OYSTER OMELETTE, EEL NOODLES, STINKY TOFU..WHAT MORE CAN YOU ASK FOR…

Huaxi night market On the plane to Taipei sat next to me is a Taiwanese American dude and we had good conversations about life in Taiwan and Philadelphia where he is from, most of his family moved back to Taiwan but he stayed, he is more American than Taiwanese anyway. He happens to be from the same town as my friend Su who I will visit, small world. Michael, his name is an avid movie buff having studied it in school and a pro photographer, he promised to give me a lesson or two or even tips over a few beers in Tainan. US citizens need no visa to enter Taiwan as a tourist for 30 days, my friend overstayed the last time he was here and when he entered Taiwan again this year he got refused entry! He was told he need to apply for a proper visa because he violated regulations and hence spent approx. 36 hours at the airport hotel as he could not get through,and instead left for Guam and came back to Taiwan with a visa a week later.

Immigration was a breeze, took ages for my backpack to turn up. Tayouan airport is huge! very modern, clean Taipei and organized only comment I have is not a lot of ATM machines, I think theRe were only 2 that I found, one did not work for international cards good thing I have left over ringgits which I exchanged to Taiwan dollars. Asked information for the bus to Railway station, they pointed me to the right direction, bought my ticket at the bus sales counter then it took us about an hour to get to town. Taipei is huge and buzzling, tall buildings, but I noticed it’s clean and people wear masks when they have a flu or cough like the Japanese. The main train station is big and took me awhile to figure out where the exit 3 north is, I followed the hostel direction and made it to the front door with no problem. The problem came when I checked in, they don’t have my name so I showed Eva the staff the email I got as confirmation, she looked amused and told me it’s another hostel, damn!!

I was exhausted from the trip and no way I am gonna try and find the other hostel especially if I have to take a train to get there. Shilin night market Here’s what happened, I looked up hostel on hostelworld and since I am cheap I did not want to pay them to book it online so I got all the information, directions etc. then I googled them to see if they have a website so I can get their phone number and or email so I can make a booking, Taipei backpackers hostel I looked on google an one came up so I had a look, wrote to them and all but me unaware it’s the wrong hostel, I did not check if the address matched etc. who would have thought they will name their hostels the same as another? Anyway the only difference between their websites was a hyphen and that screwed me up. The management was kind and let me stay in a single room as the dorms are fully booked for a discount price, I took it. Eva the staff called the other hostel to let them know I am staying here now.

The rooms were fine but the toilet is something to behold, it’s narrow, toilet shower room, you need to be a gymnast to navigate with ease! took awhile to get used to otherwise everything on this hostel is perfect. Excellent location. I went to the train station to get money again the ATMs on the ground floor refused my card, local only I assume, so I went up to the 2nd floor the food court and found one that gave me money, have to remember the bank… I had dinner there for $US 5 I had a good meal, heaps of restaurants everyone competing for your attention, of course I am Asian looking so they all assume I am one of them, I have to tell them English only, some talked to me, a few walked away or just stared at me, not a lot of them can speak English but not as bad as Indonesia! I found the people friendly and polite and a number of good looking local girls. White complexions, sexy outfits, they dress well here, I look like trash walking around in my flip flops and smelly clothes.

The next day I ventured out to try and hike Yangmingshan mountains in the outskirts of downtown, I found a queue for bus #260 outside of the train station on the north side, I asked the people queuing up how much is the fare, only$US1! We got stuck in the morning traffic and I don’t know where I get off, I saw we passed a sign that says National Park, I panicked , turns out lots of ways to enter the park depending on the trail you want to go. I got dropped at the stop before the bus station in Yangmingshan.
I went to the 7 eleven store and grabbed breakfast, I had an assortment of goodies, tofu, shitake etc. very cheap, I asked the counter where to go for the park, they gave me a map and pointed me to the right direction, very kind of them.

