Thursday, February 14, 2013

Lost in a maze of stinky tofu

This evening we both hopped on one scooter (the nice one) and took off to just scoot around town.

We really didn't have one destination in mind.

We both just really wanted to out and about.

Everyone is still off for Chinese New Year so areas of town that would normally be bumper-to-bumper rush hour traffic were eerily empty.

That all changed when we got to the East Gate roundabout. This is the center of all things downtown. Scooters, cars, bicycles, buses, pedestrians, and stray dogs clog the roadways and  navigating it is always tense. The last time we scooted in this area, Sean noticed a night market we had never explored before.

Suddenly, there it was again but about three times as large with lanterns lining the entire length and giant snakes at the entrance.

We parked the scooter and decided to poke around for a few minutes before heading back.

Usually, I'm lazy and don't bother storing my helmet in the seat compartment. Tonight, I just hooked the chin strap to the handlebar and then without a second glance off we went.

Taiwan is not a hopping tourist destination; it's out of the way of the cliche Southeast Asia backpacker route so I was a little baffled by all the second glances, children pointing, and men gaping. I really, truly believe it is not done out of rudeness. I think it happens because Hsinchu in particular, with absolutely nothing to offer tourists, sees few white people (I also think my bra size is three times the average Taiwanese bra size of AA).

It really hit home that we were no longer in Thailand, a place where sometimes you look around and see more foreigners than locals and English resonates all around. I know that sounds funny, like, of course you're not in Thailand anymore Jackie. But the thing is, when you fly home and everything is still in a foreign language and everyone looks different and Asia, Asia everywhere... it can all start to feel the same.

We walked, people watched, and suddenly we found ourselves quite surprised to be utterly and completely lost. I mean entirely lost. And the thing is, we had just come back from Thailand, a foreign-ish (come one, we've spent three months in the country and roamed north, south, east and west. How foreign could it still be?) country, a place we were careful to take note of how to get from point A-B-C and back again.

But here we were so nonchalant; here we were home.

We've lived in Hsinchu going on 7 months now. I take off on the scooter alone with a reliable working map of the city in my mind. I have a cell phone with friends phone numbers.

But tonight, Sean and I forgot that there are still parts of this city that are completely alien to us. We didn't pay attention. We didn't know road names. We left our cells at home.

To put it frankly, we were kinda helpless.

And we had absolutely no idea where we parked our scooter or how to get back to it.

And the thing about Hsinchu is that the majority of people here absolutely do not speak English. Why would they?

So, we found ourselves with no idea of even the name of the road we parked our scooter on let alone in front of which store (was it 7-11, Family Mart, the noodle stand, the pharmacy, the DVD rental?) and no way to ask for help or give a taxi directions to our house (one time we tried to just impulsively hop in a taxi and after six taxi drivers came and left, none understanding a lick of English, we gave up).

And we felt, for the first time in a loooong time, like true foreigners in Taiwan fresh off the boat.

We ended up walking in circles within the night market for more than an hour before the smell of stinky tofu began to overwhelm our stomachs so we took to the street and walked for another hour and a half, finding a main drag we were familiar with that led us to the East Gate roundabout, which has six spokes, and walking down two incorrect ones before Sean finally recognized a street and then about 20 minutes later, because I was lazy and left my hot pink helmet on our scooter (which looks exactly like every other scooter in Taiwan) found our scooter and putted off to Starbucks to laugh and recover while splitting a Valentine's Day strawberry and chocolate and whip cream brownie and sipping on coffee.

Photo taken by: djmike
It was an exciting welcome back to our never dull Taiwanese lives.


  1. I am glad I bought you that bright bubble gum pink helmet not to only protect your beautiful brain but to act as a beacon when you are lost.
    Love Mom

    1. Me too Mom! It was literally the only way we could tell which stupid scooter was ours. Although, I looked in the mirror today while wearing my helmet and man does it look utterly ridiculous!


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