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A Four-Day Weekend In Taipei

What better way to celebrate Singapore National Day than by going to Taiwan?

As soon as we realised that the Singapore National Day holiday was going to fall on Friday, August 9 and the national holiday for Hari Raya Haji would be on Monday, August 12 this year we figured we had better make the most of a rare four-day weekend. We obviously couldn’t travel too far and one country that we had both heard great things about, but had never visited, and is a reasonable distance away is Taiwan so we decided months ago to go. In the past I had Taiwanese students that used to speak glowingly about their home, but it wasn’t just them being patriotic, they actually made it seem like a pretty cool place.
There were just a couple of problems that seem to be a recurrence for us; there was an earthquake in Taiwan the day before we were to leave Singapore and super typhoon Lekima was to make landfall the day we arrived. We clearly made it okay, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this right now, but how did the trip itself go?

Friday, August 9, 2019
We already knew the earthquake in Taiwan the previous day had killed one person, but now everyone was preparing for the arrival of the super typhoon. Anna had read that a lot of businesses in Taipei had closed up shop in anticipation of this massive storm and we were also concerned that our flights were going to be canceled, but it turned out we didn’t have to worry about that second one. Sure, we were delayed taking off by 30 minutes, however, we still managed to arrive on time, but I have to say, trying to touch down with a 70 kph (43.5 mph) breeze behind you is pretty terrifying and can make you feel rather ill with all of the bumps, dips, and drops. I was gripping the armrests of my seat with my feet more than likely leaving indentations in the floor of the aircraft so I can only begin to imagine how it was for the flight attendants who were strapped in facing the rear of the plane!
Don’t believe me? Here’s my mate‘s response to my Facebook post when we were departing for Taiwan that day, followed by our view while landing:

We landed safely and when we got to immigration we were greeted by painfully long lines, but fortunately for us, Anna’s APEC card allowed us to jump the queue and we were now in Taiwan:

Taiwan, officially the Republic of China (ROC), is a state in East Asia. Neighbouring states include the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to the west, Japan to the north-east, and the Philippines to the south. The island of Taiwan has an area of 35,808 square kilometres (13,826 sq mi), with mountain ranges dominating the eastern two thirds and plains in the western third, where its highly urbanised population is concentrated. Taipei is the capital and largest metropolitan area. With 23.7 million inhabitants, Taiwan is among the most densely populated states, and is the most populous state and largest economy that is not a member of the United Nations (UN).

The political status of Taiwan remains uncertain. The ROC is no longer a member of the UN, having been replaced by the PRC in 1971. Taiwan is claimed by the PRC, which refuses diplomatic relations with countries which recognise the ROC. Taiwan maintains official ties with 16 out of 193 UN member states. International organisations in which the PRC participates either refuse to grant membership to Taiwan or allow it to participate only as a non-state actor. Taiwan is a member of the World Trade Organization, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and Asian Development Bank under various names. Nearby countries and countries with large economies maintain unofficial ties with Taiwan through representative offices and institutions that function as de facto embassies and consulates. Domestically, the major political division is between parties favouring eventual Chinese unificationand promoting a Chinese identity contrasted with those aspiring to independence and promoting Taiwanese identity, although both sides have moderated their positions to broaden their appeal.

Well, that all makes Taiwan’s status more than a little confusing. Anyway, we got a cab to where we would be spending the following three nights, the Hotel Éclat Taipei in the Da-an district, and as we were checking in we were also immediately greeted by some bizarre art and sculptures. None of this stuff was cheap either, there were even original Salvidor Dalí sculptures in there, but a lot of the pieces did contain at least one dong, all of which was available for purchase.
Once we got up to our room we soon realised that pretty much everything was automatic; the toilet lid automatically raised when you entered the bathroom, the lid on the bin would lift when you put your hand near it, but that kind of malfunctioned at one stage and just kept opening and closing continuously for about five minutes. There was also a glass wall separating the bathroom from the rest of the room that went from transparent to opaque at the touch of a button, however, if housekeeping changed it to transparent while you were out and you didn’t notice, you could find yourself taking a dump in full view of your significant other while they were trying to watch television.
I’m sure that hotel website link probably shows a lot of the art, but here is a sample, plus a view of our room with a bunch of our crap laying around and the bathroom wall set to opaque:

It turned out that we had nothing to worry about with businesses being closed, if you looked at the first photo from our hotel, the preferred method of combatting the typhoon was to just make a cross with packaging tape across any large window and to place sandbags on anything that could be blown away. That’s not to say that it wasn’t windy outside, I had to hold my hat in my hand and we still had to lean into it to walk properly.

