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  • 2012 Taiwan Trip, Part I

    Posted on July 30th, 2012 Michele Sun No comments

    A French friend of mine is on a business trip in Taiwan lately, and he posted couple pictures of his visiting night market in Taipei. Not surprising at all that his business associates in Taiwan would take him there, since night market has always been a place that local people go for cheap eats, cheap buys and cheap hangout. Night market is a life style for young and old, white collar and blue collar, and one never get tired of the crowds, noise, smell of mouth watering food. You can find night market in every city in Taiwan, and people love to introduce night market to foreign visitors. Some of the food can be so rare that it’s almost adventurous I would say, but this friend of mine seems to be open to any possibility in this territory.

    This reminds me of my own recent trip to Taiwan, because within 30 minutes of landing in Taiwan and dropping off our bags at my parents’ place, Max and I embarked on our first Taipei adventure – going to a night market!!  My parents live right across from the World Trade Center and within 5 minutes walk to Taipei 101, and there are too many fancy restaurants that I could have taken Max to but I opted not. Instead we were standing on the streets in Taipei, 9 pm, 70 degree, waiting for bus like local do, with the Taipei 101 skyscraper towering above Max.

    We got off the bus# 22 at  the intersection of Hsin-Yi Road @ Tong Hua Street, and walked into the crowded Tong Hua street  lined with convenient stores, bakery shops, noodle shops, dumpling place, clothing stores, foot massage places, beauty salons, shaved ice and milk tea stands… etc, a street full of life and action!  I asked Max if he want to try the foot massage but he declined the idea, but I wasn’t sure he was afraid of the pain and suffering or he simply did not like being touched. I grew up in Taipei and always would visit night market whenever I have business trips to Taipei, and tonight seeing the curiosity on his face made the trip even more interesting.

    There were food stands on both side of the narrow street with usually only one chef cooking and one helper to wash and chop the rest of the ingredients like crazy, and smaller stands in the middle aisle selling fruits that required no pots and pans. As we walking and browsing through those food vendors, I encouraged Max to sample Taiwanese fruits that I knew he probably never had or seen before, like the lian-wu and guava. Lian-wu definitely is one of my favorite Taiwanese fruits, a pink and bell shaped fruits with white flesh, juicy and crispy and only available in winter season. I looked up Wiki and it’s called wax-apple but it’s really nothing close to an apple at all. Taiwanese guava has green skin and white flesh with tiny soft white seeds inside that’s also edible, very crispy compared to guava in North America. I tried to introduce stinky tofu to Max, but another big NO with shaking head which I wasn’t surprised but rather amused! Other very popular dishes at night market are the grass jelly, aiyu jelly, oyster pancake, squid noodle soup, grilled parts of chicken, boiled pork/duck blood mixture with rice..which I never had the guts to try yet.

    We hang out a little bit and decided to call it a night since it had been a very long day with all the travel from Kyoto to Tokyo, Tokyo to Taipei!

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    Fri March 2nd, I woke up pretty early in the house that I did not spend much time during my teen days, but still it’s exciting to be in Taipei – a modern and fun metropolitan with traditional Chinese culture embedded. I had been to couple cities in China for travel and business, and I found Taiwan is much more Chinese than China, interesting! I stood at the balcony and looked out at the hills in near distance, the trees and plants were all so green from the humidity. Looking down I could see older people practicing Tai-chi at the park, and younger people jogging at the middle school track. I went to find Max in my brother’s room and he was already awake as well, so time for us to get first breakfast in Taipei. Since we hadn’t had a full and hearty breakfast for a while, we walked to New York Bagel and I had my favorite ham and eggs bagel, and he had his French toast and ice-cream with chocolate sauce as side. Yummy!! And needless to say, I “helped” to finish that ice-cream :-p Over breakfast I threw out couple ideas and see what he felt like doing; we could stay in the city and visit museums, or head north and go to hot spring, or visit the beach. Taiwan is an island, and the beaches are sandy on the west coast and rocky on the east.  Max wasn’t in the museum mood that day,  and hot spring in warm weather wasn’t very inviting even though it’s winter here. So we sort of decided heading to beach sounded more inviting!

    I asked the server for suggestion on which beach to go, and he thought those near Taipei city were too boring, and he suggested we heading south and go to Ken-ting. I had no plan to drive in Taiwan absolutely, so liked the idea of taking HSR (High Speed Rail) all the way to south and was told that would only take couple hours. What  I did not know was we would still need to travel further south after the train ride, and I was assuming we would go to the beach in the south, then came back that night.  I showed Max around the neighborhood after our breakfast, the  Taipei 101, Grand Hyatt, New York New York, Mitsukoshi, and those most highly priced residential apartments. Walked home, put swimsuits and camera into our backpack and we were beach bound.

