We had flown in on Thursday and taken a cab to the Dandy Hotel in the Shilin area, a bit to the north of the major part of downtown Taipei. Cheryl had gotten a deal on the hotel, so it was a bit nicer than her norm and way nicer than mine!
We got a slow start, since we'd gotten in late the day before, and Cheryl had some jobs to apply for, and I still had to look up some of the stuff we wanted to do. We were playing Taipei pretty heavily by ear!
We ended up leaving the hotel around noon and taking the MRT to the stop for Taipei 101, which used to be the tallest building in the world (now it's number 5) (p.s. there is a Council on Tall Buildings and I am still so glad Audra told me about it last year, and it still makes me giggle). We put in our names at Din Tai Fung, a dumpling chain which Cheryl loves in Singapore and which actually started in this neighborhood of Taipei, and then explored the building and the neighborhood a bit until a table opened up. We considered taking the fastest-elevator-in-the-world to the top, and I sort of wish we had, but it was pretty pricey, and we were going to have a great view of the city on our next planned stop, and after all it's not like it's the tallest building in the world anymore (I guess I have to go to Dubai next?).
Anyway, we ordered a cucumber appetizer (the cucumbers! they are tiny and so crunchy and perfect!), sauteed Taiwanese lettuce, veggie dumplings, pork xiaolongbao (soup dumplings), and taro buns. Everything was delicious, and our teacups were kept full!
Bite a hole and suck out the soup!
We love taro :)
Also it had become clear by this time that Taiwan, like Flushing and unlike Singapore, has a population that doesn't actually speak that much English. A few people who are specifically in tourism - like the airport staff and hotel staff - are basically fluent, but most of the other people we interacted with had only a few words of English (although they were significantly more functional words than my few words of Mandarin: Cheryl reminded me how to say yes and no, I can say hello and thank you, I can ask for your phone number [but not understand the numbers], and I can tell you I like Chinese food. In a terrible accent. Thanks, one year of Chinese at the community college when I was 17). So the communication was pretty disjointed! But we managed :) I also saw a lot of what Cheryl had told me happened to her in China: Because she looks Chinese, people not only try to speak to her in Chinese (which is understandable), but they don't believe her when she says she speaks only English. And apparently it was better here in Taipei, which is a fairly multicultural/modern/international city, than in China, where people just flat out could not be convinced that she could not understand them. Regardless, it means that I had to be the one to go alone into the 7-11s to ask for directions, since the clerks were happy to at least try to communicate with me in a language I could understand - very kind and friendly of them, actually! People are nice.
Anyway, after we ate our buns, we went back to where we had noticed a station for U-bike, the Taipei bike-share program. After some complicated credit-card-number entries into the rental kiosk, we had bikes! First half hour free! We had planned to take the MRT to Elephant Mountain, our next stop just about a mile or so away, but this was way better!
Actually, it appears to be about to charge my credit card US$63.
Which, since we returned them properly prior to a half hour,
would be some crazy-ass shit,
which I would report to my credit card company.
But we'll see in a couple days :P
We got a bit turned around once we got to our destination, but found the bike station to drop our bikes at... and then got turned around again trying to follow the signs to the hiking trail up Elephant Mountain. Actually, we ended up trying to hike up some stairs that turned out to be private property, based on the lady yelling at us in Chinese until we turned around. I still don't think we were being that dumb, either - the signs definitely pointed that way! And then disappeared for good! We didn't see any more signs even after a nice gentleman volunteer (who lived in Bloomington, Indiana for eight years and was totally excited that we were from California, because he has also been to the Bay Area!) in the psychiatric hospital showed us the way. (We learned from him that Taipei is better than Bloomington, but that there is a lot of pressure on the young people in Taipei and they end up in the psychiatric hospital. Great sell there, dude :p)
Well, there we were at the base of Elephant Mountain, so we hiked up the trail, which was mostly stairs and totally exhausting (although nothing compares to hiking the Incline in Colorado at like 8,000 feet!). Also, my flip flops, which I had bought a week before to replace my year-old flip flops that had gotten too thin to count as shoes anymore, were breaking; the right toe strap was stretching out and the shoe was flopping around. So I took off the shoes within a few steps of the hike and did the rest barefoot! Good thing it was pretty clean and not too rocky or really any kind of proper mountain trail.
We were sweaty and sore at the top, but the views were so worth it! The whole of Taipei lay out before us. I got an even better view from the top of a big rock! From there, you can really see how fucking tall Taipei 101 is, too. Ridiculous.