Taiwan is known for its food and one of the first things Anna wanted to eat that night was hot pot so she asked the receptionist to make a reservation at one of the best hot pot places in town, but it was booked up for the next week. Luckily, they suggested another one nearby and made a booking for us that would be in about another hour or so. Cool, dinner is sorted, let’s go have a look around where we were staying!
We had passed a lot of cafes in the taxi on the way to our hotel, but Taiwan is also where bubble tea was created so we opted for that instead, something we would have many more times on this trip, not always by choice, but often because we were thirsty and it was the only option in our immediate vicinity. On this occasion we also saw some people coming out of what looked like an awesome restaurant next to our bubble tea place, might have to check it out at some stage.
We had a bit of time to kill before dinner so we Googled some nearby bars and found one called Halfway There, a kind of speakeasy on the second level of a Nintendo-themed cafe with a Gameboy door and Playstation controllers for doorhandles on the inside. Once upstairs we were in a really cool cocktail bar, but it soon became obvious that I was the only guy in the room and two of the three women sitting at the table closest to us were clearly a couple. One might’ve assumed that one had stumbled upon a lesbian bar until Anna pointed out that they were projecting Japanese porn onto the wall behind me. It turned out not to be porn, but an extremely sexually-graphic Japanese Netflix series entitled The Naked Director. If you were too frightened to click that link, it was just for the series’ IMDB page which gives it the following summary:

Follows the story of Toru Muranishi’s unusual and dramatic life filled with big ambitions as well as spectacular setbacks in his attempt to turn Japan’s porn industry on its head

Not really what we expected to see in the very first bar on our first night out in Taipei. The bar itself was great and a theme that we noticed over the course of our stay was that bars in Taipei do fantastic cocktails. They’re not my type of thing, but when Anna would order one I’d have a sip and they were really good, but the beers weren’t anything to turn your nose up at, either.
It was now time to drink up and make our way to our restaurant for dinner, but we thought that Google Maps must’ve made an error, something it did continually on this trip and has a constant history of happening most times we are overseas. Why did we think that? Because it was saying that our restaurant was where we had just been earlier, but once we arrived everything worked out alright — We were going to be eating at that one next to the bubble tea place, a hot pot restaurant called Top One Pot. We ordered beef short ribs and something called 1983 pork, as well as a bunch of dumplings and other side-dishes to dip in our two soups, one spicy with congealed duck blood and the other a plain herbal soup, and it was hard to believe that this was the fallback plan for dinner. It was spectacular, but we smelt of hot pot for the rest of the night.
Our final stop for the night was another cocktail bar near our hotel called Fourplay, this time doing among others, many drinks with a drug theme. It wasn’t unusual to see people shooting drinks out of syringes into their mouths or snorting crushed garnishes that accompanied their beverage. We even had one where we inhaled tequila through dry ice and then drank it (sans dry ice, of course).
A look back at our first night in Taipei:

