Jun 262010

Taipei (Saturday, June 26, 2010)

It was very tempting to just rest, but it was our last day in Taipei and we had much left to see. Our host Chang was leaving for the U.S., so we made last minute arrangements, made sure we understood how to turn everything off, checked our keys, and readied ourselves to face Taipei alone.

At mid-morning, we sauntered the few long blocks to Daan Forest Park to do a little birding. Once past the flower beds gracing the park entrance, we found wide fields, clusters of trees, and a huge pond with an island in the center. Pigeons stalked the fields, blackbirds claimed the treetops, and squirrels explored the bushes. The waterfowl, protected behind a fence, moved calmly and gracefully. Turtles packed a log, lazily baking in the sun. We, on the other hand, sought the shade of trees and gulped chilled beverages.

For lunch, it seemed wrong to have dumplings again so soon, so we returned to the Vietnamese restaurant Thanh-ky. We were puzzled when the hostess seemed to be kicking us out, pointing out the window, until we realized they had a second dining room across the lane. Of course, we had the typical rolls: a cold roll with shrimp in a tender rice paper wrapper, and an excellent deep fried imperial roll. As for the rest of the menu, unfortunately, I can’t remember.

I had two important errands to run before leaving town, so after lunch I took the MRT to the shopping district adjacent to the Zhongshan station. The tall buildings, wall-to-wall shops, and crowded sidewalks were a stark contrast to “our” quiet neighborhood. After wandering around lost for 15 minutes, I managed to head off in the correct direction toward my first destination: Ten Shang’s Tea Company. I found this shop in the Lonely Planet guide, and within the first few minutes of my arrival they pulled out their copy of the guide to have me confirm that.

This was my second tea tasting, so I was accustomed to the washing of leaves, small tastes, 6-8 steepings. During the tasting, Ms. Pi-Yuan Hsieh chatted me up about the finer points of high mountain oolong vs. Oriental Beauty tea. She also loaded a spare water bottle with a about half a cup leaves and filled it with cold water for a slow-steeped cold tea. (This turned to be a bit hard to drink without a filter!) Prices for these teas were not low: 150g bags — claimed to have been hand-rolled and organically grown — were NT$600-800. I’m sure they had bargain teas available for the asking but I was too overheated to negotiate.

Because my SIM card expired Sunday, it was time to get a new one. I was going to try a different carrier, FarEasTone, which had attractive data rates on its “3G Teens” card. I backtracked a few blocks past the MRT station until I found the shop. The transaction went smoothly, but the card was not active for an hour, so I would have to test it later. Upon returning to the station, it started to sprinkle, and when I emerged from the station near the apartment, it was pouring. I tried to cover up with a fleece, which barely fit around my body and backpack. You know it’s bad when I pick up a discarded plastic bag off the street to wear as a hat. Anyway, I survived, and I was able to extract most of the moisture from my backpack with strategically placed wads of tissues.

For dinner, we dressed for wet weather and headed out to the Xilin night market. Arriving by MRT, we had a panoramic view of the building housing the food stalls; apparently there are many other stalls nearby, but we did not take the time to explore them. We plunged into the market, ignoring hawkers attempting to see us everything from fried chicken and oyster omelets to jelly drinks and confections. After wandering around and looking at the offerings, and sweating like crazy in my waterproof wind shirt, we settled in at a place that specializes in stuff cooked on a griddle. The food was nothing special, but the fans overhead did a reasonable job cooling us off. After the main meal, we were able to track down some of the market specialties, but not the mysterious sounding bun-within-a-bun. We lingered in the doorway listening to live pop music and eating our desserts, before heading back to the apartment for an evening of planning and packing.

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