Friday, February 22, 2008


I met Ben at the train station at 1:45 on Wednesday. We got the important stuff taken care of first, and Ben gave me my new full-face moped helmet. I strapped mine onto one of the straps of my backpack, under one of my arms, while Ben just carried his. Why were we at the train station in the early afternoon with full-face moped helmets? Fortunately not to go riding mopeds. There is a festival in southern Taiwan called "YanShui Beehive of Fireworks". Ben heard about it last year (one of my teachers had also brought it up in class once), and apparently its just a huge fireworks festival, except not all of the time the fireworks are pointed upwards. We'd found websites with clear pictures of how much protective gear was necessary, and a full face helmet seemed like a must, along with at least two jackets, and probably some gloves for good measure. Most of the other pictures of the event were crappy and unclear, but showed people dancing crazily, backlit by fireworks. We had also read, in the guidebook on Taiwan, that about 100,000 people showed up last year, and they also set off the longest string of fireworks in the world (something like 6-8 kilometers long, and it took 40 minutes to go off, or something absurd like that, I forget exactly). So we had our hopes pretty high for the festival, and I want to say up front, the were not disappointed. This was one of the most incredible experiences of my whole life, and while the fireworks were only a part of it, they provided a build up and the reason to do everything else we did.

With that many people going to the festival we were worried about all the public transportation being taken already, so we had bought train tickets the day before. On the ride down we napped a little (I was already tired from my classes, which are getting really intense), and I did a little homework (in my original plan, I would leave after class on Wednesday, and get back before class on Thursday, and aside from being tired, I would be well prepared and in class). As we got closer to our stop we began to be a little worried about the lack of people. We had found one website that said the dates for the festival were "20th-21st", so were were pretty sure it was tonight, but the train had empty seats. If 100,000 people were coming to a festival starting in a couple of hours, we expected that not only would all of the seats be taken, but that there would be no standing room. We hoped that a bunch of people would get off at our stop, to give us a little confidence about being in the right spot, but we the time came, we got off with not more than 20 other people. One of my teachers said she'd heard there was a free bus shuttle service so we asked about the ticket taker about this. He laughed at us and told us to go with the taxi drivers, who were in the background making gestures and noises that clearly indicated 'Fireworks Festival'. I'm not that big of a fan of taxi drivers, and so I asked where the bus station was. There was a round-about right outside the station with a monument in the middle (remember the monument, it'll be important later) and right on the other side of the round-about we found the bus station. From the woman at the ticket counter we found out conclusively that indeed, part of the festival was today, but the bigger part was tomorrow. I had mis-interpreted the calender. I thought it meant that the festival started on the night of the 20th, and went until the early hours of the 21st, but really it indicated that the festival was on 2 days. We were now presented with a decision. Whether or not to stay until tomorrow. While we were thinking we got tickets to Yanshui, where the festival would actually take place, and sat down to wait. We were chatting a little, and wondering (as usual) how we would know which bus was ours. So, I didn't notice immediately when a woman snuck up behind me to look at my ticket. I was a little creeped out (she never really said anything) but apparently she had taken pity on us, and was just looking to see where we were going, so she could tell us which bus would be ours. Even if the woman went about it differently that I would have expected, that was one problem solved. After a couple minutes a bus pulled up and the woman (who had stepped away to wait by the gate) began waving excitedly, so we walked over and boarded the bus. There were only about 10 other people on the bus, which, again, made it seem like tonight's celebrations were going to be a lot less packed that we had expected. While the bus ride was short, it built up further anxiety about the size of the festival we were going to. The bus was riding through small towns for the most part, but there were no people out at all. Even as we got closer, all of the streets remained disappointingly empty.In the afternoon the idea had occurred to me 'What if the need for moped helmets is all a big ruse?' Taiwanese are really big into the group mentality, and I started to wonder if we weren't encountering a situation where one person wore a helmet once, and even though they weren't really necessary, everyone started to wear one, and it would never occur to anyone that they might not actually need to wear a helmet, which would be pretty disappointing.

