We ate breakfast in McDo, the one near the place we stayed in, and it didn’t serve any local variant of Taiwan’s food. It’s all hamburgers, fried chicken, and sausage McNothin’. Some would say that eating at a known (read: exploitive capitalist) fast food chain, one that you also have in your country, is a disservice to the self to get to know the locals or their food, but that wasn’t our case. This particular breakfast had us mingling with the locals. Saturday morning – wolfing on a large breakfast meal; seeing kids being tutored at the other table; old couple eating their favorite grease-rich food after a walk; a father sharing a hearty meal with his son before a soccer game – it was at a Mcdonald’s joint where we had the most telling glimpse of the locals in their element, and somehow, we belonged.
The guesthouse we had stayed in is just two blocks from the MRT Station of the Brown Line. One of the destinations along this Brown Line are the Taipei Zoo and Maokong Gondola, the latter being the last station. We skipped the zoo because we don’t like looking down on animals in confined spaces. So the gondola it was.
The Maokong Gondola reveals an altitude we have never seen before. The mountain trees (not sure what they are) relax the tired eyes, although there still looms the urban side of Taipei, not far below, sharing the view. The dense forested area below gondolas’ route makes it bearable to think that on the unlikely chance that the cables snap, the trees would cushion our fall. Of course, no such thing happened. We were safe, and made it to Zhinan Temple Station, a Taoist Temple. Signs in golden calligraphy immediately caught our eyes as we entered the compound.
We have an inkling that Taiwanese people liked building temples. “What for?” we wondered. For maintaining their spirituality in spite of their trudge for Future? For tourists? Find the answer in its oriental architecture.
After the “spiritual” stint in Temple, we caught another gondola ride to the last station, the Maokong station. Naturally, it is where the tourists gravitate, being a haven for both tea cafes and restaurants. Hiking trails also proliferate the area, perfect for walking buffs.
So many things to do, so many places to see in this part of Maokong. Isya insisted on checking out the kettle holes and tea promotion building where we thought we could see an actual tea plantation. By then, it was way past lunchtime. All the walking we made up and down the winding roads, just to look for the best tea house had made us exhausted. Perhaps it was the combination of hunger and weariness that pushed us to continue searching for kettle holes and the tea promotion area. By the time we got to the latter, we could no longer ignore the grumbling of our stomachs. We headed straight to one of the tea restaurants, supposedly with high ratings, if we’re to believe the Google reviews.
In spite of what we’re already feeling, we’re still game for some adventure. On our way to the selected restaurant, we saw the sign to kettle holes. We debated whether it’s wise to tread down a steep slope, but empty stomachs gave us no wits for this misplaced adventurism, and we finally convinced ourselves to “make the most out of it.” Down the stairwell we went to the kettle holes. After hundreds of steps going down, several stream bends, and some towering ferns, one would hope that this better be worth it. Alas, the sight of the overrated kettle holes was anticlimactic. Though, better sight were the paths of ferns leading to other trails. Also, a hanging bridge, guarded by stone cats and pandas on both ends, sway over the stream. These adorable statues delighted Isya, so much that she began cooing, as she is wont to do at the presence of such benevolence, cute or otherwise, flesh or stone.
On our way back, the flight of stairs became a million steps. Tita Isya had to endure the ascent with cramps forming on her right leg, and a breath she’s running out of.
We ended in a tea place called Yao Yue Tea House, a highly rated place in Wenshan. The place reminded us of Japanense aesthetics. We sat outside for an overlooking view of the hillside, near another couple who was already there. The oolong tea we ordered was served with a complete tea set, and was meant to be the traditional way. The menu came with a how-to-have-tea, so we made sure to follow them. We had chao fan, dumplings, and sweet and sour fish.
After the late lunch, we decided to head out for Taipei 101, to get to know how monumental it really is up close.
