Take classes at a local university

Adding to my list of things to do in Zhongli…

One of my 2017 resolutions was to study Chinese more. I have tons of textbooks, access to the wealth of resources online, loads of free time, and I fucking live in Taiwan, but somehow every single day goes by and I don’t commit any time to studying Chinese.

I do speak a fair amount of Chinese while I’m teaching at a certain school, which is not at all how I think these things should be done, but since my coworkers there cannot speak English very well, the whole thing is kind of a shitshow.

I digress: I only wanted to point out that I speak Chinese sometimes, but not in a context where my language skills would improve.

So on an impulse (yay ADD!), I decided to give up all my free mornings and sign up for Chinese classes at the local university.

They were actually really accommodating because I don’t need to have a student visa. I opted for the two-hour sessions instead of three, and because I teach Wednesday mornings, I can’t go to class, but then I don’t even have to pay for those sessions. That seemed more than fair to me!

It’s the first time in forever that I’ve been a student in a classroom environment, and the first time since my very first semester of Chinese that I’ve been around other Chinese learners. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so much like a fish in water, and so fast. The other learners are very young, college-aged, and from other countries: Vietnam, Indonesia, and Russia. Chinese is our lingua franca. We don’t share another language, so we have to rely on Chinese to express ourselves. It makes my heart skip a beat to realize that because of my years of half-heartedly studying Chinese, I can not only communicate with native Chinese-speakers, but also people from other countries.

via GIPHY

My classmates are awesome! They are chatty and curious, unafraid to ask questions, intent on learning the language, and enthusiastic. And we can make jokes! I haven’t been in a class like this before, where we can make each other laugh in Chinese. Sometimes the jokes are intentional, sometimes somebody has a cold and says something ridiculous like “my nose is sick.” Good times!

Anywho, it’s been a wonderful first week. We have a test coming up on Tuesday, and I’m not really sure what to expect, but I feel so good about this. I am doing something useful and constructive with my time, I am meeting new people, improving my language skills, getting out of the house–all wins!

 I am taking my Chinese class at Chung Yuan Christian University (CYCU) because it’s not far from where I live and I know the neighborhood. There are like half a dozen universities in Zhongli and Neili, and I know of foreigners studying at CYCU, Chung Yang (National Central), and Yuan Ze (where we play kickball on the first Sunday of every month). Coming from the States, the cost of tuition here is crazy low. I’ve also seen that there are yoga classes and cooking classes at CYCU, and I’m not sure about enrolling in anything else right now, but how fun does that sound?

10 Things to Do in Zhongli, Taiwan

I first moved to Zhongli in 2004, and it would have been very cool of me to come up with this list when I arrived. Instead I waited so long that my beloved Zhongli (Chungli/Jungli/Jhongli) stopped being a city in Taoyuan County and was absorbed into the sprawl of Taoyuan City as a district.

At least now we mostly agree on the name.

Here are just a very few of my favorite things to see or do in our fair town:

  1. The River: If you’re so new to town that you don’t know about The River, then you should definitely go there first. You’ll meet the friends you need to help you complete your quest.
  2. Paris Bar: Met somebody special at The River? Invite them to a more private, romantic bar where you can impress them by buying NT$300 cocktails.
  3. Bowling: Every Wednesday at the lanes on Zhongmei Road, not too far from The River.
  4. Kickball: The first Sunday of every month on one of the fields at Yuan Ze University in Neili. (Be sure to connect with someone from the group before you go so you know where everyone will be.)
  5. The Yilan Beer Place: Tasty Taiwan brews on tap, including my favorite green spirulina beer. There’s also an extensive menu of pan-Asian bar food. Great place for a small party.
  6. Roasted Duck: If you’re trying to get this duck for a dinner party, make sure that three or four other people aren’t already doing the same thing.
  7. Daxi Old Street: Nifty little neighborhood just a short scooter drive away from downtown Zhongli. Famous for it’s delicious and cheap tofu.
  8. Xinming Night Market: Your one-stop shopping destination for your dinner, your clothes, your sex toys, your pet hamsters, your milk tea, your incense, your cellphone accessories, etc.
  9. Shrimp Fishing: One of the more unfamiliar things a Westerner can experience in Taiwan is fishing for super-sized shrimp in a big concrete pool in a building the size of an airplane hangar. Some people love it.
  10. Sanmin Bat Cave and Tuba Church: A lovely day trip into the mountains of Fuxing. Check out an old, tiny church in a nearby aboriginal village and quiet, beautiful “cave” and waterfall a little further down the way.