We had hoped that if we just got ourselves to the town, everything else would sort itself out, and I guess in the end it did. We were only at a loss for what do for a shot period, because the woman had taken a Taiwanese couple under her wing, and was leading them away talking about the fireworks festival, so we just decided to keep following her. After a while we got to somewhere with a stage and a bunch of stalls that was looked distinctly more like a festival, the Taiwanese couple broke off from her, and Ben and I moved in to try to figure out what was going on. In short: the big crazy event where fireworks get shot at you wasn't until Thursday night, and there were no hotels in the area (this seemed unlikely, and I've since come to find out that I might have asked for the wrong type of hotel, for example, there might have been motels, but no hotels), but there was a temple we could try sleeping in. Also, from teaching English last year, Ben knew that any English teachers can sleep at any public school in Taiwan, so if it came down to it, we could say we were English teachers and sleep at an elementary school. We felt like we ought to decide pretty soon if we should stay for the real deal the next night. Ben didn't really have anything to do the next day, and I felt like I would never have an opportunity even remotely similar to this one again in my entire life, so skipping school for one day didn't seem like a high cost to pay. So we decided to stay and do what we had come to do, get shot at by crazy fireworks.

After deciding we were going to stay our only goal was to find a place to sleep, so we headed off to find an elementary school. The nice woman had given us directions, and following those, we headed off through the night market. On the way we had an opportunity to try new foods, and I got something which most strongly resembled fried coleslaw. They shaped it into big rectangles on the griddle, then put corn and spices on top of it to serve it, and overall it was actually pretty good. We finally made it to the elementary school, so we looked around for someone to ask if we could sleep there, and if we could stash our stuff there (aside from our helmets, Ben only had his helmet and an extra jacket, but I had some food and a textbook too.) We didn't find anyone to ask, so we headed back to the main area. There was a stage set up for the event, and a band playing when we got back, so we went over to listen. Most music in Taiwan is a unique sort of pop, which I'm not a big fan of, but this band was actually playing legitimate music (and it was an all girl band), so we moved closer to the stage. Almost everything about the concert from the stage back, seemed pretty American. The band had American style, movement, volume, and they played at least one American song. But everything in front of the stage was distinctly Taiwanese. 1st of all, there was a 10-15 foot gap between the stage and the audience, the group in front of the audience looked like they had been brought out of the retirement home to enjoy some activities other than bingo, and mostly everyone else just looked sullen and bored. Ben and I were standing near the front, but off to the side, out of the way of the old people. A separate announcer came up between bands, and immediately announced that there were 2 foreigners standing off to the left. Then he pointed at us. I was taken a little aback, but Ben threw his hand into the air, and rolled with it. Everyone applauded for us and, interestingly enough, we got generated more excitement and applause than the band had. The announcer then asked us (in broken English) where we were from, and I was about to answer in Chinese, but Ben was on the ball again, and happily returned (in good English) that we were Americans. At this point, the announcer translated what had happened into Chinese and Taiwanese. The announcer asked us a couple more questions, but then the next band came on, and we became a regular part of the crowd again. As the band came down off stage, we decided to go talk to them, but things got off to a bad start when Ben asked if they could speak Chinese and instead of an emphatic 'Yes', the girl he'd asked only responded with 'A little'. I had heard that people preferred to speak Taiwanese in southern Taiwan (because there is more anti-China sentiment, and they want to be more independent and different), but we would come to find out this isn't entirely true. We talked to the band for a little while, but never managed to get away from the awkward start. The temple we were hoping to be able to sleep in was only a few feet away, so right before we parted company, we told the girls we were thinking about sleeping in the temple, and asked what they thought. This was the first time in the evening when we told strange Taiwanese people about our lack of a good place to sleep, and then hoped they would invited us back to their house to sleep, or somehow arrange something more comfortable than the cold ground at an elementary school. Every time our hopes skyrocketed, and almost every time they crashed back to Earth. So, the girl band set the trend for the evening by nicely sidestepping the issue, and Ben and I were left to go check out the temple to see if we really could sleep there.

