A number of weeks ago I was lucky to travel to Taipei, the capital city of Taiwan for a two day business trip. I stayed for two additional days to travel on my own, as Carrie was traveling for work.
The city of Taipei was really fascinating, somewhat hard to navigate at first based on my poor Mandarin speaking ability, but definitely a great place to experience some Chinese based culture, a lot of interesting food, and by the end of four days a convenient city that I would go back to for at least another three day weekend. It is also well known for street snacks and food, all of which are highlights of touring in Taipei so forgive me in advance for talking about the food so much.
I also knew I was no longer in the western world when my hotel had the teachings of Buddha and not a bible in the bed night stand. Note the Chinese character upholstery as well which was a nice touch.
The first night after two days of work, I spent a few hours trying to solve my hostel dilemma as I got rebooked to a new hostel during check in. Luckily I understood the owners of the hostel when they asked me if I spoke Chinese. My response was yi dian dian or a little. The problem with that was that they interpreted it as, speak as fast as possible in Chinese and tell me that I have been rebooked. I responded with Wo bu
zhi dao – I don’t understand. So with this great start I checked into my hostel and then had dinner and drinks with a coworker before my real touristy travels started the next day.
That night though one more issue was getting slightly loss with a taxi driver as I told him I wanted to go to a certain subway stop but he dropped me off one stop away and it took me about 15 mins to discover the mistake and find my hostel again.
|Ode to Cass – I am not in Kansas anymore|
My first day I toured around at the National Museum in the morning and I have to say that this was an exquisite museum that rally helped me understand some of the differences in Chinese art across the ages. The pieces were simple stunning such as a jade cabbage, miniature carvings on wood and stone, amazing trinket boxes that hid all sorts of secrets, and of course some interesting Buddhist artifacts and the ubiquitous pottery
items such as bowls, plates, etc (known to the rest of the world simply as China).
|National Museum from the outside (no photos allowed inside)|
After touring the Museum for a few hours I headed back to the train and had my first experience with Taiwanese street food. I first ordered San Ge Zhu Rou Bao (three pork buns) and was given very rapid service and they were excellent. I then wandered to China Pizza or cong zhua bing also known as Scallion pancake, where the line was long and the food was superb with eggs, herbs, and chili sauce on top of the scallion pancake. It was a filling breakfast. I did top all of this off with some Yi Bei Zhen Zhu Nai Cha literally
translated as One cup Pearl Milk Tea, which was supposedly invented in Taiwan and was found everywhere.
Sufficiently fortified I went to Taipei 101, which was the tallest building in the world from 2004-2010, when a taller building opened in Dubai. The line for tickets was very long when I arrived and I asked some other tourists what the hold up was for and they said the observation deck was closed due to weather issues (it was rainy and windy almost the entire time I was in Taipei). So I decided to skip Taipei 101 and hope for better weather the next morning (which did not happen).
|Taipei 101 from the outside|
As I walked from Taipei 101 back to the subway, I stopped by Sun Yat Sen memorial hall because it was on my map and looked interesting. I was lucky enough to stumble on the changing of the guard ceremony and it was ajoy to watch the pomp and circumstance of it all. I did manage to talk to a few people in Mandarin, all of whom asked if it was my first time in Taipei.
After this discovery I headed to the jade and plant market, which is supposedly the largest jade market in the world and was an extensive market that felt like it went on for miles. Obviously most people were selling jade and jewelry items but there was also some tourist knickknacks and art in the market as well. Next door was the plant market that had an extensive collection of orchids as well as numerous other plants for your home. I spent an hour or so wandering the stalls and asking for prices but did not buy anything. It was fascinating to see the amount of jade and the reluctance of customers to buy. It seemed like there was much more supply than demand here.
As the days were somewhat short in Taipei, as it was heading into winter time, I had one more stop before dinner for the night. I went to a local Buddhist temple called Baoan temple and I also visited a Confucian temple. They were both very interesting as landmarks. The Baoan temple had carvings of dragons, carved bamboo stone pillars, and looked wonderful in the fading light. It was also great fun to be the only tourist there (as this is really a non-tourist temple). I was able to sit down and watch people making offerings and soak up the dragon lanterns, the wafting smoke of the joss sticks (incense sticks), and breathe in the damp air without being hassled by touts or stared at by passer bys. It was fun to be a part of an everyday scene.
