Street Performers - National Center For Traditional Arts, Luodong,
The routine started about 5 months ago when Mum, Dad and I would spend close to an hour almost every working mornings together. Dad would drive us to somewhere for breakfast before sending me off to work at my new office building. It was on one of those mornings when I suggested that we should travel together. Just the three of us. For the 1st time.
Traditional Performance Arts- This is a one man act of an old dancing couple
This trip was very different from all my others. For one, my parents can no longer walk or climb very much. They also have dietary restrictions. I had to plan the trip down to its last detail, bus, train, where, what and everything in Mandarin because most cab drivers in Taiwan do not speak English. My dad's Mandarin is spattering at best and Mum can barely read. It was nothing like my 1st trip to Taiwan taken 4 years ago when the only thing I had to worry about was how to get to the Miniature Museum of Taiwan.
Homestay in Yilan that reminded me of Europe
Taking into considerations all the above factors, I decided we should do a leisurely tour of small towns in the outskirts of Taipei. I picked charming places to stay, hopefully close to the cultural centers or museums.
A tool shed that is 1:48 in scale for human- Yilan homestay
Quite clearly, some of my choices were influenced by my passion for miniatures and everything dollhouse.
Hotel in Wulai for hot spings- bowls for performance
I also decided that we should all treat ourselves to a spa-liday and booked a crazy expensive hotel in Wulai for some hot spring baths and spa massages.
Jing Shan Restaurant- Luodong
Food was to be nothing like the weird and wonderful we had during my 1st trip. Dining was to be experienced slowly, luxuriously, like spoilt royalty; so I picked restaurants that had the words culinary art in their names.
There was to be no menus because every course was decided by the master chef. Each dish designed and presented like a work of art with correspondingly exquisite cutlery.
Even toothpicks were to be served in a little embroidered shoe for children.
And there was poetry on the wall. No, I mean, real poetry. In this restaurant I picked, they were flashing famous Chinese poems with a projector on an empty wall to soothing Chinese world music. Eating, was what you would call, a total experience.
Temple at National Center for Traditional Arts
Of course, with old folks, there are some traditional things you will want to do in Taiwan. Prayers at a temple is a must.
Shop selling wooden postcards
Then there are the touristy stuff like sending off a wooden postcard to loved ones from an old railway postbox.
Wooden cards with wishes-temple at National Center of Traditional Arts
Bamboo of wishes hanging on trees
And making wishes, hoping for blessings. There are opportunities aplenty in Taiwan to be seized.
Paper Lanterns sold at shops next to railway lines
My choice was to travel the old way by the slow train to this really quaint small town where we can write our wishes on paper lanterns and fly them off on railway tracks moments before the trains arrive.
Paper lanterns flying into the sky
This is what you do: First, pick a shop amongst 10s of them. Then pick a lantern with the right colour/s (red for wealth, blue for health, green for good results and so on) and if you can't pick just one colour, you can opt for 4 of them in 1 lantern. After you finally find that 1 lantern out of 1000s, you write very fervently in very bad Mandarin (by me) and scribbled English (my dad) all the wishes you can squeeze into the 4 sides of the lantern.
And then you watch it fly.
Ours was a sight to behold. It flew high and straight, comforting us with optimism that our future and that of our loved ones will be bright; everyone lives forever, rich and happy; with scholars for children who will never break our hearts.
Craze in Taiwan or fashion nightmare?
So how did the trip end? Well, I can remember some funny moments.
8th course - Fish with exploded stomachs
Like how after the 7th course at the fine dining restaurant on our 1st night, we thought we were beginning to feel and look like our food.
Or how my dad fell asleep before a performance at the expensive spa-liday resort and snored louder than the music played with a spoon and bowls. Then there are the massages that made us nauseous.
We also waited for 8 hours for a train back from Shifen where we flew the lanterns and I had to race like a hunting dog to the luggage room about 10 minutes after 8 pm because they were supposed to close by 8.
Of course, there was the food poisoning all of us suffered at different points of the trip. I will not ever forget my bout when I spent 2 days in the hotel without stepping out of bed except to run to the loo. It was so bad that I couldn't watch food even if it was on TV without feeling sick.
But the good outweighed the bad.
All that running to the loo helped me lose the calories I gained from way too much fine dining the 1st day. We also avoided famous street fried food and ate way lesser in the last few days before we got home.
Although the hot spring air in Wulai did not suit us, I will never forget the beautiful outdoor bath house where I bathed for the 1st time with women I have never met.
And the wonderful train rides and how one of our 2 best meals was just a simple bento rice with pork cutlet we bought for S$2 on a train.
That 8 hour delay in Shifen? It meant I could witness lanterns being flown at night and it was magical.
Most importantly, we have those shared moments of having travelled together. Suffering, enjoying, cursing, laughing, as a family. Now that is priceless.