The whole thing turned out to be a lot less like a temple than I had imagined. The nice woman had told us we might be able to find a place to sleep on the second floor, so we went straight up there first. I had expected a large empty room with an alter at one end, some carpets on the floor, ornately decorated pillars, incense, and a flat piece of marble where we could sleep. What we actually found was a hallway with closed doorways on either side, just like you would expect at any regular hotel (except that the floor was marble, and the outside looked what a temple should look like). We walked to the end of the hallway, and ran into a sign pointing towards (as far as I could tell) county cultural records. So we went downstairs to find someone who might be able to help us get this sorted out. Downstairs we found a large history exhibit, and after a moment, we found a security guard. We told him our problem and, after pondering for a moment, he just left. We were a little confused, and we felt a little abandoned, but we sat down to wait for someone else to come. About 5 seconds later the security guard came back in. Apparently we were supposed to follow him. This time we followed him out, where he pushed us off onto someone else, who quickly gestured us over to another, older, set of people and pushed us off onto them. It didn't take us long to figure out that there were no rooms in the temple, but the told us that, indeed there was a hotel down the road a little way, so we decided to go check it out. Although the town we were in was a lot smaller than Taipei, it was still obviously a town, and I wouldn't have even called it rural. So I was surprised when we passed a cornfield on the way out to the hotel. It seemed really out of place.

It turned out to be a hotsprings hotel, and it would have been about 30USD a night for each of us. As soon as we found out how much it was, there was never any option of staying there, and we talked about it later, and we don't really even know why we asked. It would have had to be a pretty cheap hotel room to be able to compete with a free piece of ground at the elementary school.

After we got back to the main plaza, we went and picked up a schedule to try to figure out what fireworks were happening, and when. While I was reading the schedule, Ben got ogled by some high-school kids, and beckoned them over. We asked them what was happening and when but they had no more idea than we did. We also broached the problem of not having anywhere to sleep and we came to find out that there was a college somewhere around, and we might be able to find a place to sleep there. We broke off from the kids, and started walking through the night market, towards the college. On the way some a little girl offered us a free sample of some orange juice. We drank it and it was delicious, and afterward we went to hand the little paper cups back to the little girl. She just stared at us, so I asked her what we should do with the cups. She said "Just throw them on the ground, then it'll be alright." I looked at Ben and he looked at me. Then we both threw our cups on the ground, and I'll be damned if it wasn't one of the easiest things I've ever done. No wonder people litter.

After going a little farther we stopped off to pick up a beer, and ask for directions. Apparently the college was only about 20 feet from the 7-11 we bought booze from. We walked on and quickly found the front gate of the college. We approached the security booth, trying to hold our beers as discretely as possible, to ask if they had a place we could sleep for the night. Things got a little crazy right away because as the security guard saw us, he immediately stood up and saluted (which might have been more reasonable from someone in the military, but this guy clearly wasn't). The security guard was short, with short black hair, and a easily noticeable paunch. He was also chewing betel nut, which holds chewing tobaccoe's place in Taiwanese society. Betel nut looks like a peeled acorn might. They're small, white skinned, and they usually come wrapped in a small leaf. You bite off one end, then just chew on the other end. It gives you a tiny little buzz, and (in my opinion) tastes a little like meat. It also turns your entire mouth, all your visible teeth, and your spit ... a pretty bright color red (and if you keep your eyes open you can see big red spit spots all over the streets).

