January 13, 2017

Taiwan, Revisited

Sunrise view of Taipei 101 from our Elephant Mountain hike.

We hadn't been to Taiwan since 2008, and most of Taiwan felt the same (except for cell phone culture).  We did laundry at a blessed self-service laundromat within walking distance of the Grand Hyatt and it was completely reasonable, like less than 2 hours and less than $15 US to do 7 days of laundry for both of us.  I think I may be leaning towards rating countries on the basis of the laundry situation, mediated by food, and if so, Taiwan is top tier!

Even though I hadn't studied it in 2 years, my erstwhile Mandarin efforts proved helpful.  I could tell servers that we didn't speak Mandarin and needed an English menu; I could apologize; and I could sort of communicate things like here, there, stop, go, want this address, etc. to cab drivers.  After Korea, I was amazed at just how helpful this basic non-existent level of language was versus literally *nothing*.

Hard to tell, but those crowds are all in line for dumplings at Din Tai Fung.

On our first morning's sunrise hike up Elephant Mountain, I listened to the extremely impressively healthy old-folks yell at one another while they vigorously hiked, ran, swung from side to side, used the public free weights, and slapped themselves on their bodies as part of their bizarre, but apparently very effective workouts (judging from their appearances).  The language they yelled back and forth reminded me how to listen to the tones and many things I'd forgotten.  Zao!  Qiang! and my favorite -- Meiguoren, ma? (yes, we are crazy Americans hiking at dawn with all of you who so kindly greet us in English with "Good Morning!" or "Have a nice day!" and occasionally, "Do you need help?")

One of the big treats in Taipei was meeting up with Jen for some shopping at Sogo.  I love meeting up with people we know from our non-travel life when we're traveling.  There's something so improbable and shocking about the fact that it even happens that makes me super grateful to be alive at a time when things like this are possible. 

This Big Cock Pineapple Cake was for sale all over the place -- confusing, to say the least.
One of our nights in Taipei, we went back to the Taipei 101 teppanyaki restaurant of such a great story from almost 9 years ago. We sat around 6 pm and enjoyed a delicious meal.  We shared our grill with randoms, but no one remotely as interesting as our hosts the previous time -- I considered this the ideal outcome -- I don't think my liver could handle the situation we encountered before.

One day, we walked to the original Din Tai Fung location to try to get lunch.  MISTAKE.  Lunch time a this location is a madhouse of tour groups and others all standing in crowds blocking the sidewalk.  I was too hungry from a gym-based workout and the 2 miles of walking to wait for what would likely be several hours, so we went to a local option around the corner and had perfectly delicious non-famous xiao long bao without any wait at all.

Shilin night market's indoor basement with stalls and seating -- our favorite.
The next day, we went to the Taipei 101 branch of Din Tai Fung, and arrived shortly after they opened, for a 5 minute wait. We were served quickly and left by 12:20, by which time the wait had extended to 40 minutes and would likely only get longer as the day went on.  I confirmed that I *love* DTF, but not enough to wait much more than 30 minutes (at least now that I've had it recently). 

That is one happy man with many fried crabs!
After DTF lunch, that night, we went to the Shilin night market for dinner.  E was thrilled to realize you could order deep fried baby crabs.  We also had shrimp wontons in spicy sauce and some sauteed greens.  It was a delicious (and very economical) meal -- arguably one of the best we've had on the Asia trip thus far.

Another great meal at Miaokou: E selected one of the huge tentacles and it was sliced, grilled, and sauced.

We ate it in the street from the plastic bag, and it was delicious.
We spent 2 wonderful nights in Keelung (Jīlóng) -- one visiting temples and Miaokou Night Market and the next day doing the bus trip to and from Jiufen in order to enjoy the narrow alleys, delicious foods, and sip on a beer in a teahouse overlooking the ocean through the rain.

One of the many narrow stairways in Jiufen.
And then, 6 days and 5 nights after we arrived, we said goodbye to Taiwan until next time and took a plane to Manila.


Angela Knotts said...

Ahhhh all the jealousy!!!

(I wonder if your post is going to get flagged as "adult content" because of that cake, lol)

bt said...

@Angela -- that would be funny, for sure, particularly because those signs were in all the night markets, surrounded by tons of children...

Arvay said...

I am afraid to google the big cock pineapple cake... but I'm so curious!

Jen said...

So late, but I'm finally commenting! First - it was great to see you! Glad it worked out. Second - I'm so confused about the pineapple cake! I never saw that sign, or maybe never noticed. Anyway, glad you enjoyed Taiwan!

Biting Tongue said...

@Jen -- we seriously saw 5-6 of them. In both night markets we visited as well as in the tunnels in Jiufen. We were confused too!