes. After biking some more, we went to the pavilions where viewing decks were located. We met more of their friends in the area.
Miranda is truly a beautiful woman. She’s an amazing mother and sweet wife. Plus, she’s got good taste in shoes! See? We’re twinning. My Taiwanese mom is super cool. She even looks younger than me.
Getting to know this family more and more made the trip even more interesting and memorable for me. There was no moment that I didn’t feel like I didn’t belong. From the second that they welcomed me into their home, I immediately felt like I was part of the family. They treated me as one.
Being worn out of biking, we grabbed sausages to snack on before heading to our hotel. The afternoon view of Sun Moon Lake was as beautiful as its morning scene.
Heading to the nice hotel that Vincent booked, I was surprised that they got me my own room which was really huge. I actually thought I would be staying on the extra bed in their hotel room. Could they get any nicer than this? They’re super hospitable and accommodating.
After getting enough rest and sipping on some black tea, we went out to see the night market. I met their friends with their own families. It was definitely a huge group of friends! Everyone decided to buy some food from the night market and bring it back to the hotel to share. Beers? Yes, please. It was actually quite more interesting since there were also gold leaf wine and special teas. The night together with all these families was absolutely amazing.
Day 2: Waking up not so early, Miranda brought me some coffee and bread in my room for breakfast since I missed the breakfast served at the hotel due to sleeping in. We checked out the hotel and met the other families since the day was planned out! Driving for a few minutes, we stopped at the Sun Moon Lake Ropeway.
Riding this ropeway, we got a better perspective of how the whole Sun Moon Lake area looks like. Again, amazing. It was breathtaking, indeed.
The mountains were green. The waters were as blue as they can get. The sun shined as much as it can to beautify this landscape even more.
At the other end of the ropeway, Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village was spread out of the entire mountainous area perfectly. Traditional Taiwanese tribal culture, amusement park, cherry blossom gardens were located side by side. It definitely called for sightseeing.
We began with watching a performance by the aboriginal people. It was kind of a tribal musical play where their traditions were showcased well.
Going around, I was able to see how similar the structures of Philippine tribes are to the Taiwanese. Even the Korean folk villages had resemblance to some of the houses in the area.
One of my favorite parts of the village was the cherry blossom trail. There were two varieties of the cherry blossoms. The light pink ones which everyone knows about and the darker pink cherry blossoms which stood out in its own beautiful way. The blossoming of the trees weren’t at its peak so it wasn’t as beautiful as the advertising posters claimed to be. Nevertheless, it was still a sight to see.
Young love? This lovely couple have been together for a very long time now. Despite the years, they showed me how relationships develop and mature. The way they treat each other with respect and love made me admire the concept of love even more. #relationshipgoals
Apart from the nature vibes, there was also an amusement park in the village. There were a couple of rides which I tried. I specifically liked the Mayan ride which was a different kind of roller coaster. Even though the rides weren’t that blood pumping, I still enjoyed having to go and try them since I grew up loving amusement parks.
At the farther end, we found the lavender carnival which gave off a European feel with its structures. Hopping on the train, we took the relaxing Eurotip in this flower haven.
For an explosive end of the day, Vincent convinced me to go on the UFO ride which is the highest ride in the amusement park. I was kind of skeptical at first, but I was ready for anything. I easily got a seat. Lifting everyone up, the ride started spinning slowly as it reached its peak. I must stay, I awed in the beauty of the view at top. After a few seconds: bang! Down we went spiraling for just a snap of a finger. I wished it was longer and more exciting.
I had the best time with this family. Not only because they brought me to these beautiful places, but it was made special by how they welcomed and treated me. I became part of this family.
To Dad Vincent and Mom Miranda: Words aren’t enough to express my gratitude for making me feel like I was your real daughter. Gaining a Taiwanese family lessened my tendencies of being homesick from my family in the Philippines. From the bottom of my heart, thank you. I hope that you reach your goal of hosting 50 couchsurfing guests soon.
To Neil: Being an older sister to a younger brother was a new experience for me and I didn’t expect it to be a great one. You’re a great kid and I hope that you’ll succeed in life. Continue being a good older brother to Felix and teach him how to be like you as your dad teaches you how to be like his self.
A memorable experience that I will treasure for the rest of my life, this family has their own place in my heart. I will definitely see them again soon and they will always be welcome to visit Philippines!