Chinese New Year!
My second full day in Taipei was my best yet, a declaration I can make confidently especially having a not-so-stellar third day…more on that later.
Despite being away from friends and family on a day that’s all about family reunions, I couldn’t believe my luck in how happy I ended up feeling all day. I thoroughly enjoyed myself—as you’ll see with all the selfies I took 😛
The morning started off quietly. Peacefully. Ximending, I’ve realized, is almost a ghost town in the mornings, especially on Chinese New Year, compared to the liveliness that envelops the area at night. The few places that are open are packed with tourists, including the chains McDonald’s and Starbucks, while the otherwise popular street food stands are quite lonely.
As I made such a discovery, I decided to take the metro and go straight to Taipei 101 for breakfast instead of staying in Ximending.
But as luck would have it, the particular train I took announced it would end service a few stops before Taipei 101, so I would have to get off and take the next one. But instead of taking the next train, I decided to get off at Daan, having learned from Googling travel guides that it’s a pretty hoppin’ area, too.
Immediately, I saw beautiful architecture at the station, snapping a pic before heading out into the park, taking a brief stroll while Snapchatting with its fun Chinese New Year filters (follow me at ssu to avoid missing out on more fun adventures I snap).
Whether good or bad, nearly all my explorations are because of Foursquare. After checking in, I saw that Din Tai Fung was nearby, so of course I walked down the block only to see a few people at the closed entrance talking to two employees who apparently stood there all day to address curious would-be patrons. Closed for the holidays, they would re-open for business without reservations on Wednesday at 9.
So I still needed to eat. That morning at the hostel, instead of sitting down to drink my tea, I stood in the much more crowded kitchen (woke up later) and quickly drank it before heading out. I saw a bakery next to Din Tai Fung, so I inevitably got myself an egg tart and sesame dough ball. Mmmmm.
It’s as if these series of events were kismet. I then spotted a YouBike station, similar to Hubway bikes in Boston. You can use your Easy Card to rent one, except that you need to register at one of the station machines and you need to have a Taiwan phone number. So if you do get an unlimited 4G data card, there is an option to get one that also includes calls to be able to rent bikes easier, but otherwise it’s still quite simple to rent one, as long as you have a Visa credit card.
With Foursquare and Google maps on hand, I biked my way through the extremely bike-friendly streets of Taipei to Huashan Culture and Art Park. I had so much fun that it makes me smile just thinking about it. That’s when you know I enjoyed it.
As for this culture park, it…was meh. Families and kids were everywhere, making me think this was more like Disneyland than it was like Redtory in Guangzhou. After a very quick stroll, I returned to my bike (had a bit of a struggle figuring out how and where to park it, lol, until I realized I could’ve parked it anywhere because locking it doesn’t require attaching it to anything, as long as the wheel is locked #notabiker).
Time to finally head to Taipei 101.
And boy, was this fun! I attributed the mostly empty streets to it being a holiday about being home with family, so I freely sped through Taipei, enjoying the sun and warm breeze. It felt amazing.
Having biked a couple miles, I returned my bike at the station just below Taipei 101, a building only surpassed in height by the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. After slipping in several more selfies, I made my way inside to the mall at the bottom of the tower, seeking some a good lunch amid the noticeably more crowded area.
The sudden onslaught of tourists, especially after such a peaceful bike ride through the city, surprisingly didn’t faze me too much. I think my euphoria from the pleasant morning still hung over me. That and endorphins? Hah. #exercise
Craving curry rice, I quickly decided to order my favorite ever since I discovered it in Shanghai—pork over curry rice. Mmmm. It was around $8, which is really expensive for Taiwan, but given that this was in the middle of a tourist attraction, I was satisfied, nonetheless.
After checking out the five floors of expensive brand after expensive brand—plus a cute lion dance—I waited in long lines to head to the top of Taipei 101. The entire time waiting, though, I occupied myself with editing all the photos I had taken. Even though I consider myself a VSCO pro, editing hundreds of photos takes a looooong time, so I was entirely too glad to take this opportunity to make some progress. By the time I got up, I only added to the many, many photos I already had. With the sun brightly shining over the city, it indeed felt too perfect.
Oh! And as soon as I discovered that there were bathrooms on the 99th floor, you bet I went inside to check it out. Very unfortunately, unlike the Four Seasons in Guangzhou and other cool hotels, bars, and landmarks elsewhere, the bathrooms on the 99th floor of Taipei 101 were entirely too disappointing. No windows, no glass floors, nothing. I could’ve been using a metro bathroom by the looks of it. #SAD
After waiting in yet another line just to descend Taipei 101, I saw (without using Foursquare to find it, GASP) the shopping mall across the street. Again, so many tourists, but it was nice to at least look around. I also needed to quench my thirst, so I went to the second most popular milk tea shop as determined by length of line—oh, yes, forgot to mention I’m temporarily drinking milk tea again, because Taiwan is the birthplace of this shit, so I can’t not. GeorgPeck (no E, apparently) actually has amazing milk tea. I ordered a taro bubble milk tea, and I was so impressed by the taro shavings, noticeable fresh tea taste, and perfect amount of pearls and ice. Mmm, I want one now.
Using Foursquare again, I found that Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall was within walking distance, so I started heading that direction until I found Eslite Bookstore was on the way, too. I ended up spending hours inside, taking my time to check out the five-story building full of not only books, as it turns out, but tons of specialty shops and food! No wonder there were free beer samples outside the bookstore—there’s a beer shop in the basement level along with many other food shops. I Snapchatted laughing at such a concept.
By the time I got out—with a new Mango tank and pair of Audio-Technica earbuds from the Eslite music store (had to return to this brand considering my new pair is faulty), it was already dark, and Sun Yat-sen was closed.
Perfect! Night market time 🙂
Shilin being the most famous, I couldn’t hold it off any longer. I took the MRT to Jiantan station to find out what the hype was all about.
…and I must report that it indeed is overhyped. As I walked inch by inch amid the pack of sardines in the narrow streets, not even being able to sample anything at first before having some air, I couldn’t help but think how it’s obvious this definitely used to be as amazing as advertised—but unfortunately once it got out, the hoards of tourists have ruined it.
But the things I did try were amazing, and I thought how true it is this rule of thumb regarding street food: Stick to eating from those with kids and their parents in line. The first thing I tried was a red bean and mochi pancake, which is anyway safe enough, but a responsible-looking dad with his kids was in front of me, a fact I didn’t actually think about until afterward. I just like knowing that they were also in line, because it supports the idea that parents tend to choose wisely. The two other things I tried were chongyoubing (green scallion pancake), which I drizzled with sweet and sour sauce and added an egg for 10 TWD (30 cents), and an amazing seaweed-wrapped fried rice ball topped with tuna salad. OMG, what an amazing combination.
At risk of overeating, I stopped it at that and ended up shopping for the rest of the night.
I got some much-needed necklaces for my on-camera appearances, each for only a couple bucks.
With very sore feet, I tried to take the bus back to see the city at night, but after waiting for several minutes, I settled on taking the MRT, which does go above ground but only for a short while.
At 2 a.m., some dude decided to Skype his girlfriend outside in the hallway and ON SPEAKER, so through the thin walls, I could hear their pathetic drunk conversation while silently cursing it all. I needed to sleep.
Perhaps hostel life isn’t for me, if I go this hard during the day and collapse by night and need actual rest.
Because by the next day, the lack of sleep has definitely caught up, and I felt the opposite of happy.