Our “day off” was probably our most eventful day yet!
After sleeping in to a luxurious 8 a.m., we got up and ready to attend a local festival with our housemates. Karen and Jean Paul were busy with work until later in the day, so our housemate Jeff and his friend Cindy got up to take us out to breakfast before the drive.
They took us to a hip breakfast joint that Cindy told us used to be a comic book store. After struggling with the menu for while, assisted by Jeff and Cindy, we went into the back to eat, and immediately realized why she needed to explain to the restaurant’s past life: the sitting room was stacked floor to ceiling with Chinese manga! We scarfed down our sandwiches, chatted with our new friends, checked out the comic selection, and we were on our way.
Hi Home Festival was in Yuanli, a long, scenic drive south along the coast, past valleys and forests and temples, right by the sea. The cool ocean breezes were a relief after the stuffy heat further inland.
The festival consisted of a system of twisting streets, lined with all kinds of food vendors and artisans, and a square with a main stage for musicians. Lanterns hung overhead as people moved along the streets, eating fruit ice and wandering in and out of the temple at the end of the street.
We bought crafts from local artists and even made some crafts of our own. At the DIY area, we learned how to make decorative cards with pounded leaves and stamps, and Erin couldn’t resist buying an adorable clay cat from local artist Yi Jiuan.
After a while, our other housemates showed up and made a beeline for the ice booth, a classic Taiwanese treat. Who knew shaved ice with plain old mango and pineapple could be so delicious! For lunch, we visited the booth of a restaurant that some of Jeff and Cindy’s friends work at, and they kindly gave us a big bowl of spicy noodles for free (though they also requested a picture for their Facebook page).
After a few hours of sun, fun, and more sun, we took off for the nearby beach. After touring through the local art gallery at the edge of the beach park, we took our shoes off and climbed down the steps to the water, where fishermen were reeling in line after line of little silver fish. Jeff and Cindy taught us a game where you stand on the steps to the water and play rock paper scissors. Loser moves down a step and winner moves up a step, until one person is sent to the bottom and gets splashed by the waves. After a toe to toe battle at the edge of the water, Erin finally ended up drenched in ocean spray at the bottom of the steps.
It was by far the warmest ocean water we’ve ever been in! Wading in the sea was like stepping into warm bath water, and we climbed on the rocks, racing snails and catching crabs until the sun went down.
When our toes started to prune, we left to get dinner at the restaurant Jeff and Cindy’s friends work at, all the way back up the coast to Miaoli. The journey was long, and we were all hungry, but to keep us from dwelling too much on our empty stomachs, Jeff took us on a drive-by tour through Sanyi, an area famous for its beautiful wood carved sculptures. By the time we arrived at the restaurant, we were all starving.
The restaurant, Taokas, serves the traditional food of the indigenous people of Taiwan, of the same name. Jeff and Cindy warned us that the food was very rich, and that we would be too full to finish our whole meals, but trusting our lifetime of conditioning to giant American portion sizes, we went ahead and ordered a full meal each, with appetizers and dessert to boot. Boy were we wrong…halfway through we were stuffed with noodles and spicy rice, but we still found room for the sweet dessert toast that’s the restaurant’s specialty. Ryan was particularly excited by a cup of chocolate milk made with real frozen cocoa, and with our encouragement, Jeff worked up the courage to try his very first onion ring!
Absolutely full to bursting and exhausted from a long day out, we got in the car, ready to return home, before we remembered: tonight was the night market! If we didn’t go now, we would miss it again until next week!
So, rallying the last of our energy, we made one last stop to our first ever night market. The smells of grilling and frying and baking and barbecuing were intoxicating, even to our full bellies, and the street was full of people and things to buy. We tried our hand at a few games (unsuccessfully for the most part) and decided we couldn’t leave without trying some original night market food. We bought some barbeque squid and Hong Kong style chocolate egg waffles to share before heading home.
We got to see so much of the Miaoli area in just one day, and it already feels like we’ve known Jeff and Cindy for years after everything we’ve done and seen together today.
Thank goodness Shu-Huei gave us tomorrow off as well: this was the most fun either of us have had in ages, but we’ll definitely need another full day to recover from our day off!