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Chinese New Year – Beyond The Red Envelope

chinese new year taiwan, taiwan,

We know it’s been a while since Chinese New Year but we wanted to share the amazing time we had spending New Year with our Taipei roomie’s family in Hsinchu (just south of Taipei). We spent 6 days filled with food, family, sightseeing, and a large amount of karaoke in between. It was a truly incredible experience to share such an important holiday with their entire family and we will never forget their kindness and generosity during our stay.

Our First Chinese New Year… With A Bang!

chinese new year, hsinchu taiwan, taiwan new year

Before we were invited to celebrate Chinese New Year we had no idea what to expect. The only thing we really knew was that there was a tradition of giving money-stuffed red envelopes to the youngest generation from the elders. We were about to party with a family we didn’t even know and celebrate a holiday, we had only Googled.

Once we arrived, and stepped off the super-fast bullet train from Taipei, we were instantly greeted by some of our friend’s family. Without hesitation, they began what would become a week long effort to show us the sights of Hsinchu and keep us incredibly well-fed. They took us to the closest night market to grab a quick bite of some “Famous” dumplings and showed us the unbelievable Taiwanese generosity by not letting us pay and making sure we were full and satisfied before we left (this was a recurring theme throughout our week-long stay).

Chinese New Year a week-long celebration

hakka food, hakka taiwan, taiwanese food, taiwan, chinese new year

We discovered that Chinese New Year, while it is a time for families to get together, revolves mainly around food. Okay, its pretty much all about the food! Everyday we were picked up from one location and dropped off to the next, and every place we stopped had a spread that was a literal feast.

Chicken, pork, rice and beef all cooked the “Hakka” way (Hakka people are a culture to their own, with their own language, food, and traditions); sides of various veggies was a usual sight as well, filling the tables to the point where we didn’t even know where we should sit as there was little room to even put our plates.

While hakka food is different from Taiwanese food, there are some similar dishes. We’ve written about our experiences with Taiwanese food in great detail.

Celebrate Chinese New Year with a Bang

bamboo cannon, taiwan, chinese new year

Food isn’t the only things that Chinese New Year is about. Of course, family is important, but so are, apparently, firecrackers. For 6 days and nights, even up until 4am, people shot-off various firecrackers and noise makers seamlessly and without a break. We heard the sounds of bottle-rockets and cherry bombs throughout the night… every night.

On one particular day we were told that we were going to head up to the family cabin in the mountain and make, as we were told in English, “a bomb”. Although slightly concerned, we knew there was probably a less frightening sounding translation.

We quickly learned that the Chinese word for a cannon is ‘da pao’ (pronounced dah-pow) which should not be mistaken for the ‘dah pao’ that is translated to sex (though this might be slang – we’re not too sure). Unfortunately, we have a limited ability to pronounce the various Chinese tones and so we’re pretty sure we mixed the two up on more than one occasion.

hakka family, hakka, taiwan, taiwan ,hsinchu

 

Not too soon after arriving at the cabin, Macrae and our friend Marko were sent into the forest to cut down some bamboo for the elders to chop into 6 foot pieces, pour some sort of flammable liquid in, and light with a torch to create a big bang – much like a cannon, hence the previous description of creating a “bomb”.

Macrae was called up to light this sketchy bamboo cannon at one point and the entire process was camptured on camera. Check it out:

 

Party Like Its The Year Of The Goat

drinking tea in taiwan

We’re pretty sure it’s always a large party no matter what year it is, but this year happened to be the year of the goat (or sheep) and day three of festivities was the day of Auntie’s” big party. Over 50 people showed up for another Hakka feast.

Tables were lined with food, there was high quality tea tasting with a traditional tea ceremony and people drinking Taiwanese whiskey, There was also some unbelievably great live performances from family and friends. And, of course, we ended the night with karaoke.

This is how a celebration should be. sometimes we feel that back in North America we’ve forgotten how to have a good time  it seems, at least to us, that as the years pass on, people are more eager to head home early and not stick around family functions anymore and it was nice to see the festivities continue well into the evening.

Teahouse in the Mountain

goose head mountain taiwan, taiwan, hsinchu,

We usually found out what was on our daily itinerary the day of, or night before. For the overnight trip on the fourth day, we were told a day ahead of time that we were heading to the mountain for the night. No one really understood what mountain, but as we think about it, we didn’t ask much about it.

We knew what ever our new Taiwanese family had in store for us would be a great time, and we were right! We headed up the mountain in the middle of the day, making some pretty hair raising turns along the way.

hakka family, hsinchu, taiwan chinese new year

 

Making it to the top, we were told that the mountains name is “Goose Head Mountain” (at least that’s what we think they were saying). Anyway, Goose Head Mountain is a place where they grow a delicate green tea called Oriental Beauty, which we tried at Aunty’s house a few times and really enjoyed it (she sells this amazing green tea and many others). After being exposed to it several times, we knew this tea really well and so we were excited to see where it was grown.

tea ceremony, taiwan, hsinchu

We quickly learned that the cabin we were staying in was the only one on the mountain and was owned by the family that grew the tea. All of the tourists at the coffee shops and restaurants on the mountain were heading home for the evening while we got to stay and have a giant feast of fish, pork, chicken, veggies and so much more. It feels like we stayed up all night eating, laughing and of course KARAOKE!!!  
 

What We Now Know about Chinese New Year

taiwan blossoms, taiwan hsinchu

Heading in to this adventure we knew nothing about Chinese New Year. We still don’t know enough but what we definitely know is how to party and eat our way through it. We had a blast with our new Taiwanese family and couldn’t have felt more accepted. We will never forget these wonderful 6 days or the friends we made throughout them.

Have you ever celebrated Chinese New Year? If so, comment below and let us know where and how! If not, where would you like to celebrate it if you could?

 

You can do it too!

Don’t be afraid to join in on something you know nothing about. Most people are happy and willing to teach you their ways. So keep an open mind and be willing to do anything.

You can visit our Taiwanese family too!

Taiwanese Auntie is always welcoming new people into her home and heart. If you’re in Hsinchu and you want to visit this lovely woman and her family, leave a comment below, and who knows, you could be teaching English at one of her schools or camping out on her lawn for a few nights.

 

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