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Festive Flatmates

Letter from Taipei! Nora Lessing spent Christmas in Taiwan - in unwanted company.

Jan 08, 2016

Christmas decorations in the capital of Taiwan.

Christmas decorations in the capital of Taiwan.
Image Credit: Nora Lessing

Nora Lessing in full regalia in the fight against uninvited Christmas guests.

Nora Lessing in full regalia in the fight against uninvited Christmas guests.
Image Credit: Private

Over the last couple of weeks, Taipei has been getting more and more Christmassy. Most shops are playing festive pop music 24/7, and the church opposite of my university is covered in so many colourful holiday lights that it looks a little bit like a club - at least at night. Right next to the gigantic entrance door, there’s a sign that reads “Happy Birthday, Jesus!” Vendors join in the festive spirit by wearing Santa hats, cloth-antlers, and purple-colored reindeer costumes.

The Christmas Elves frequenting my house lately seem to be of a rather predatory spirit, though. First suspicions arose when I found bits and pieces of dry noodles that, miraculously, had found their way from the pantry to the floor and even behind the washing machine. One morning, my flatmate Flori thanked me heartily for treating him to a piece of bread. The bread he was talking about is usually sold wrapped in several layers of plastic foil and I, so he thought, had unwrapped it for him so he could have it for breakfast. I examined the rest of the bread and found that the cheese crusts on every single piece had been carefully removed. Gnawed off, to be precise. While Flori took to a generous swig out of the mouthwash bottle, I was on the lookout for clues.

Best Pantry in the City

The locus delicti was soon identified: A drainpipe in the kitchen floor seemed like the ideal entrance point for our new flatmates who were feasting away on our groceries. Be it French bread, noodles, or toast in a plastic bag – suddenly, nothing seemed to be safe from them anymore. One time, a rat dashed from a tiny space behind the washing machine, ran past us (shamefully, Flori and I were both screaming at the top of our lungs), squeezed through a slit underneath the front door, and disappeared into the night. It was as if the news that our house had a pantry had suddenly spread within the rat population of Taipei, and visits became frequent. At night when I lay in bed, I could hear them rummaging around in the kitchen below me. There was nothing to be done but store everything in the fridge or in lockable containers.

Contribution to Intercultural Exchange

When I came home a couple of days ago, I found that the plastic container on the pantry had been tipped over. The lid had come off and next to it, only crumbs remained where ginger bread had been. The somewhat sad remains of a piece of ginger bread were stuck in the drainpipe in the kitchen floor. Apparently, the Christmas treat had been too bulky to be dragged into the smallish pipe. I phoned my mum and gave my report of indignation since the ginger bread had been a present of hers and I had been saving it for Christmas. She commented that, at least, this was probably the very first time that Taiwanese rodents had ever tasted German ginger bread. My rodent-elf encounter should therefore be remembered as an intercultural exchange of sorts, well in the spirit of the season.

Further Information

In our campus.leben series "Letters from ..." six students, two doctoral candidates, and an apprentice are reporting on their experiences abroad. Here we introduced the nine travelers, and here you can find Nora Lessing's previous reports.