It’s that time of year again when celebration sweeps across all of Taiwan marking the beginning a new lunar year, and this year is the year of the snake. Most people in Taiwan have a week off to clean their homes, cook celebratory meals, and enjoy time with family. As part of the festivities, many cities often hold their own lantern festivals, and Taichung’s didn’t fail to impress me. The flicker of red, white, yellow, green, and blue lights illuminating the darkness are a visual feast for the eyes.
Entrance to lantern festival at Forest Park.
The snake is the sixth animal out of 12 in the Chinese zodiac and is supposed to be “enigmatic, intuitive, introspective, and refined.” Characteristics we can all appreciate.
Walking under snakes. Not Creepy at all.
The festival has lanterns in all shapes and sizes. WARNING: CUTENESS AHEAD!!!
One of my favorite sections of the festival is full of lanterns created by students. I love the way they use their creativity to represent the snake. The nerdy snake is ridiculously adorable for a cold blooded reptile don’t you think?
Of course there are lanterns of other animals as well.
The grandest lantern of them all is the snake encircling a sphere. There is a short production with glamorous Hollywood lights, music, and a drummer dwarfed by the gigantic snake. See him in the corner?
As the doors of the international arrival terminal open, I’m greeted by a big warm, “Welcome to Taiwan!” coming from my dear friend Wei and her fiancé David. I am instantly relieved and happy to see friendly smiling faces after a grueling flight that is the nightmare of all insomniacs. Curse you insomnia and curse you economy seats!
After looping around the airport parking lot several times, we finally reach the highway and are speeding south to the city of Taichung, my home for the next three months. Taichung is located in central Taiwan and is the third largest city on the island. What strikes me when I first arrive is how warm it is. It’s January and my light jacket is all that is needed for the evening chill. A girl can get used to this especially after coming from the frigid New England weather.
As luck would have it, my apartment building is centrally located within Taichung and is surrounded by large department stores, restaurants, and bubble tea shops (my guilty pleasure of course). The 7-11 is across the street and the gym is just around the corner. Ahhh…convenience at its finest.
My New digs. Not much to Look at but a great location.
View from laundry area on 9th floor of my apartment.
My first few days are spent walking wherever my two feet can carry me. One favorite destination is the Museum of Natural Science and adjacent Botanical Garden. In a chaotic city where scooters are aplenty and the buzz of traffic is constant, I often find peace sitting in the garden. The lush plants under the glass structure attract me like a bee to pollen, and I enjoy listening to the roar of the waterfall. Sometimes these moments of calming solitude are a necessity for the soul.
World Map in front of museum of fine arts in taichung, taiwan
It’s 4 A.M. and I hear the sound of my alarm waking me up after a brief nap that seemed like only a mere 30 seconds rather than minutes. In the final days leading to my departure, my days are full. Good byes must be said, time must be spent with those near and dear, and family must be prepped for my year long absence. They say the devil is in the details and my obsessive side wants to make sure all is covered. Instructions and important information are left for family in a highly organized binder. Check. The flight ticket to show immigration proof of onward travel is purchased. Check. Last minute chocolate gifts are bought. Check. Bags are packed and repacked. Check and double check. I appear to be ready but can one ever be prepared for a year away from home existing simply as a nomad without any real purpose other than to see the world and how its people live? I know the answer is a big fat NO. Even with a month and a half of prep time is anyone truly ready?
As my brother and mother drive me to the airport in the cold darkness of the early morning hours, I continue to feel uncertainty and apprehensiveness. People only dream of what I was about to do and would be jumping and screaming with delight, yet a mix of emotions brew inside me threatening to overflow. Nervousness, fear, and excitement are all meeting each other and saying hello.
When I think about why I decided to leave my job of almost 8 years and the opportunity to collect a steady income, my logical mind yells, “Are you crazy?!” Why are you walking away from certainty and leaping head first into the uncertain? Why are you leaving wonderful family and friends to travel mostly alone for a year? A big life decision like this doesn’t rely on a simple explanation but does so from many. I didn’t feel challenged in my current circumstances and was lacking the confidence in myself that I unexpectedly gained while studying abroad in distant countries as an undergraduate. I longed for and badly missed the challenges of being out of my element and having to lean on mostly myself or the kindness of others, and ultimately I wanted to clear the clutter in my head.
The well intentioned universe also came knocking and threw me several hints that it was NOW or never. I had found a self defense teacher in Taiwan through an on line forum, my job as a controller was handed over to someone else while no other important responsibility was given to me, and I kept seeing people who were figures in my life ceasing to exist though they still had that hunger to live. If this wasn’t saying something, then I don’t know what else could be said that would convince me that there is no perfect time but this surely was close. My dreams of meeting someone, settling down, and having a family would all have to patiently wait for me until after I traversed the globe.
Hang out spot at Taichung Parkway
And here I am sitting in a park in Taichung watching people enjoy the early spring weather the day before Chinese New Year and reflecting on my last several days at home prior to my departure. As they say, this is when the story really begins.