“Ever been to Jiufen?” I asked Mom.
“You should go! It has a nice view of the sea. It’s rumored to be the city that inspired Spirited Away. And they have the best gweh I’ve ever tasted - your favorite, with taro, and the green one with radish or whatever that chewy stuff is.”
She looked skeptical. “How did you get there? You don’t speak the language.”
I know thirty words in Mandarin, and speak Taiwanese at a four-year-old level. Also, Mom is not really aware of the internet.
“How did you buy a ticket? What did you say?”
“Wo beh ki Jiufen. Wo beh beh i-ge pyoh.”
Before the hour-long bus ride to Jiufen, I wandered around the street looking for breakfast. I’d left the hostel without eating, and thought I’d find a Family Mart or 7-11 and grab a 7NT tea egg or a 30NT freshly-roasted yam.
The only to-go snack I found was a cart selling pan-fried baozi. I bought two bao, each under two inches in diameter, and walked back to the bus stop, eating. It was super delicious.
Several cabs lined the curb. Each driver offered to take me to Jiufen for a good price.
“Wo ooh pyoh,” I told them.
One of them wanted to know where I was from, why I spoke Taiwanese instead of Mandarin, since most people my age spoke Mandarin, why was I in Taiwan by myself, and why didn’t I just use his taxi, it would be so much faster and easier for a clueless tourist like me to get to Jiufen. Why wait forever for a slow bus? I explained and politely declined, and he continued to pester me. We eventually had an argument, during which I dropped my second bao.
I ran back to the bao stand, but the vegetable bao were sold out.
“Mayo (none),” the guy said unsympathetically. He had thought it was weird that I only wanted two bao.
I thought about the bao during the bus ride.
When we arrived in Jiufen, everyone clambered off the bus and booked it towards an alley. I followed the masses and bought something from the first popular stall - a bowl of pretty pastel taro and sweet potato balls in a clear purple-gray soup.
I sat next to a gold-and-black stray cat on a concrete ledge overlooking the sea and ate the lightly sweet chewy balls (called yuyuan and diguayuan, or tang yuan) and soup, feeling lucky that I hadn’t purchased fifty dumplings and arrived in Jiufen stuffed.
I get full quickly, so I had to pass up most of Jiufen's scrumptious snacks in favor of not exploding. After leaving the Old Street, I took a bus up to the Gold Mine Museum and explored the peaceful surrounding mountainside. The day was drizzling and gray, and clouds drifted into the mountain range. I explored enticing vine-covered paths and stairs that made me feel like I was in a Miyazaki film.
In between Twister, Temple Run, and Jenga With Sudden New Rules Made by Cheating Children, I noticed a Hal Leonard’s Guitar Method Book 1 and a kid's guitar sitting on the floor next to me.
I picked it up and played some songs - Greensleeves, Shenandoah, Red River Valley, etc. I thought I was doing pretty well, and mentally patted myself on the back.
“You’re horrible,” Italo said.
On the internet, Positano looks gorgeous and saturated with color.
When we showed up last month, it looked like this:
Haha! I still liked it, though.
Eventually, it looked more like this:
I'm not a photographer, so this view was way nicer in person.
And now, please enjoy this inviting chair that we found outside of our Airbnb.
I was on Facebook the other day (five years ago), and saw a comment on my cousin’s Facebook page.
Kai-Hsiang uses Chinese characters for his Facebook name, so every time Mom asks me to show her photos of Kai-Hsiang's kids, I go to my cousin Yi-Ta’s page (he uses his English name, Benny, in his profile), and look for Kai-Hsiang in the “Mutual Friends” section. Kai-Hsiang’s photo features him posing with the hideous-pink starfish guy from SpongeBob SquarePants, so he’s easy to find.
The comment on Kai-Hsiang’s page came from someone named Shampoo Hsu. I’ve always thought that Shampoo Hsu was an underused name, and I wanted this person as a friend, or alternatively, I wanted to rename myself Shampoo Hsu.
A year later, I noticed another comment from Shampoo Hsu, and clicked on his profile.
Shampoo Hsu is my cousin!!! As it turns out, Shampoo is the English name of Kai-Hsiang’s younger brother, Kai-Jin. Six-year-old Kai-Jin used to lock me in his family’s laundry room at 5 a.m. while everyone else was sleeping and I was gazing, jet-lagged, out of the laundry room window. He would smirk and mutter, “You monkee,” “You doge” and “You peeg” through the glass door. Ah, how I miss those summer visits to Taipei.
Apparently, shampoo - “xifajing” in Mandarin - sounds similar to “Hsu Kai-Jin” (“Xi” is the same as “Hsu” as long as the tones and character match; it’s just a different Romanization). This was why Kai-Jin picked his name.
A scan of Shampoo Hsu’s Facebook page reveals more glorious bounty. Shampoo has collected friends named Liquefy Chang, Achilles Hsieh, Macro Chen, Conductor Wang, Mejust Chuang, Agroup Tsai and NewWay Hsiao.
In Taiwan, kids pick (or their teacher picks) their English name while in school. As far as I know, they can change their name later, but I hear they often stick to their first choice (I’ll ask Kai-Hsiang about this later, since I’m not sure). This is why you can befriend adults named Pizza, Glitter, Maximus, Policeman and iPhone in various parts of Asia.