    We first walked to the MRT (Metro Rapid Transit) station near City Hall, and the subway took us to the Taipei Main Station which was about 15 to 20 minutes ride. The MRT system operates within the Taipei city, and carries about 1.6 million passengers daily and is one of the most expensive rapid transit system ever built. During the ride I explained to him about the joint project of such complicated rapid transit that involved UK, France and Taiwan team, and the difficulty to obtain land from people for such project, which is a price you pay for democracy. Similar construction will never be this difficult or take this long if take place in China, since the government are always above people . We got off the MRT at the Main Station, where the Metro, Taiwan Railroad and Taiwan High Speed Rail interconnect together. Once again, super smarty Max managed to purchase tickets at the kiosk even though I was the one could read Chinese character :-p

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    The HSR train uses Shinkansen body, so it looked exactly like the rides we had been on in Japan except the colors. The ride was smooth and also had my beloved snack cart 🙂 We were in a very relaxing mood, and could feel the weather got warmer and warmer as the train moving south. We arrived Kaohsiung and found it’s so warm (about 80 degree) there and  it’s hard to believe that just  hours ago we were in freezing Japan. We were looking for bus to take us to Ken-Ting, and a taxi driver approached us offering his service. We later found this type of proactive business model was very common in cities outside of Taipei, and it shows aggressiveness of smaller cities. I did not really care about the price but love the convenience he offered, so we got in his car and chatted with the cab driver during the an hour and 40 minutes ride. The roads were much wider down south and not much traffic due to slow season now. The banana trees, mango trees, betel nuts.. all appeared to be so tropical to me, and really felt like an adventure.

    The taxi driver asked about where we would be staying, and at this point I slowly came to realize that one day trip did not make much logical sense. So I told him that we actually had nothing planned, and welcomed his suggestions. That proactive aggressiveness came into picture again, and I like how that actually solved our situation ideally! He asked about our budget, and told us that he could drop us off at a hotel near the beach, and he would wait while we went in to check out the place, and he would take us to other places if we were not happy with what we saw. That actually was very helpful for people like us – completely no clue or idea and completely flexible! The place he took us to was a beach front property, and would categorize as a 3 AAA place I think. The owner of the business sit behind the counter and spoke fairly good English; he instructed one of his staffs to show us the room, and it looked fine to us so we decided we would stay the night at the beach. Paid the cab driver and he left his cell phone number with us, therefore we could call him for his service the next day if needed. Awesome business model!!

    We went to the main street first which probably was the only commercial street and bought ourselves flip flops, and changed into swimsuit and went to the beach right away. It’s a bit windy, humid, and warm here, but water was blue and only one or two sail boats out there. Regretted that we did not bring our running shoes, otherwise we could run along the beach;  instead we were chasing each other on the sandy beach like a cheesy movie :-p.  As Max dived into the water, the coast guard came up at once and told us that due to the strong current, we were not allowed to swim in the  open water, bummer!! Oh well, no worries, we know how to have fun and like Max said “f*ck winter, we are at the beach!”

    After the beautiful and stunning sunset, we showered, changed and walked back to the main street looking for food;  probably due to it’s small beach town so restaurants were mostly casual eateries like pizza, Thai, Indonesian, grills, steak & seafood…etc., and almost every place had menus in English and server speaking English as well. We shared a pizza and some beers, and feeling the mood light and merry. After dinner we leisurely walked on the streets to check out what other tourists or locals did here, and we bought more fresh fruits to share. A guy offered us to sample some millet wine, which was creamy and tasted yummy. Millet wine is the oldest wine in Taiwan and a traditional beverage of Taiwanese aborigines. It is often used in harvest festival, as a signal of harvest. The alcohol content of millet wine usually is between 8 – 10%, but when he found out Max was French, he offered another millet wine with abv of 12%, and it tasted really yummy.  I offered to get one of each for Max as souvenirs from this Taiwan trip, but  the guy was so street smart that offered us “volume discount” if we bought three bottles. See, another example of being proactive and aggressive!

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    Happily walking back to our place with our “discount priced” millet wine, we found ourselves being chased by a street dog with sharp teeth that really scared me. While telling the dog to “sit”, Max waved me off and told me to go back to our room first. I wasn’t sure what made Max thinking the dog would understand his English, but I could not care much at that point. Later Max came back and joined me on the balcony, and we shared the yummy guavas we bought and watched the Pacific ocean  flickering under the moonlight, while warm ocean breeze kissed our faces.  Laughing about the fierce dog experience and at the same time realizing we had not have any drink with us, therefore we decided to head out and get some from the nearby 7 Eleven. By the way, Taiwan has the highest density of convenience store in the world, average one store per 2,500 people.

    During this beer run, we found a little jazz bar at a bed and breakfast inn and it looked totally cozy. So we entered this “Deer Head” place and immediately like the ambiance, music, and their collection of Belgian beers! Max ordered the Maredsous  8 and 10 for us, plus some smoked squid, and again all communication was done in English. This small town really impressed me, because we did not have the same experience of convenience while traveling in Japan. The couch and cushion were really comfortable, lights were dim, beers & snack were tasty, and that Jazz music at background was just so smooth. Later I learned that the couples operating this place were both artists, and all the decoration for this jazz bar and rooms upstairs were creative works of theirs.

    Not sure how late we stayed at that jazz bar since time was irrelevant, nor what exactly our conversation was about that evening, but it certainly was a  very unforgettable night with new found closeness!


    *Footnote: photo credits for Taipei 101 and surroundings go to Max!


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