Kickball in Zhongli

amateur vagrant things to do in zhongi taiwan play kickball

On the first Sunday of every month, a group of people from Zhongli/Neili/Taoyuan get together to play kickball at Yuan Ze University in Neili.

The core group is made up of local foreign teachers, but many different people come every time. Anyone who wants to play kickball or just meet new friends is welcome.

You can get in touch with the group members via their Facebook page. They use the page to confirm the date, time, and which field they’re playing at every month.

I’m not super athletic, but I have fun when I go. And it’s nice to see everyone outside of the bar now and then. (And by “outside the bar”, I mean further away than the River patio.)

Zhongli Bowling on Wednesday nights

amateur vagrant things to do in zhongli taiwan taoyuan bowling zhongmei road

Nearly every Wednesday night in Zhongli, you can find a big group of foreigners and locals bowling together at the lanes on Zhongmei Road.

Many of them play in the official Jungli Bowling League. Anyone can join, but you have to commit to being there every Wednesday for the length of the season (there are two per year). If you miss more than two weeks…you turn into a pumpkin or something. I don’t know. No one is begging me to be on their team.

If your team wins, you get a prize.

amateur vagrant things to do in zhongli taiwan bowling league 2016 flyer

Alternatively, you can just show up on Wednesday nights and linger until someone assigns you a lane.

BYOB if you want to drink anything other than regular Taiwan Beer. But how cool is that? There’s a 7-11 just across the street, full of icy cold ones.

amateur vagrant things to do in zhongli taoyuan taiwan bowling lanes

As with all these activities organized by Zhongli foreigners, some people take it very seriously. You can usually identify them by the way they thump their chests and feel the need to explain themselves when they don’t bowl a strike.

Many others view the weekly bowling night as a different venue for drinking with the same people.

I take the extreme position that bowling actually interferes with consuming beer, so I’d rather just go to the bar. Except I don’t drink during the week (anymore).

It’s NT$240 per person per game. The shoe “rentals” are free. You literally walk behind the desk and get your shoes yourself. Wild!

Anyway, it’s a lot of fun and an excellent way to meet people.

The Yilan Beer Place

amateur vagrant things to do in zhongli taiwan taoyuan kinds of draft beer

This was a lucky find for us!

The Yilan Beer Place is a franchise. The first time we enjoyed a lovely spirulina beer, we were in Jiaoxi City, Yilan County, famous for its hot springs. We got our cold beers and then stuck our feet in a pool of warm water where hundreds of tiny carp nibbled at our toes.

The original Yilan Beer Place in Jiaoxi in Yilan County
The original Yilan Beer Place in Jiaoxi in Yilan County

The fish-nibbling part was enjoyable, but yeah, definitely weird. These little fish just eat the dead skin off your feet. It tickles at first, then it feels nice. Or maybe that was just the beer…

Knowing that those fish would have been happier in colder water kind of put a damper on it for me, too. But, as always, I digress…

The Yilan Beer Place in Zhongli is a little bit off the beaten path, as in it’s not near The River, where everybody’s social lives intersect. It’s actually very close to the Xinming Night Market, which is still within walking distance of River, if you’re not lazy or injured. (A taxi will probably cost NT$100.)

The Yilan Beer Place is actually called 麥田現釀啤酒, which means like “Wheat Field Fresh Brewed Beer”, which is why we call it the Yilan Beer place.

The Yilan Beer Place in Zhongli does not have tanks of fish that will nibble your feet, but it does have the same selection of beers: barley (regular), wheat, rye, and spirulina. The barley and wheat beers are tasty in their own right, but we usually opt for the rye or spirulina. Although it’s black, the rye beer is surprisingly light on the palate. I think a lot of us might expect to encounter something dense and formidable like a Guiness when we see beer that dark, but it’s fun and has a hint of chocolate. I personally like the spirulina beer: It’s green, and who hasn’t had a good time drinking green beer? And it’s actually really fruity and nice.

amateur vagrant things to do in zhongli taiwan taoyuan yilan beer place spirulina green beer and rye beer black

You can order beers in pints, pitchers, and 1500 c.c. towers, or what we would call a “yard of beer” in the States (a yard being about a meter in length/height). There is also a really extensive menu of pan-Asian bar food, including Korean chicken wings, Thai shrimp cakes, Malaysian satay skewers, and the local marinated soy beans.

