we took the first flight out of okinawa and by “first flight” i mean it literally may have been the earliest flight that’s ever left japan. we landed so early in taiwan that there wasn’t anyone in customs.
taiwan was an impromptu visit and well worth the detour, not just to see caroline’s cousin, but to also spend time in a country we knew nothing about. super clean public transportation, speed trains, 7-11s, street food and smiles is what you’re going to find. the culture is awesome and very much independent of all the countries in the world that attempt to lay claim – china, japan, etc. ask anyone living in taipei, or taiwan as a whole, and they are independent taiwanese.
while in taipei we stayed across the street from the taipei main station. from the outside our hotel looked similar to the projects in candyman but on the inside it was actually one of the nicer ones we’ve stayed in. only exception were the thin walls and everything smelled like an old smokers sweater. anyway, since we arrived at dawn we tossed our packs in the lobby and immediately went to find breakfast and free wifi, which we did at this awesome french-hipster cafe (which i could not find anywhere on the internets). full and updated we wandered for a while to get to know the new neighborhood..this included head massages and haircuts at an “aveda spa” for $17 and foot massages at an awesome rub shack where everyone got their own tv. when it comes to haircuts on the road my needs are fairly basic; a pair of clippers and a steady hand. caroline, on the other hand, ended up with something of a triangle cut into the back of her head (see below). as previously mentioned 7-11 rules taiwan and you can do almost anything in one: pay utilities bills, buy a cell phone, get a sit-down or takeaway meal, full grocery shopping, etc. its basically the walgreens of asia. we used it to pick up snack food, busch heavy’s (no joke) and more of the “one cup” sake we drank so often in japan that i was starting to feel unsafe without it. after a brief siesta we headed out to a few markets, Guangzhou, which is one of the oldest but closed prepping for a big CNY fest or maybe we were too early? lost in translation i think..either way we quickly headed to Shilin market which we came to know as the typical taiwanese night market – packed with people, every product ever made for sale and crazy awesome street food. full and happy we decided today had been long enough….
THE NEW STAY INN….
the food in taipei, be it street or not, is a huge staple and there are several blogs dedicated to foodie tours and the like. we decided a themed restaurant was going to be more our style and with so many to choose from, but also a budget to be conscious of, we went with an older one in a neighborhood we wanted to explore. we spent the first part of our second day in taipei wandering the streets of Ximending until we found the modern toilet for, eh, not the best expreience. if i could go back and do it again we would have gone to prison or the hospital. post lunch we headed to a homeless park that also has one of the more famous temples in the city, lungshan, and then to the chiang kai-shek memorial hall to watch kids practicing dance routines of all sorts – break, cheer, ballet, etc. we quickly learned public gathering for “hobby practice” is not uncommon in taiwan. at said memorial we also met chino who would be one of our highlights in taiwan. chino is a “famous” dachshund who’s owner is an older retired man who uses his dog, chino, to start conversations with people (mostly pretty girls). conversation casually leads to a request for him to take a picture of you with chino and always ends with a slideshow review of his 500+ “photo gallery of fame” on his full size ipad he carries with him wherever he goes. something like this: “here’s chino with german girls and chinese girls and american girls. here are some korean girls”. i’m pretty sure i was one of very few men actually pictured with this dog. chino was awesome as was his owner and really was a nice break in what was a gray and rainy day. coming out of the shek we went back to the aforementioned rub shack to have what would be our first cupping experience. if you don’t know what cupping is, here’s a graphic look. our official stance on the practice of cupping is..if it only costs $7 USD, why not try it? long day, rack city…
DANCE PRACTICE @ THE SHEK
CHIANG KAI-SHEK SPIN….
