Taipei Part II

14 Mar

On our walking tour we stopped outside the Office of the President and were thrilled to hear that you can go inside for a free visit during the mornings. Not ones to refuse a free activity, we headed out on the morning of the eighth to the visitor entrance of the building. Right when we approached the entrance we were greeted by security guards who guided us to the check-in point and then we went through a security line and were taken into the building. While it was clear that they were simply making sure there were eyes on us at all times it felt like we were VIPs coming to meet with the President (the female President Tsai Ing-Wen). We followed a woman all around the first floor of the building, where visitors are allowed, as she searched for an English-speaking tour guide for us. We were taken out of the building again, where we met Erich, the German name of our Taiwanese tour guide, who had learned English while studying in Germany. He certainly loved German words and often burst out in some expressive German term while talking to us. He was exceptionally loud, yet terribly adorable. He started off the tour by taking out a pointer and having us read along with the power of the people entrance exhibit. While talking about the architecture of the building, he took out of his bag a big folder of old resources, including original copies of maps so that we could better understand the changes in the area over time. He went above and beyond to give us any and all information he knew. At one point, he took out his phone to show us his Facebook, and the background of his phone was a half naked blonde woman. He tried to quickly hide it but he had been caught, we laughed at him asking who it was to which he replied, “a very sexy lady.” If we didn’t love Erich already, we certainly did at that point. The museum is definitely worth the visit, with exhibits on the architecture of the building, the past presidents and the history of demonstrations in Taipei. Many demonstrations will take place outside of the Office of the President and free speech and demonstrations are encouraged, a stark contrast from China. We had the best time making idiots of ourselves posing for pictures pretending to be the President and against back drops with the President and Vice President.

After deciding that I want to be the future president of Taiwan, we headed over to the National Palace Museum. We were way too tired to appreciate much, and a lot of the the exhibits were too much for two tired people. We saw paintings and calligraphy by Fu Chuan-fu, a whole ridiculous exhibition of paintings of chickens in honor of the year of the rooster, a new media room with interactive art and technology stations, and a room that contained a locked up jade cabbage. Yes, a block of jade in the shape of a cabbage. Apparently, cabbage signifies prosperity and luck. On our way back from the museum, I decided to try some of the soy milk drink at the shop nearby our hostel. It is definitely the most popular drink here and it’s constantly being poured into cups and sealed, ready for the hordes of people trying to buy it. I was hoping it would taste like my delicious almond milk drink but was highly disappointed by its plain and unenjoyable taste. I paired it with a deep fried dough stick, which we had seen people do, but that was equally as tasteless. It was the only time that food or drink let me down in Taipei. Things looked up later that night though, when we went to the market near us and got amazing pork dumplings doused in scallion soy sauce and chili sauce. I also got a smoked salmon sushi bowl, topped with lime and ginger.

We seriously did not slow down during our time in Taipei, wanting to fit as much in as we possibly could, so we had another full day ahead of us the following day, visiting the fisherman’s wharf. We had to take a subway to the end of the red line, Tamsui, and a bus to the very end of the city along the water. It was a terribly windy day and the place isn’t particularly lively during the cold weather months. We walked across the lovers bridge, nearly being blown off, and then walked along the water. Since we spent less time there than we had expected, we decided to walk back to the Tamsui metro station instead of take a bus. On our way we came across Fort San Domingo and decided to go in for a visit. The fort was originally a wood fort, built in 1629 by the Spanish. The fort was destroyed by local people in rebellion against the taxes imposed by the Spanish in 1636. The design was improved during reconstruction in 1637, with higher walls and stronger, stone structure. The Dutch took over the fort in the summer of 1642 and in 1644 the they took their turn at rebuilding the structure, which still stands today. In 1638, the Chinese gained control of the fort and in 1868, after the Second Opium War, the British took their turn at controlling the fort and it was made into their consulate. The fascinating linguist, Herbert Allen Giles, fluent in Chinese, lived at the fort and worked as a translator and British diplomat. He had full mastery of the Chinese language and modified the Mandarin Chinese romanization system, and translated important works including a Chinese-English Dictionary. In 1980 the fort was once again turned over to the Chinese and was made a historical site.

We got back to Tamsui and were amazed by the energy of the town. Market stands were at every turn and shop owners enthusiastically lured customers in to taste test and buy treats of all kinds. We found ourselves in a bakery where we tried every type of Asian cake there. I ended up buying a pineapple cake, a small pumpkin roll and a green tea and rosette cake. We made our way up a road where I bought a fried scallion cake, which was made by rolling up a scallion filling in dough, wrapping it up into a circle and deep frying it. It was perfectly crispy and doughy and garlicky. It was actually emotional to eat. We were so excited to come across our almond drink again and walked down the streets holding our drink with big smiles on our face, exploring the different things for sale.

We pulled ourselves away from the action and headed back to the subway to go to Beitou hot springs, a popular public hot spring. It took us forever to find and it was definitely an intimidating scene, with old people lined up outside with their tickets. We entered the hot spring, mind you its about 60 degrees Fahrenheit outside, and change into our bikinis, feeling terribly out of place surrounded by old people in one pieces. We certainly got some stares. The hot spring was separated into three levels of pools, the hottest at the top and the coolest at the bottom, and a separate cold water pool on the side. We attempted to get into the middle pool but it was so damn hot that we went into the bottom one instead, where we met a middle-aged, English-speaking Taiwanese man who took us under his wing and taught us how to properly tackle the hot springs. We started in the lowest pool, which was between 38-40 degrees Celsius for about ten minutes, followed by a few minutes submerged in the freezing cold water. Right after exiting the cold water we went into the second level of heat, between 40 and 43 degrees for a few minutes and then back into the cold water. We finally submerged into the hottest level which was between 43 and 45 degrees (113 degrees Fahrenheit) and felt like our bodies were burning. We lasted for under three minutes, and I couldn’t bring myself to get back into the cold water. When you think of hot springs you think of enjoyable warm water, however we had many moments of lightheadedness, had to suffer between the hot and cold waters, and in the last pool I basically felt like my toenails were melting off. It was a taxing experience.

On our way back towards the city we stopped at yet another night market, Shilin, which is the largest night market in Taipei. We tried our best to walk around everything, but the market takes up so many streets and even includes an indoor underground portion. We stuck with the outside and got ourselves some pork steamed buns and “hot dogs” composed of a rice sausage split open to resemble a bun and a grilled sausage stuffed inside it, covered in your choice of sauce (garlic for us). It was truly an otherworldly experience. We saw sweet potato balls and of course had to give them a try, but they simply did not stack up to the ones from Lehua market. Full, happy and exhausted we made it back to the hostel and got our things ready to head to Hualien the next day, the city that we would get to Taroko National Park from. 


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