Rain falls, and I feel like a Spirit walking to a bathhouse in Spirited Away.
I decide the best way to start the day is to go to a local breakfast shop. There are little shops everywhere with a griddle, a few packets of eggs, and some raw bacon. I never know what to say when I walk in there, but I decided today “Screw it, I’ll point.” To my delight, the woman working there spoke pretty awesome English. She crafts something up for me, a crispy pancake filled with bacon and cheese and covered in a sauce similar to that put on my Hainan chicken the night before. It’s so much better than white bread buns from the baker.
I’m not entirely sure what to do today. The forecast is saying rain, and I have no particular plans. I try out couchsurfing hangouts and connect with a Spanish woman nearly turning 50. I just wanted someone to walk around with and talk to. The first thing she says is “Let’s hang out! Are you in a hotel? Can you host me?”
Never a good sign.
I check out her profile, and she’s very vegan. Vegenazi level vegan. Not only that but raw vegan. Apparently, her diet mainly consists of juice, and something called “breathetarian”. Some of her references from other couchsurfers were a bit iffy too. That’s fine, eat what you will, but I was getting some weird vibes from her so I decided against meeting up.
I decide just to stroll until I get a better idea. Then ‘Art’ calls my name, and I head to the Taipei Fine Arts Museum. Upon leaving the station, I realize I’m close to a large Confucian Temple. I can’t pass up that opportunity. So I wander over and look around the serene Confucian complex.
This temple’s much less crowded than Longshan Temple, allowing for more time to get up and personal with the statues or deities.
A stroll through another park leads me to the Art Museum, which is disappointingly empty. Perhaps they’re making restorations. But at least it’s a cool building.
One of the reasons I came to Taiwan was for the food. Specifically, my heart yearned for the soup dumpling. Tiny and delicate, yet filled with pure joy and ecstasy, Taiwanese soup dumplings are always a staple whenever I visit New York City. They send me into such an uncontrollable fit of glee and euphoria. It’s a holy experience.
Din Tai Fung is apparently the place for soup dumplings. I head to the nearest location and find out I have to wait over an hour to get my sweet fix. Too long for me, I’m hungry. Luckily there’s a ton of food options everywhere in Taipei, and it doesn’t take me long to find a restaurant serving amazing dumplings (although not of the soupy variety).
The other food I crave is Beef Noodle Soup. I’ve had some good ones so far, but apparently, YongKang Beef Noodle is where you go. I make my way, and get a table instantly and enjoy a bowl of perfectly tender, spicy beef soup.
But you’ll pay a steep $7 for this meal. That would be pretty normal in Europe or America, but since a good bowl of soup costs $2 here I felt a bit ripped off.
At least I went.
Another big reason for me coming to Taiwan was to see the village of Jiufen, which was apparently the inspiration of Miyazaki Hiyao’s Spirited Away. Only an hour by bus from the outskirts of Taipei, I make my way to please my inner thirteen-year-old. Today’s a bit drizzly, which made the bus ride through the mountains pretty spectacular. The misty mountains make me feel as though I’m in a Chinese ink painting.
The hills ramble and ebb and I eventually make it to Jiufen, one of the most touristy places I’ve ever been in my life.
It’s adorable, and in the day looks like a cute little mining town. After all, it was built by the Japanese as a gold mining town then refurbished to please tourists after the gold dried up.
With this rain, I have to duck and weave my way through thousands of umbrellas. It is pretty touristy, but it’s also really nice.
There are plenty of shops and food stalls, but I refrain from eating because if Spirited Away taught me anything, it’s to not eat the food lest I be turned into a pig and fed to Spirits. But that rooster looks oh so tantalizing.
There’s also a cute little temple outside the tourist track, which is one of the more extravagant I’ve seen.
There are some excellent views of the ocean as well. I’m mentally ticking Taiwan down as a future road trip destination as well.
I walk around some more and soak it all it.
^Future Spirit food
And I’m having way too much fun photographing these lanterns.
At this point, the rain really starts to pour. I feed my way off the tourist track and wander into a cute little bar for some beer and an excellent place to watch the storm.
I sit for about an hour, enjoying the storm and reading. Eventually, I finish my book, my first Ernest Hemingway book, In Our Time, and decide to wander back into town and view the lanterns.
In Spirited Away, nightfall is when the spirits come to party. I wouldn’t want to miss that. All I did see, was a billion Japanese tourists smacking me with their umbrellas. But it is pretty spectacular, I must admit.
All of these anonymous strangers make me feel like a spirit on the way to Yubaba’s bathhouse. Good job, Jiufen, for providing me with an awesome experience.
For a place to be this crowded, I was expecting the bus situation to be equally hectic. I wait a good thirty minutes before a bus with space comes by, and I hop on not even caring where it goes. To my delight, it drops me off right at a train station where I can hop on the train back to Taipei. I sit amongst tired Taiwanese hikers, listening to music and waiting for the slow train to come back into town.
The train drops me off right at Songshan station, next to the Raohe Night Market
I want to have one final stop at a night market, and this one just happened to be the most convenient.
There are your usual Taiwanese night market staples, but this time there are squid butts instead of chicken butts. Not sure what the butt thing is about.
I walk past a portable soup dumpling shop, and figure lo, the universe has provided my loss of soup dumplings from earlier in the day. I sit next to a white guy, and we both shared this exasperated glee to see another possible English speaker. Sully’s from England, stopping in Taiwan for about a month to do some work away time at a hostel to polish up his Mandarin. Good on him. We sit underneath the lanterns and talk a while, then decide it’s time for a drink.
One thing Taipei is lacking is a decent bar culture. We meet up with a friend he’s made earlier in the day at an expat bar. There’s an $8 entrance fee, which is god damn ridiculous, so we decide to keep looking. All we want is a smokey dive bar with cheap beer. It’s not really a thing here. We trot around, taking trains and renting bicycles before we finally find a place with a neon light out front showing the word “Pub”. That’s our spot.
We enter, brushing away a cloud of smoke and get greeted by long-haired locals. Whiskey bottles fill the bar, with tiny shot glasses wet from recent resuscitation. A scantily clad waitress shows us to the bar. We get two beers, which we pay way too much for, and decide it’s too expensive to get another. But we finally got our Taiwanese dive bar experience, which I absolutely don’t regret.
It’s 11:45, and I figure I can take the subway home. But no, Sully says, because public transport shuts down at midnight in Taipei. Excuse me? A capital shutting down its public transport at midnight? To my shock, it’s the truth. My phone gave me a 45 minute walking time back to my place, and I decided screw it, that’s not so far. Luckily, Taipei does feel like a very safe city to walk around, and I manage to find a bike rental place along the way before drifting back into sleep at my little Airbnb.
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