Happiness bubbles from attendees of festival


Photo by Jeremy Chung

Politicians such as Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich (second to right) and Taiwan’s Ambassador Bi-Khim Hsiao (second to left) were present alongside event organizers to kickoff the 2022 Rockville Bubble Tea Festival on Sep. 24 at the Rockville Town Square. The festival also recognized the amicable sister city relationship between Rockville and Yilan City, Taiwan, which was formed in 2019.

By Jeremy Chung, News Editor

Bubble tea, otherwise known as boba, is a hot commodity loved by many at WCHS and has grown in popularity in Montgomery County. In fact, if you search “boba stores near me” on Google, at least 20 boba tea stores pop up, all within five miles of WCHS! However, while many enjoy the drink, many don’t question its existence or how it reached its popularity. 

Now, this question has been answered. On Sep. 24, the infamous Rockville Town Square hosted the 3rd Annual Taiwan Bubble Tea Festival at Rockville. Organized by the Taiwan Sisters Cities Corporation, the festival celebrates the unique relationship between Rockville and Taiwan. In 2019, Rockville, Maryland, and Yilan City, Taiwan, unanimously voted to adopt a sister city relationship, thus starting the first ever Bubble Tea Festival, and the rest is history.

“The sister city partnership between Yilan and Rockville is a vibrant and robust relationship,” President of the Taiwan Sister Cities Corporation Dr. Hung-Bin Ting said. “Over the last three years [of the relationship], it has withstood many challenges, including the pressures of the pandemic.”

The festival also recognizes the diverse population in Montgomery County. In the 2020 census, 16% of Montgomery County residents identified as Asian, one of the county’s fastest-growing populations. At WCHS, 30.6% of students identify as Asian, the second largest racial group.

Although sister city relationships serve no political purpose, they encourage cultural and educational exchanges between the two cities. These exchanges are a common theme found at the Bubble Tea Festival, especially since many residents do not know much about the island of Taiwan and its people.

“It’s always the greatest pleasure to focus on the cultural and food aspect of our relationship,” Hsiao Bi-Khim, Taiwan’s Ambassador to the U.S, said in her opening remarks. “Diversity…is the face of Taiwan, which we wish to share with the world.”

Even though the two cities sit on opposite sides of the world, the amicable relationship between Yilan and Rockville provides a direct cultural link that many residents on both sides typically do not experience.

As stated in the name, bubble tea was the event’s main feature, with even a 10-foot tall inflatable boba cup to greet all attendees and popular stores such as Tiger Sugar Rockville and Mr. Wish. However, boba tea was not the main feature. The festival closed off nearby roads to the Square to make space for other non-boba vendors such as Momo’s Cafe, Doki Toki and Bao Bei, which capitalized on selling classic Asian and Taiwanese street food items such as popcorn chicken or the notorious homemade pork belly buns made by Bao Bei, which translates to “buddy” in Chinese.

“[Bao Bei] has a good relationship with Taiwan Bubble Tea Festival organizers because they represent Taiwan as a country, like my food. So naturally, we are inclined to work together,” Bao Bei owner Kevin Hsieh said. “We usually go to the festival every year to try and promote our brand and also Taiwanese as a nationality, as a food, as a country, and to other communities around the area.”

Hsieh, a longtime Gaithersburg native whose parents immigrated from Taiwan, started Bao Bei approximately three years ago and currently operates out of a ghost kitchen in Rockville open for pickup and delivery. Their menu revolves around traditional Taiwanese food, such as the signature bao bun and minced pork rice. When Hsieh visited the first Bubble Tea Festival as a festival goer, he was inspired to bring Bao Bei’s food for others to enjoy, hoping to teach people what makes Taiwanese cuisine unique from other Asian cultures.

“Because I sell Taiwanese food and am one of the only people to do so, I wanted to link up with [the event] to express my food and help in any way we could,” Hsieh said. “It’s important to define what Taiwan culture is because we have such a big uprising in the Asian community in Rockville, and it’s hard to differentiate between Chinese, Korean, Taiwanese, Japanese, etc. I think that would allow all the Asian cultures in Rockville to flow smoothly, and people can really grasp Asia as a whole instead of just blanket everything under Chinese or Korean.”

Other than the food, the usual stage was used by starred performers, such as local Taiwanese bands performing original songs and students, like WCHS sophomore Aaron Han, from the Formosa Association of Student Cultural Ambassadors (FASCA), performing creative and advanced Chinese yo-yo tricks.

“This was my first time performing here, but it certainly won’t be my last,” Han said. “The environment was really nice, and I think a lot of people enjoyed all the performances and activities.”

As the festival has ended and organizers and festival goers will have to wait another year to relive it, people are reminded that the festival’s primary focus is not about the boba; it’s about the culture and how we can learn about different parts of the world before coming to generalizations. It will surely be no surprise that the festival will continue to grow year by year, as the 2022 Rockville Bubble Tea Festival capped the highest attendance ever.

“I would personally love to do this every year since I want to be connected to TSC and allow Rockville to experience more of the culture that has not yet been expressed,” Hsieh said. “I believe that the only thing people really know about Taiwan in this area is that there’s bubble tea, and then 70 percent of people that enjoy it don’t even know it’s from Taiwan. It’s just great to have more Taiwanese exposure around the area for everyone’s benefit.”