Our first stop was Tainan, 台灣的美食之都 (Taiwan's culinary capital) and also my hometown. Two days there were enough for me to realize how much had stayed the same - and all that had changed. 孔廟（Confucius Temple) still has its place in the center of the city, although the surrounding walls have now come down. The 國立台灣文學館（Museum of Taiwanese Literature） remains a welcome shelter for people to 避暑 (avoid the heat) and read about Taiwan's literary past, although the former seems to be the preferred option these days. Most surprisingly of all, the newly-revamped 奇美博物館 now looks like Versailles/The White House/something you'd find in Rome. My family friends tell me that it is the largest art museum in Asia, and I feel a surge of pride.
Here was the sunset we saw on Day 1.
Day 2 was a whirlwind tour around the city via 台灣好行, a travel-bus-package that lets you take any bus in the city (including the 台灣好行 tourism bus) and stop at various destinations throughout the day for just 88 NTD. We first took a nearly-90-minute bus ride to 七股, where we climbed the famous 鹽山 (the salt mountain; a blindingly white spectacle in the middle of nowhere) and began to feel the palpable heat that would pursue us throughout the day - indeed, throughout the entire trip. From there, we travelled back to the heart of Tainan, stopping at the 安平樹屋 (Anping treehouse; we didn't go in, though) and then to the desolate-looking 安平老街 that had been bustling the last time I visited during high season. We ate chocolate and vanilla ice cream from a U-shaped cone (you guessed it, one flavour per tip), the legendary 臭豆腐 (stinky tofu; ah, the smell of home) but saved space for 渡小月, where the most authentic 擔仔麵 (danzai noodles) of Taiwan is served. We went to both the flagship and the original restaurants, experiencing yet again a sense of the new and old in the same city. Time stretched that day as we hopped on and off a number of buses and strolled countless streets. I have never explored my hometown without my family, but I realize at the end of the day - with an almost childish sense of fulfilment - that I have what it takes to do it!
We left 台南 on day 3, catching an early train to 台東, where our biking expedition (the gold star of our itinerary) would begin. I was so nervous about missing the train that when we finally boarded and put our bags down, I didn't even fully realize I was speeding away from family friends I have known for more than a decade, the hospital where I was born, my 故鄉. Not knowing when I'd next return, I left it all behind at 300km/h. (We'd later be biking at around 1/15th that speed).
When we sped past 屏東, however, I was fully (and guiltily) aware. This was probably the first time I had returned to Taiwan and not stopped by 屏東, my parents' hometown. To be truthful, there is nothing left for me there anymore, apart from a childhood-defining meal of 涼麵 (cold noodles with sesame sauce and cucumber), my uncle's family, my mother's cousins and memories that I've recorded in my diaries and poems. Ah, I must admit: 屏東 will always be the one place in 台灣 that has the greatest bearing on me. Nonetheless, I remain seated on the train that flies past it.
Biking began that afternoon. Never have I ever felt so emotionally attached to a vehicle (I mean, even my name is on it!).