I was at a drug store at midnight about two weeks ago. My allergies flared up and I needed some medicine. Unfortunately, two years of Chinese classes aren’t enough to fully prepare you for the finer points of living abroad. So, there I was, staring at a rack of what I assumed was allergy medicine, trying to figure out what I should take. I must’ve stood there for a solid fifteen minutes, translating individual boxes of medicine and sniffling so loud the whole store could hear me. Finally, someone came to the same section and I saw my opportunity. I asked her for help in broken, sleep deprived, congested Chinese.
She helped me get my medicine, and we chatted for a bit. She introduced herself, 小郁（Xiǎo yù）and asked me about my studies, what I’m doing in Taiwan, etc. Then, she saw my camera and we started talking about photography. She told me her friends were having a fashion show and that they needed a photographer for the event. I told her I’d love to do it, got her contact info, and then we went our separate, newly medicated ways.
A few days later, she invited me to the ShiDa Night Market with her friends. We started talking about the upcoming Mid-Autumn festival 中秋節 (Zhōngqiū jié). It’s like a Chinese harvest festival. You eat moon cakes, have a barbecue, eat pomelo 柚子 (Yòuzi). She invited me to her barbecue. There aren’t many places to barbecue in Taipei, I needed a ticket for the event, and the address was for the 5th floor of some building. I figured I was going to a restaurant.
I showed up to an emptied out classroom with 7 gas grills, trays of meat, a pitcher of punch, and 30 people I didn’t know. 小郁 told me that this is the school for the fashion show and all these people are learning how to do makeup, hair, or fashion design.
The tiny room was filled with people. Our conversations had to compete with the sounds of Mandarin Pop and sizzling meat. I worked my way through the crowd, tried my hand at grilling, but ultimately wound up talking and eating. There were just endless piles of bacon, squid, and tofu. I took pictures of everyone, tried my best at small talk in Chinese, and stuffed my face.
After we finished eating, we played this card game that I still don’t know the rules for. There was some inside joke of a ceremony involving loaves of bread. I think it was a way of thanking the people who organized the event, but I’m not entirely sure. Then we started cleaning up, ate the leftover 柚子, and went our separate ways. It was a really good, albeit strange, time.
Towards the end of the night小郁 said “Isn’t this fun? It’s like we’re all one big family.” And she was right, I felt like I had stumbled in on someone’s family party. I’m happy I got my allergy medicine, but I’m even happier I was a part of 小郁’s Mid-Autumn festival.