Friday, April 29, 2011

Ni hao Taipei!

Brett and I landed safely in Taiwan last night. Our cab dropped us off on a corner near our hostel and the driver sort of gestured in the direction we needed to walk, but we got out of the car and just stood there shell shocked for a moment. There was no pinyin or English on the street signs and we were next to a noisy night market. A Taiwanese man stopped and asked if we needed help, and walked several blocks with us until he got us to the door of our hostel. So friendly!

The proprietress of our hostel is a very sweet Taiwanese woman named Vanessa and we were helped by a girl named Phoenix to their second building around the corner where their private rooms were. Thank the lord for hostels with double beds and ensuite bathrooms. We both wanted to hug Phoenix after she showed us our AC, mini fridge, free wireless, and in-suite washer/dryer unit.

Brett managed to shower without electrocuting himself on the first night which was a bonus. The thing about Taiwanese bathrooms is that the shower isn’t in its own separate stall or anything. Our shower head is attached to the sink faucet, so you are standing and showering yourself between the sink, toilet and washer/dryer (thus the fear of electrocution). Fortunately it’s so hot here and the building’s ventilation is so good that the floor dries within a couple of hours.

We wandered into the night market just a few meters away from our door for dinner and we were not disappointed. It was a little less terrifying than the snack streets in Beijing, and I soon found a stall selling spicy roasted corn. Boje bought a skewer at the adjoining stall of what he thought was flattened chicken breast, but they actually turned out to be little delicious pancakes! Then we went to another stall and got this delicious greasy wrap made from a fried onion cake, a fried egg (ji dan), and cabbage. I promise this won’t turn into a mundane blog about the food we eat every day, but it was just such a relief to walk down a road and have food options that weren’t scuttling on the ground hours earlier.

Today was a very sweaty, smoggy day in Taipei. We wandered over to Taipei 101, one of the tallest buildings in the world, which is very close to our hostel. It’s just under twice the height of the Bow in Calgary. It has a crazy big food court full of authentic food we don’t know how to order yet. We did successfully order fruit juice though and that was very exciting! The observation deck of the building was closed due to the smog, but we’re going to try again this week!

After that we went to the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Memorial building nearby. He was one of the revolutionaries responsible for making Taiwan what it is today. We stared at old men flying kites for quite a while outside and then got to see a very impressive changing of the guard in front of S Y-S’s statue.

We had an embarrassing setback at the memorial building today. We kept seeing signs for a cafe and were extremely thirsty so when we found it we were delighted. It seemed to be a buffet-style restaurant but we grabbed a drink and sat down to wait for someone to come by for an awkward Chinese-English exchange as we are growing accustomed to around here. No one came by and we soon realized that we were at a buffet-only venue. We explained to the waitress that we didn’t want food and thought we were just buying a drink and she ran away without saying much. Then a second server came out and we explained again. His English seemed better and he approached the first waitress to explain. We then watched them chat and laugh in Chinese at the stupid white people who don’t even know how to eat at a buffet. Sigh. She then had to go talk to a third person. THEN she had to go call someone else to involve a fourth person in the conversation about our dumb mistake and then eventually came back and only charged us $100 NTD for the whole sordid experience (which works out to about $3 CAD). Embarrassing. So embarrassing.

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