Armed with a bottle of ibuprofen and an extra sweatshirt (in addition to my gloves, scarf, hat, and raincoat), I left for work Thursday morning determined to ring in the New Year at Taipei 101, the tallest building in the world, that night.
My coworkers for sure had thought I was no longer employed there, as they hadn’t seen me in almost two weeks. I was barely productive enough to make it worth going in, but I did get a few things done, and no one hassled me for working too slowly.
Class started right off with Colin’s midterm presentation. The assignment was to create a tour for your home country, and Colin and I had decided there was more than enough to base a tour on in our respective parts of California. Not my best work or presentation, I’m not going to lie, but I was dealing with a small flu the week leading up to it.
And then, like magic, I started feeling better. Maybe the slight adrenaline rush of speaking in front of my classmates kicked the final bit of flu right out of my system.
After class Pascal, Colin, and I went to Pascal and Andy’s flat. We had a drink and discussed dinner, and eventually just set out to see how the nearby restaurants looked.
We ate at a funky, partially restored house. Andy’s spicy chicken came out before our soups, and I was left waiting for my garlic clam spaghetti until everyone else was almost done eating. There’s really no point in complaining, and everything tasted good. Dessert was a slice of cold sweet potato and a daub of honey, a new low for Taiwanese desserts.
We passed through packed MRT stations and trains and arrived just west of Taipei 101. Following the massive crowds, we entered a plaza with floats, fire cracker vendors, and some food. We kept moving toward 101, found the main stage with a concert in full swing, and then squeezed through areas with people who looked as though they’d been camped out for several hours. A couple dozen people had climbed into the top of an MRT station entrance that had been closed for the night.
Then we were in an area with a perfect view of 101 and plenty of room to breathe. Most of the hour we had until midnight was filled with trying to get the sparklers I’d bought to light while groups of Taiwanese around us giggled. I turned to the girl next to me and asked “為什麼?” She took the sparkler and Pascal’s lighter from me and set to work lighting it. When she, too, had trouble, she returned Pascal’s lighter and asked the crowd for another with a longer flame. Success. We quickly lit five more and passed them around.
Finally, a man who I would later learn was President Ma came on stage and chanted into the mic “我愛台灣!” (“I love Taiwan!”) With 30 seconds left, the countdown in Mandarin began.
三… 二… 一
Colin popped a bottle of champagne, and we managed to light the remaining four sparklers on our own. The concert resumed, but some of crowd thinned slowly. We left around 1, not sure where we were heading or what we wanted to do, and joined the mass exodus through the barricaded-off streets. There were lines to get into the MRT station, so we didn’t bother with the trains and just kept on walking toward Pascal and Andy’s. By the time we’d left most of the crowds, it made more sense to just keep walking the rest of the five kilometers.
We refueled at a Mos Burger and decided we were all wiped out. Colin and I collected our stuff from their apartment and caught a cab home. 新年快!