“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 the 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.
“The guide book.”
“How did you buy a ticket?”
“I went to the ticket office.”
“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 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 slooow 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.
“If you die, I get your Vitamix,” Piper said.
“I get your All-Clad skillets,” Akela replied.
“Doesn’t anyone want any of my stuff?” I asked.
“I’ll take your trash cans,” Piper said after a while.
I own a bunch of attractive Japanese trash cans made from ayous wood. One of them cost me $70.
“What about my laptop?”
“I’d prefer your trash cans.”
“Uh . . . I’ll . . . " She couldn’t think of anything.
For Christmas, I gave Mom several presents, including a set of artisan felted wool coasters. The set consisted of two mustard yellow coasters and two royal blue coasters, with an artsy silkscreened design on the top of each coaster.
After a few months, I noticed that Mom consistently used the blue coasters on the correct side and the yellow coasters turned over to wrong side.
"You don’t like the yellow coasters?" I asked her one day.
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