Year of the Dragon

Happy New Year!

Chinese New Year is to Taiwan what Christmas is to the United States. We have a week-long vacation this week, stores are full of decorations and special foods just for the holiday, and the year’s animal is prominently displayed everywhere.

This is a handpainted dragon a street vendor painted for me. I saw it, squealed and clapped my hands like a child.

This is the Year of the Dragon. Not to offend anyone, but that’s so much cooler than Year of the Rabbit, which was last year.

Sunny, my tutoring boss and one of my good friends, invited me to go with a group to Taipei to the annual Taipei Lunar New Year Festival street market. I piled into a car with Sunny, her son Jack, Annie, and Annie’s mother. We were meeting Sara and her mother in Taipei.

Most cars here have mini video cameras that record everything that happens in front of the car. These cameras, coupled with street cameras everywhere, mean several big brothers are recording at all times.

Jack, Annie and Sara are in one of my tutoring classes; I teach them, their younger siblings, and three more kids.

We arrived in Taipei, found Sara and her mother, and made our way through busy streets to the market.

You can literally buy the truffles off Costco Man's vest.

It was busy, loud, and a visual feast. Vendors called out for people to try the foods they were selling. As I passed one vendor, he yelled, “English! Camera! Facebook!”

That's not the most flattering advertisement.

In the middle of the din of the market, this monk stood, eyes closed, striking a bell.

It's not uncommon to find people in wheelchairs selling lottery tickets. Some of the proceeds go to charity.

A beggar in the middle of the market.

Sunny and Jack. Several times I caught them reach out and give each other side hugs. Jack would be so embarrassed if he knew I was talking about him.

Vendors would sit or stand in the middle of the already-crowded street and herd people to their booths. This guy moved like a prissy robot.

One of two stores we passed selling shark fins.

One half of the market was open, the other covered. This half was warmer and darker, but they were equally loud.

Each time we passed a stall with samples, Sunny would make sure I tried at least one. She would call out to me, smiling, with a toothpick or cup bearing a new food held in my direction. I was well-fed, though I’m not entirely sure what I ate.

Fish eggs. I thought they were cow tongues. After an already exciting culinary tour, I declined to try some.

There is one thing I am absolutely certain I ate. Sunny turned to me as we walked through the market. Her eyes were wide, a smile creeping onto her face. “Mandy – stinky tofu?” That entire experience merits its own post, coming soon.

Before heading back to Hsinchu, we passed a table where an older man and his wife were selling personalized paintings for the new year.

I told him I wanted seven dragons. Sunny translated, and he whipped up seven different designs. Each time he finished one, I loudly exclaimed, "Yes!" The silly foreigner was good for business; lots of people stopped by to see what all the commotion was about.

After learning what you wanted, he dipped his large calligraphy brush into gold paint and went to work.

Long pinky nails no longer signify drug users. In Taiwan, they signify someone who wants a long pinky nail.

The kids and I stood by, transfixed, as he worked. We ended up with several pieces; one for each of the kids and several more I could give away as gifts. I did, of course, keep the largest and best looking one for myself.


  1. > Most cars here have mini video cameras that record everything that happens in front of the car. These cameras, coupled with street cameras everywhere, mean several big brothers are recording at all times.
    Uh, why? Insurance reasons?

    1. There are a lot of accidents here, especially involving scooters. With some of the laws regarding what the person at fault has to do for the victim (alive or dead), people are very inclined to lie about whose fault it is. The cameras are the easiest and clearest way to find out what actually happened.

      Scooters don’t have cameras (too expensive, from what I’ve researched), but the vast majority of 4-wheeled vehicles do.

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