To Parts Unknown – Day 0
I’ve had the opportunity to travel across the world a couple times already, sometimes to perform concert tours and other times on vacation, yet I hadn’t until now had the opportunity to visit Asia. Therefore I was justifiably excited to get the chance this time around since I had friends who both knew the land and could speak the language. Aside from learning that Jiufen was an inspiration for Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away”, I knew almost nothing about the land and what it had in store for me. I was told that if anything, I would encounter hot humidity and lots of mosquitoes. Knowing only these few things I began the journey with a group of friends that would find magically spirited away.
The Flight – Day 1
Our transportation of choice, due to technology constraints, happened to be an airplane. We selected EVA Air, a company which, I was told generally had good food on the flights. Having been on several different flights of multiple nations, I held out hope that the food would be better than all I’ve previously consumed whilst airborne. I’d hoped that my past experiences with mediocre airborne food would not be the story of my life indefinitely. Wow! Unsurprisingly, the food was great! After a small snack that was consumed post-haste I eagerly awaited my dinner. It turned out to be pork belly with soy sauce, bok choy with sesame seeds, and for desert: green tea cake with red bean filling. We’re off to a good start! A few movies and a rough attempt at sleeping later, I found myself on the approach into Taipei. Unluckily for me the last 30 minutes of airtime were a bit rough. Fighting off motion sickness for the remainder of the flight was a difficult challenge but I managed. However, that left me in a sick state for the next hour as we got off the plane, grabbed our luggage, split up into 3 different groups, hopped on a bus and subsequently a taxi to our stop in Neihu. 2 of our friends would staying together at one hotel, the other 2 with relatives, and my travel buddy and I with uncle.
My first impressions of that night: it was really warm even at that hour, the humidity was high, I really wanted to sleep.
Neihu – On the 2nd Day
8 hours later, our first full day began with uncle in Neihu. We woke up in the morning to the sound of rain, a soothing patter that kept the temperature to a comfortable level. After a quick and satisfying breakfast we headed out to church by bus, in the hopes of avoiding the rain. Our fears appeared unfounded, as the rain stopped during our quick journey to the church. After the service, which was in Mandarin, we had lunch with the congregation and were shown some paintings. Apparently the artist had a stroke which paralyzed his painting hand. He needed to relearn with the use of his non-dominate hand and we were witness to the results. If that was his bad hand I couldn’t tell at all.
The rain had begun again during the service but by the time we headed out the rain had stopped again so this time we chose to walk back. We passed by Bihu lake, which was colorfully surrounded by green. It was beautiful and calm–until we saw a dead fish floating on the surface. Carcass aside it was a lovely view. We kept on going and we got our first lesson in symbology. This is a necessary skill for world travelers and especially those ignorant of the local tongue and script. 7-11’s could be found throughout our travels as they were almost on every block. On their signs were significant indicators for the services offered on the inside. We made note of our lesson and saved that knowledge for later and continued on our walk. For lunch we met up with 2 of our friends to eat dumplings at A Fei on Section 2 Neihu Road. Once again we found ourselves enjoying the food; there was even thousand year old egg to eat! From our examinations the beef noodle soup wasn’t anything interesting however, so if you find this place, just go straight for the dumplings.
One of the goals of our trip was to hit the night markets in Taipei, and so,tonight we hit night market #1: Raohe night market. Leaving the MRT station and walking down the street to the market, the first thing I could see was the large temple. Immediately to the left and across the street was the night market and it was packed it a lot of people. We walked down the narrow street and were quickly inundated with the sights of merchandise, the smells of food and drinks, and sounds of hundreds of people. Always a fan of guavas, I picked up a cup of the fresh juice for myself. One of my worries was running into intestinal troubles on the trip and this would be the first test. Spoiler alert: I survived!
A lot of the produce at this market was fruit. We saw Cherimoyas and wax apples, the former which I really liked a lot. They are sweet and easy to eat, with big seeds that you’ll need to spit out. Also represented was the indigenous people’s wild boar sausages, of which I personally did not partake. The fortune-telling culture was prevalent here as well, with finches for predictions.