Saturday, August 10, 2019
Before we came to Taiwan all we really knew about the place was that the food was supposed to be great and one of the main landmarks was Taipei 101, located about 2 km (1.25 miles) from our hotel. We had no interest in Taipei 101, but we love eating good food and so far we hadn’t been disappointed so it came as no surprise that Anna had already planned what we were going to eat for pretty much every meal before I had even woken up! Apparently we were having beef noodles for lunch that day, because that’s one of the dishes for which Taiwan is best known. She had even picked a place already, Yong-Kang Beef Noodle, but there was one small factor that we actually were prepared for this time; fortunately, the typhoon had pivoted and was now headed for mainland China, but it was already 38°C (100.4°F) outside and, although it wouldn’t get as humid as Singapore, it wasn’t a particularly dry heat either, however, the restaurant wasn’t far from our hotel. We walked there, stopping off for a coffee at a cafe full of old cameras and telephones along the way, and once we were at the restaurant I knew it would be one of those situations where I might kind of stand out a little — I had to crouch to get through the doorway into the dining room completely packed with locals, causing some of them to laugh and others to pull out their phones and take photos. We were given seats at a table that we had to share with several other people and while most people in Taipei have a decent command of English, this was a very Chinese restaurant and one of the staff had to tell Anna in Mandarin that because my legs made me stick out so far from the table while perched on my little stool, I would need to change seats because I was blocking one of the main thoroughfares, making it next to impossible for the staff and other patrons to make their way around this very crowded restaurant. This meant that someone on the adjacent table had to move in further just so I could try to fit in behind them, but we somehow pulled it off.
There was only a limited selection of items on the menu so we ordered what we wanted, ate, paid at the counter, and then left, me still being frequently, but not-so-subtly, photographed the entire process. The Taiwanese beef noodles were definitely worth the humiliation, the beef just melts in your mouth, and as soon as we had finished we kept walking, countering the heat with a giant mango ice dessert with the obligatory bubble tea, despite being rather full after lunch:

After finishing the dessert it was time to continue our trek through the scorching heat, soon approaching the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall:

The National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall (Chinese: 國立中正紀念堂) is a famous national monument, landmark and tourist attraction erected in memory of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, former President of the Republic of China. It is located in Zhongzheng District, Taipei, Taiwan.

The monument, surrounded by a park, stands at the east end of Memorial Hall Square. It is flanked on the north and south by the National Theater and National Concert Hall.

The Memorial Hall is white with four sides. The roof is blue and octagonal, a shape that picks up thesymbolism of the number eight, a number traditionally associated in Asia with abundance and good fortune. Two sets of white stairs, each with 89 steps to represent Chiang’s age at the time of his death, lead to the main entrance. The ground level of the memorial houses a library and a museum documenting Chiang Kai-shek’s life and career, with exhibits detailing Taiwan’s history and development. The upper level contains the main hall, in which a large statue of Chiang Kai-shek is located, and where a guard mounting ceremony takes place at regular intervals.

The main reason we entered was to walk around the garden in order to get out of the scorching heat, and the gardens were beautiful, as was the view, but it was once we were inside that we found a really cool way of spending the afternoon. There were several art exhibitions happening, one being in the lobby featuring sea creatures such as sharks and rays with scenes painted on them, then there were two possible paid exhibits; one featuring Garfield, the other entitled Reshaped Reality: 50 Years of Hyperrealistic Sculpture:

Hyperrealistic sculptures emulate the forms, contours and textures of the human body or singular body parts and thereby create a convincing visual illusion of human physicality. From the late 1960s on, different sculptors got involved with a mode of realism based on the physically lifelike appearance of the human body. By deploying traditional techniques of modelling, casting, and painting in order to recreate human figures they followed different approaches towards a contemporary form of figural realism.

Based on a selection of around 30 hyperrealistic sculptures by 26 pioneering international artists the exhibition shall display the development of the human figure in hyperrealistic sculpture during the last 50 years. The selection reveals five different key issues in the approach towards the depiction of figural realism in order to emphasize how the way we see our bodies has been subject to constant change.

I was a big Garfield fan as a kid, but not so much now and the images of the sculptures in the Reshaped Reality exhibition looked stunning so we opted for that one. Generally when we go to art exhibitions I don’t take a lot of photos, instead just buying the guide, because you can’t use a flash so the images don’t usually do the pieces justice, and there is generally someone obstructing them, this installation being no different. People were constantly trying to get photos of themselves emulating each piece, but at least people were well-behaved, unlike exhibitions in Singapore, such as when we went to the Salvidor Dalí exhibit and there were children running around, screaming, and climbing the sculptures.
I took a bunch of photographs around the gardens and of the temple, as well as of the sea creatures inside and a few in the exhibit just to highlight the detail, but it’s best to click the link to get a true idea of the show. There were incredibly lifelike replicas of an elderly woman holding a child, Andy Warhol’s head, and also some surreal pieces in the exhibition, but here’s what I captured in and around Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall:

Despite the heat we certainly did our fair share of walking that day and even after the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, we weren’t even close to done, not by a long shot. We were now going to make our way down to a youth district called Ximending:

Ximending has been called the “Harajuku of Taipei” and the “Shibuya of Taipei”. Ximending is the source of Taiwan’s fashion, subculture, and Japanese culture. Ximending has a host of clubs and pubs in the surrounding area. This area is in the northeastern part of Wanhua District in Taipei and it is also the most important consumer district in the Western District of Taipei. The well-known Ximending Pedestrian Area was the first pedestrian area built in Taipei and is the largest in Taiwan.

