My Valentine’s Day 2012 in Hsinchu, Taiwan, ranked among the best days I’ve had here in a very long time. Thanks to my dear friend Amy, Tuesday night was fun, easygoing, and managed to incorporate the word “tit” without being inappropriate.

All these pictures were taken with my iPhone. My lovely prosumer Nikon, perfect for all the incredible pictures I missed, sat bored in my room all night. I’ve really got to start taking it with me more often. I’ll learn eventually. 

Amy and me at the beginning of our Valentine's Day adventure.

Escaping the busy shopping center where the theater is located, we made our way to Aroma Thai, a very small restaurant tucked away on a side street in the middle of downtown.

That's the kitchen. I'm standing on the street just outside. There wasn't really enough room for me to stand inside with Amy.

After receiving our chicken soup to go,

The best technological advance I've found in Taiwan? Plastic lids sealed onto the top of drinks and soup. Hey America, get on it.

we walked to a park nearby to sit on a bench and eat, people watch, and catch up.

Restaurants give to-go drinks out in bags, and I went the Taiwanese route and kept the bottle in the bag as I drank.
Dinner finished, we walked back to a main street and visited the Hsinchu City Hall,
Pre-bombed brick and post-bombed brick. Taiwan has an intense history.

which was decorated with red lanterns, blue Christmas lights, and a large, rotating dragon display.

The display took a comedic turn with the dragon's golf-ball eyes. It looked like it had been smoking.

We left and continued on through a network of alleys and small side streets. Our goal was to find a Chinese fortune teller Amy had researched as part of her thesis. She stopped to ask for directions, and a doctor fluent in English ended up helping us find the teller’s stall, which was closed. We thanked him for walking with us, and he invited Amy and me to dinner next time his bachelor son is in town. Nice try, Doc.

Parting ways with the doctor, we fought our way through scooter traffic to a temple.

Details on one of the roofs.

Surprised it was open, we walked inside and greeted some of the worshippers and staff.

These engraved characters look like something out of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. According to Amy, it's Chinese.
It’s common for those who have traveled extensively or lived in Asia to say, “You’ve seen one temple, you’ve seen them all.” For some reason, though, visiting a temple on Valentine’s Day felt right.
Each light has the name of an individual who donated money to the temple etched into the bottom. There are generally thousands of these lights in every temple.

I just had to hold back from buying the shirt on sale.

This, a scrunchi, a side ponytail, and high tops are all I need for my 90's-kid outfit.

Amy and I exited and continued our stroll. The night was becoming foggy, and the crowds thinned out as the evening progressed. On one nearly-deserted street, we happened upon a Tibetan store. Twenty minutes later, we emerged; on my wrist sat one of my purchases, in my purse were the other two.

I broke my own rule about buying something from one country in another country, but I couldn't help it. I love this bracelet.
At one point in the shop, Amy turned to me.
Amy: “Make a wish. Your tit is showing.”
Me: “WHAT.”
Amy: “No! The clasp of your necklace! It’s… that’s what we call it! It’s come around to the front.”
Canadians are weird.
Post purchase, Amy led me to the City God Temple, outside of which was a lottery ticket stand. We bought two Valentine’s-themed tickets.
We're losers.

No money for us. We left, but not before I got a picture of me drinking out of another plastic bag.

Turning Taiwanese, I think I'm turning Taiwanese, I really think so.
Our final stop was a store selling puppets famous to Taiwan.
These were the most normal of the bunch.
The store was full of handmade puppets representing different gods and characters from stories.
A tribute to The Simpson's. Not really. At least, I don't think so.

It was incredible seeing the details on each puppet, some a foot tall, others three feet tall.

The first rule of Fight Club is: you do not talk about Fight Club.

Amy talked to the shopkeeper and her family in Chinese while I took pictures and admired the craftsmanship.

They were closed for the night, but the door was open to let in a breeze. I stuck my head in, and they reopened just for us.
Amy, generous and always thinking of others, bought puppets for her nephew and her manfriend back in Canada. I plunked down 300nt (around $10) for a puppet for myself.
We thanked the shop owners and meandered back to our scooters,
Art on an electrical box outside.

pausing briefly to smell flowers at a small flower shop and look at a gate in a small alleyway.

Amy inspecting the gate. The fog really gave the city more personality.

It’s been a long time since I’ve truly enjoyed Hsinchu. Caught up in my routine and what I don’t like about the city, I’ve forgotten that there are still a lot of places in Hsinchu I haven’t seen. The people are generous, and there are little treasures hidden away that, when I find them, remind me how lucky I am.

An unusual scene: a downtown Hsinchu street almost deserted.

I’m an American living in Taiwan, on the opposite side of the planet from my home country. Not many people get to experience something this intense. I need to make every moment count.