Haven't really seen wife's paternal relatives ever since the wedding, since they mostly live in Tainan. With the father-in-law back from China for an extended Chinese New Year holiday, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to visit, especially since they haven't met the baby yet.
The High Speed Rail certainly made travel planning much easier, as it could whisk us from Taipei to Tainan in 80 minutes, which is fast enough even for the baby's limited patience. Sis drove down to Kaoshiung with her boyfriend the day before and will pick us up at the Tainan station. Thought about taking the stroller, but we figured that we'll be sitting around with relatives most of the time and there's plenty of manpower available to hold the baby if necessary. So it was the wife with the diaper bag and me with the baby in arms to meet her folks at Taipei Main Station. Meant that I couldn't haul the DSLR along, but we figured our new NEX-3 camera should do the snap-shot job just as well.
We were taking the noon train and had spent the morning packing. So I bought one of the famous Tai-Rail pork-rib eki-bento at the station to eat along the way. Just as I had opened the bento box and taken a couple of bites, the kid sitting in the row ahead with his grandparents got curious and climbed over the seat back to take a look. I reached up to catch him, only to catch the tray table with my elbow and flipped the tray, flinging my lunch and drink to the ground. Lamented my late beloved meal for a second, before quickly reaching down to prevent further drink spillage. Good thing wife brought a whole box of tissue along, as I sheepishly wiped up the spilled rice and drink while the other passengers on the packed train pretended not to notice. Wife was kind enough to buy me another bento from the passing concessions lady. But the HSR-bento was shrink-wrapped and microwaved so the rice had turned all soggy, with flavors distinctly similar to airline food. In this one small area the old Taiwan Rail still has the new shiny HSR beat hands-down.
Sis drove up from Kaoshiung with 林‘R and another cousin also came to the station to pick us up. The kid was too excited by the train ride to take his usual afternoon nap. So once he got into the car he was out like a light. That was probably for the best, since our first destination was the crematorium, where we met up with FIL's brothers and sisters. We went in to light some incense at wife's grandparents' remains, since her dad hasn't visited in many years. Wife stayed in the car with the sleeping baby, for both practical and superstitious conveniences. None of us can recall any specific theological prohibition against pregnant women in the crematorium, but the unspoken thought was that it was bad joojoo. Too bad the kid missed out on the most spectacular koi pond, though.
The weather was super-nice. We were actually worried it was going to be too warm down south, but a cool breeze kept it quite comfortable, and the sunshine was bright without being harsh. So they decided to take us to a nearby park, centered around the oldest reservoir in Taiwan. Set off on the hiking loop around the lake. The kid didn't feel like walking on his own after being woken up from his nap, but the uncles and aunts were each happy to hold him for a while in relay. They often walk the entire six-kilometer loop once or even twice, but in consideration of the wife's condition we only went a short stretch down the path before turning back, after a short rest at the pier, where the solar-powered tour boat docks.
Stopped by at a neighborhood park in a recently re-developed area where there were plenty of other kids all out for some play-time on a pleasant afternoon. The kid isn't content to be hoisted onto the top of the slide anymore and he wants to climb up and scramble around the play structure himself. So sis and I kept up after him while the elders chatted as the wife kept an eye on things. She got a sudden craving for a corn dog from the street vendor vulturing alongside the park, which turned out to be a terrible idea as the dog was oily and cold, plus we were due for a big family dinner soon anyway.
Went over to the elder uncle's place afterwards. They have four grandkids, all girls, so they enjoyed playing with our little boy and wondering what could've been. Good thing he's always a good sport about playing with strangers. The constant stream of snacks helped him to acclimate. A cousin and her daughter met us there before going to dinner. They have a nice place in the center of town, in the same complex CM Wang used to live after his first big contract with the Yankees. After he moved away to an even bigger house, he got hurt and is still trying to work his way back. So we know her place definitely has good feng-shui. Her sister and daughter live in Taoyuan and go to school in Taipei so we see them more often. Unfortunately they had other things that weekend so we couldn't meet up.
Drove to a nearby seafood restaurant for the family dinner. The main dining hall was taken over by a big wedding featuring 60-some tables, with all the noise that entails, plus live music and the ceremony announcements. Thankfully we had our own private dining room to block out most of the background noise. And with three tables full of young and old from the uncles' extended families, we were making plenty of noise ourselves. No drinking necessary, which was a pleasant surprise. Props to the restaurant who managed to deliver a tasty meal without delays despite the big banquet going on outside.
Mentioned that the kid's birthday was coming up in a couple of days, which caused the auntie to stop by their favorite bakery along the way to buy a big cake. The room had a karaoke station to offer backing music for Happy Birthday, and the kid waved his arms to urge everyone to sing along for one more chorus. And he wants to blow out the candles and cut the cake himself, too, but we can only let him play around fire and knives for so long before we handed the cake over to the waitresses to slice it up for everybody.
By the time we finished dinner, the wedding banquet was long finished, and it was getting close to the kid's bedtime. Wife, sis, and the kid were going to stay with the cousin at her place in the city, while the in-laws were going to stay with the uncles. Meanwhile 林'R was going to drive home to Kaoshiung, and because my mom & dad are still in Taipei the wife was okay with me going home without staying overnight. So I hitched a ride with 林'R to the HSR station, while the family go on to their evening rest places. Arrived in perfect time to change my ticket to the last train to Taipei, arriving just before midnight so I could still make the connection to the last trains of the MRT subway to get home without having to hail a taxi. Got home and checked in with the wife just after she'd put the baby to bed and chatting with her sis and cousins into the night.
So I had Sunday morning to myself until wife brought the kid home with her folks later in the day. It was a good time out for the kid, who really enjoyed the train ride, particularly because the car was mostly empty so he could crawl around the seats and mess around. Good thing the HSR is a pretty smooth ride.