I loved the Korean chicken wings here, but lately it seems that the recipe has changed. The last two times, they weren’t as sweet and sticky, and frankly, just not as good as they were all the times before. I want my Korean chicken wings sweet, spicy, and finger-lickin’ good! However, they now come with fries. Obviously some kind of compromise was made.

Korean chicken wings
Korean chicken wings

There are lots of other good things to eat here, and plenty to drink.

J's favorite boneless chicken bites
J’s favorite boneless chicken bites

Sometimes, this place is dead quiet, and I’m afraid it might disappear overnight like so many restaurants do here. But then sometimes, every table is taken, which is as it should be. I like having such a good spot so close to our house.

amateur vagrant things to do in zhongli taiwan taoyuan yilan beer place drinking some beers

The Big Pig Festival

amateur vagrant things to do in zhongli taiwan summer fall autumn pig big festival hide

I went to the Pigs of God Festival (Big Pig Festival) for the fourth time this year. This festival, held in honor of the Chinese god Zushi, only happens once a year, in on the sixth day of the first month of the Chinese Lunar Calendar, but many people argue that is still too often. For the celebration, pigs are force-fed until they are obscenely, incredibly obese, and then slaughtered. The meat is distributed to family and friends, and possibly sold. I have heard that politicians sometimes sponsor the pigs because they are supposed to bring good luck. Continue reading “The Big Pig Festival”

Daxi Old Street

amateur vagrant taiwan things to do in zhongli take a scooter trip to daxi old street
A quiet weekday afternoon in Daxi

Daxi Old Street is just a 30-45 minute scooter ride outside of Zhongli, but arriving there will transport you many decades back in time. That’s what every laojie, or “old street” is supposed to do: take you back to a simpler Taiwan where the narrow streets weren’t crowded with SUVs and good food was one of life’s highest pleasures.

There are lots of old-fashioned buildings along a brick road, many tofu restaurants, street-food vendors, tea and coffee shops, souvenir shops, a big temple, a small temple, and a view of the river. At night, you can watch the sunset there, and when it’s dark, one of the bridges lights up and the lights change colors.

Continue reading “Daxi Old Street”

The River

amateur vagrant things to do in zhongli taiwan the river bar

This is how long ago I moved to Taiwan: When I got here, there were no smartphones. Facebook wasn’t even a thing. If you wanted to make friends, you had to find a place with other people in it and make yourself appealing.

Since 1997, the best place to make friends in Zhongli has been The River. Legend has it that some of the people you’ll find there have been occupying their stools lo these twenty years…  Continue reading “The River”

Zhongli Xinming Night Market

So the sign technically says "tourist night market"...I dunno
So the sign technically says “tourist night market”…I dunno

This is the night market that foreigners mean when they say “the Zhongli night market.” Actually, there are lots of night markets in Zhongli, big and small, near and far, so better to refer to it as the Xinming Night Market to avoid any confusion.

I live riiiight next to this night market. When people hear that, they assume I go to the night market a lot for meals, but I don’t. The food is delicious in all the unhealthiest ways, and I can’t be eating grilled sausages and fried pancakes all the time. Continue reading “Zhongli Xinming Night Market”

Harvest Time

I hate myself when I get a sandwich at Harvest Time. The sandwiches are fine, not bad, and sometimes you’re in the mood for a sub and not another fried chicken lunchbox, and that’s cool.

But this sign. This f*&%ing sign right here. This sign is bullshit.

harvest time zhongli sign

This sign is a LIE. I like jalapenos on my sandwich, and these people will give you like one jalapeno for every three inches. That means out of your whole sandwich, you only get two bites with a jalapeno. WHERE IS THE BALANCE?

There is no fucking formula. There is only people being stingy. How about all the customers who don’t want jalapenos on their sandwiches? Can I have their jalapenos?

But there is no parking in front of the Subway by the movie theater…