One of the fun things of living abroad is that we get to explore and learn about local holidays and customs. Sometimes that’s super exciting and other times it’s, well, frustrating. And then there are those times when it’s both – fun but also extremely challenging and you need to bite your tongue to find the joy of living abroad because it’s “all about these types of adventures” (or at least so you say).
In Mongolia, I was amused when locals talked about the “9’s” of winter. Mongolians will tell you there are 9 (sets of) 9’s of winter or exactly 81 days that are considered “winter” (fun fact: winter in Mongolia actually lasts MUCH longer than the 9’s). This measure of winter was traditionally used by herders in the countryside to keep track of time as the first 9 starts with the winter equinox.
Each set of 9 tells you how cold you should expect to be with the understanding that the 3rd and 4th sets are the coldest:
- 1st 9s: Vodka made from milk freezes.
- 2nd 9s: Normal vodka freezes.
- 3rd 9s: The tail of a 3 year old ox freezes and falls off.
- 4th 9s: The horns of a 4 year old ox freezes and falls off.
- 5th 9s: Boiled rice no longer freezes.
- 6th 9s: Roads start to become visible.
- 7th 9s: Hill tops appear from beneath snow.
- 8th 9s: The ground gets damp.
- 9th 9s: Warmer days have set in.
(No, I am not making this up although I seriously doubt that tails and horns freeze off but let me assure you, you will undoubtedly be so cold that you could easily fathom this happening – read more here).
And yes, if you must know, we were one of the few foreigners excitedly throwing milk and water into the air during the very, very, very, extreme cold of the 9’s to see what would happen. Shockingly, it turns out that water (and apparently vodka) tossed into the air leaves a frozen patch of ice right in front of you, so I’d recommend gently tossing the liquids behind or as far away from you as possible to avoid slipping and falling.
While the 9’s are a thing in Mongolia, in Taiwan, National Day falls on October 10 or the Double 10 day.
In our book, local holidays are time for exploring so after browsing options and quickly realizing that a long weekend get-away would be out of the question because rooms had been booked up by the time we got our act together, we decided a much-needed busy Taipei staycation was in order.
So we set out on Double 10 day to visit the Taipei Zoo; it had been on our list for quite some time but the hot temperatures had begged us to stay indoors on previous attempts so we decided to tackle the bus and two subway rides to see some animals on a local holiday.
Let’s just say we were not alone. It seemed like most of Taipei’s residents had the same thought so we waited in a very organized line to enter the zoo by swiping our metro cards (yes, they are essentially cash currency here). We met up with friends and explored the animals and paid special tribute to the takhi Mongolian horses and the two-humped Bactrian camels found in Mongolia (and the only “real” camels in my book- one-hump ones do not make for fun rides, trust me; I know).
The following day, we set out to explore the nearby small town of Jiǔfèn (so named after the 9 families who lived here initially; Jiǔ=9 in Mandarin; see those numbers follow us everywhere!) outside of Taipei. It’s one of the most popular day trip destinations for visitors and by the time we took a bus and two subway lines from our apartment to connect to the next bus to take us the 2 hours to Jiǔfèn, we again realized we would not be alone.
SO MANY PEOPLE were weaving their ways through the tiny small old town paths. But that did not get us down (for long) as we made up with plenty of street food (dumplings! Peanut ice cream rice cakes! More dumplings!) and a lovely stop at a traditional tea house that allowed us to take a rest on the balcony overlooking the coast. We learned the art of brewing and serving local Oolong tea and soon discovered that Juliana should take a job as waitress serving tea since tiny tea pots and cups are apparently her thing.
And just when we thought we outwitted the crowds, we realized that yes, we’d be standing in line for 2 hours to catch a bus home. Luckily we had friends to keep us company and I eventually stopped grumbling about all that chaos. Just look at those pictures – such amazing views had to come with a price, right?
To round out the weekend, we made use of our “mountain in our backyard” and visited friends living on the mountain of Yangmingshan to hike to a beautiful waterfall and back again. After a refuel at Starbucks with a much needed Frappucino break, we trekked down the mountain on foot, stopping only at another favorite watering hole along the way to quench our thirst.
The rest of the weekend was spent with friends, laughter, games, and more fun. So much fun in fact that it may have been hard for little people to go back to school when the alarm started buzzing in the wee hours of the morning (but not for John because his school was closed on Monday’s US holiday).