Good thing that the street outside the tea house, is also a bus route that we could hop on to take us to the MRT. Waiting with the bus ride with us were two middle-aged people (a couple?). They asked us if a bus would pass by the tea place, to which we replied yes. The couple spoke Mandarin but are not from Taiwan. It was also their first time to visit. If we had to guess, they are either from Singapore, Malaysia or mainland China.
The couple was waiting for a different bus number. Some 20 minutes had passed, a bus began approaching, going down the direction of the mountain. Isya thought that this might be the bus to hop onto, so she flagged it down. When the door swung open, the driver didn’t exactly let us in. There was irritation in the way he spoke, but we didn’t understand any of it. We got the hint that this wasn’t the bus. Ohio felt embarrassed in this short affair.
Another 10 minutes, another bus passed by on the way to Maokong Gondola station. Knowing it was not our bus, we didn’t bother to flag it down. But the couple who were with us did. However, the driver didn’t let them in yet, as he had to finish the trip, which only meant going to the end point, the Maokong Gondola station, before returning. Not to worry, though, the couple said when they reported back to us, that that exact bus should be back in no time.
Meanwhile, we all got to talking, not minding the obvious language barrier. People will always find ways to connect with one another, looking for something to share with. In this case, a bus took the shape of the common denominator. When the bus returned, the couple were kind enough to offer to ask the driver if it would pass by any MRT station along its route. “Any MRT would do,” we told the couple, and from there, we could again navigate Taipei by ourselves.
The driver essentially said yes. We all boarded the bus. Drum rolls halt; curtains fall. Looking back on it, it’s nice to know there are still good-hearted people, some of them are even willing to bridge the babel between strangers.
The morning was supposed to be celebrated on Yehliu Geopark, but we got out of bed late.
Had we really intended to rise early, what would have we done there?
Meditation, perhaps, by the boulders, attempting to learn the chemistry of earth and sea if only we understood their clashing methods. In order to study rocks, one must be wary of navigating their interface, first by sight, then by hand.
Biking is also one form of getting around the Geopark, we heard. It would have been another form of meditation, too, with the added benefit of aerobics.
But, we got out of bed late, like we said. Time is relative, Einstein notioned, and in the cozy abode in which we lost sleep, time were the hours spent motionless, in rest instead of in preparation. In our daily reflection, we gave up on the idea of traveling for two hours just to see some weird rock formation.
So we settled for a nearby venue: Huashan Creative Park. The Park showcased talents from different artists. Lots of pretty hand-made items we could have bought as souvenirs, if only one of us weren’t so strict with budget.
In one of the buildings in the Park, we ate lunch at Alleycat’s, a pizzeria that already offers alcoholic drinks as early as noon. Our bill spiked to NTD 1,056 for the pizza and several little dishes we ordered. Not good, or charge to experience?
Several MRT stations away, we found loitering in the greenery of Da’an Forest Park. Here we increased our steps while taking in the view, watching people what they do in forest parks.
Parks are meant to be inclusive, as Da’an Forest Park is. Plenty of seats are provided for old people when they get tired. Some ambulatory aisles have been fitted with handrails for people on rehabilitation, when they are still regaining the power of their legs. Ramps make it accessible for wheelchairs, trolleys, and other wheeled contraptions.
An orchestra was performing on an open auditorium in Da’an Forest Park. The acoustics of the place, surprisingly, makes it easy for visitors to hear all the different notes of all the different instruments playing. We stuck around for awhile, until they finished their rendition of a Michael Jackson mixtape.
Our last stop for the day before retiring to bed was Shilin Night Market. Here’s a short list of our purchases:
Late lunch at Tamed Fox. Late being the operative word here, and probably a favorite of ours, given our tendency to stay up late and wake up late.
Funny thing: we went to this Tamed Fox restaurant in search of a carrot cake. A craving for carrot cake had stirred Isya for her birthday, but when faced with the fact that there’s a shortage of it in Taipei, she was all the more determined to look for one. Ohio, on the other hand, looked up for restaurants, pastry shops, and bakeries that serve the best carrot cakes. On our research, we found instead doughnut that’s supposed to taste like carrot cake, in this artsy/healthy restaurant named Tamed Fox. We were excited to try them.
