I have, more less, moved back to Taiwan to look for a job. I didn’t have time to make the move by land so I cheated, but I have been doing a bit of land travel lately, let me tell you about it.

Since I arrived here in time for Chinese new Year, the natural thing was to celebrate it with my girlfriend’s family.  So, we drove down to Erlin the day before new years eve and arrived at her parents house, which is full of people at all times since both her parents and older brother with family live there.  We arrived just in time for dinner and thus started several days of near constant food intake.

New years eve itself, me and Yini drove to a nearby town where we rented a four-wheel bicycle and rode around among the many flower shops, looking at various plants, which was more exciting than you could imagine.

When we had enough of trees we drove back to make the final preparations for the big new year dinner. The lower living room of the Hung family house is a small paint shop which we converted to a makeshift dining room by laying out a table top on top of a bunch of paint cans. Table in place, we set out a whole bunch of different dishes of all kinds. Preparations done, we sat down to eat with the whole family, from grandma to the youngest nephew. Some of the dishes were not really to my liking but generally, the meal was good.

All of us gathered around the improvised dinner table

Bellies full, we cleared the table…and set it up for tea and snacks. Yini’s dad is a veritable master of making tea so it was very enjoyable even though I was a bit too full already. After tea came the red envelopes (instead of Christmas gifts, Asians give out red envelopes filled with cash), and to my surprise, I got one. It seems the family really likes me. Uncle Anders is very popular with the children of the family so, to appease them, I set off some fireworks in the backyard (fireworks here are much more interesting than the ones back home). Both the nephews and I really enjoyed that, just too bad no one thought to bring a camera.

New years day was spent in a similar fashion as new years eve, but with less food and more relatives. A whole slew of cousins and uncles came to visit, and we even did a small trip to visit some of them. I spent most of the time either politely eating what was offered to me, or being climbed on by at least one nephew, or both at the same time. The evening ended with more fireworks, to everyone’s enjoyment.

The second day of the new year was return the wife day (according to Chinese tradition, the wife “belongs” to her husband’s family, but one day of the new year she will go back to visit her family). With both brothers and all the kids gone to visit the wives families, the house became sort of quiet, so Yini and I brought her mom along for a drive, leaving dad at home to take care of grandma. We visited a really nice garden, and again forgot the camera, then just drove around in the countryside and even had dinner in a restaurant before heading home.

With the brothers gone the next day as well, me and Yini took her mom out for a drive a second time. This time we went to visit an uncle on the mother’s side. Several other uncles and cousin were already at the house when we arrived. Apparently, this was the first time in several years that Yini’s mom was able to have a proper meal with her family, which made everyone very happy; some were even moved to tears. I was told that I helped facilitate this happy gathering, by giving mom an excuse to not stay at home taking care of grandma. I was happy to help even though I didn’t really do anything, it seems my presence was enough. Bellies full once more, we drove to Chunghua city to meet up with Yini’s younger brother, getting stuck in a traffic jam for few hours. Yini’s brother speaks English and I really enjoy talking to him, so it was well worth the traffic jam.

Finally, on Wednesday, it was time to go back to Hsinchu but not before we had another big meal. Just when we were about to pack our bags into the car, another “uncle” (close friend of the family) arrived, so we had tea and snacks with him through the afternoon. After that we drove home feeling satiated, longing to be able to do things on our own without mom offering me fruit, or nephews wanting to climb on me.

A few concluding remarks:

Despite Yini telling everyone that I can take care of myself, the family kept offering me food, tea snacks and fruit. I think it will be a while before I am properly hungry again.

I surprised myself by remembering a fair bit of Chinese, I could actually hold a shorter conversation

Many people living in north Taiwan have their families in central Taiwan, and when they all return to the small towns to celebrate new year, it causes several problems. The roads become congested, they even impose rules that you have to be more than two people in the car to be allowed on the highway. The stores even run out of a few basic wares such as milk and bread.

Giving out red envelopes to someone means that they are part of the family, so I feel both honored, and slightly embarrassed at getting two of them.

I wish I brought my camera along more often, as is, I only have few photos to show.