Motto of the trip: stay weird.
two three weeks since I had journeyed to Taichung with my family, a rare trip this side of the world. The main point of my four day excursion was to visit my ailing grandfather. My 19-year-old “baby” cousin, Joss, and my sister, Tiffany, flew in from LA. I had expected them to land on Friday during the day, so I planned my trip as such. Turns out they didn’t arrive in Taichung until past midnight. But no matter. My ticket was booked and I flew from Hong Kong with my father and spent Friday evening with him. We went to see my grandpa who couldn’t remember either of us. Later, we had dinner with my dad’s colleagues, in which one of them proposed his son to me and declared me his “sweet daughter-in-law.” First day, down.
First pic in Taichung: my socks matched the house slippers.
The obligatory beef noodle soup, though this wasn’t the best.
All-you-can-eat, individual hot pot. My kind of hot pot. I don’t like to share.
On Saturday, the entire family visited the hospice. I’d been several times before, and each time, I pitied my grandfather. He used to cry whenever he’d see any of us. He doesn’t anymore, because he can no longer remember. A blessing, I suppose. I used to think what a terrible time he must be having, trapped in a building that stank of urine, having your diapers changed like an infant, all the while being moved to tears whenever a relative would come to visit because, I don’t know, you were overcome with joy, embarrassment, self-pity, or perhaps regret?
This time, Ah Gong’s eyes lit up when he saw us. We went down the line. “Who’s this?” We pointed at my father. “I don’t know,” he replied.
“Who’s this?” My uncle. “Don’t know.”
He was no longer on solid foods and ate through a feeding tube which was permanently placed through his nose, throat, and down into his stomach. “Meal time!” the nurse announced. I watched her inject his formula into the tube, then suction out the contents in his stomach. It’s to help him digest, she explained. The sound was grotesque and the sight even more so. This went on for a few minutes. Push, pull. Push, pull. “Are you full?” she chirped. My grandfather nodded passively.
We visited twice a day, everyday. Once in the morning and once in the afternoon. We took him out for walks. My uncle bought him a vape pen since he can no longer smoke cigarettes but craved them all the same. He choked, anyway. We brought him old family photographs. “Who is this?” we’d ask. “My mother,” he replied.
“And this?” His father.
“I don’t know.”
I played him Ue o Muito Arukou by Kyu Sakamoto, the only old Japanese song I knew. To our delight, he perked up and he sang along for a verse. At this point, his Mandarin had deteriorated and he preferred to speak either in Hokkien or Japanese. My father grew excited too, and declared that as a boy, someone would play this song on the record player on repeat, all day. We later sang this together during KTV.
Since we couldn’t spend all day with him, I had made a short list of places I wanted to visit while in Taichung. On Saturday night, my sister, cousin, and I ventured to Tunghai Night Market, where I spent 20USD on 9 pairs of socks; a sweet, delicious deal. Surprisingly, I was the only person who bought stuff.
Oh, sister did buy pearl milk tea. In Mandarin, “boba” means “nipples” so they don’t call it that in Taiwan.
Cute display at the night market.
On Sunday, we visited Park Lane and wandered around the three story mall that housed the infamous Eslite bookstore. I was disappointed with the stationery selection (nothing beats Seoul in that department), but I did buy a pair of black Vans at ABC Mart, which I’d been coveting for months.
We tried to visit the art museum nearby but it wasn’t opened yet, so I asked my uncle to take us to Zhongxin Market. From the surface street, it looked like any residential building, but upon entering, it was an even stranger sight—we appeared to have entered a giant, abandoned warehouse. “What is this place?” my family lamented, but once we turned a corner, we were greeted with a scatter of artful shops.
“Come on in!” chortled the owner from a coffee stand, the only store that seemed to be opened. He served us flower-infused coffees and entertained my uncle and dad in conversation while my sister and I explored. The coffee stand had an upstairs loft that doubled as a workspace. “This is so cool,” Tiffany gushed.
The entire area was a microcosm of the forgotten and the novel. Past the coffee stand was a very modern but small restaurant, and I stumbled upon a three-story LGBT-friendly bookstore, complete with a winding pink spiral staircase.
The highlight of Zhongxin Market was their 80s-themed toilet. It’s what drew me to the establishment in the first place, as listed on rtaiwanr. The bathroom stank terribly but looked terribly exciting. (My family thought I was strange for taking so many pictures of it).
Amazing, isn’t it?
We left Zhongxin Market feeling fulfilled and in happy spirits. We ended the evening with a seafood dinner, followed by late night KTV. The selection wasn’t the best but it was four hours with an unlimited buffet, NT2700 for 6 people. (Like $13 per person.) We didn’t take advantage of the buffet since we had just eaten, but we totally helped ourselves on the way out. (My sister feasted on several dishes and a bowl of noodle soup, Joss had ice cream, and the rest of us ate tea eggs.) All in all a good way to end my short trip.
On Monday, I paid a visit to my grandfather. We played him more vintage tunes, this time old Taiwanese favorites. It was a quiet afternoon as I waited patiently for my flight. My dad napped. My cousin followed me around on Snapchat while I messed about in my grandpa’s wheelchair.
When the time came, I told Ah Gong I was flying back to Hong Kong and my family escorted me to the airport. During the course of the trip, I had been certain that I would end in up tears over an argument with either my sister or father, but my excursion was relatively drama-free. My dad managed to piss off everyone in my family though, but I was pretty zen about it until the very end—he didn’t bring an umbrella so he insisted on using mine while I got soaked in the rain. However, by the time I was ready to do something dramatic, it had stopped raining.
Our last meal was what I deemed to be my kind of soul food: stewed fatty pork over steamed white rice, braised dishes, medicinal chicken soup, and my absolute favorite, bamboo shoots with pickled veggies. My late grandmother used to make the latter and I haven’t tasted it in a long time.