Alas, when it’s time to order asked for their doughnut, the server told us that it has been a long time since they last sold those doughnuts. You see, it has been removed from their menu. Powerless then Isya became, and her heart, now a million pieces all over, could only be mended by settling for a matcha coconut milk drink.
After realizing we just had an expensive lunch – the healthy options on the menu could simply be their marketing tool to jack the price up – we made got our hands wet when we made our own paper at Suho Paper Museum. It’s a memorial built to honor its founder. It’s also Suho’s (the founder, duh) response to Taiwan’s lacking of paper museum at the time.
The roof deck provided a wonderful view of the busy district.
On our way to Eslite Bookshop, we witnessed a car accident, known in Filipino slang as ‘carambola’. This particular one involved four vehicles on a single lane bumping into each other because the one on the front may have floored the brake too hard, so that it ensues further miscalculations for the drivers behind him. These kinds of accidents still happen in a city more disciplined than Manila. Isya inferred, “As long as there are cars, and there are humans driving them, there will always be car accidents.”
Eslite bookshop is a wonderful tourist destination, it is a five story bookstore that operates 24/7. Its presence in the heart of the city just goes to show that Taiwanese hold high regard to reading. The promise of knowledge contained in books is always enticing to come and open its pages, especially if the cover captures my attention. We were told not to judge them by appearance alone, but the books in Eslite Bookshop hold many promises, if only we could read the characters. Definitely, we would like to spend more time if only we were not confined to reading only English alphabet letters. It doesn’t only house books but is also a place to showcase arts and crafts.
Last day on the busy Taipei. We got up late, went outside by noon to have lunch for the second time on a nearby eatery. Most of the viands are vegetables, all of which I find palatable.
Second only to Fuyang Eco Park, I find Dahu Park, one of my favorite places we went to. The lack of people (at the time, at least) definitely made it more attractive. Plus, the building on the entrance has an indoor swimming pool. Will we ever get to practice our breast strokes there?
They also built a memorial hall for Sun Yat Sen, another of Taiwan’s founding fathers, though not as grand as Chiang Kai-Shek’s.
Our last major stop was the Songshan Cultural Park. It was where we ate dinner, and tried my first (and last) cold brew coffee WITH lemonade. I bought my first (and, due to the price, possibly last) Leuchtturm1917 there, with a Bauhaus theme.
We witnessed a scooter catching fire. Two fire trucks were quick to respond to the scene, and in no time, they put out the fire. Not many tourists could go back home and have that story with them.
Back to Manila, where else?
Hotter is its afternoon than Taipei. Hotter still is its smog, but in its familiarity we reveled instead our memories of the alien land which we had to leave. Our lives are here, in Manila, for now; and in its strange new buildings, we tried looking for tiled facades.
Isya has been stressing about bed bug bites she had the whole trip, which might be an allergic reaction. It was super itchy and warm that it woke her up in the middle of the night to scratch the bites. Yes, it was a big not to scratch inflamed bites but the itch was agonizing and torturous. What is more stressing is the fact that we couldn’t figure out where she got the bites because Ohio never got any. So, the source might not be in our bedroom, let alone on the bed. And it’s entirely improbable it’s in something we ate, because we practically ate the same food. The only possible source would be during our hike at the Fuyang Eco park on our very first day at Taipei.
On Day 3, we did get to the Tower. If you’re the type of person who never liked being surrounded by many people, consider this: Taipei 101 might seem overrated, but seeing it in person cannot be, uh, overlooked.
On Day 5, we had another lunch – ramen – after our visit in Suho Paper Museum. At the unholy afternoon hour, no one else was in the diner, and we wondered whether we were early for dinner.
Lastly, here are interesting pics of clean Taiwan streets. Go find them.