The notorious B.I.T. (Belgians in Taiwan)

After last update’s adventures in Tainan during the winter holidays, a new semester began. With the courses I am taking this semester I will have fulfilled the credit requirement of my study here. It is strange to think that a portion of my journey here will also have ended when this semester is over (although I do not plan to take on quitting taking some courses, but maybe just purely out of interest rather than necessity). That being said, let me take you back to those last weeks of February 2017. As the first week ended, another deadline came up for a conference on Iconicity in language I now know I will be attending in the summer in Nijmegen in the Netherlands. Probably more on that in another post. But as I was pressing that submitting button, I was also readying myself for the adventurous week that lay ahead: a visit from some of my closest friends from Belgium. This post has got to have a title, and thus I chose the punning “Notorious B.I.T.”, B.I.T. of course standing for ‘Belgians in Taiwan’. With that out of the way, let’s start!

Saturday – Arrival in Taiwan

When Isabelle, Cedric and Ruben arrived in Taiwan on Saturday, they were tired, because they had of course been travelling since the day before, but I could also see that they were excited, and I was slightly nervous to let them experience the best Taipei had to offer in a week, although I tried my best to hide these emotions. Here is how I found the boys:

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So we took the bus to Taipei, which gave us a chance to catch up and I couldn’t help but notice that it felt so nice to just be able to speak my own language with other people here in Taiwan. It’s not that I don’t know any other Belgians (or Flemish people for that matter) here but it’s still different to talk with people you have known for a long time and who maybe deserve the title of old friends without being old (ha, reflect on that for a while readers). So yeah, we went to check them in in their hotel, pick up the lovely Singaporean Huiying, who is an old friend of Cedric’s and then my dearest CJ and then go for ramen. Now, this is not any ramen, this is the best ramen in town. Once I stood two hours in line just to get it. It was pretty late when we got there but eventually we managed to get in — only to find out the special was sold out. It took a lot of negotiating in Chinese on my part to convince them of how much I wanted my friends and me to eat this special dish and eventually we all managed to do so. Victory.

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Next I took them around my campus for an evening stroll, but they were pretty tired so we said goodbye for the night and met up the next day.

Sunday – Museum day

On Sunday we visited Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall and the surrounding scenery (see many posts on this blog) and then went to the Presidential Palace, followed by a trip to the National Palace Museum, where we roamed for a few hours and I gave them my guided tour of the place.

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This was preceded by eating dumplings at Bafang yunji 八方雲集, a chain of dumplings that you can find almost anywhere in Taipei, and followed by drinking coffee outside of the MRT. Later we stopped by the Confucius temple and the Bao’an Gong next door. Here is a (failed) jumping picture:

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Dinner that night was sushi.

Monday – Wulai

The day after we set out to Wulai 烏來, a mountainous village in New Taipei City where they have hot springs and a waterfall. The weather didn’t fully agree with us, but we managed to cross a nice bridge, walk past the hot springs to get a good look around, have lunch in Wulai, walk to a waterfall for some pictures, walk back and let our feet soak in the hot water, accompanied by doctor Ruben’s critique of everybody’s feet.

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Then, after a lot of queuing and standing on the bus, we were tired and had to take a nap. This was followed by drinks in Ximen.

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Tuesday – Walking tour

We begin Tuesday with a brisk trip on the MRT system towards Taipei 101. Isabelle sure found her spot in the MRT, while the men were watching the gate.

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So then we had lunch at Din Tai Fung, in the basement of 101. Next, we did Sun Yat-Sen and then went over to Gongguan: coffee break and a visit to my place. After that, bookworms Cedric and Hui-Ying spent time in a second-hand bookshop of which I became a member recently; I mean, how could you not after such a good rating from these book critics?? Then it was time to say goodbye to Huiying. We had hot pot for dinner. Ruben gave it a ‘tien op tien’, as he had been doing every day.

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Wednesday – Off to Hualien

The very next day we took a train to Hualien, in order to see Taroko. The overexcited staff of the superb Sleeping Boot Backpacker Hostel gave us a kind-of unclear map with food locations of the neighbourhood so we decided to go exploring. We had some kind of exploding egg thing of which we forgot to take pictures, but it was cool. And messy. Also, we left a message for our Dutch friends:

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Then we walked to the coastline, where I was almost swallowed by the ocean, had some nightmarket goodies and saw an aboriginal dance show. The indigenous people of Hualien are mostly Amis 阿美, which incidentally is the language they are studying now for the fieldwork class this year (see my adventures in Bunun land last year). Here are some pictures of their performance. Lots of twirling and whirling and swirling.

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Thursday – Taroko

Taroko, named after the Truku 太魯閣 aboriginals, is one of the tourist spots that is mentioned in all travel guides of Taiwan. I had been wanting to go there before, and I got as far as Hualien in the summer of 2014, but there had just been a tyfoon and they were cleaning a week later so back then I didn’t get in. Now, in 2017, it was a whole different game. Below are picturesque pictures of our trip in the national park. All I can say is I will be back in the future. But first, a picture of us sleeping in the early morning.

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After lunch and the exploration of the pagoda and Buddhist temple (see pics above) at the Tianhsiang 天祥 village deep in the mountains, we wanted to continue to the furthest spot in the park. But we came down and found policemen frantically pointing towards the side of the road. The restaurants were closed. Even the 711, you know, the convenient store that never closes, was pulling down its blinds. I was very confused, as were the other Belgians, as we were hustled to the back of the (again) closed 711. It turns out there was some kind of secret military exercise, so I was expecting to see the tanks rolling down the mountains and whatever else the words ‘military exercise’ entail. But no, none of that, just plain old boring waiting for an hour, while watching that the monkey (yes, a real monkey) wouldn’t steal our food. But then, the hour was over and we continued our trek. This is the stuff all those Chinese paintings are made of.

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Also, we learnt that Ruben has terrible balance. He kept falling over during the journey.

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Later that night we had cake – I introduced them to Taiwan’s 85˚, where we were playing cards. Yes, if there is one keyword of this week, it would probably be manillen, a card game Isabelle has been playing since before she could walk. The way I remember it, her family deals the cards, takes a look and then decides who has won without playing any cards, only to repeat this until one person seemingly has got the highest points so they are the winner. My game strategy is known as loose cannon, because Isabelle kept “introducing” (read: making up) rules as we were playing. Still, it provided for wonderful bonding times. manillen manillen manillen!

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Friday – Biking and Jiufen’ing

On Friday we checked out and rented bikes for a super short mini bike ride on the coastline of Hualien.

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After our bike rush, we swooshed back to the hostel, grabbed our luggage and made our way to the station. In Ruifang 瑞芳 we got out and took a taxi to Jiufen 九份, the number one visit spot for Japanese and Koreans to Taiwan. Up the mountain we went.

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Saturday – Taipei and Tamsui

The last day was spent with a walk in the park – botanical garden of Taipei, some coffee drinking and lunch eating where we were joined again by CJ.

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And then we had a trip to Tamsui 淡水, where we did most sightseeing places, like the Red Fortress, the White House, the Mackay church, Alethia University with the Oxford building (made with real red bricks!!!), though not Tamsui high school, which after an incident last year apparently is kind of closed off for the public.

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After some Korean barbecue it was time to send them home – I had a really nice time with my friends. Tien op tien. I gave them a farewell huggy and a farewell Chunky, a Kitkat bar which obviously has been named after Chunky Kaishek, before I put them on the bus to the airport. Thank you. Come again.

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