Oh, and there’s this creepy tidbit as well:

Due to the density of young people, Ximending is comparable to Shilin Night Market and the Eastern District to be areas with the highest crime rates. In addition, Ximending is well known for student prostitution.

Luckily we only went during the day! Actually, the place seemed fairly tame and, yes, I’m aware we were probably the two oldest people in the entire district, but there wasn’t a whole lot there for us when it came to shopping — There were a ton of sporting goods and shoe stores, but nothing fit me, and there were record stores too, however, I clearly wasn’t their key demographic. As for Anna, when it came to clothing, there wasn’t a whole lot there for her either; everything had either ridiculous, cutesy animated characters on it or was beige with lace, frills, and floral trim, something my grandmother would wear. Like the rest of Taipei, there were also stalls packed with vending machines not particularly aimed at children that dispensed miniature collectibles and claw machines that allowed people to try and grab whatever fad was popular that week, but we weren’t there for the shopping, we wanted to visit a bizarre, toilet-themed restaurant called Modern Toilet. In this notorious restaurant we sat on toilet bowls and ate from a glass-topped table with a turd in a bowl beneath it. Most of the dishes were served in toilets too so if you ordered a curry, it would come in a giant toilet bowl. We weren’t that hungry and had only come for the novelty, but needed to order at least one item each so we got some mozzarella sticks and popcorn chicken from our toilet seat-shaped menus, both of which were served in ceramic squat-toilets. Anna also ordered an iced tea that arrived in a urinal and my beer came in a hospital urine container, which they let me keep.
Definitely one of the stranger places I have eaten:

Surprisingly, eating in a toilet restaurant was only the beginning of what would turn into an extremely strange evening.

We were a bit tired and sweaty after walking around in the heat all day so we made our way back to the hotel to shower and kick back for a while before going out for dinner. One thing we love to do when we’re relaxing and killing time is to watch terrible movies, it can be more fun than seeing a good one! The TV in our room had movies on demand so we chose Skyscraper and it is safe to say that it is shit! I never liked The Rock as a wrestler, but Dwayne Johnson has become the Adam Sandler of action films, he will never say no to a script, thus he has become the highest paid actor in Hollywood as a result of churning out around four rather ordinary films per year. My favourite terrible scene happened at the beginning, but some context is needed — Dwayne Johnson plays Will Sawyer, a security expert and war veteran. The movie begins with a flashback of him as a hostage negotiator in a situation that goes awry, resulting in Sawyer losing a leg. The film then skips forward 10 years to his current day life where he’s getting ready for a big meeting and sitting on the bed, putting on his prosthetic leg, and looking a little preoccupied, when his wife walks in. I’m paraphrasing the dialogue here, but you’ll get the gist:

Will’s Wife: “What’s on your mind?”
Will Sawyer: “Oh nothing, just leg stuff.”

Will lost his leg a decade ago, surely he would’ve adjusted by now! This had both of us in hysterics and gave us a new line for when one of us catches the other zoned out or deep in thought; for example, my appendix burst when I was 17 years old. If Anna asks me what I’m thinking about I can simply reply, “Oh nothing, just appendix stuff,” because it’s only been 23 years since I first lost it. We’ve both racked up enough conditions and ailments over the years to give a variety of answers, too.
We couldn’t spend all night watching Skyscraper though, we had other plans for the night — We were going to hit up a nearby street market for dinner. Once we were there the place was crowded and it was pretty slow going as we shuffled with the crowd, looking at every stall and snacking on Taiwanese sausages and dumplings along the way. Despite the amount of walking I had done that day, I wasn’t all that hungry after beef noodles and toilet chicken so I grabbed a table in a side street and let Anna order from a stall where the owner only spoke Mandarin. Anna has a knack for over-ordering and she told me that she was under pressure because there was a queue behind her and the woman working in the stall kept telling her to hurry. I’m still not sure that’s a valid excuse for coming back with eight plates of food for us to share. To be honest, she chose well, but obviously we couldn’t finish all of it.