We were beginning to notice that betel nut is a lot more common in southern Taiwan and especially in rural areas. This security guard confirmed the stereotype and had a mouth full of red stained teeth. After saluting us, the guard walked over to the window and we started to talk. Things got carried away pretty quickly. The guard right away asked if we'd come back to study (they're in between semester break was about over), and something else I didn't understand. I started to explain what we were doing, but then the guard started rolling with his own train of thoughts. He asked us when the last time we'd been back to the states was and when we'd be going again. Then he started telling us about bowling. Apparently he's pretty good at it, and had been to the states to compete, but he didn't do well because in America they spin the ball, so the path from hand to pins is curved (or something like that, I also thought he might have said that American lanes are slanted), so he didn't do as well. Then he got to the real point of his story. Apparently he was in love with a certain bowling ball that you could only get in the states (now you see why he was so intent to know our America related travel plans). We were never able to get out of him if it was one particular ball, or a whole series of balls, but apperently they (or it) were 40 years old, and incredibly important to this guy. We were trying to be friendly but this was getting a little out of hand, so we drew the conversation back to whether or not we could sleep in a building somewhere on campus.

As soon as he found out we were there to watch the fireworks, and not to study he immediately tried to loan us his scooter. Just for a quick recap here, we are 2 strangers, not even students at this University, both drinking beer, and not even asking for a scooter. So we follow him as he rushes out of the security booth and over to his scooter, which he proceeds to start. It is a kick start, and after stomping on the lever the first time (without getting it to start) he looks up to tell us that it's easy to start and only takes one kick. After the fourth or fifth kick he gets it started. We realize that this is a bad idea, and again emphasize that all we want is a place to sleep, so the guard rushes back to his booth. In the interim a stranger (I assume his friend) has taken a spot in the guard house. He's definitely not a security guard and actually looks like he's done a lot of drugs in the last 20 minutes. He is also chewing betel nut. As we come in the guard kick this guy out of his seat, and points to 2 chairs we could sleep in. We politely demur, saying they are too small, and so he heads back outside. We follow dubiously as he goes over to a van and lays down the seats for us to sleep in. The van is parked right beside a building, so we ask if there is somewhere in there we can sleep. Apparently there is some sort of pack of wild dogs that roams around inside the building, and it wouldn't be safe for us to sleep there.

Creepiness alarm bells go off all over the inside of my head, and we start to extricate ourselves from the situation. I tell him, this looks OK, but that we still want to see some fireworks so we don't want to sleep now. We figure out what time he gets off work too, to give the story some more semblance of truth and reality. Then we take off (on foot, with no moped). We thought we might be able to get to the fireworks (we could see them going off in the distance) by going through campus, but the guard told us it wasn't' so, and we had to keep heading down the road. So, following his advice, we headed on down the road. We weren't really near very many buildings now, but there were still a fair amount of traffic on the road. After a few minutes we came to another road and took it right, towards the fireworks. After a couple more minutes we finally made it somewhere, though it did seem a little dubious. Basically it was a sketchy couple groups of loitering guys chewing betel nut and looking surly, but we figured we're a lot bigger than they are, and we were drinking (which I feel gave us good street cred.)

As a side note here, one of the beautiful things about Taiwanese fireworks is that everyone does there own thing, usually in addition to publicly funded displays. While we were walking in the streets this sometimes made things more intense because fireworks could be getting shot off from all around you, but right now it was just nice because there were two separate areas of the sky that were regularly filled with beautiful fireworks. We chose one group and headed that way, finally making it to another temple, and a little rural town square. There were a lot of people loitering, but here there seemed to be more of a family crowd, or at least the sketchier looking people were just teenagers, so we decided to hang out here for a while. After a while Ben noticed that, where as before we had been surrounded by people in normal street dress, now the only people in our vicinity were wearing thick clothes and helmets. We hurriedly put on our helmets, and just in time too because fireworks started going off right beside us. We weren't prepared, but I turned my back and wrapped my arms around my neck to try to shield the important parts. Fortunately, it didn't last very long, and there were a lot of better prepared people shielding us from most of the intensity.

