Going out in Taipei

Last night was our first real night out in Taipei. We decided to go to Taipei 101 and check out Spark. That didn’t happen. We went to Taipei 101 and bought six small bottles of Absolut and two club sodas. We then sat in the food court and drank our vodka while security stared at us. Feeling uncomfortable, we went outside and continued our drinking. After we were done, we decided to head to Spark. The club was closed until 1 a.m. because they were hosting some event and we didn’t feel like paying hundreds of dollars for a table for just the two of us. We decided to go to Roxy 99 instead because I had read some review about it being free on Wednesdays. Also not true.

Roxy 99 is a bar with really bad American music and drunk Taiwanese guys who will send lemon drops over to you. Then these same guys will come up to you and call you names for drinking beer instead of the manly lemon drops they sent over. We took the (several) lemon drops and I pretended I didn’t speak any Chinese. It’s definitely entertaining but I would probably not go back. However, although entrance was no longer free, it was only $100 NTD, which included a free beer. 
Hungover, we woke up for our last day in Taiwan and went to Beitou Springs. We went to the only outdoor springs. Entrance is about $20 NTD and you can buy a towel for $50 NTD. There are three hot springs and two cold water pools. The place is filled with older people who soak in the springs for hours. I couldn’t stay in one spring for more than 5 minutes so I kept going in and out. I also felt weird for wearing a bikini in front of old Taiwanese men. It was a cool experience though (the springs, not the bikini part), and you feel like you are far outside of the city, even though you’re really only a few train stops away. 
If you walk up the main road you will also hit a small row of restaurants. We stopped in one of them for noodle soup. There are only a few to choose from so it’s the one right next to the coffee shop. I’m going to miss Taiwan! Will be back soon. Off to Vietnam tomorrow!

National Palace Museum and Shilin Market

The National Palace Museum is a must-see. The museum houses the emperors’ treasures that were saved from the war. The entrance fee is about $160 NTD and $80 NTD for students. The museum is pretty big but there is a free English tour every hour, which I would highly recommend. We actually only stayed for the tour but it’s very informative and you learn a lot about Chinese and Taiwanese history and culture. The tour guide takes you to all the “must-see” exhibits and tells you things you wouldn’t normally learn from the placards. You walk around with these headphones so that you can hear the guide speak over all the screaming children. It’s definitely worth it.

After a day of learning, we headed over to the Shilin market. This market is one of the busiest but I think it is also one of the better markets in Taipei, after going to a few already. The food court, which is underground, will overwhelm you but there is something of everything to try there. We had stinky tofu, minced pork with rice, shaved ice, fried buns, and a scallion pancake roll (pork floss wrapped in scallion pancake). If I had more time in Taipei, I would go back again. I also bought about 5 boxes of this amazing pineapple cake. It’s one of the shops near the entrance – I can’t remember the name but the brand of the pineapple cake is Hsu’s Bakery. Yum. 

Chiang Kai-Shek and Soup Dumplings

We got back to Taipei early this morning. It was raining the entire day but we were troopers and trekked to Din Tai Fung, a popular soup dumpling place in Taiwan. They now have branches all over Asia and in the US but we went to the original one. We got there and there wasn’t much of a wait. Hearing great things about these dumplings, we ordered three different kinds- traditional pork, truffle oil with pork, and shrimp and squash. I liked the traditional pork dumplings but I really couldn’t tell the difference between these and other soup dumplings I’d had. They were good but nothing special. I would go back but never wait in a long line for them.

It was still raining when we finished but we decided to head to the Chiang Kai-Shek memorial anyway. I never knew why my family hated him but now I understand, although the memorial doesn’t really portray him in the light my parents see him. After all, this entire museum was built to honor him. It was definitely worth a visit though. Entrance is free so why not peek in and get a cool stamp.

Family Reunion

This weekend we took the high speed rail from Taipei to Kaohsiung to meet my family. We stayed at the Ambassador hotel, which is right next to the Love River. My youngest uncle picked us up and then took us out to dinner in the city. The next morning we woke up early to go running by the river. The air is definitely better here but it’s a little hotter than Taipei since we were in the South. After our run, we went to Pingtung, a town right outside of Kaohsiung and also where my dad grew up. I met about 20 members of my dad’s family. It was awesome and made my entire trip worth it. They were so nice and welcoming. I only wish I had gotten to know them sooner.