our third day in taipei was equally as tourist as the second – stops include the taipei zoo to see the giant pandas, a walk around taipei 101 which is basically a very high-end shopping center, and finally high tea at hotel éclat that openly (no guards) displays a priceless picasso sculpture. we were highly (wordplay) underdressed, as we are in most cases on this trip, and didn’t care because it was cheap and awesome. geeked up on tea and basically no food we headed to da’an disctricts yongkang street to get the famous taiwanese street pancakes known as cong zhua bing that are flipping (more wordplay) amazing and probably the best meal we had while in the country…seriously, this is the stuff dreams are made of. there’s also this amazing juice bar and park right down the street to round out the meal and atmosphere. after a siesta we went to the Ximending night market which was one of our favorite due to young atmosphere, but wouldn’t recommend more than one visit due to the lack of street food. walking home through a flea market pedway connected to the taipei main station some woman pointed and laughed at my top knot/man bun – huge self-esteem booster before bed time.
NICE HAIRCUT, WHERE ARE THE PANDAS….
fourth day we got up very early and jumped on the high-speed rail and headed to tainan to meet up with caroline’s cousin tom, his wife mei-mei and their newborn son kenny for a personal tour of the oldest city in taiwan. there’s a ton of cultural and religious history in tainan so we ended up seeing a buddhist temple, catholic church, taoist temple, confucious memorial/temple (i think there was a hindi temple in there too?) as well as a dutch fort which attempted to lay claim since the city was established by the east india company. we also walked around some back-alley markets for an awesome lunch and a real taiwanese experience. all translated and led by mei-mei and included the purchase of some local candy, “all-natural” bug spray, a real locals lunch and stinky tofu – which is exactly what it sounds like. en route to the fish markets we stopped by lin mo niang park which is a shrine to mazu and where tommy proposed to mei-mei. mazu is believed to be one bad mofo that protects all fisherman and sailors from evil – her picture is all over the place. we ended the night with beers at a western restaurant eating one of the spiciest pizzas anyone has ever had. it was a lot to squeeze into less than 24hrs but well worth the train ride south and time spent with family. also, a humble brag for the wife, some nice gentleman at one of the temples thought caroline was pretty and gave her a beautiful calligraphy painting.
woke early again and headed back to taipei to squeeze in some last minute activities. this included a visit to the palace museum where we were giggled at and followed by school children practicing their english. this isn’t an uncommon experience for westerners, in pretty much all of asia, but i will say the taiwanese kids were a little less shy than most. by way of recommendation from the leblanc family of ohio we were not allowed to leave taiwan without going to din tai fung for dumplings, so from the museum that’s where we headed. this has more or less become a chain but you really can’t go wrong eating at the original or the new mall versions as they’re all awesome. full up on noodles and dumplings we had a late siesta then rushed back to Shilin street market to eat (all we do here) more street food just before they closed. we spent our last day hanging around da’an waiting for our favorite pancake and juice stand to open then had a nice lunch in the west-village-like park nearby watching old taiwanese folks exercise…a mid-day flight and we’re off to the philippines…
KIDS CAN BE SO MEAN…
how to sum up our experience in manilla…first, we were only there for 2 nights as it was more or less a cheaper alternative to stop then it was to fly directly to vietnam. second, our flight was delayed and we ended up getting in much later than expected. then we found out, on arrival, that a grenade exploded near the police headquarters that same day and things were in a little bit of disarray around the city. i used credit card points to book a few nights in the peninsula (you fancy huh?) because when there is political and civil disrupt pretty much all 5star hotels become 1/10 the cost. so, over the next few days i got 3 post up, we did laundry in the bathtub (probably a peninsula first), had the best free hotel breakfast buffet ever, ate the free gym apples for lunch to save money, split cheap dinners within a 2 block walk of our hotel, enjoyed a ton of pool time, went for a 5-mile treadmill run while watching the only bulls game i’ve seen this season and took several steams….seriously the breakfast spread was amazing. i think the philippines has a lot to offer but we had not made plans to leave manilla and we have the “grenade excuse” for down time and to get back on budget…and, to be honest, full-time travel isn’t all smiles and rainbows. that’s it….off to communist vietnam we go…
HOW OUT OF PLACE COULD WE BE…