A Typical Taiwanese Breakfast – Day 3
We woke up rested from the night’s activities and headed out on the MRT to get ourselves some traditional breakfast. We were on the hunt for Mei Mei’s as uncle said that he had heard it was a good place to try. However our attempts to find it turned up in vain, and the locals couldn’t offer any guidance. We kept hunting for someone who knew until we stopped by a 7-11 where one of the clerks mentioned that it’s a different business now. Instead it was now known as Lai Lai Doujiang. With her guidance we pressed on until we located it and had breakfast. It was most wonderful. There was the expected rice porridge, with what I call “Chinese donuts” or as others have called them “oil sticks” to go with them, fresh soy milk, a Taiwanese burrito with meat inside, taro cake, and oyster omelettes. Ugh, I was so full, but it tasted so good. How am I supposed to eat more the rest of the day? I didn’t know the answer to that question.
After breakfast we went over to Miramar Mall to kill time. Turns it wasn’t open, however we did find some Ninja Turtles. Once time was killed my travel buddy and I split off from uncle to try taking the MRT for the first time alone to meet up with the rest of our traveling friends. Our goal now was shrimp fishing. Now, when you hear shrimp fishing, you might imagine a crew of bearded and leather skinned men with rippling muscles hauling nets on-board a ship in the middle of the largest storm in the world. At least that’s what I imagined I would be doing. Turns out we would be going to an indoor area, basically a pool, to fish for shrimp. Who would have guessed? We navigated through back alleys and past hundreds of mopeds, stopping to say hi to cats walking by. Eventually we found the super shrimping center of our dreams. Except, it was…closed…and what appears to have been for a while. There was no pool, no shrimps, and certainly no fishing to be done. Dejected we altered our plans for something greater.
That something greater was Taipei Main Station. This grand station provides a way-point for various modes of transportation, unsurprisingly including trains. However, trains weren’t what we were here for. Instead, we were here to try the Train Station Bento as well as the underground shops. The main floor of the station is dedicated to shops and there’s a large open area where you can see the building shoot up into the sky. Lacking any form of seating, smack dab in the middle of the cavernous room was where we chose to plop ourselves down and eat our bento. Of course, what is food without drinks? Thusly we chose to sample the local milk tea. Yummy.
Next stop, the underground shops. It’s like the night market but significantly less food, not at night, and not as dirty. Oh yeah, did I mention that it was underground? We perused up and down the aisles until it was time to head to our next stop, Danshui (Tamsui).
Danshui is all the way at the end of the red line so it took around an hour to arrive from Taipei Main Station. This area is right up against the water and is named after the Tamsui river. We had hoped to catch the sunset here as it’s famous for its views, however it was not to be due to the fog. Instead we roamed the streets, watched 2 of our friends try and fail an ice cream eating challenge, and tried some of the local food. We had Hujiao Bing with pork belly in it and unlike most buns it was toasted as opposed to only being steamed.
Without a sunset to wait for we figured that we would need something to do for the next few hours. Somehow we decided on karaoke and headed to the nearest joint. Once inside we booked our room and settled in for a great time of caterwauling. It was through this time that I discovered that the Taiwan Honey Beer was really tasty. Some bears start to taste gross over time as you consume more, but not this beer. Try it out.
Once we had our fill of songs, snacks, and drinks, we departed on the red line of the MRT to Shilin Market, our 2nd night market stop on the trip. We tried the Coffin Sandwich which had pork on the inside! They carved out the center so they could stuff the inside and it was good. Here I bought a single Cherimoya, and it was really sweet. One of the vendors sold cotton candy in different forms, such as the chicken featured here and what appears to be Baymax from Big Hero 6. The underground section of the market was an oily, noisy, food-fest. I wasn’t hungry by this point so a couple of the others tried some oysters and other food. Emerging from the underground I ran into a man on stilts. I tried to surreptitiously take his photo, but he spotted me, shouting “Lai, lai, lai!” Busted! I handed him $50 for the privilege of his photo and was surprised when I received a snack from him. Finally, we decided we were tired and decided to head back home.
Stay tuned for Part 2! Once all parts are up there will be a link to the High-Quality images on Flickr.