The floral scent of jasmine fills the air, and an old man is smiling at me from across the street. It’s another beautiful day in Taipei.
I wake up at 5:30 today, and I’m pretty proud of that achievement. I have to leave my rock solid bed hotel, and as I can’t find a couchsurfer to take me I decide to go to a little Air BnB that cost me about $18 a night for a little private room with a shared bath. I should probably be staying in a hostel just to meet people, but I really am enjoying this privacy thing right now. I wander out of the hotel and wander past a bakery, where I buy some overly white bread buns that should hopefully suffice for breakfast. My goal is to find a park, so I decide to wander until one is found.
I see an old man smiling at me from across the street. My instant reaction is “That’s weird, look away.” So I sheepishly look to the ground. He’s still looking at me, so I look back into his eyes and realize it’s the old man who was sitting across from me, smiling at me from time to time to ensure I was happy while I ate my first bowl of noodles after landing in Taipei. He awkwardly waved with a big smile “Hello, good morning,” and walked into work at an elementary school. He seems like a perfect elementary teacher.
I find a park, which is covered in graffiti, iron, and concrete but it’ll make due for breakfast. I munch a while and head back to the hotel, taking my bags to a locker in the Taipei main station before heading to the National Palace Museum.
This is an exhibit I’ve had on my list for a while, and I was really excited to see what was going on.
The humidity fogged my lens, but I kind of like the effect.
It was a pretty extensive exhibit on Chinese artifacts from jade to porcelain to old books. Taken from China while fleeing the Communists, the Palace Museum has centuries of antiquities. The most famous area is the jade exhibit, featuring many amazing pieces of stonework.
Such as the jade cups,
Behold people beholding the transcendent jade cabbage,
And finally, behold the most decadent piece of stonecraft in human history. A testament to the creative and technological capabilities of mankind. A piece of art that has stood the test of time, and will awe generations for centuries to come. I give you: the jasper pork belly,
I know I took a crappy picture, but it seriously looks good enough to eat.
All of this stone food makes me crave real food, so I head out and head around the Shilin neighborhood for something to eat. At night I’m told there’s a massive food market, but during the day it’s fairly sleepy and pedestrian.
I finally find a place for some soup noodles, and even though the place is empty the noodles are pretty good. I hop back on the subway and make my way to hipster stop number one: Fujin street.
The street is covered with beautiful sinewy trees, and some cutesy little boutiques lie around in random places.
It’s very nice, but a little too upscale for my price range. I’m getting used to the subway by now, and it’s pretty enjoyable to people watch and navigate through the maze of the metro.
Next stop is Huashan Creative Park, where one may find plenty of hipster doo-dads and cute things.
There’s even a Mr. Potatohead boutique, for those of you potato fanatics out there. Taipei was the design capital of the world in 2016, so there are a couple of these gentrified warehouse areas around town. I hop back on the metro for my next stop at another hipster warehouse.
This one is the Songshan Culture Park, which I like a lot more than Huashan. Built in a Japanese tobacco factory, this place houses a huge array of nicknacks and goodies from a lot of nice local designers.
I especially like the jungle surrounding the area, and a little jungly center to the entire complex. It feels a world away from the city.
Next, I want to see Taipei 101, which was once the tallest building in the world in 2004 but has now been relegated to the place of number 10. After World Trade One, it’s the second tallest building I’ve ever seen. From far away, it looked pretty normal. It’s Feng Shui exterior glittering above the skyline, I walked toward it thinking, “Ya, I guess it’s pretty tall…”
Then it got taller…
I was breaking my neck taking that photo. It’s inexplicably huge, and even though it’s shorter than World Trade One, it seems so much larger since it’s more or less the only skyscraper in the area. I trotted inside, excited to go to the tippy top and see the view.
But I arrive at a line, and realize it costs $20 to go to the top. $20 dollars goes a long way in Taiwan, enough to buy almost 10 rounds of beef noodles. So I decide to get some food and mull it over.
In the basement to Taipei 101 is a massive food court. This is something all department stores in Japan have, and I’m so glad it exists here as well. I walk around a bit, and as my normal rule of thumb to wait in the longest line goes, I found myself getting a bowl of this goop:
Caviar and cream soup? Nope. Alien egg stew? Almost. It’s tofu pudding, tapioca pearls, and soggy peanuts with icecubes drifting around like tiny icebergs. I wasn’t really expecting to eat this today, but I kind of ended up loving it. As soon as you start trying all of the seemingly nonsensical (to our ‘Western’ perspective) things, they all begin to make sense.
Using an umbrella in the sunshine makes you look like a weirdo in America. Here, it’s to protect against the scorching sun.
Carrying a foldable fan around downtown Atlanta? “What are you, queer?” Here, it’s practical and fashionable.
Purple potato ice cream and cold tapioca with icy tofu pudding? Neither of which are in any way sweet? A perfect way to beat the heat.
I’m happy with my decision and decide $20 is maybe a bit too steep for me. Besides, it’s starting to get a bit late and I want to check in to my new place. I get back to the main station to pick up my bags, and head for Da’an neighborhood. My phone has directed me to a mattress store, which I guess makes sense (lots of places to sleep), but I text the owner to see if I’m wrong. She says I’m right where I need to be, and picks me up about 10 minutes later. She’s an old Chinese lady speaking absolutely no English, but she has one of those sweet old lady smiles and makes me feel all cuddly inside. She takes me upstairs, to a little private room with a shared kitchen and bath. It’s much cozier than the first two nights, and the bed is actually made of bed. She shows me the bathroom, and then the secondary washroom where she tells me repeatedly not to take a shit in there. She does so by stepping into the shower, squatting, and making a huge struggling and straining face as if to push out an egg. Then she stands up and waves her arms “No.”
What worries me is that means someone must have shit in there…
So I use the other shower for a quick freshener. I’m hungry, so the plan is to go to Tonghua Night Market for some snacks Taipei style.
There are pieces and parts of any animal imaginable, fried up into little bite size goody bites right in front of your eyes.
They’ve even got a shop where they give you a bowl, you fill it up with chicken ass (a local delicacy) or tofu or endive or whatever and they grill it up right there for you.
My first stop is a Hainan chicken stand, serving tender chicken covered in a sauce resembling Teriyaki and served on rice. It’s ok, but I can do better. So next I grab a box of grilled pork dumplings. Those hit the spot. I eat and wander around the market, taking in all the lights and cheap clothing goodies. I decide to sit down at a little grill and order some chicken hearts fresh grilled and munch on those for a while. Chicken hearts are definitely the most underappreciated meat. It’s my first market, but it doesn’t disappoint. Hopefully, there will be many more.
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