Last hurrah in Taipei

I went to Taipei for five days on this trip, and I still ran out of time. It looks like I’d have to wait till 2012 if I want to save half an hour of somnolent drudgery on the airport bus for half an hour of poking around Eslite. Oh, Eslite. You looked like a dream in your party dress:

Day 1 (28 Jan 07)

So anyway, the first stop was Yongkang Street (永康街) — truly amazing eating and shopping to be had in a most pleasant neighbourhood. I’ve been there before in the daytime and alone, but there’s nowt like rootling around with a friend (in this case, MY) in tow. You get to try more food, for one thing, and venture into dauntingly posh shops, for another!

We were supposed to have beef noodles followed by Ice Monster dessert, but ended up at an Italian place called Cello. I know, it’s weird having western food in Taiwan, but I also ended up having French food twice. Tsk, tsk. I went straight for the risotto, which was really well done (not so cheesy that I couldn’t almost finish it), even if it was a bit too savoury for me. Anyway, there’s lots more good food that I missed in the area, like the beef noodles, and ramen, and Din Tai Fung. Must. Go. Back.

After that, we popped in and out of boutiques in the area, and a fabbo fair trade shop called People Tree (a franchise of the Japanese spin-off of the British shop), before nestling at a bookstore, which offered a few intimate tiers of magazines, books, hot drinks and purr-ecious stationery. When AJ arrived in the city, we headed to the Eslite in Xinyi (that’s the one pictured above), for the night is ever young when a bookstore is still open.

Day 2 (29 Jan 07)

The second day had a bit of randomness thrown in. Waking up way too late for breakfast we’d paid for, we discovered a place round the corner that sold the Taiwanese version of economic rice (菜飯) plus a fantastic stewed meat rice. Been too long since I had fried egg with that pickled veg — argh, forgot the name again. Good food and good friends doth a good meal maketh.

After that, we went to the Think Different shop near Taipei Main Station so I could get a Vyper case from Booq for my MacBook Pro. I think the online shop is much better. They didn’t have it in stock, so we bussed down to another branch in Gongguan (公館) — where National Taiwan University is — and promptly spent four hours in the area, beguiled by the many commercial attractions there. And possibly the best bubble tea I’ve ever tasted — I think gula melaka is the secret ingredient (well done MY for giving it a go, despite the shop’s strange name — Green Frog Knock Milk?!):

Next stop: Tienmu (天母). This is a dainty little suburb, probably a better visit in daytime — avoid the Azabu Sabo there and give your palate something else. Surprisingly, there a Shinkong Mitsukoshi departmental store there — prolly cos of a big Japanese presence, as also evidenced by the proliferation of Japanese eateries. After this was a bit of a wild goose chase along the main artery of the city, Zhongxiao Road, but no biggie. It’s nice to have a potter round Taipei at night, even if it was cold, windy and a tad drizzly.

Our last stop was karaoke — or rather, the biggest honking place I’ve ever seen dedicated to the pastime, the flagship of the Partyworld empire, no less. At least nine storeys — probably more. The lobby could easily be mistaken for a five-star hotel’s. The service and facilities were impeccable, even if the rooms weren’t very well sound-proofed. MY whipped out the techniques she’s picked up from a friend at that singing school, AJ got to sing till she was hoarse, and I got to have a go at some 星光帮 songs; it was all good and we slept at five.

Day 3 (30 Jan 07)

So, we missed breakfast again. But it’s all right — we had something mildy thrilling to look forward to. AJ and MY were adamant that we should have lunch at one of Jay Chou’s restaurants in Taipei, before AJ had to leave us and return to her life as a good doctor. Sure, I had no objections to that … then it turned out that AJ, who made the reservations and directed the cab driver, had one restaurant in mind (it sells Japanese fried pork cutlets, and has a cold little pig tethered to the shop front), while MY and I had another (it serves sorta French food and has funny paintings of him and his cronies)! So, we took a while to get to the latter, especially when it was buried in an alley somewhere the cab driver didn’t know.

door.jpgI quite liked the place, especially when I realised it was in one of his music videos (subtext is always quite intriguing, what). It’s got these big wooden doors with “Mr J” on it, framed by a huge glass front, and is filled with interesting found objects from his travels. I guess the only odd things were the aforementioned paintings, but they were strangely humorous too. The food took its time coming, but tasted … evocative. At least my dish did — I had penne in some sort of tangy cream sauce. The strawberry milk was light enough not to leave me groggy. And for the record, yes, I ate the stuff the boss was supposed to have recommended, according to a HK guidebook.

After that, we had to say goodbye to AJ, then MY and I made our way to the super-posh hot springs spa hotel Spring Park. It was super posh! You really get what you pay for, though. You know you’re living in the lap of luxury when everything in the minibar is free and there’s an infinity pool in the backyard. The price included a six-course authentic French dinner, and the best bit was dessert — pear flambé with a dollop of vanilla ice cream on top. Scrumptious is the word. Buoyant with culinary delight, we floated down to the little town centre of Wulai (烏來). The trek there was dark and scary and bordered by speeding cars, and the destination was a bit of a bummer, but all was soothed by a restful night in the canopy bed. Yes, a canopy bed. Ahh.

Day 4 (31 Jan 07)

A nature ramble next day along three waterfalls was chilly but invigorating. I did my deep yoga breathing there, woohoo. If we’d worn ‘proper’ shoes, I’m sure we would have made it to the summit. Before getting back to our hotel in the city, we made a pit stop at Ximending (西門町), the ‘Harajuku’ of Taipei. I think I’ve outgrown the place. But at least I made it to the mysterious Red House Theatre (紅樓劇場) this time. It’s, um, an old theatre.

Returning to the hotel, but not before stopping for a bento from that stewed rice place, we were told that we got bumped up to a suite cos it was full house that night. Sometimes too big is just too big, but I’m not begrudging no blessings. It was time to get ready for New Year’s Eve at Taipei 101 — possibly the craziest crush I’ve ever been in. Good thing I didn’t get an attack of claustrophobia. The crowd we were stuck in didn’t move for a good half hour, till the fireworks burst forth from the tallest bamboo-like structure in the world.

Spectacular stuff. Only regret is that we couldn’t find the frickin’ stage for the New Year Eve’s concert (跨年晚會)! After getting through yet another crush at an MRT station, we were too tired to head to Shilin Night Market (士林夜市) as planned (though secretly, I think I could have managed it) — and it was probably closing for the night anyway. Funniest thing I heard in the crowd that night was some guy telling who I hope is a friend to stop touching him or he’ll get pissed (“再摸就摸翻臉了”).

Day 5 (1 Jan 08)

Finally got to have breakfast! Goodbye to Taipei, goodbye to MY, then a last bowl of ramen. Plus I discovered a fascinatingly detailed magazine called Spring. It’s actually a Japanese magazine that’s been translated into Chinese. I just find it really cool that people can like a periodical so much that they’ll do this every month! By the way, Eva has a really cool media system in its planes. Watched an episode of the Taiwanese talentime One Million Star (超級星光大道) that way. I really like the show. What a great first season!

So that’s my latest Taiwanese tale. I know I should visit places apart from Taipei — maybe Taichung? I want to have a gander at Maokong too. Not for the zoo or cable car, but for the nature trails and teahouses. Come on, the island is only an hour away from Hong Kong! But OK, gotta plough my way to Japan this year, I know. Decisions, decisions.

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