After hanging out there for a while we got approached by a 20 something Taiwanese girl, dressed up in full protective gear, and asked if we wanted to chat a little. Ben and I didn't hesitate before whole-heartedly agreeing. We both thought she just wanted to talk to us, but we were soon mistaken as she beckoned on the camera crew. I had see a guy walking around earlier with a firework-proof camera, but now he was accompanied by: a guy with a light, a interviewer, and some sort of all around guy who wrote down our names at the end of the interview. The guy talking didn't have any super specific questions so we just chatted a little bit. I asked where he was from, and when he said 'Japan' I jumped at the opportunity to ask someone, who, for all I can tell is a native speaker, how his Chinese got so good (apparently he also lived or lives in Taiwan). He didn't think it was quite as funny as I did, but we kept on chatting. They were with a news channel in Taipei, but I didn't ask which one. After a little bit the girl who had first talked to us gave the interviewer a couple of other questions to ask, but the interview was still pretty short overall.

We decided to go check out the temple and see if we couldn't sleep in this one, or they might be able to recommend somewhere for us to sleep. There was a large string of fireworks laid out on the patio in front of the temple, and we stopped to ask a guy standing there what time they were going to be set off. Our communications problems became apparent right away when he told us they hadn't been set off yet. We tried again, but the conversation only went downhill from there, though we finally did figure out that the fireworks were going to be set off shortly. There were a few people sitting in the temple looking out at the fireworks so we grabbed a couple chairs and joined them. After a moment one of the women started talking to us, and it soon became apparent that we were looking for a place to sleep. We talked a little more, and told here really all we needed was a place to lay down. She told us we could lay down there. Major Score. We chatted with her for a little while longer, then stashed out stuff there, and went back out to enjoy the fireworks.

Pretty soon a truck pulled up, and we chatted with the driver for a while. Each side of the back of the truck had a large board attached to it that looked like it had previously been used for advertising, but now it was old and worn. There was also a ladder in the back that you could use to get on top of the bus, and there was someone up there but I don't know what they were doing.
Anyway, for whatever reason, the guy parked the truck there for a while and so we chit-chatted. While we were chatting they set off another one of the 'beehives of fireworks' and it definitely increased excitement for the next night. It looked like a solid sheet of sparks (from the fireworks flying into the crowd) were coming off of the cart. Just after that we talked with a couple random people who were participating in tonight's beehive of fireworks, and one guy showed us where a hole had been burned in in the finger of his gloves. Although the gloves weren't that thick, seeing that only further increased anticipation of the next night.

We kept chatting it up with people and watching fireworks (although somehow we missed the really long one that was laid out in front of the temple) until about 1:30, when we decided we ought to further finalize our floor space in the temple. I went back in, in search of the woman who'd previously authorized us, but she was no where to be found. One of the same guys from earlier was sitting in the temple, so I thought he might work there, and asked him if we could sleep there. He, indeed, was just enjoying the fireworks like everyone else, but he did say that the woman in charge was around somewhere so I kept hanging out, awaiting her return. While I was waiting a Taiwanese man came up and asked if I was Dutch. I understood him the first time, but the question was so unexpected that I had to ask him to say it again. Sure enough, he wanted to know if I was Dutch and, after I told him I was American, he seemed satisfied and left. The woman never did show up again, and by this time, Ben and I were starting to get a little tired, and ready for bed. So, we started to get ready. Earlier we had devised an incredible, ingenious strategy for making our sleeping circumstances more comfortable. Wear our moped helmets to sleep. Not only would they provide further insulation, but they would serve as a sort of built in pillow. Whichever direction we turned our head, it would still be propped up by the moped helmet. So, because we were sleeping in our clothes, and hadn't brought tooth brushing materials, all we really had to do to get ready for sleep was put on our helmets.