How are you so much taller than everything.
We sat and enjoyed the view and each other's company and the gentle breeze (although on the whole, Taipei weather was perfect, let me tell you. About 7 degrees cooler than Singapore, hovering around 80 during the afternoon and dropping to about 70 at night. And Singapore had felt positively balmy after Bali!), but eventually we headed back down. Much easier and quicker than going up!
At this point, we were getting hungry again, and it was about 4:00, so the night markets Taipei is so famous for were going to start opening up in about an hour. We took the MRT to the stop that apparently would dump us near the Raohe Night Market. (Directions to places - if you can even find place suggestions at all - in Taipei = super hard to find. I mean, directions do not seem to exist. It is possible that they exist but only in Chinese, of course. About 80% of the Taipei info on the internet is in Chinese, which makes research super difficult. During this whole weekend, I found places using a combination of consistently incorrect bloggers, super-vague half-Mandarin Googlemaps walking directions, advice from the hotel clerks, and guesses/getting straight up lost.) Almost immediately we passed a super cute cafe/pastry shop (have I mentioned that I love Chinese pastries?), where Cheryl ordered a strange but apparently delicious creamy lemonade type situation, and I got some kind of coffee shake situation that was also delicious. Although we saw too late that they had ginger milk tea, which we both totally wanted, and then proceeded to hunt for and not find for the entire remainder of the weekend. Whoops. Also I got an eclair-ish pastry and some pull-apart buns. Yum.
And then we tried to find the Raohe Night Market! Here is the other thing - everything starts out super well signed near the MRT stations, and then the signs disappear halfway to where you're going. So we were definitely on the right track, and then we were definitely lost, and then we got some directions from some slightly confused 7-11 employees. And then my flip flop really broke, so we went into a grocery store and bought me a pair of bright red and white child-size indoor shoes, which did not exactly fit, but, you know, whatever. Shoes!
They don't exactly fit,
and they are very,
But they are not broken!
And then we were given some conflicting directions by a nice woman right outside the grocery store, and turned left as she instructed, and turned out to be on kind of a sketchy not-very-commercial street in the twilight, and then as we were walking, I sort of stepped on/tripped over something, and Cheryl gasped, and I turned to look at what it was, and it was THE BIGGEST DEAD RAT EVER, AND I ALSO SAW ANOTHER DEAD RAT LIKE TWO FEET FROM ME, AND it was completely traumatic and we sort of ran away to a brighter intersection, and I may have been hyperventilating, and it may have been basically the worst thing ever, and I am still traumatized OH GOD. Also it reminded us of the time that Cheryl was locked in her classroom with all her students in China while the janitor chased and killed a rat with a broom and then picked it up by the tail to remove it from the building.
And then we looked at where we were and it was totally the Raohe Night Market! Woo!
Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha oh god Taiwan.
Anyway, we headed into the night market, and it was totally fantastic. Not too too crowded (the Shilin Night Market is apparently the most popular, and everyone on line is like, "you have to go to the Shilin market! Although [some other] market is actually better." Lolol.) There were tons of shops along the sides of the street, mostly with purses and shoes and lingerie, and tons of food stands along the center of the street, selling all kinds of food I completely did not recognize at all. We bought and ate lots of different things. Some I liked and some I didn't like that much, but all of them were really fun to try because all of them were completely different than anything I had ever eaten!
Also, my wonderful purse that Ruthy gave me that I've carried basically every day for the last three years was finally dying for good, and I'd been keeping my eye out for a new purse, but I am picky, because it has to be beautiful and it has to have a shoulder strap and it has to have adequate compartments. Well, I found one here! For the equivalent of like ten bucks. Yay new purse! :)
Goodbye, old purse!
You served me well!
Hello, beautiful new purse!
We weren't quite exhausted yet - and it was only about 8:30, so we went to a 24 hour bookstore! It had a cafe, and I drank some chocolate and Cheryl ate some waffles, and then we explored the bookstore, which except for its 24 hour nature wasn't that much to write home about, but was still pretty cool!
And then we went home and I showered in the super exciting shower and examined my blisters from the child-size shoes, and then we went to bed! And clearly that was a crazy long day, and I will save the next day for the next post!
But just a heads up, I FREAKING LOVE TAIPEI. Taipei might be my favorite place I have been. In the opposite way that Alaska is my favorite place I have been. Taipei and Alaska are my favorite places I have been!
Taipei to-do list.
We did many things, just on Day 1!
gratuitous picture of Alaska