There come those moments in your life where you can no longer put off making a decision. For someone who is terribly indecisive, I come across these moments quite often, but none like I have had in the past few days. A do or die moment. Learn to eat your meals with chop sticks or die a slow painful death of starvation, get on the bus by yourself and figure it out or die of pure boredom from being alone. Luckily when it came time to take the bus by myself I so happened to run into a fellow American ESL teacher at my school. His plans fell through for the weekend so he agreed to go to Taipei with me on Friday night. We left around five and got stuck in some nasty traffic but eventually arrived to the much anticipated Taipei. It looked like a bigger sprawled out version on Zhongzheng road (the main road in Nankan where I live). The same stores and lights and shops, and more shops, and shopping, and more shops, the level of consumerism in the culture is one thing I cannot (and will not) wrap my brain around…
I apologize for the lack of pictures in this post but most of the time I hate taking pictures because it takes away from the “here and now” feeling you get when you experience something for the first time. I will take pictures of Taipei when we head back this weekend for the event my recruiting company is putting on at the popular Base Bar.
Our first stop we took the MRT to the Shinlin Night Market. It was amazing. Food vendors lined up on every nook and cranny of the street selling a million different things I have never tried or even seen before. Inside these rows of food vendors there were also clothing vendors with their flashing lights and blasting bad American pop music to entice customers, all on streets about 10 feet wide. Most of the clothing for sale either had cartoon characters or ridiculous sayings on them in English that make no sense at all, but they are in English so it’s “cool”.
First thing I tried was a fried dough looking thing that the vendor made right in front of me. It was delicious, like a fat chunk of funnel cake without the sugar. The next thing was a boiled and fried piece of dough filled with cabbage and other vegetables. It tasted almost like an egg roll (but with bread on the outside instead of whatever the roll is.) Then of course I had to try stinky tofu. The food stand was disgustingly stinky but the tofu wasn’t that bad (probably because it was deep fried). It had a strange citrus-y flavor to it that was either a result of the fermentation or something added to cover up the fermentation taste. My co-worker ordered these shrimp kabobs that were wrapped in some kind of crunchy straw noodle (and fried) that were absolutely delicious. We forced ourselves to stop there and decided to try to find a bar.
We ended up wandering around Taipei (took several MRT rides) until we came upon a bar called the Brass Monkey, a supposed hotspot for expats and foreigners. What we found inside was a lot of white western men, picking up Taiwanese women. A lot (all) of these men carried themselves with that swag of confident entitlement that only Caucasian males seem to embody. It was amusing at first, absolutely appalling after about an hour. I asked my coworker if he thought Asian men get upset that these westerners just come in and scoop up their women, “it’s gotta hurt somewhere deep down…”
11:30 rolled around when the buses and trains stopped running for the night so we decided it was an all nighter in Taipei. My coworker took me to the family mart, apparently a popular spot to hang out and drink before the nightclubs open at 3 for free. It was teeming with westerners. We met a lot of interesting people (in particular a Mexican man who runs a traveling puppet theater who spoke perfect English and Mandarin), mostly ESL teachers some who came and never left, and some who are only here for a short while. My jet lag hit me like a brick wall ( I was getting used to a 9 P.M. Bedtime) and we decided to take a taxi back to Nankan around 2AM.
Overall it was a satisfying first visit to Taipei. English is more popular and there are a lot more foreigners than in Nankan and a lot more to do.
The rest of the weekend I stayed in Nankan. I met up with another new ESL teacher at the TaiMall on Saturday. A seven story mall packed with people, it was as if someone knew my biggest anxiety factors and shoved them both together. We had dinner at the bar The Three Baboons, supposedly another hang out for westerners, but we were the only two westerners there. It was a sports bar/family restaurant, where Asian families could take their kids to get pizza and burgers with some American football and English soccer decor on the walls.
I explored the river trail by my house and found a beautiful temple. This month is ghost month. A time when dead ancestors are honored and celebrated. What that means; there are crazy firework displays on random weeknights when you are trying to sleep, each little shop and stand has a little metal garbage can out front where you can burn ghost money so your ancestors have some cash in the after life, along with these garbage cans are tables with food set out so your ancestors can come out and feast at night, and there is incense burning at every corner at every time of the day. I wake up to the smell of incense wafting through my open window and choke on it as I try to run at night. Oh, and no swimming during ghost month, they may haunt the water.
Things I’ve learned;
- On a map the swastika symbol means temple, not some Neo-Nazi holdfast.
- ABC is a slang term (non offensive) that means American Born Chinese. For Asians that were born in the US and for some reason or another have come back to Taiwan.
- Papaya milk is delicious. It tastes like melted creamsicle.
- If I really want to get things done I can’t wait around for other people, which unfortunately will mean a lot of solo travel and getting lost.
- Any ritual, tradition, superstition, or ceremony is all essentially a variation of the same idea, no matter what religion or language.
Later this week I will post an update on the first week of school and my new life as an ESL teacher.
For now, Valar Morghulis, but first all men must live.