After my temple visit I headed off to one of Taipei’s favorite places called the Shilin Night Market for some dinner and another local experience. The night market is predominately food but also has carnival games, some shopping stalls, and families enjoying each others’ company. This was really a food fest for me as I didn’t want to buy any I love kitty items and I knew I was going to be cheated at the carnival games. So I tried the following items:
- Fried Chicken, which might not sound exciting but it is because of the fact that it is literally a half chicken flattened and then fried and powdered with chili powder. It was quite simply huge and very spicy. I could not finish the entire thing because I knew I had to save room for other delights.
- Chou Dou Fu known in English as Stinky Tofu was something that is famous in Taiwan and loved by people here. However, I wouldn’t say I loved it but merely tolerated it. It definitely had a very distinct and stinky smell that does not make your mouth water. However, the taste was much less over powering than the smell and not bad except for it tasted a little too sour for me. Needless to say I do not need to have this again but wouldn’t refuse it if I was served this dish as someone’s home.
- Big Sausage Wraps Little Sausage was one of my favorite dishes, and again I could only eat half of it due to the size. But this was a large rice sausage cut in half and wrapped around a small Taiwanese sausage. There was no bread bun like I was used to and it was amazing. The rice sausage was most and salty while the smaller sausage was slight sweet and moist as well. The toppings were relish and some cucumber and the packaging allowed me to just twist and it came out without breaking apart. I would definitely eat again.
|White Sausage = rice; Red Sausage = goes inside White Sausage|
|Grilled Goodies including Sausage, Squid, Chicken, etc|
I saw some more bao, vegetables and pork, and some wonderful looking smoothies including honey, mango, etc but just didn’t have room in my stomach.
|Taiwan Burrito (Can’t remember what this was really called)|
|Bao – Yum!|
I stayed here for awhile watching people play carnival games and enjoy their nights out on Saturday. I was asked by numerous teenagers if they could take a photo with me but I steadfastly refused in Mandarin and English and seemingly I will stay off the teenagers’ Taiwan facebook page for now.
|More Carnival Games and Shopping|
|The Crowds and Chaos of the Shilin Night Market|
The next morning I awoke early for a half day touring before heading to the airport and home to Singapore.
My first stop of the day was another temple called the LongShan Temple, which is much more touristy than Baoan temple but also slightly larger and had intricate carvings as well. It was an interesting stop but not quite as fun as yesterdays temple visit, but I did get a lot more photos.
After the temple visit I wandered around to get some breakfast and happened upon a small wet market where I bought some fruit and found a vendor selling Xiao long bao or little steamed buns that were pork. I asked for shu cai or vegetable dumplings but something got lost in translation but luckily the pork ones were quite good.
I then headed to a handicraft market for some trinket shopping, which turned into no buying but again some decent shopping.
After the handicraft market I spent an hour or so at the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial hall exploring the grounds and watching people on their Sunday activities. There were students practicing their dance moves, families eating together, and even some artists drawing the entire scene. The memorial hall grounds were stunning ground with two large identical buildings to be used for exhibitions and one large memorial hall that had about 50 steps leading to a gorgeous blue domed hall that housed a statute of Chiang Kai Shek.
|Two Exhibition Halls and Gate|
|Chiang Kai Sek Memorial Hall|
|Dome of the Memorial Hall|
After this I headed back to my hostel, grabbed my gear and headed to the airport for a flight home to Singapore.
My overall impression of Taipei was mentioned earlier was very positive. I enjoyed practicing my mandarin, despite how much trouble I had. I really liked how nice all the people were and I especially liked the lack of tourists which allowed me to just be a member of the city without people hassling me to buy useless knick knacks or otherwise try to take advantage of me. I also enjoyed the variety and complete newness of the food. I also liked that almost everything was written or spoken in Mandarin, which is daunting but also made me feel like I was truly on vacation in a foreign place.