It was now about 8:30pm and Anna had come to the conclusion that all of the day’s walking had warranted a foot massage. I can’t stand people touching me so this just meant sitting in a bar and having a drink or two while waiting for her. I wandered around the nearby streets, but couldn’t find anything so I looked up what pubs were in the area and there was one that was about five minutes away called Carnegie’s, described on Google Maps as being a “Great bar with high ceilings and music posters and decor… Large screens on the walls, great for watching games.” Sounds like my type of place so I made my way down there. Since we had been in Taipei, Anna and myself had both remarked about how few white people there were around and as soon as I opened the door I discovered that they were all at Carnegie’s, something I probably would’ve known in advance if I had looked at their Facebook page first.
I pulled up a seat and ordered a beer, texting Anna where I was and scanning the room in the process; it just seemed like a simple bar and restaurant showing sports on the TVs and the walls were lined with music posters, some of bands I like. Good choice. Anna was taking a little longer than expected, but this part of Taipei seemed to be safe so I wasn’t worried, I just kept ordering beers while waiting for her, the room becoming a bit dimmer in the process. Eventually my phone rang and it was Anna wondering if she had the correct pub, as the place she was at had a cover charge. I was seated near the door so I stuck my head around and she indeed had the correct place, it had just transformed in the 90 minutes since I first entered. She paid the charge, which allowed her a free drink, and took the seat next to me, commenting that this wasn’t the type of bar she imagined me going to. I tried to explain that it was different when I first arrived, but she was fine with sticking around, and that decision led to an entertaining night.

After about an hour some bar dancers came out and you know the years are passing when, instead of checking out the scantily clad women, you find yourself questioning the structural integrity of the bar upon which they are dancing, wondering if the poorly installed rails could support them when the dancers were using them for ballast. When we were looking at the girls and not the bar, we spent most of our time trying to guess exactly what the tattoo was on the back of the one nearest us. Anna thought it was a giraffe, but I can’t see many girls getting a lifelike giraffe tattooed up their side, I’m still convinced it was some sort of bird.
A bit later a short, extremely drunk local called Jack came staggering up to us, introduced himself, and tried hitting on Anna after I started talking to her again. “Anna is my fiancé,” he said, assuming that the two of us had only just met and attempting to put an arm around her, which she brushed off. I just laughed and replied, “That’s funny, she’s my wife.” He laughed and then insisted on doing the equivalent of love-shots, but with our beers. His was half-finished and I had just ordered a pint of Guinness, but I went along with it, taking a sip and then attempting to remove my arm, but he stopped me. Jack wanted to have a chugging contest so that’s what I did, him not factoring my size. “He is unbeatable, this man is unbeatable!” Jack lamented and then attempted several times to give me a chest bump, which didn’t go to well considering he was barely up to my shoulders. He actually needed a run-up and then just ended up bouncing back a couple of feet. Jack walked off and not long later we saw him attempt to hit on some other women, one of whom almost came to blows with him after she shoved him away and he laughed it off.

The place was starting to really fill up now. A girl just randomly got up on the bar and started twerking and a bunch of not-so-classy girls with bad plastic surgery pulled up seats behind us, one with absurdly large implants and the most unnatural looking nose-job I think I’ve ever seen and I used to live in South Korea! Seriously, this thing was perfectly triangular. But it was the local guy who was my age dancing alone to every song like he was in a late-90s R’n’B video that was kind of sad. People were telling us in awe that he was there every night and has been dancing like that for almost 20 years. To us he just looked lonely, that was, of course until the twerking girl dragged him up onto the bar and started dancing with him:

If you watched that video closely, you’d probably now understand why we were worried if those rails would hold up.
After the dancing, the highlight of our night was just about to happen; there was a drunk guy there who wanted to show off how rich he was by throwing a bunch of cash up into the air and, admittedly, the girls went crazy for it and I picked one of the notes up off the ground because it was there — It turned out he was throwing up NT$100.00 notes, currently the equivalent of roughly US$3.20 or AU$4.70. Yup, what I had picked up wasn’t even worth five bucks. What made it even more amusing was when the man we had now dubbed “Scores of Fours” wanted to repeat the act for more attention, but realised he had no cash left, thus needing to go out to an ATM and returning with substantially less NT$100.00 bills to throw again. Anna and myself were crying we were laughing that hard so I walked over to get a photo near him, me holding up my four-dollar bill, but then I figured I wouldn’t have this opportunity again so I tapped him on the shoulder and asked for a photo. He just put his arms around me protectively like I was his property and drunkenly closed his eyes. Damn, he was sweaty, but Anna snapped a brilliant photo that continues to make us laugh to this day. Oh, and I still have the NT$100.00 note, I might have to frame it.
It was getting late so we got the bill and as we were about to pay, Jack returned. It was quite loud and hard to make out what he was saying at first so he repeated it. “Do you mind if I kiss my sister?” he yelled. Such an odd question so I confirmed that I heard correctly. “Did you just ask if I mind if you kiss your sister?” I asked and he nodded enthusiastically, all the while Anna had a startled look on her face and was shaking her head vigorously. It took a while to put two and two together, but soon I realised he was asking if he could make out with Anna! I’m not an aggressive person, but needless to say my retort scared the shit out of him and he just slinked away to the other side of the room, looking dejected.
We got in a taxi back to our hotel and cracked up as we recalled what a funny night it had been. Witness some of the madness for yourself:

Sunday, August 11, 2019
We woke up and instantly began laughing at how ludicrous the previous night had been and then Anna asked, “Could we have more bubble tea?” to which I replied, “Sure, why not?” This made her laugh even more as her lack of sarcastic tone caused me to fail to realise that this was a rhetorical question in reference to the sheer amount of bubble tea we had drunk up until that point, averaging about two per day.
Most of the day just consisted of walking around a different area, this time the Zhongzheng District. Anna had decided that she wanted to go to a goose restaurant that wasn’t really walking distance so we decided to catch the MRT there. I got those familiar smirks and was the subject of subtly taken photos once again when I boarded the train and could barely fit under the ceiling. Once out we went to the restaurant and it didn’t take long to dawn on me that Anna must never have seen a live goose before when she over-ordered once again. Half a goose, plus side dishes is a bit much for two people who usually barely even eat lunch, but she justified it by saying that we usually order half a chicken when we eat one, although this wasn’t quite the same thing:

Once we had eaten what we could we had a look around a shopping mall that I wanted to visit and then went to an artist’s area nearby that had some interesting stuff, but nothing that really appealed to us. Anna likes to buy a ring in every country she visits, but had a similar problem to when she was looking at clothing the day before, in this case everything was either made of jade or just trying to be cute.

It was another extremely hot day so we repeated our routine by going home, showering, and watching what remained of Skyscraper before taking a taxi to where we would be eating dinner that night, despite still being a little goosed out; Addiction Aquatic Development, an enormous seafood market, supermarket, restaurant, and bar all in one building. There are ten separate areas to Addiction Aquatic Development, here’s how they are listed on the website:

  1. Live Aquamarine Products
  2. Instantly Consumed Delicacy
  3. Seafood Bar
  4. Enjoying The Hot Pot
  5. Charcoal Grilled Seafood Barbecue
  6. Fresh Food Supermarket
  7. Cooked Food
  8. An Elegant Lifestyle
  9. Fruit Selections
  10. The Flowers

Obviously there may be a few things lost in translation there, but it was easy to find your way around, first checking out he insane variety of enormous crabs and other shellfish in section one. The next stop was area three, where we opted for a small dinner, sharing the ‘Deluxe Seafood Plate,’ which came with 2-for-1 pints, and then headed around to area eight for a few pieces of sushi before hitting up a couple of bars, including a microbrewery with over 20 beers on tap near our hotel for our last night in town. In the 22 years since I graduated high school, it would appear that I have forgotten even the most basic biology lessons; the toilets were marked ‘XY’ and ‘XX,’ an obvious reference to male and female chromosomes, so of course I couldn’t remember which was which and went in the wrong bathroom the first time. Unfortunately we had only arrived at the microbrewery about 45 minutes before it closed, but we still managed to get a few in before moving onto the next place.
How our last night in Taipei looked:

