Sunday, 13 April 2014

Taipei

After I last typed, I was heading out into Hong Kong for one final night of looking around, searching for street food and perhaps some company. First stop was Temple Street, the famous night market of Kowloon district. Busy, crowded, but not a huge amount to buy (especially as I was boarding a flight in 12 hours!), so I headed for a side street and tucked into some Salt and Pepper squid. Incredibly delicious, and after I ordered a beer, the waitress screamed "ASAHI" into the night and an Asahi girl came running up with an ice cold one. It seemed she was responsible for the whole street, as another yell came from the far corner and off she skipped again.

Earlier, a guy on the Avenue of Stars had handed us a Pub Crawl leaflet, and I thought that I could swing over there, just stop off at the first bar, maybe chat to a few people. Well, you can guess how that went. Staggered home after some great clubbing at about 2ish (the party was in full swing, but I realised I needed to be up at 6AM for the flight), and slept like a baby. If you're ever in Hong Kong, it's an amazing Pub Crawl, leading you through tiny back alleys and up hidden staircases to these little clubs and bars tucked away. Great music, great people. Every Thursday; it's on TripAdvisor.

And so, glad I didn't drink too much (but astounded at the receipts in my pockets for the cost), I awoke and headed for the airport. There was, however, a catch to this. Expecting I would need them, I took my sunglasses from my pocket and placed them on the table beside me, and didn't realise I hadn't picked them up until the door was shut and locked again, and I couldn't get back through. I just should not be allowed sunglasses, I've never managed to keep a pair longer than 3 weeks.

I thought that Hong Kong was hot. Boy oh boy is Taiwan hot. 32 degrees with 74% humidity, I could feel my skin start to sizzle. Then again, I met a group of Filipino students this morning who told me they had come to Taiwan to escape the oppressive heat and humidity back home in Manila. I can't even imagine.

Arriving at the information desk, I headed for the friendly looking guy.

"Hello there, can you point me towards the Metro station please?"

He looked a bit uncomfortable.

"Well, ah, you see. It's still under construction". The Lonely Planet had neglected to mention this. "But you can get a bus!" he added brightly, and pointed me in the direction of the bus section. Now fully regretting the lack of sunglasses, I found a seat, pulled up the window blind and squinted out over Taipei.

Flip Flop Hostel is well located, a stones throw from the Train/Bus station (both situated next to each other in gigantic buildings in the centre of Taipei) and provides very clean, comfortable dorms for a good price. It's a nice place to stay, and I'm especially a fan of the shower gel/shampoo dispensers in the showers. I'm quite fed up with throwing out liquids every time I get on a plane.

Day 1, feeling the need for some spiritual nourishment, I headed out into the old section of Taipei, wandering down streets of Japanese and Qing dynasty origin to a collection of Temples in the area: Qingshan, Tien-Ho and Longshan. Longshan is by far the busiest and most famous, and a friendly man here taught me how to properly worship with the incense sticks, and who each of the gods were. The air is thick with the smell of burning wood, and the busiest gods were the one for studying/passing exams (surrounded by students) and medicine (by everyone else). Qingshan by comparison was almost totally abandoned, but full of intricate carvings spread over three floors, and quite lovely. Tien-Ho is in the middle of shops, like another part of the streetfront, and blossoms out into the block behind the road. Very cool.

And then, Night Market. Wow. Now accompanied by Ai-Chen, we proceeded to Shulin Night Market and proceeded to eat everything in sight. Freshly fried chicken (think KFC, but juicy, tasty, fresh and massive), fish dumplings, spring rolls made in front of us, almond tea, oyster noodles, stinky tofu, sticky tomatos stuffed with plum, crystallised strawberries. I've put on 3 kilos here, I swear, if not more. The food is so incredible.

Day 2, and it was time for more food. This time Hot-Pot, which I am happy to put into writing was just as incredible as the night market, though different. Groaning slightly from food coma, we set off for the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial where we met up with a friend of Ai-Chens, Stephanie. The moment is huge, and we arrived as the changing of the guard occurred. Basically a giant performance of gun twirling, feet stamping and a lot of walking around, it was the only thing I didn't need to know Chinese to understand. The memorial is a bit like the Lincoln Memorial in the USA, big statue of Chiang Kai-Shek, smiling at everyone below. All of the information is in Chinese only, so might be worth bringing along a guide.

Walking back in the sunshine, and slowly melting under the sun, we passed groups of students and pensioners dancing in the shade. It's really lovely to see things like this, things we don't see just happening back in England. Then, after another walk through the Bopiliao district, which is restored Qing dynasty streets, we headed for Taipei 101.

I was hoping to get pictures of the sunset, but we had to queue for an hour just to get into the elevator, and sadly missed it. Please learn from my mistake! Still, the elevator was remarkable, moving at 1010 metres/second, it got us from ground floor to the top in 37 seconds flat, ears popping three times along the way. I felt sorry for the woman who was pressing the buttons and had to do that all day long.

Afterwards, feeling hungry again (though I've no idea how), we headed for a Korean restaurant nearby (it was the only place with seats) and proceeded to stuff ourselves again, this time with barbequed pork and beer, a spicy fish soup and oodles of Korean pancake, Kimchi and assorted vegetables. Very delicious.

Well, I apologise for leaving it so long since writing, it's been crazy hectic around here and finding the time to sit down and type has been difficult! I'm off to the Palace museum this morning, and this evening to Tamsui, a small historic town to the north. Tomorrow, it's off down the coast to Hualien.

Thanks for reading!

Andy

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