My parents gave me ginseng and chocolate to give them as gifts. Asians are so random. We all had lunch in Pingtung, where my cousin opened a Korean restaurant. G said it wasn’t traditional Korean food so I think it was a Taiwanese Korean fusion. It was good and as usual we filled up on more than enough food. During lunch my fourth uncle told me that one of my aunts is also my godmother. Thanks Dad for letting me know. It was nice being there and hearing stories about my family and just seeing everyone together for the first time (that I can remember). This weekend has made me realize how much more important family is and how important it is to learn about where you came from.

Aside from family stuff, G and I went into the city on our own after lunch and explored the street market. I can’t remember what it’s called but it’s the main one in Kaohsiung. Things are a little cheaper and you definitely hear a lot more Taiwanese being spoken. We bought scallion pancakes rolled with minced pork for dinner and called it a day. I’ll definitely be coming back to Kaohsiung soon.

Running and Taipei

I almost collapsed during today’s run. I started out at an 8:15 – pretty normal, feel-good pace right? At mile two I started feeling dizzy and, as I described to P, started heaving like a 400 lb man. The air and humidity in this place is just ridic. I thought I’d beat it by running at 7 am but the sun was blazing hot. Zhonghe Memorial Park is about .85 miles around, with a massive amount of cars and scooters idling beside you during rush hour. Pollution on top of pollution on top of thick, humid air, is certainly not ideal for running. It’s no wonder people here don’t run/wear jean shorts as running pants (evidence they don’t know how to run).  I ended up just running 4 miles and then lugged myself to the street market for breakfast.

I decided against taking another five-hour nap today and ventured into Taipei. The MRT (Taiwan rail) is super clean and easy to navigate. I’m also of the mindset that if you can get around NYC, you can get around anywhere. I got off at the Taiwan Main Station and attempted to do some shopping at Q Square Mall but all I bought was a taro mochi ball. So worth it. The mochi here is fresh, not like that hard shit back home. Yum.

Got back on the train and got off at Ximen. Ximen Ding is a district with a ton of shopping and food stalls. And high schoolers trying to sell you ugly pens and then give you dirty looks after you tell them no. I ended up buying this passion fruit coconut jelly tapioca black tea. Sounds really good right? It was okay. Whenever I see passion fruit I always get it then remember that I don’t like passion fruit. Sigh. Anyway, so I end up at this shop where the lady kept saying “us Malaysians” and then “us Singaporeans(??)” until I finally told her I was Taiwanese…bitch. I still bought a shirt though. For $10 (350 NTD)…! Weird thing is none of the shops let you try on clothes bc they’re afraid people are going to get them dirty. Well for ten bucks, you can’t really go wrong. I hope it fits my Malaysian/Singapore bod.

So feeling like a bargain mama, I then went to Ay-Chung –  a pretty popular Taiwanese spot known for their oyster vermicelli noodles. That is the only thing they make and your only option is a small or large. I got the small and brought it home to eat. Definitely worth a stop, especially for 45 NTD ($1.50).

Now I’m on my way to pick up gmonz!! So excited!!

Asia Part I: Taiwan

I arrived in Zhonghe today, which is just outside of Taipei. Sort of how Brooklyn is to Manhattan. I landed at 6:30 am and am staying at a family friend’s place, Uncle J. He’s a retired New Yorker who now lives in Zhonghe and has graciously let me and G into his home.
After taking a five-hour nap, Uncle J bought turnip cake and scallion pancakes and then took me around the hood, where there is a shit ton of restaurants and food stands. My heaven. We went to a “nicer” restaurant for dinner and had some real General Tso’s chicken, meaning not the greasy, fried kind you eat at home. We also had a whole white fish, sautéed squid, duck egg soup, and egg tarts. Mind you, it was just us two. We did a good job at eating everything but mainly because the Chinese do not like to waste food so when I said I was full, Uncle J looked at me like I was cray and placed more food on my plate.
After dinner we came back and watched a movie and now I’m typing away on my iPhone. Tomorrow G gets in and I’m going to go for a run in the morning in the park across the street – Zhonghe Memorial Park. As long as I can run and eat, I’m a happy camper. Love this hood already.