the best christmas present.


This year, I got the best Christmas present anyone could've ever asked for. Growing up internationally and having friends that are more often scattered across continents than not, I know how valuable it is for a group of people to reunite. 

Last week, I got to have eight days with some of my favourite people. 

I've spoken time and time again about my flatmates from my first year in London. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that these people have inspired me and changed my life for the better. We've been more or less scattered all over the globe the past year and a half, each person building their own life. I've done some country hopping to visit the guys that were still based in Europe, and have moved back to the island country where my girl is also at. But to have more than two of the gang in one place was something that I didn't expect to happen any time soon. 

I was never more happy to have been wrong. 

I could still wrap my head around the fact that my Korean friend was actually sitting in the airport Starbucks, sipping on an Americano before I tackled her with a massive hug. It was more than a bit surreal, to say the least, when my Swiss friend arrived at the airport a couple hours later and ignored our instructions for him to turn left upon exit to where the rest of us was waiting to pick him up. It was almost like I was on autopilot as we crossed the whole arrival hall to track down our friend who seemed a bit delusional after a 19-hour flight. 

It was all a bit bizarre, to be honest, and it took a couple of days for the fact that 80% of the gang was reunited in this tiny far east island to feel real. 
Taipei is a modern, fast-paced city that still has its historical and cultural corners. We battled seas of pushy tour groups in the National Palace Museum (故宮) to see the famous cabbage and slab of meat. Yeah, you read that right - meat and veggies. It's all about the food for us. Okay, I probably made it sound a lot less impressive than it actually is - these are two intricate designs carved from jade that's really worth a look. There were also some impromptu history, cultural, and language lessons during which even I impressed myself with the knowledge I managed to retain. Of course, with a former IR student, law student, and international development major, there were talks of the political development in recent history. 

We also made a trip to the Taipei Confucius Temple (台北孔廟) and well, I might have fist-bumped a couple of the wise men and played 'monkey see monkey do'. I remember hating studying Confucius when I was back in school, I didn't understand it and thought that brain power had much more efficient uses than memorising the scriptures - I might have cheated through these memorisation tests. Might. But it was still nice to take a trip to visit who essentially formed the fabric of Chinese culture and tradition. It was a quaint visit during which I felt smarter than I actually was - sure, there was some googling when trying to translate and explain the scriptures to my friends, but I got there in the end. 
Monkey see, monkey do - or the smart version, 'see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil' (非禮勿視 非禮勿言 非禮勿聽)
One of the great things about having friends coming to visit is that I can introduce my other friends to them - it's all one big family. One of my closest friends that I've known since high school just so happened to also move back to this island just before I did. It was quite nice to be able to hang out with her after being on different continents the past six years, and even more so to see her befriending some of the most important people in my life. There was a lot of ridiculous comments and trips down memory lane when she hung out with us on a day trip to the Confucius Temple and foggy Tamshui (淡水). The three of my friends seemed to get along quite splendidly, and thank heavens that not all of my embarrassing high school memories were dragged out from the dusty corner. 

Another friend that I met in Taiwan who was originally from England also joined us for a historical morning at the Banqiao Lin Family Gardens (板橋林家花園) - or as I like to dub it 'the rich people gardens'. She's met the two friends when we were in London, but it was different to see the three of them interacting on homebase. We also did some calligraphy after the trip, and well, I have strongly disappointed my childhood calligraphy teacher. My Swiss friend who's mandarin vocabulary consists of 'hello, thank you' and a tonne of filthy censored words also tried a hand at writing Chinese. It was really good for someone that's never picked up a calligraphy brush, and only had a quick five minute language lesson in the museum before giving up. The end results were quite good - the process, eh, let's ignore that. 

The meat of their visit was the three day trip to Hualien (花蓮) on the east coast of Taiwan. We're famous for the Taroko Gorge (太魯閣), where two of the earth's plates meet and create a spectacular gorge that's running parallel along the sealine. I'm not someone that'll vocalise the things that scare the crap out of me. But there are two things that terrify me to the point where I'll openly admit to having a weak spot - one of them being heights. I already had a problem with this when I visited Switzerland earlier this year and we had to take the gondola up the Alps. So it was only a bastard move by my Swiss friend to start jumping on the suspension bridge after I finally plucked up the courage (and half threatened by my other friend) to inch along the narrow bridge. I don't remember the actual details of what happened but according to the video that my friend shot - well, there was a lot of swearing contrasting the quaintness of the mountains and I probably should've apologised to the innocent ears that were contaminated by vulgarities that should never be uttered again. 

We took two hiking trails in a day, prepared to tackle a third in the afternoon when half of the people threw their hands up in despair, refusing to leave the rock they were sitting on if we were going to take one more step into the mountains. Strong suggestions of wanting my Swiss friend to 'youtube the waterfall at the end of the trail' were thrown out before we finally came to the compromisation of trekking up to the temple situated on a small mountain by the parking lot, before driving along the coastline for 2.5 hours for hot springs. There was our usual 'oh crap, we relied on technology too much and got ourselves lost', and a lot of partying to Sk8r Boi and U Make Me Wanna in the car. 

Yes, I'm wearing sweatpants - get over it. I was lazy and it was comfy enough for the 3.5 hour train back to Taipei.
"Tell Daphne and Annie that they're horrible at advertising their country." This was a direct quote from the last member of the group during a phone call we made to him in the middle of the gorge. It's quite true. Taiwan is a beautiful island that has both mountain and sea, history and modernity, East and West - it's so easy to ignore all that and become used to it after growing up here for over a decade. So this trip, I guess, wasn't just one where my friends got to discover something new, it was also a chance for me to rediscover the island that I'm currently occupying. 

It was all a bit surreal to have almost the whole gang reunited again, and it was almost like we were back in London. Laughing over the most ridiculous and stupid things one minute, and having deep heart to heart, gut wrenching conversations the next. I don't have a lot of friends that I completely and fully trust. But I'm lucky enough to know that I have a group of people that I can count on to always have my back, hold my hand, and even deliver a swift kick in the butt when I need it. These are the people that taught me the value of trust and love, the importance of safe communication, and venting without being judged. "I can't remember the last time you were this happy without being worried about something." Annie summed up how I've learned to become a better person after having these people in my life. 

And this year, I was lucky enough to be able to spend the pre-holiday period with these people. I couldn't have asked for anything more. 

With Love, 
Daphne x