Monday, August 12, 2019
We had to check out by midday, but didn’t need to leave for the airport until 3:30pm so Anna wanted to walk into town to go to Din Tai Fung for dumplings. The restaurant was in a mall so we had a quick look around in the hope of beating the lunch crowd and it was about 2:00pm when we decided to eat, plenty of time for lunch unless, of course, there is still a one-hour wait for a table, as was the case here. There is Din Tai Fung in Singapore and, although it may not be as good as in Taiwan, we went to another dumpling restaurant in the mall instead, Dian Shui Lou, and it didn’t seem like we were missing out on anything, plus there were plenty of tables.
We had left ourselves sufficient time to walk back to the hotel, pick up our luggage, and get a taxi to the airport, but we had also once again left ourselves at the mercy of Google Maps. For close to an hour the app had us walking in the wrong direction, mysteriously floating through buildings on the map, and just randomly changing locations and directions, until we spotted some familiar landmarks and were able to find our way. We had decided to play The Amazing Race once again, leaving the hotel just after the time we wanted to be at the actual airport, getting stuck in a traffic jam, and running up to our check-in counter minutes before it closed, but we made it home to Singapore just fine in the end.

It has been almost 12 years since I first moved to Singapore, and even if you exclude the 16 months we spent in overseas a few years ago, I have still lived in a predominantly Chinese country for more than a decade. However, there were still a few surprises when it came to exploring another small island-state, this time still technically the property of China:

  • In some ways, Taipei appeared less traditional than Singapore, although it’s probably not the case in more rural areas. However, a perfect example of this is the fact that we arrived in Taiwan during Hungry Ghost Festival:

In Chinese culture, the fifteenth day of the seventh month in the lunar calendar is called Ghost Day and the seventh month in general is regarded as the Ghost Month (鬼月), in which ghosts and spirits, including those of deceased ancestors, come out from the lower realm.

On the fifteenth day the realms of Heaven and Hell and the realm of the living are open and both Taoists and Buddhists would perform rituals to transmute and absolve the sufferings of the deceased. Intrinsic to the Ghost Month is veneration of the dead, where traditionally the filial piety of descendants extends to their ancestors even after their deaths. Activities during the month would include preparing ritualistic food offerings, burning incense, and burning joss paper, a papier-mâché form of material items such as clothes, gold and other fine goods for the visiting spirits of the ancestors. Elaborate meals (often vegetarian meals) would be served with empty seats for each of the deceased in the family treating the deceased as if they are still living.

  • IMG_3416While in Taipei we saw very few food offerings left out and only a handful of fires, meaning you wouldn’t even be aware it was Ghost Month if you didn’t already know. In our Singaporean neighbourhood of Tiong Bahru on the other hand, there is food left outside commercial and residential buildings everywhere, causing a steep increase in the amount of rats, cockroaches, and pigeons around the place. Add to this the constant fires both on the ground and in giant drums and cages; even if you keep your doors and windows closed, it still gets in somehow and your house will smell of ash and it’s far worse venturing outside. This picture I took the day after we got back (above, right) shows just a small portion of a Ghost Month ritual outside Tiong Bahru Market, just behind our apartment, with massive food offerings inside. The photo doesn’t even include the 3×3 metre (10’x10′) cage used for fires next to it!
  • People are exceptionally friendly in Taipei and most are relatively bilingual, having a really good command of English, although there were a few times Anna had to speak Mandarin.
  • Most bars make really good cocktails.
  • People are quite liberal and really lowbrow humour is rampant in Taipei, aimed at both adults and children. If it contains toilets, asses, genitals, and just bodily functions in general, people here will love it. Besides the sculptures in our hotel and the scatological glory of dining at Modern Toilet, here is just a sampling of what we ran into over the course of a couple of days:

If you have made it this far, congratulations on completing another essay of epic proportions, but we packed a lot in and had some interesting experiences on an awesome long weekend in Taiwan.

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