We spent today with Alex’s cousin, Ting-Shuen, and her husband Andy, and their friends who happened to be in town from Australia, Carl and Sandy. They very graciously agreed to take us around the northern coastline of Taiwan, and show us around a few things in Taipei as well.
One of the things on my to-do list was to have some custom shirts made (because, honestly, how often do you get the opportunity?), so we stopped by Andy’s tailor in Taipei where I got measured up and ordered three bespoke shirts for the price that you’d pay for one in the US. And that was with fancy fabric. They will be ready later in the week.
Our next stop was in Xindian, where we met up with Carl and Sandy and had some lunch at a neighborhood place where I was, naturally the only white dude in sight, and at least a head taller than everyone else. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to turning heads in restaurants. We had a round of dumplings and noodles, and then set off to the coastline to visit Yeliou, where there’s a park with what the guidebook calls “bizarre rock formations”; along the water’s edge there are about a hundred globes of igneous rock suspended on pillars of sedimentary rock, all hewn away gradually by the tide to create an otherworldly scene on the shore. The most famous of them is the Queen’s Head, so called because in profile it looks like, well, an Egyptian Queen. Supposedly, the Queen’s head will eventually fall over because the base of it will erode away, but apparently that’s been the word for at least a decade, so who knows. There was a line to take a picture in front of it, which we skipped.
On the way out of the rock formations, there’s a small market with snack food. We stopped for some barbecue squid:
Having exhausted all the photo opportunities in Yeliou, we jumped back in the car and drove off to a local town with one of the oldest market streets in the region, which has a shop famous for its duck, which of course we had to try, accompanied by plum juice, which is incredibly sweet, but pretty tasty.
On the way out of town, we stopped at a 200-year old temple. Although the temple is old, it’s been modernized as time has gone on with bright lights, an electronic marquee, and I’m pretty sure I saw some animatronics inside too.
Back in Taipei, we went to the nightmarket, full of stores selling clothing, food, and accessories. It opens at 6PM and apparently goes until at least 2AM. By the time we arrived at 7, it was already packed to the gills with people, deafeningly loud, full of flashing lights, vendors vying for attention and trade, and snack-cart operators selling pretty much every Taiwanese snack in existence:
We stopped regularly at snack vendors, and there was another game of “Make Guy Eat Strange Food”. This is how you play the game:
Host: Hey – try this!
Guy: What is it?
Host: It’s good – try it. I’ll tell you what it is afterwards.
Guy: Okay … <bite> … It’s pretty good; what is it?
Host: It’s duck tongue!
Guy: Hmm… <another bite> chewy, but tasty. <has another one>
Alas, I didn’t get any pictures of the duck tongues, but I have yet to turn down a single thing here.
By the time we left the nightmarket, we’d had some zongzi (meat surrounded by rice cooked in a bamboo leaf), soup, scallion pancakes, tomatoes stuffed with dates (amazing by the way), giant cups of tea, sausages, and of course duck’s tongue. I was pretty well stuffed by the end.
After the nightmarket, we drove to some hot springs back near Xindian. Hot springs are often open twenty four hours and are a particular Taiwanese experience. Most notably, there are no clothes allowed. Supposedly, there are some which require bathing suits, but those are for lame tourists. The baths themselves are outside, and after a shower, you can choose one of three temperature levels. I was only able to manage the middle level, and even then only for a few minutes. All the old Chinese men seemed to be hanging out in the scalding hot bath next door though, happily chatting while clouds of steam billowed around them.
Despite the preponderance of boy parts on view, the hot springs were relaxing and generally terrific. While we were sitting in one of the baths though, Carl pointed out some burly looking guys to me.
“See those guys over there with the big tattoos?”
I replied that I did.
“Mafia,” he said.
The tattoos are quite elaborate, covering a shoulder and uppear arm, and part of the chest, covering the heart. One of the mafiosos was evidently there with his kids, and another was boiling away in the hottest pool. So I can reasoanbly say that I’ve been naked with the Taiwanese mafia.