We sitting around, wearing our moped helmets, and decided to try to talk to the last guy in the temple, to see how OK it was for us to sleep there, but we ran into problems right away. His Taiwanese was a lot better than his Chinese, and though he could understand what we were saying, and make coherent sentences of his own, he had a hard time doing it. He asked us a few times if we spoke Taiwanese, but I guess he finally believed our assurances that we couldn't. We did manage to make clear to him that we wanted to sleep there, and he continually assured us that we could. He was telling us it was no problem, right until the moment we got kicked out. The guy we had had communications problems with earlier (we asked him when the fireworks were going to go off, and he told us they hadn't yet) came in and told us we had to leave. We told him that we had been assured earlier in the evening that we could stay there, but he just kept repeating that they were closing, and so we had to leave. We argued a little bit, but it didn't seem like we really had any ground to stand on, so we got our stuff and left. The other guy followed us out, and seemed genuinely helpful and sorry that we had to leave. We walked out into the street, and found that the street crews were already at work cleaning up the leftover from the fireworks. It was pretty much a crew of somewhat old women with brooms, who swept all the paper rubbish into one pile and then let it on fire. Because it was made from fireworks leftovers, it became a sort of exploding bonfire as the fireworks that hadn't gone off earlier went off in the fire. I was a little cold and went to warm myself by the bonfire, but the nice stranger pulled me away, and went back to trying to think somewhere for us to sleep or a way for us to sleep in the temple, or something. He had seemed in complete control of his faculties when we were sitting in the temple talking, but now he seemed really drunk. He just kept saying "Hold on, let me think", and stumbling around. We were hoping to get invited back to his house, so we could have a warm piece of floor to sleep on, but after a while he just kept stumbling so we thanked him for his help and took off.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

My New Year's Celebration

We got ten days off for New Years, and I had had grand plans of going backpacking, or at least leaving Taipei, but in the end I didn't do much exciting. The weather has been pretty crappy for a while (basically almost always cold rain), but I'd heard that the southern part of Taiwan has much nicer weather. I planned on going down there, and even found a hotspring on the east coast of the island that I'd have to hike in to (I hoped this would reduce the number of people I encountered) and if it turned out that there were too many people, then there were other hotsprings in the area that didn't have official trails to them, but which probably had 'paths' and I thought they might be less crowded. All of this turned out not to matter because I kept an was keeping an eye on the weather and saw that rain was forecast for the area of the hotspring. I thought about it and decided that I could go and if it did rain, the hotsprings would always be there, but in the end I decided I could hang out in hotsprings all day, and I wouldn't die, but it would probably get old after a while, and I probably wouldn't be that comfortable. So I scrapped the whole idea.

Some highlights from the weekend and the first part of the week are:
1. Actually went out to bars for first time this year, and got to know some classmates other than Luke.
2. Found a bar that sells Irish Car Bombs for a decent price, then spent the next day terribly hung over (actually I only had one car bomb, but it was a highlight of the night).

Jerry invited me to spend New Year's Eve (Wednesday) with his family, and naturally I took him up on it. In the morning I went to get eggs because I knew the woman I buy my eggs from was about to close up for a few days. The first time I ever bought eggs from her, she burst out laughing when I spoke Chinese, but that must have just been a weak moment because I think she's actually really nice. A stranger came up to me the other day while I was buying eggs (to talk to me because I'm American) and chatted at me for a long time (apparently he was 70 and his head had been opened twice and he was a soilder and construction worker when he was younger but now teaches some thing to do with the oceans, or something like that) and after he left the woman I buy my eggs from asked me if I knew him, so I launched into the whole story, and we chatted for a while. She asked if I had been back to the states since I'd been here and, when I said I hadn't, she asked where I had been for a while. Then I realized I had gone to Thailand, and that was what she was talking about. It was nice to realized I'd been missed by the woman I buy eggs from. Anyway, on New Years Eve when I bought eggs from her she threw in a small cake-like muffin with the eggs. It was neon pink, really good, and very moist (I think it had been steamed). So that made my morning.