I walked uphill as I was told to get to the visitor’s center, I noticed a funny sign that says owl crossing on the road, then in the corner there was a sign that says to visitor center so I followed that trail, short cut, you get off the winding road and follow the cobblestone path, It’s amazing how they have this nice park right in the city, well suburbs but still..birds are chirping, squirrels are playing. Visitor center was super helpful, a kind woman staff walked me to the trail marks and explained how I get to the peak of Mt. Cising, my planned hike. So off I go, it’s mostly stairs, damn it! my legs were tired right away. A few people are hiking too, I got to the junction, I decided to take the path for Cising park then walked around there, nice view of the city then I found a trail to the East side of the peak, this was gruelling, darn steps!

I made it anyway to the top and then I saw the main peak is still about a km away I went for it even if I was grimacing in pain, my right pinky toe is swollen from me stubbing it in Rentepau days earlier, as if something like this will keep me from hiking, I curse my misfortune every gasp I take, I backtracked from where I came from to get to the Lengshuikeng trail, this one was a true killer! stairs down towards the parking lot of the visitor center. I had lunch there and got directions for the Milk lake which turns out is just across the parking lot! a small milky lake, is all. The staff at the center told me if I want to go to the hot springs it’s free if I walk up to a bungalow building about 5 minute walk slightly uphill. But when I got there I was told it’s shut from 1pm to 2:30pm for cleaning! I saw old men chatting and having their lunch some just coming out from the hot springs. the chatter about their day so far, well I can only guess…

Took the bus 108 to go back to the bus station. Then I looked for the International hotel cause I was told they have hot springs spa there,from the bus station I walked to the main road and turned right, I saw a building that looks like a hotel so i went in, all the signs are in Chinese so I asked and they say yes you are in the right place $T 100 to use the facility. You can’t swim, no food inside, take off all your clothes, men and women are separate etc.. no big deal I am used to be naked in men’s lockers at home, so I thought. When I got in to the men’s room it’s a tiny hallway with guys butt naked standing everywhere staring at me, uhmmm where’s the dressing room please, I sheepishly asked,no one spoke English, but I was pointed to another small room, I found an empty box to put my clothes in. in no time I was butt naked, now what to do next, hmm,as I remember reading somewhere you have to clean yourself first before jumping in the pool, where’s the showers please, they just stared at me, I guess there’s none then! So I jumped straight in to the pool, a small pool that is. the water is hot but soothing for achy muscles and smelled like rotten eggs, like it was during the hike, the air permeates with sulfuric smell.

Men go in and out of the pool, there is a cold water bucket to cool yourself,some use it some go sit down in a corner. I watched for a bit what they do trying to observe the etiquettes, all the while trying to keep my eye focused on their faces and not below the belt, I stare at the ceiling, the window, or close my eyes, men shuffling in and out of tiny rooms, quite uncomfortably intimate. I lost my inhibitions after awhile, no one pays attention to you. Most are old men, no one speaks to one another, as small the spaces are they seem to respect the tiny spot you chose to hang out in. When they leave the pool to cool off they sit anywhere it’s vacant, like I said, not much space,so I just did the same. I drank lots of water too in between dips as it was provided for free. The feeling was great, my muscles are relaxed and my pinky toe suddenly felt hardly any pain. Ok at one point I need to pee so I went to the toilet area, only 2 cubicles ,saloon type doors you easily see if it’s occupied, one is being used so I went to the next one, there were 2 men there facing each other and god knows what else they’re doing! I hurriedly left and went back in the pool. Soon one of them got back in the pool as well, he could not look me in the eye, ha ha, eventually I left the pool and had a cold bucket shower and got dressed and left right away, I guess sometimes this places doubles as a pick up joint as well.

Back to town, I went to the Shinkong area near the hostel to buy some electronics, I needed as storage device for my fotos, after much haggling I found the one I like. That night I also visited the Shilin night market taking the MRT, man it’s busy, full of people but they are so organized, no one is littering or loitering, i took the red line to Danshui, found the night market easily and wasted no time sampling the food. Man it’s a huge place, so alive with locals and tourists that come by tourist buses, they look Japanese to me, anyway 1st up is to try the stinky tofu, and it does stink bad, I was walking a street and thought wtf is that smell, like rotten pig or something, I tried it anyway since when in Rome… It was delicious! I sat next to a Filipina and we exchanged pleasantries, she told me what else to try, very excited I said goodbye to her and crossed the street for more food, i thought I had seen all, not yet.
The Filipina told me to try the fried oysters with eggs , wow so delicious! I had the bamboo shoot soup with it too, superb. Then walked around and took fotos, everyone is busy cooking, accosting customers.

