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A Special Chinese New Year

"When eating something sweet, please say something sweet." This sentence is only one of the numerous costums we got to know during the Chinese New Year. Our friend Samuel and his family invented us to spend the Chinese New Year at their house in Chiayi, a beautiful city in southern Taiwan. The four of us German exchange students had a great time there and made a lot of experiences.

Just arrived at Chiayi, Samuel, his brother and his parents came to the train station to take us to our first location of this evening: A restaurant where we could try famous local food. On our way to Samuel's home, we stopped again at a small food-stall to get some food for the rest of the night, regardless of how much we already had already just eaten.

The next day we made a small trip to Alishan, a popular mountain nearby Chiayi. Back in Chiayi, we then went to a restaurant to spend the New Year`s Evening with Samuel`s family. Not only his parents and his brother, but also his grandparents and his aunt joined us. During the evening there was a performance by a Thai show-group, which accompanied while we indulged in consuming sheer endless amounts of food. There was much dancing, singing, and also some presentation of magic. All of us noticed soon that we certainly won't be hungry at the end of this New Year's Eve - moreover, no-one of our group can remember the exact number of dishes we had. The most surprising and delicious food was definitely the seafood, because it was totally different to what we are used to in Germany.

There was another special moment, when the family started to distribute the "Hongbaos". Actually we expected to sit there and watch the family wishing each other a happy new year and give each other red envelopes with money inside. But suddenly, all of us also had one of those in our hands. That is, while we were still thinking about friendly sentences and how to wish everybody a happy new year in Chinese, Samuel's grandpa already handed us the first Hongbao. We were so caught by surprise that some of us even forgot to receive it with both hands, but nevertheless, we still made it to wishing them all a happy new year and good luck.

After leaving the restaurant, we also got to know Samuel's other relatives, such as cousins, aunts, a great grandmother, etc. One of his uncles served candy, tea and alcohol. Everytime he said "ganbei"(cheers,) we had to choose between drinking a cup of tea or a shot of liquor. No matter what we decided for: as soon as the cup was empty, Samuel's uncle immediately filled it up again. Good-humored, rich in candy and a little bit drunk we went back home afterwards. This was the ending of a very special and cheerful evening.

Our first goal at the first day of the Chinese Year was to visit a big temple area. Over there, we met Samuel's family again. While the family was praying, we were asked to look after the aunt's dog. Moreover, we were told a lot of stories about Chinese New Year, the temple and the gods. Although we just had a great breakfast before, we soon had lunch at the temple. The served food was self-made, in addition, the ingredients were grown by the monks themselves. The food was exclusively vegetarian and tasted awesome!

During the day, we went to see three more temples where we met numerous Taiwanese people asking for good luck, praying to the gods, and so on. Furthermore, we got to know some new dishes, for example a "sweet soup". It tasted like sugar with water and some fruits and made us think of sweet words, because "When you're eating something sweet, please say something sweet!". Besides, we listened to some more stories about temples and gods. An old man at the last temple showed us the special roof and told us how the roof was crafted and how they conserved it till today.

Back at Samuel's home, we went to the neighbor's house, at which the two of us German guys slept during our time at Chiayi. We wished a happy New Year and they invited us to play Mahjong. In the beginning, we didn't really know what we were doing and we were quite confused about all those "pongs" and "chis". But finally, all of us understood more or less how the game works, and one or two new talents were born...

All in all, our trip to Chiayi was one of the most wonderful und most exciting experiences we had during our exchange year in Taiwan. We really want to deeply thank Samuel and his family for hosting us. And every time when we'll eat candy in the future, we'll think about some suitable sweet words.