After I got back I took the bus to Jerry's house, early enough to watch the end of a movie with him. Then we drove over to his Uncle's house were the shin-dig was going to take place. Right as we got there they were finishing up a small ceremony with the food. They had it all laid out on a table, and I assumed it was all for us, and we were about to start eating. Then Jerry's dad told me it was for the ancestor's so then I thought it was their's. Then, after they finished the ceremony, they started taking the food downstairs, and I realized the food wasn't completely for their ancestors. It was the ancestor's for a little while, then when the ancestors got done with it, it was ours to eat. Among the goodies were: a whole fish (aside from spicing and cooking it there appeared to be no preparation at all, it was served with the head, tail, and skin on, which was fine, but serving it turned out a little difficult because flaky fish is hard to pick up with chopsticks), a whole pig thigh (I think the skin was still on), and a whole duck (which had been feathered, but all it's appendages were still attached). I, however, couldn't eat any of those so they whipped up some veggie dishes for me, such as: bamboo slivers, cabbage, brown hard boiled eggs (I'm pretty sure they were boiled in tea, giving them the brown color), some sort of green beans, and something else which was good (and had been ok'd as vegetarian) but which I couldn't hazard a guess as to what it was. One of the best things were some beans. They looked exactly like black beans (same shape, size, and color), but were sweet. Deliciously sweet.

The actual meal was pretty interesting, if nothing else it was the most crowded around a table I've ever been. We (I think there were about 12 or 13 total) were sitting around a circular table, about 5' in diameter. Basically, everyone got their own bowl, and just grabbed anything they wanted (and could pick up) with their chopsticks. I did fine with everything, but I had to get some help with grabbing the hardboiled eggs, I'm not quite that adept yet. The table itself, aside from being surrounded with people, was also completely covered with food. When they brought out the special vegetarian stuff there was barely room to put it, and I ended up with no room to put my bowl, which was OK, because I spent most of the time shoveling food into my mouth (in a polite manner).

After dinner we went into the other room, started watching TV and eating some more. At first they brought out some unique peanuts, which were delicious. They were like no peanuts I'd ever eaten before. From the outside they looked like regular peanuts (except some of them had 4 nuts per shell), but when you cracked open the shell, instead of the individual nuts being wrapped in little red paper like substance, they were wrapped in little black paper like substance. And more importantly they were sweet. After we about polished off the peanuts, they brought out some plum tea, oranges, apples, and cherries. All in all it was an amazing feast.

After Jerry dropped me off at my house in the evening the fireworks began, and they continued, fairly constantly, for the next 3-4 days, regardless of the time of day or night. Apparently not all of the fireworks are just nice to look at, they are also to scare away the demons of the New Year, and because of this, some fireworks dropped all pretense of being pretty, and were just really loud. Because the fireworks kept going so long, and were pretty consistent, sometimes at night it felt like a war zone. Except a war zone without terror or danger, just lots of loud noises.

On Sunday night I went down to Yilan (about 1.5 hours away from Taipei, on the west coast of the island) for a Toga Party. Last year Luke taught English in the area, with a Fulbright program, and still had some friends there. The party not only gave me the opportunity to wear a toga (a personal first), but I got to see the fireworks from the roof of some friends' apartment building, which was very enjoyable, and sort of exciting because almost all of the fireworks were set off by regular people so they were coming from all directions. If you saw a flash, you had to turn as quick as you could to try to see the actual fireworks.

On the way back to Taipei, the next day, we stopped at a hotspring. It was the first commercial one I'd ever been to, but it was pretty cool. Before we went, Ben described it as a 'wonderland' and I think it completely lived up to the description. Basically, everything they had from saunas to hot tubs, came in a bunch of different flavors. They had the regular fruit flavors like orange, but the also had flavors like 'Chinese Medicine', 'white liquor', 'milk', and surprisingly 'sulfur' (which was neon yellow, but didn't actually smell very much like sulfur). They also had a 'hot rock' (a hot rock that people lie on, pretty straightforward really), a small heated fish pool (which people sat in and got nibbled on by fish), and a killer water slide in to a hot tub (which I went down twice before stopping to read the sign at the top that says you have to be under 140 cm, which I was disappointed about because I'm about 190 cm).