Monday, August 13, 2012

First Day in Taipei

Written August 13, 2012

Today was incredible - perfectly packed with tons of awesome sights, sounds, smells, and flavors.

Breakfast: a delicious non-fried Thai-spring-roll type thing. 

Our first stop of the day was to New Taiwan University (NTU) where Tim is going to be attending graduate school. The buildings were all rather old, but instead of looking dilapidated, this gave the campus character. Vines wove up moss stained concrete, mortar was breaking from its hold on bricks.

National Taiwan University 

National Taiwan University 

National Taiwan University 

National Taiwan University 

Natalie Portman

From NTU we made our way to the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall and Liberty Square, where we bypassed the dinosaur and Dalí exhibits that sat under Chiang's giant marble tuchas. Why were such exhibits under the memorial hall? One thing that traveling around Asia has taught me: just don't ask questions.

Practicing Tai-Chi at the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial 

Practicing Tai-Chi at the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial  

In honor of the Dalí exhibit 

In honor of the dinosaur exhibit 

Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall 

Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall and Liberty Square, shot from the National Theatre 

The gate to Liberty Square with the National Theatre in the background

After visiting the first Taiwanese president's shrine, we headed to the Office of the President. En route, we got distracted by a beautiful colonial style building. Curiosity lead us inside. The building, called the Taipei Guest House, was originally home to the Japanese Governer-General of Taiwan and later saw the signing of the Treaty of Taipei. At this historical building, we met a tour guide named "Nancy." Describing this spit-fire is complicated, to say the very least. She was extremely knowledgable, extremely driven, extremely intelligent. Nancy, the wife of a Taiwanese government official, was opinionated, funny, and highly passionate about her country. During our two hour chat with her, we were joined by Dr. Jong-Hwan Ko, a visiting professor from Pukyong National University in Korea. He heard Nancy speaking to us in English, and considering his poor Chinese (all the signs were in Chinese), he figured he'd jump in for some interesting history and dialogue. Dr. Ko is the Chairman and Director of the Division of International and Area Studies, as well as the Director of the Center for EU Relations at his university. Needless to say, he's a bright guy. When he tried describing to Nancy that Taiwan should be reunified with China, her facial reaction was priceless. Disgust, frustration, horror, and goofiness washed over her as she became increasingly more animated. I must say, for such an intellectual, Dr. Ko's reasoning for reunification was a bit shaky. Tsk tsk, professor! Nancy made a good time of praising Japan, lambasting China, and discussing her views on Taiwan's sovereignty. Dr. Ko, being Korean, was visibly perturbed by Nancy's appreciation of the Japanese. He prodded her to admit some of the crappy things Japan has done to Taiwan, and Nancy begrudgingly obliged. He also pushed her to admit at least one benefit of reunification.

The Taipei Guest House

"Sometimes, I do wish that Taiwan was part of a bigger country. This island is so small, we feel cramped. It would be nice to explore and see more," Nancy admitted. What an interesting thought! Coming from a huge country, I've never really thought about how frustrating it must be to live in such a small place. For a people as curious as the Taiwanese, it seems as though it would be difficult to stay confined to just Ilha Formosa (the Portuguese nickname for Taiwan, meaning "Beautiful Island"). What a curious thought, ma'am.

Left to right: Dr. Jong-Hwan Ko, Tim, Nancy, and me 


Luckily, our totally unexpected visit and incredibly informative chat kept us inside during the daily thunderstorm. When we left, the weather was perfect. Everything had cooled down a smidge and it was the perfect amount of sunshine. We walked to the Office of the President, snapped some photos, and moved on to the 2/28 Peace Park. The park was named in memory of the 10,000 - 30,000 victims of a government-led massacre on civilians. This harsh crackdown on an uprising lead to Taiwan's 'White Terror.'

The Office of the President 

The 2/28 Peace Park

The 2/28 Peace Park

Next stop was Ximen, a shopping area abuzz with teams of exciting youngsters. After a bit of a walk, we checked out the gay strip - a small street with no shortage of bars and underwear stores. We stopped for happy hour, a nice little waiting period before we headed to Shilin to meet Tim's friend, Dylan.

Dylan is, as Tim described him, rather huopo (lively). This Taiwanese character is hard not to like, and his knowledge of street food easily wins him a few extra points in my book. Dylan took us around Shilin, a famous Taipei night market, as we made the culinary rounds. We tried minty iced tea, sugar cane juice, pig's blood cake (disgusting), stinky tofu (better than it sounds), spicy duck blood in soup with glass noodles, squid in garlic sauce, chicken heart (a new favorite), ostrich meat, lamb (I didn't have any... next time!) chicken liver, chicken crest (the crown thing on the top of a chicken), deep fried chicken steak from Hot-Star (a famous spot), pineapple "ice cream" (more like water ice), fried squid with "don't ask sauce" (we asked), fried milk balls, and tanghulu (candied fruits that taste like candied balls of sweat).

Tim and Dylan in Shilin 

 Citrus jelly

Spicy duck blood soup (the blood was kind of like tofu... but weirder). This dish was actually, surprisingly, quite satisfying.

The infamous stinky tofu... Smells like crap, tastes delicious! 

We randomly ventured into the shrine for a local goddess who watches over fishermen.

Left to right: lamb, lamb, chicken heart, ostrich. 

Congealed pig's blood cake. Absolutely disgusting. 

Chicken crest - flavorful but marred by a texture that's hard to swallow 

Chicken liver 

Yes. Everyone's favorite. Minced shrimp with lettuce. I might add that it was served in an ice cream cone. 

Squid, before it was cooked in a garlic sauce. Sadly disappointing.

Fried milk balls 

Fried squid with "don't ask sauce" 

This was being served with the tanghulu but I have no idea what it is 


Incredible fried chicken from Hot-Star 

Pineapple "ice cream"

Having more than satiated our appetites, we headed home, where I spent two hours writing this and uploading photos.

Random photo drop:

Rain or shine 


My new dating philosophy 

1) There are lots of bikes here. 2) Women in Asia tend to love umbrellas/parasols. 

This attractive young gentleman guards a church, which happens to be built on top of a gay club.

I can't resist street noodles. Ever.

Yum, bubble tea.

I would love to know what in the name of Confucius this is... 

Citrus jelly with gelatinous almond milk, peanuts, and ice. It was as odd as it sounds.

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