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#REPRESENT

My fiancé has never been to Taipei. I know, I know. Crazy. Growing up, I’ve spent so many summers and holidays here with my extended family. Taipei has really developed over the past 20 years - building a new subway system, designing one of the tallest buildings in the world, and even founding their first baseball teams here. I guess Taiwan and I both have really changed and grown up.

Avery is the first guy I ever brought home to my family here in Taipei. Kind of a big deal. Like many families, our socializing revolves around food. And drink. But mostly food. We tend to take “family-style” to a whole new level. We don’t believe in one entrée per person. We believe you should have the right collection and balance, ranging across cold starters, dumplings, noodles, soup, noodle soup, different choices of meat and seafood, always a vegetable, and of course, white rice. And this is for your basic Tuesday night dinner at home. So of course, do as the Romans do.

If you have ever been to a Din Tai Fung elsewhere other than Taiwan, I feel saddened that you didn’t get the fullest and best experience. Ah, biased, you say? I think you should know by now that I am pretty chill and open minded about acknowledging the error in my ways. I don’t have to be right all the time and I’m comfortable with apologizing when appropriate. So just take my word for it. Din Tai Fung in Taipei is the bee’s knees. And we had to take Avery here.

The best three words anyone can ever say to me are “xiao long bao” (pronounced shaow lung bow. And I xiao long bao you, too). Screw Joe’s Shanghai in NYC (sorry Ryan). Screw Din Tai Fung in Glendale (sorry Infatuation LA…see what I mean about the apologies). Taipei just slays. The folds are much more cleaner and precise. The balance of soup and meat is perfection. The skin is more delicate. I cook, so I can really appreciate the art in the work. Did you know that each xiao long bao has 18 folds per dumpling? The number 8 is our culture’s lucky number - it represents prosperity, very much like Judaism with multiples of 18. (#18 was my lacrosse number is high school). Like a delicate silk slip of vinegar, soy sauce, and ginger, every bite is like a dream come true. Just book your flight and I’m happy to go and wait in line for hours. Like I said in my first post, we down.

We managed to dodge a typhoon prior to our arrival. And for some mystical reason, our first day in Taipei was so perfectly sunny, it stunned even the natives. My aunt thought it would be the perfect day to visit the Taipei 101 observatory, located atop the world’s 8th tallest building (ha 8). Views, man. Views! If you live in Marin/Bay Area like I do, pretty much every day is beautiful. But in Taipei, it really is a treat. It was actually my first time visiting the observatory, as well. I love doing something new with Avery. When we were in NYC, our favorite thing to do was to eat at a new restaurant we’ve never been before. We just love that New New. Knowing we were going to be back in Taipei for two whole weeks, I didn’t want to overwhelm Avery with all the must-dos and must-eats crammed into 72 hours. So, I had to put the National Palace Museum, night markets, 24-hour bookstores on hold this time but only temporarily. Womp womp.

After Taipei 101, my family and I decided to venture towards Qixing Mountain aka Seven Star Mountain, located in the center of Yangmingshan National Park. Guys, it’s the highest mountain in Taipei and the highest (dormant) volcano in the country. There was a bit of traffic but nothing like crossing midtown Manhattan after work. The park is famous for its cherry blossoms, hot springs, and hiking trails. Let’s cut to the chase. It smells like sulfur. Big deal. Please don’t embarrass yourself once you arrive and say “Ew it smells”. Ignorance is probably my biggest pet peeve of all time, oh, and when toilet paper isn’t rolled from the top off of its holder.

I haven’t been back to Taipei since my grandmother passed away three years ago. The thought of coming back was just too hard. I told myself I’d never return except with my fiancé, shifting the experience to be positive and new, ultimately overshadowing the darkness and sadness I stored from the loss. From the moment I boarded my flight to Taipei, I couldn’t stop thinking about my grandmother, my Puo Puo. Honestly, I can’t even say her name out loud without tearing up still. The whole ride up the mountain, I kept thinking “how ironic”. How ironic that in my quest, my journey to betterment, that I would be here in Taipei, where it all began for me before I was even born. I didn’t realize how significant this layover was going to be. This was where I came from. And here I am, making my way up by making my way back home.

I really miss her. Sometimes it’s okay. And sometimes it’s not. But a part of me believes that she was my angel who blessed this day with perfect blue skies and healthy, happy hearts. I just wish Avery could have met her. She had the biggest heart. My family thinks that I am just like her - like we are kindred spirits. I guess we both had to learn the hard way that having a big heart is both a strength and a weakness. It’s cool though - kinda makes me feel like it’s my X-Men power or something.

As we head to Bali this morning, it still feels surreal that we’re doing all of this. Maybe it’s the jet lag that causes a slight delay in the process. Maybe it’ll kick in during my sun salutation in yoga class by the rice fields. Or maybe it’ll kick in after I step into our beautiful suite in Samur. I’ll probably cry a shit ton. But it’s cool though - kinda makes me feel like I’m doing the right thing.

Catherine JoeiComment