Night market. Taroko Gorge. Lin Memorial. Hot Springs. The Presidential Hall. Shopping in Hsimending. Singing songs with the Aborigine Tribe. Meeting students from the local high school and university. Learning about Taiwan relations and political parties. I could go on and on; there are so many things I think of when I look back on my Tsunah trip to Taiwan, but the one thing that stands out in my mind is the food. Why is it that despite all the worthwhile experiences I had during this trip, despite everything that I learned about the history and culture of Taiwan, my most vivid memories revolve around the food?
I remember my uncle picking my family and me up from the airport the night we arrived in Taiwan and dropping us off at my grandfather's empty house to stay the night. Even though it was after midnight and everyone was exhausted, my uncle pushed an enormous Tupperware box full of pre-sliced oranges and red lian-bu fruits towards us, insisting we eat them before he rushed home to bed. I fell asleep with a stomach full of fruit and woke up a few hours later to the early morning sounds of my parents rushing in with bags full of bread, soybean milk, coffee, and 7-eleven lunchboxes. My half-asleep brother and I hurriedly stuffed our faces before catching a cab to the Chilin Foundation Taipei Office.
My memories from the actual Tsunah Tour are comprised of even more food-related moments; there were the addicting cow tongue cookies that everyone devoured by the handful and the pork chop lunchboxes that we ate on the bus. I remember cooking my own meat and turnip cakes at lunch while on our trip to the Aborigine Tribes. Getting money to buy our own breakfast íV I bought those yummy triangle ham-and-cucumber sandwiches íV across the street from the YMCA hotel in Taipei. Buying hot sausages and taro-red bean-pineapple ice cream from the food stands outside the Wu-Fang-chi Waterfalls. Having lunch in the cafeteria while chatting with the Tamkang High School students. Then there was the Christmas Night dinner, which had everything from dumplings to coffee pudding to pizza! All the time and effort the ladies at the Chilin Center in Ilan put into cooking our meals every night made me feel so at home and well cared for, especially on Christmas Eve when they presented us with an entire feast of two full tables íV one for the dinner and one just for dessert. I missed spending the holiday with my family, but the way the people at the Chilin Center treated us made me feel like I had a whole new family to spend this Christmas with.
I even associate the other people on the trip with food. Doreen bought my brother a package of liquid energy gel when he was sick and gave him a bread roll filled with shredded pork when he forgot to eat breakfast. Jennifer, with her ice cream obsession and the morning I helped her eat three donuts from two different donut stands. Chris offering me Chewy granola bars and eating my untouched food on the last day when I was sick.
Ultimately, I've realized that it isn't so much the food itself that draws my focus and attention, it's the people I'm with and the warmth that I feel when I eat, especially in Taiwan. It seems that particularly with the Taiwanese, sharing food, giving food, and eating food are all strongly associated with caring and love. Food not only nourishes our bodies and fills our stomachs, it feeds our hearts and our souls. Food strengthens the bonds we have with others and shows how much we care for them. I know that I bonded best with my new friends on the trip a hot meal or while sharing a snack because that was the only time that we could talk and get to know each other. I look forward to the next time that I can go back to Taiwan to eat, drink, and be merry.