Typhooned In

Hailing from California (I know, I’m so puny), I’ve never been “snowed in” or exempt from work or school. Our weather is also too sunny for rainstorms, too calm for tornadoes, and too dry for hurricanes. No one “forecasts” an earthquake or brushfire—so needless to say, experiencing my first typhoon in Taipei is actually pretty exciting. It’s a Friday and I didn’t have to get up for work this morning—no rush-hour metro stampedes, no crazy bus drivers, no sweaty armpits crashing into me.On the down side, today is my first full day spent indoors and was supposedly my last day at work, so here’s my tribute post to every day spent outside, every curfew broken these past few weeks.

me: going paintballing on sunday
me: are you interested?
Joe: haha
Joe: actually im gettin a table on saturday at a bar
Joe: so i probably wont wake up
Joe: u wanna come to that
me: when/where
Joe: saturday night at barcode
me: haha ok i’ll give you a call if i am
me: possibly going surfing tomorrow
Joe: lol ur more of a day life huh

So it goes. For the 30+ days I’ve been in Taipei, clubbing capital of…the world, I haven’t had a single drop of alcohol in my bloodstream. It’s really unfortunate that I still haven’t seen the inside of Luxy, Room 18, or even Brown Sugar—but I guess I’ll save those for another Taipei experience some other time. (I didn’t even pack any dressy tops, heels, or makeup, nor have I gone clothing-shopping in…shopping central.)

This trip, I’ve been paintballing and BBQing in the mountains, setting off fireworks by the ocean, watching the sunset from a boat and being soaked in salt water, shopping and eating in historic sites, sharing stories with colleagues around family-style hotpots and grills, trying questionable foods from street vendors in night markets, museum hopping and collecting stamps like a kid, running after the last bus for the night (true story).

No regrets.

————

What’s taller than Taipei 101…in Taipei? Yang Min Shan. Okay, that was a lame joke—but yes, I did go up Yang Min Shan a couple of times; once to eat lunch at an outdoor treehouse cafe next to a creek and drive from one tourist stop to another, another time to sit on a curbside to view Taipei in all of its luminous splendor at night.

Taipei is much like LA; it’s an overcrowded valley surrounded by beautiful mountains and beaches with lesser known gems in the outskirts. San-Shia‘s Old Town (also spelled Sanxia) is one of them. There were very local hole-in-the-wall joints and mom & pops boutiques faced with a 300-year-old historic facade. My devout Christian grandmother forbids me to enter any temples, but I did anyway, because I respect and admire all forms of architecture, including Zushi Temple. My a-ma would’ve given me the “I told you so” look if she were there that day when a bee flew up my dress and stung me three times shortly afterwards in front of the Li Mei Shu Memorial Gallery. Imagine me rubbing in ointment in the bathroom while everyone else was listening to the art tour. I went to another art gallery and history museum in that town before heading back to the city for a change of scenery.

Miles away from historic brick and motor, I met up with a few colleagues and friend at MOT—the epitome of modern. We watched MVRDV‘s digital architectural gallery on “The Future City”, viewed a modern art and photo gallery featuring local artists, and window-shopped through showrooms full of designer furniture by names like Ito and Starck. Deflated and depressed thinking I would never become Vitra’s next star architect-turned-product designer, I followed the group across the street to Breeze for some very unTaiwanese food: Vietnamese noodles and Dean & Deluca coffee.

The next day, I ventured even farther. This time, I squished my way around Jiu Fen, a cute little town tucked away in the mountain tops. For those who have watched Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, Jiu Fen was the inspiration behind the lanterned streets. Lunch, I ate in a cafe straddling a cliff and sat in one of those Japanese-style dining tables where you have to take off your shoes and climb in (over the bench).

Afterwards, we drove down the mountains and towards the shore. It rained the entire time we were in the car—and stopped when we got out. I found many hermit crabs, fish, and “sea roaches” in the rocks, and the sand consisted of more seashells than sand.

Weekdays are less eventful than weekends, because I work from 9-6+ M-F, but my colleagues will take me to the ShiLin or ShiDa nightmarkets for famous foods like “stinky tofu” and “ten herb beef brew”. Sometimes, we’ll try other places for healthier options, my favorite being steamed dumplings near the Zhong Shan station. This is just an infinitesimally small selection of what I’ve eaten, because most of the time, I’m too busy eating to whip out my camera. When lucky, I can convince almost the entire office to eat together at say, all-you-can-eat hotpot in the yuppie “East Side”, and we’ll share stories until 11pm at night.

Because Taiwanese people need to take siestas, we have 90-minute lunch breaks—more than enough time for colleagues to drive me to Jing Mei street market or even Shen Keng “Old Street” for some very Taiwanese food. The rule goes: the worse it looks, the better it tastes. My colleagues have force fed me everything from duck blood cubes to pig skin slices.

Taipei is rich in culture yet diverse in population, much like Berkeley. One day, I’ll walk through a historic neighborhood trying animal parts once deemed inedible, and then the next night, I’ll be in Tian Mu skimming the flea market then sipping tea in an Italian restaurant full of foreigners on their iPhones.

Last weekend made this weekend’s typhoon a huge slap in the face. Saturday, the sky was a beautiful deep blue, so I went to Bali to try the famous ageh, a dish with dong feng noodles wrapped in a tofu skin, among other local delicacies. I also visited the ShiShanHang Museum of Archeology, which is designed to look like a whale’s back. Afterwards, I cooled off at a lesser-known beach with unpolluted shores. It was…perfect.

DanShui’s fisherman’s wharf was up next (also spelled TamSui), and the later half of the day consisted of a boat ride into the sunset, a nice dinner with a live performer serenading in the background, and a lot of picture-taking and people-watching from Lover’s Bridge.

Sunday, colleagues and friends went paintballing starting at 9am. We were literally in the mountains, hiding behind real stones and bushes (if you had any doubt). For lunch, we BBQ’d on small outdoor pits, and for dinner, a few of us who were still alive after 3-5 rounds (I played all 5!) went back to DanShui for real seafood—the kind where you select your live sea creatures on display in tubs of water outside before they kill ’em and serve ’em to you on plates inside. To wrap up the weekend, we went to another beach late at night to set off fireworks, despite the numerous signs threatening fines. If a lifeguard were still on duty at that hour and I were to be caught, my excuse would’ve been, “Kan bu dong (can’t comprehend), sorry.” I won a few rounds of wrestling games near the water (despite the dark bruises all over my body) and went home with shoes full of sand that night.

The work week consisted of more eating, more unintentional tanning, and then suddenly—a lot of raining. One night, I was soaked to the underwear in ShiLin, another night, I nearly slipped down a metro stop’s escalators, and another, I splashed through puddles and ran after the last bus at lightning speed. Since there was no work today due to the typhoon, yesterday was our last night of fun and games (although I think I’ll be back on Monday to finish some work and clean up my desk). I managed to convince more than half of the office to eat dinner together one last time with me (my apologies to all the girls on diets), so we chose an all-you-can-eat indoor BBQ grill place near the DaPingLin station. The marshmellows at the end weren’t quite up to par with bonfire s’mores, but I had fun. Taipei, I had fun. Don’t miss me too much when I’m gone—cuz I know I’ll be missing you dearly in some other place where the food isn’t nearly as good.