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Full Hearts & Full Bellies

By the time we arrived in Taipei for our 3rd time, the city really started to feel like home away from home. This time, both my parents were there, plus we had the engagement photo shoot to look forward to. Being with my parents in Taipei, it was inevitable that I was going to eat way too much and gain back all the weight I lost while traveling. Fine by me!

 

After backpacking for 6 weeks, my body was crying for a solid massage. Before our Hokkaido trip, Avery visited a very luxurious spa that specialized in Thai massages. Their 2-hour package at Villa Like included a full body massage, a head massage, and a 15-min foot scrub - all for $90. Now, in Taipei, that is on the pricey side. But in New York, $90 doesn’t get you much at a luxury spa - maybe a mani pedi but who pays that much for a mani pedi? My coworker in SF used to laugh at me every time she saw me with a manicure because it was so rare. I think it wasn’t until I was engaged did I consistently have manicured nails for almost two months. Anyway, the massage was so effing amazing. I wish we had this spa in SF. I am extremely ticklish around my mid and upper back and she was able to get out my monstrous knots without me wriggling about like a child. 

 

We. Ate. So. Much. Food. When it comes to ordering, my mother is uncontrollable. I guess it’s an excellent problem for us to experience but damn, nothing pumps her up more than a menu and a party of five or more. One of my favorite places was a restaurant up in the mountains, called The Top. It’s my grandmother’s favorite place. She loved the food, the views, and the ambience. Imagine a Miami beach club situated in the mountains covered by green, luscious foliage with all white cabanas where you eat the most delicious homey Taiwanese food. I know - it’s hard to believe and it sounds bizarre on paper. But I love it there - apparently, it’s also pretty chic in the evening where it becomes more a lounge scene. Dumplings. Scallion pancakes. Sautéed clams. Seafood soup. Tea oil noodles. Crispy chicken. Soft tofu. Fried rice. Fried fish. Salt and pepper shrimp. Fried oysters. This only covered 50% of ONE night’s dinner. So, yeah. Pretty insane. 

Somehow, I managed to still look acceptable for my photo shoot. Ah, the photo shoot. It’s such a love/hate experience for me. I did something very similar when I was 17. Our family came to Taiwan during the summer and my parents wanted my sister and I to do this photo shoot so we could “always remember how young and beautiful we were.” Being young, you never think about these things but we must do as we’re told. Back then, I had 6 outfit changes plus it was so, so hot. I actually ended up crying at outfit #4 because I was so over it. The hair and makeup, all the hairspray, the sweating, the uncomfortable dresses - it sounds crazy to hate something that most girls would love but I was not a happy camper. Ironically, looking back, I am really happy I did it. 

When Avery and I talked about getting married, I told him that I wanted us to do this. I wanted us to take photos in both western and traditional Chinese wedding outfits. To be honest, I thought it would be insanely fun and comical to experience it and to see Avery in an Asian robe while flashing a serious smile and those baby blues. It’s just so amazing on so many levels. I just know that when I’m 80, old, and wrinkly, I’m going to be so happy looking at these photos, and perhaps my grandchildren will think it’s just as dope. Either way, at least they’ll maybe get a laugh looking at their grandfather. I am so incredibly grateful and proud to be Taiwanese. As I grew older, I really started to embrace this side of me. And I wanted to show it off and engagement photos were the perfect opportunity to do this. 

This time, Avery had three outfits and I have four: two white wedding dresses and two Chinese wedding dresses. When I tried on wedding dresses in Los Angeles, I knew I wanted a more fitted silhouette but every girl has to try on a ballgown. It’s not me at all but this was my chance to pseudo-live in that moment without the commitment. For my second wedding dress, I wanted more contrast and went with a minimalist choice. Very 90s, very Gwenyth Paltrow/Cindy Crawford wedding. 

In very traditional Chinese weddings, you have two dresses: a qipao dress and a xiuhe outfit. You typically wear the xiuhe outfit for the ceremony and the qipao dress for the reception. Qipao is your iconic red, mandarin collar, cap sleeve, floor length dress with a long slit. They are mostly silk but sometimes they are georgette - but they are always embellished, either with gold lurex thread and embroidery or lace with beading. Mine was the latter. This was Avery’s favorite look. When I put it on, I looked so much like my grandmother. I cried three times on my photo shoot day. She seriously believed I was the most beautiful girl in Taiwan. In the world. But that’s because I look like her. And I just know that she would’ve loved seeing me in it. But I guess she’s there in spirit and saw all of it but…I just would’ve loved to see her reaction. 

The xiuhe outfit can be either a dress or separates. I picked this stunning separates piece that had so much gold and silver lurex thread. I’ve never seen myself in anything like that - I looked like a Qing dynasty princess, for real. For someone who likes to wear all black menswear, it’s just incredible to see myself transform in that way. This was actually my favorite outfit. 

The photographer thought it would be best to shoot the xiuhe outfit in this memorial house that has a very ancient vibe as the backdrop. And it really was just as amazing as I expected. I am so happy that we decided to do this - all of this. It was a long day, about 9 hours but it was so worth it. 

I know it’s painful that I don’t have the photos to show yet - I don’t have the digital copies yet but I will share as soon as I can. 

As we head to Tokyo, I am so happy about our trip(s) to Taipei. It was so nice spending time with my extended family whom I don’t have the opportunity to see that often. I love spending time with them and it was really meaningful to have Avery with me. There are so many things that I think are normal that are novel to him. I really believe that he knows me better because of our visits to Taipei from culture to values to food to my family. It’s all a part of me and my childhood. Words can only do so much in this case - you really need to experience it. 

I feel like I should be Taipei’s official spokeswoman because I talk it up so much. Avery and I were discussing how most travelers don’t tend to put Taipei on their list. We felt like maybe it’s a time constraint issue - perhaps when people fly overseas, they prefer to knock Japan, China, Korea, and SE Asia off the list before prioritizing Taipei. But I think they’ve got it all wrong. But hey, that’s cool. More for us, my family, and my new family :)

Catherine JoeiComment