When i had my fill i headed out, then I saw fried crabs and crablets, i have got to try them so i bought some. Average price per meal is around $US1-2, not bad ey?? At the metro station I was confused, I came on the red line but 3 trains already passed and they were blue! Eventually I figured it’s actually ok to take any as they all go to Taipei Main station. it started to drizzle but stopped when i got to my stop. great night of food tasting.

The next day started out cloudy and a bit drizzly, I noticed since I got here that theyre seem to be a haze of clouds that roll into the city in the late morning, it could be smog or it’s just the weather pattern, anyway I set off to Danshui, the last stop on the red line, I decided to buy the 1 day MRT pass and see the city on the cheap. It started to rain when i got to the Danshui line, I asked around for bus 26 which leaves on the side of the terminal. I have to pay as the MRT pass does not cover buses but it’s meager amount I just have to have exact change. I got dropped off at Fort San Domingo, up the hill where there is the old British consulate, good views of the port from there but otherwise quite a boring excursion, nothing interesting for me here, I walked up further on the hill and reached the campus of some University, pretty cool, and there’s a couple taking wedding fotos near the church. Got back down and hailed the next bus to Fisherman’s wharf. Gloomy day does not make good fotos and the port is so quiet.

I walked around for a bit slowly making my way down to the bridge then it started to rain hard so took shelter in this building where men in one room sat fixing their nets, I watched them a bit, they all looked at me curiously but not said a word. When rain abated I walked to cross the bridge to the other side, there were stores there selling food and trinkets. I got bored so went back to town and walked around the Danshui old section, lots of stalls, food, clothing stores etc. Rain is on and off and as I took the train back I was gonna stop to see the hot springs at Xenbeitou stop and maybe use a spa to relax, nothing else to do in the rain really but I fell asleep in the train and when I woke up the doors were just closing at the Beitou stop where I need to connect from, ahh screw hot springs I went back to sleep and got off at the main station and just chilled in the hostel. This young Japanese dude who is my roommate went there and he said it was big with different pools of varying temperature so must have been nice.

I grew hungry again so aimed to hit another night market, Huaxi market next to the Longshan temple stop, the MRT is busy at this time around 6pm and I got lost trying to find my train, this place is huge and signs are very helpful but I sometimes don’t pay attention and people watch before you know it I am lost. I made it to the market asking people around where it is as it is not exactly in front of you as you step out of the metro stop, a couple of streets away I found the pedestrian walkway, well not really, motorbikes scoot past you at every corner so pay attention! lots of odd foods, I sat down to try this tofu fast food place it was crowded so i thought it must be good and it was. The still hungry I found a restaurant that makes this oyster with egg fry thing. Then i bought some grilled dried squid for snacks as I walk to another area where i found odd things like turtles for dinner and poor fellows their heads were cut off and laid in a platter, they are still moving!! Another restaurant has this huge albino python in a glass case display while a woman talks on the microphone god knows what she was advertising, behind her is the bustling tables with people eating, i hope they’re not eating the albinos!!Man i have never seen such a huge snake! Ok maybe it’s partly true the Chinese eats anything that moves but hey they make it into a delicious sumptuous meal but I just wished they don’t eat endangered animals and cute ones such as turtles, but I digress.

Had a look around the Longshan temple while eating my super spicy dried squid, i told her not too spicy, that b@$#h! I squander to find a store to buy some drink, my tongue is burning! later I gave the rest of it to my Japanese roommate, my suspicion that it was really spicy was confirmed when the Jap started panting as he eats the squid, hot hot hot he says in his funny accent, he grabs a beer and fans his mouth as we chat about his day.He said he came to Taipei to taste the food but so far he has no appetite because it’s too hot, funny I never had a problem, i keep eating what I see in the street, they are all delicious, meats, veggies, tofu, haven’t had the courage to try the turtle yet, maybe after a few of Taiwan beers.

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