It was that time of year again. If I didn't live with a little spirited elf myself, I can't imagine Christmas being as jolly or meaningful while experiencing it in Taiwan. You certainly have to cultivate the season of holiness. Its all "Jingle Bells" and "We Wish You" and not enough "Angels We Have Heard on High".
The Yilan weather is more conducive to reflection; with it's somber, sunless skies, the nebulous storm clouds obscure the life source. One light piercing the gloom, a solitary candle in a bitter twilight rain. This is the spirit of Christmas, minus the snow and family. (I couldn't imagine Christmas south of the equator, more like a summer BBQ, but I certainly would give it a try.)
Winter in Taiwan starts with the winter solstice and everyone having to eat the traditional sweet date soup with sticky rice balls (tang yuan). Every school I worked for has served it with lunch. It supposed to mean a year of good luck. I took my 7th grade class caroling to the nearest elderly retirement home, which was a tender experience of connecting with the community for everyone. (Read about it here.)
|My arms are too short for selfies!|
Christmas Day was austere and subdued. My friend from Tainan made the trip north so it was more festive sharing the seasonal traditions, opening presents by the tree, meditate the blue twinkling lights at night and catch up on midnight merrymaking, Christmas ale toasts and a cornucopia of conversation.
We had a fabulous Boxing Day hike in the Yilan wonderland. The Caoling Historic Trail (草嶺古道) has been on my list of DO's since moving here. We took the train to Gongliao, rented bikes and biked to the trail head. My kid uphill on a bike was slow going, but she was a real trooper and didn't give up.
|We biked along this river for a bit|
Then we hiked to Dali. There were a few interesting rockbound places to rest.
We saw wild grouse, macaques and load of birds I must learn their names.
|A troupe of macaques live in the trees where the silver grass covers the hills|
It wasn't blue skies, but it didn't rain, so it was cold enough to dry our sweat at the top and clear enough to see the ocean. Perfect hiking weather.
|Views from the top, looking down onto Dali|
Best of all we had the whole trail to ourselves, which was surprising considering its such a famous trail and not that far from Taipei.
The next day we decided to soak our weary bones in the hot springs of nearby Jiaoxi. We lunched at the Slow Train Cafe . There's a reason its called slow, but the coffee was amazing. The ingredients are fresh and we ordered paninis, but it was pretty spare on the fillings- too much bread.
|A Grateful Dead dinner at Slobber's|
We took a ten minute train ride and walked to one of our favorite spa hotels but they moved shop. It wasn't a far walk to their new abode but along the way we passed The Art Spa Hotel that Z and I always wanted to check out (because of their massive 4 story winding water slide) so we just decided to give this place a try. It was mad fun. Z played with the kids in the children's area which was basically a playground submerged in a kiddie pool, while us adults rotated to different spa treatments, pools and saunas. I got one try down the slide and my kid had 2 (it was a massive line). Living so close we we vowed to return.
The New Years Weekend was entirely a relaxing, sybaritic 3 day weekend. We couldn't rouse the energy to visit Tainan, even with the promise of catching up with old friends, better restaurant options and the Chi Mei museum. Being stuck in traffic in the tunnels on the way to Taipei and circumstancing the zoo of Taipei Main station, the jacked ticket prices for high-speed train south- nah.
New Years Eve dinner was Italian at the Caffe Grazzie in Luna Plaza. Its the only place we can get arugula and we are nuts for it.
|New Years Eve dinner, Cafe Grazie. The past has gone,welcome the better year. May you achieve anything your heart desires this new year!過去已矣，來者可追，願新的一年，大家心想事|