Maokong gondola sunset

Cool in Maokong, Day 4

Note: I use “today” to describe “this day,” as I’m writing this a day after.

I’ve officially become a tea drinker.

I’m pretty sure I drank more tea than I ate today. Maybe I should do this more often 😛

The only real meal I had today was breakfast at Fong Da Coffee, conveniently down the street from Meander Hostel and definitely one of the most popular breakfast spots in the city. Having spotted it on Foursquare these days, I finally decided to check it out, skipping out on the hostel’s free tea altogether.

Having walked past it several times, I realize now that I went at a great time, with only one person in line and a kind old man who left from his seat at the counter after seeing me waiting.

Seeing that I was waiting for the preoccupied waitress to direct me to sit there, another old man with a long, gray beard gestured for me to take the seat next to him anyway.

I ordered what’s simply called 早逐 (breakfast), which comes with two slices of toast (strawberry jam and New Zealand butter on the side), a large fried egg topped with a triangular slice of ham, and a choice of coffee or tea. This place with “coffee” in its name and pounds and pounds of various coffee beans as the window display, I had to choose coffee. (And I’m glad I did, considering all the tea I would be drinking later…)

By the time I dug into my egg, the old man had already finished his breakfast and was quietly sipping his coffee while watching the all-female staff work behind the counter. Every once in a while, he would use his moist toilette to wipe the crumbs off his long beard, making me smile. I guess we both were oddly and silently conscious of each other, sitting right next to each other on this small counter. When he saw that I didn’t add any salt for my egg, he gestured to the salt shaker and told me to add it. LOL, THANKS. Salt indeed works wonders. #amateur

As I finished my last sip of coffee and prepared to head out, the old man spoke to me one more time—or rather, he gestured to the receipt I left on the table. I think at that point, he knew I didn’t speak Mandarin, so when I paused at his gesture, he went head and said, “Oh, don’t need it?”

I said I didn’t, and thanked him once more. As soon as I walked out of there, I regretted not trying to have a conversation with such an adorably kind man. He must have been Taiwanese, but I so wish I knew for sure and more about his routine. How often did he come? Has the food stayed consistent all these years? AHHH, the journalist in me cried at the lost opportunity.

Too bad, I thought, as I refocused on what must have been otherwise occupying my mind during breakfast: a day in Maokong.

Like many attractions in Taipei, Maokong is easily accessible by MRT. Maokong happens to be at the zoo station, so yes—families everywhere. By the time I got off, it was a mad dash out of the station and toward what ended up being an hour-long line just to get inside the building to take the gondola up. Even with an EasyPass, I guess post-breakfast on a holiday is peak mountain time (hah…).

Luckily the weather was once again absolutely beautiful—actually too hot, as we stood waiting outside under the harsh sun. Anyway, turns out that there’s probably one “crystal” gondola for every 15 “ordinary” ones, with the former meaning the floor is made of glass, making it potentially scarier yet apparently assumed to be less popular. As soon as the line split into these two, I of course chose the crystal one. Unfortunately, as I saw the other line speed past me, I realized that taking the crystal gondola would require waiting at least an extra 10-15 minutes.

WORTH IT.

A fact I gleaned from browsing a cafĂ© menu, Maokong is known for two types of tea: tieguanyin (“iron goddess” or TGY, the nickname Coldstone employees give it, apparently) and baozhong/paochong (light oolong). And as a result, chilling in teahouses is a must when at Maokong.

Naturally, I went to one of the highest rated spots on the mountain, which isn’t necessarily a teahouse in a traditional sense, but many go to enjoy the view while sipping tea and cooling off with its iconic ice cream topped with a cat-shaped biscuit. Out of the two types, I chose baozhong (the tieguanyin ice cream to try is Coldstone’s) and decided to add a Maokong cold brew. The thing is, the tea came in those containers that Boston’s Limoo Tea Bar—and I guess any poppin’ bar—uses, which means it might as well have been a full pot that I almost finished.

After resting for a while and drinking as much of the tea as possible, I set off to hike the trail wearing a dress and flats. At least I’m not like my mom in wearing heels? Anyway, I was comfortable.

I don’t know what it is about me and walking beyond reason, but I finding myself walking from extremely crowded areas to pedestrian-deserted roads without sidewalks or even a shoulder to walk on, balancing delicately between the sloping grass on one side and cars, buses, and motorcycles on the other.

At some point, I literally had to tell myself to stop and turn around, still desperately switching between Google and Apple maps to estimate where the Zhinan temple was and whether it was walkable without gondola from my location. I couldn’t find anything on Google about it, either, and so I’m sad to say I can’t contribute to this question. The inconsistent signage on the mountain didn’t help. It likely is walkable, with the right shoes and patience, but I would venture to say it may take about two hours to walk from the Maokong peak station to the next one below it, since it took me about an hour to walk what I think was halfway.

I retraced my steps, confused about the location of the tea promotion center, until I saw the imposing building I remember walking past but didn’t think much of, with no one seeming to enter or exit until now.

After an expected bathroom stop (every time I go to the bathroom outside of China, I am reminded of how China sucks), I sat down at a table where an old man and woman were offering tea samples. The rest of this spacious building remained quite empty.

Soon, another woman sat to my left and a family on my right. After sampling tea after tea after tea and not being able to hold out any longer for someone else to make the first purchase, I decided to just buy two bags for around $75 total as souvenirs for my relatives. Quite expensive, these two put quite the dent in my meager trip allowance, but they deserve some quality tea straight from the Taiwan mountains 😛

Anyway, at this point, it was about 3:30, and as long as the line was to take the gondola up, it looked just as bad to take it down. To my surprise, I had already been on the mountain for almost four hours, and despite being ready to leave, I decided then to wait until the sunset, which Googling told me would be at 5:44 p.m.

The thing I should’ve realized is that the line only gets longer, and it did. Not being able to find another satisfactory cafĂ© in which to pass the time, I aimlessly walked around some more, finally settling on a bench atop a hill where others seemed to think was also suitable to wait out the line.

By 4:30, I figured I would line up and hoped that the line would take just long enough to catch the sunset.

And it did! I captured some shots of a late-afternoon sun, but it turns out that the sun takes longer than expected to actually set and turn the sky dark. Still, I would consider it a well-timed success.

Day four at Beitou’s hot springs coming soon 🙂

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