Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Fulong 福隆 and Jiufen 九份

Hi everybody! I’m about halfway through with my time in Taiwan, which feels crazy and makes me unbelievably sad. I still feel like there is so much more to see here and really still so much left to learn. I wanna spend this blog talking about some trips I took to Fulong 福隆 and Jiufen 九份

I've seen a lot of things in Taiwan but these two trips have truly meant the most to me.  I went to both of these places over one weekend after having a pretty bad week.  I was reaching my month and a half point in Taiwan and was feeling a bit off. All of the study abroad advisors say that is when the initial excitement of being in a new place wears off and you begin feeling some of the negative parts of studying abroad. Some people feel homesick or lonely.  I've never really been a homesick person, but the week before, one of my very first (and best) friends in Taiwan left to go to China for the rest of summer.  So I guess I was feeling a bit unsettled. Also, I didn't talk about this in the last blog because I was so excited about Dragon Boating, but I didn't expect living alone to be so isolating. That seems like an obvious thing to predict, but I've been living in a cramped dorm for the past two years! Now I'm in an apartment building where I don't really know any of my neighbors. This is my first time living alone, in a place where I don't know a lot of people and don't speak the language fluently. But through some introspection and tea drinking, I've really been able to transition and definitely feel more comfortable with not just living alone but with myself.  Check one off the "Study Abroad Must-Have Lessons" checklist! 

I mark these trips as a turning point for my summer in Taiwan. Mostly in terms of starting to get out of my comfort zone and going out and making things happen, be it practicing Mandarin with a stranger or just being honest about what means most to me. That week I actually met a new classmate from Switzerland and we went on these trips together. 

After missing our first train by mere seconds, my classmate (Michele) and I had to wait an hour in Taipei Main Station for the next one. Taipei Main has an obscene amount of tiny stores and surprisingly good restaurants so we didn’t suffer much. Once safely aboard our train headed towards Fulong, being the good student that I am, I decided to take out some of my notebooks and practice writing characters. The train was crowded that Friday so a lot people were standing in the aisle, teetering between the handrails above my friend’s and my heads. Michele and I were hung up over the correct pronunciation of ‘teapot.’ 

“Yeah wait I don’t think that's the right word. How do you say ‘teapot’?” 
!” a voice from above us said. We looked up into the face of a smiling older gentleman. “It’s ‘cha hu. 们都会写!?” 

We introduced ourselves and he was really impressed with how intensely we were studying. Turns out a lot of Taiwanese people are genuinely impressed if you have even a small writing and reading ability. We told him we were going to Fulong and he gave us a bunch of tips on how to rent bicycles there. He talked to us for the rest of our journey about studying and eventually began teaching us some new characters.  It was a typical example of how nice people are in Taiwan.  Every person I practice Mandarin with in Taiwan teaches me something. Mostly correct pronunciations but sometimes (like on the train to Fulong) they've even taught me the characters for 'butterfly'. 

That's me! 

So I know how to ride a bike, but being on them makes me nervous.  I think I fell too many times as a kid. But I didn't tell my friend about my fear of riding bicycles until we had already rented them.. the old saying “_____is like riding a bike!” really held true in my situation.  I got off to a teetering start, possibly made one tandem bike go off the path, but after my nervous laughter subsided I was able to get on the road and actually bike. It was a really tiny feat but I was embarrassingly proud of myself. I had a huge smile for the rest of the day. ALSO we rented bicycles for the whole day all for less than $3 USD and nothing makes me happier than a deal.               


We stuck to a bike path which took us through a tunnel, around the eastern coast and through tiny fishing villages. It was gorgeous and I wish I took more pictures, but there are only so many times you can start and stop on a bike.  What we did stop for was a giant bush filled with dozens of butterflies.  The man on the train's lesson! He also told us that Taiwan is known as the kingdom of butterflies which I really didn't believe until I saw them for myself. 


Turtle Island in the distance
It was a great day not only because I rode a bike, but because we met so many great people like that man on the train who genuinely wanted to help us.  It's not everywhere you go that people are that friendly, but in Taiwan it's really been the norm and this trip really cemented that in my mind. Also the feeling of riding a bike along a coastline is incredible and everyone should try it. Perfect ratio of salty air and beautiful views. 

The next day (Saturday) Michele and I decided to head out to Jiufen 九份. I had been wanting to go there for a really long time.  The city in the movie “Spirited Away” was inspired by Jiufen’s brightly lit street lamps and since I’m a huge Miyazaki fan, going there was a must.  They have a saying in Jiufen, "越夜越漂亮" which means "the darker it gets, the more beautiful it gets." It's so true.  I was not disappointed by the night view or 夜景 in Jiufen and could absolutely see how it inspires. My overall impression of Jiufen is a bit hard to describe.  I want to describe Jiufen as sleepy, as it often drizzles and there are no large streets filled with honking cars or motorcycles. But Jiufen has a quiet, buzzing energy that lets you know it's awake.  

Michele and I on the steps

At the 茶馆 

Jiufen began as a mining town and as such, is literally on the side of a mountain.  The town is filled with staircases making an afternoon stroll feel more like a hike.   Jiufen is mostly known for its nighttime lights, but few people know that the first movie theater in Taiwan was built there.  We didn't get a chance to go inside but I quickly snapped a pic. The town is full of tiny souvenir shops, restaurants, and to my friend's delight: teahouses. Michele is really into tea making, tea buying, tea drinking, really anything tea related. So while in Jiufen, we had to stop and 泡茶.

First movie theater in Taiwan
Staircase "Streets"


View from 茶馆

The 茶管 we went to was gorgeous.  We were able to sit outside on the balcony and had a breathtaking view of the ocean and mountainside.  We sat with three other people and spent the afternoon sipping tea and chatting about anything we could think of. I’m pretty sure that’s why teahouses were invented because it was perfect. Right before the sunset, it began to drizzle a little. Michele and I were a little bummed at first, thinking we wouldn't be able to explore as much, but we were reassured by our company that rain in Jiufen was normal.  One friend described rainfall in Jiufen as “a special feeling.” Even he didn't have a concrete way to describe Jiufen. But as I gazed out at the ocean view and sipped some tea, I knew what he meant.


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