Saturday, June 01, 2019

Taipei, Taiwan: Land of Chicken Feet, Bubble Tea, and Stinky Tofu

Today we went on an awesome walking tour of Taipei, capital of Taiwan. It was a little different than most because we had two guides. They were both funny and knowledgeable. Sometimes I wonder if I would enjoy being a tour guide. You get to walk a lot, tell the same jokes to new people repeatedly, and impress everyone with your knowledge of a city's trivia. What's not to like?

The tour began at a metro station. There were piles of duffle bags everywhere with characters written on them. Our guide asked us to guess what they were but none of us could figure it out: they were bags full of homeless people's belongings kept safe by the honor system. I thought that was pretty cool.

Taiwan felt like a cross between China and the US. For one thing, their style of dress seemed much more western than I've seen in other parts of Asia. They also spoke about politics with a bluntness that I don't think you'd find even in Hong Kong. The two girls on the right there were from St. Louis, and while we were talking to them an older guy chimed in that he used to live there too. Get away from me weirdos.

We went to Lungshan Temple. Our guides explained that here temples are kind of like god convenience stores in that there's a god available to address whatever problem you might have. I think a lot of people here were praying for grandchildren.

Moon blocks or jiaobei are used to ask a yes or no question, then thrown on the ground. Depending on if they face up or down you can see the gods' answer.

The little gold men holding up this censer were Dutch. Taiwan used to be a Dutch colony, called Formosa, and so for being jerks back then the little men were doing community service forever at the local temple. There were other little Dutch men at work in the temple as well. It's nice of them to help out.

We stopped for some Yongfu ice cream. They had all your favorites flavors like chicken egg, lychee, and pickled plum.

"The Red House was constructed in 1908 by Japanese architect Kondo Juro, which was the first government-built public market in Taiwan and also the most well-preserved Class III historic building in the nation. The Red House consists of "Bagua" shaped octagonal display hall as the grand entrance for it's meaning- people visiting from all around the words, a characteristic Cruciform Building as main construction and adjacent South and North squares."

Inside was a lot of fun local craft stuff that we had a good time digging through. I don't think that we bought anything though. Taiwan is a little bit expensive, or we were just in an expensive cool kid part of it.

In line with its imperial Japanese history, hip and walkable shopping district Ximending is sometimes referred to as the "Harajuku of Taipei" and the "Shibuya of Taipei".

We stopped near a political.. rally of some sort. Locals kept stopping near our group and saying political things in English. This is definitely not typical Asia.

The Presidential Office Building was hiding some of its splendor under some scaffolding during our visit.

The last tour location on our list was Taiwan Democracy Memorial Park.

I think that the National Concert Hall and the National Theatre may be identical, but only one of them is home to a restaurant that is the birthplace of the bubble tea.

The line was long enough that I was having second thoughts, but it was currently raining outside so it felt like a decent investment.

They had some really good stuff.

That I really enjoyed eating.

But I also ordered chicken feet. I saw them on a menu or two so far listed as "phoenix talons", which does sound a lot cooler... though I don't know if that adds any additional appetizing quality for me personally.

It was really not my cup of bubble tea. For one thing, this is like a tiny hand. And so it's full of tiny little knuckle bones that need to be spit out. I don't really see the appeal. According to a fun article by Atlas Obscura, in China the chicken's feet are so popular that they cost more than the actual chicken meat! My preconceptions that did defeat! I'm done eating bird hands, back to the street!

Around this time in 1989 the Tiananmen Square protests were taking place. There were several exhibits commemorating the event.

To dodge the rain we quickly climbed the numerous steps of the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall.

I will admit to still not having a strong understanding of the life of Chiang Kai-shek, but China was having a civil war with Chiang at the head of one side. His side lost to the communists, so he fled to Taiwan and set up a separate government, which is why there's a dispute over Taiwan sovereignty that persists to this day.

We waited around a bit until the changing of the guard went down. I love a good guard change. It brought to mind some fun guard changing that we saw in Athens. Nobody likes an unchanged guard.

I was excited that they had a penny squishing machine.

I got some change to operate the machine. I thought this coin was cool because it had a little hologram thing going on.

There were some more Tiananmen Square exhibits in the basement.

This was a reproduction of Chiang's office.

Our last act as Taiwan tourists was to join a food tour. I friggin' love food tours.

We did some strolling around Hulin Traditional Market.

One of our first stops was with this lady making thousand-layer scallion cake. 

Each layer was more delicious and scalliony than the last.

Gua bao made an appearance: they are little steamed buns packed with pork belly, sweet sauce, herbs, and peanut powder. I vote yes on most things that involve bao and this was no exception.

A delightfully gross thing to eat in Taipei is stinky tofu.

It's fermented. It smells. It's sort of like blue cheese mixed with old hard boiled eggs. I did not finish mine.

The political rally that we had seen from a distance earlier in the day was on tv.

I learned that in Taipei whenever you see the starburst neon sign above you know that this is a betel nut establishment. 

According to CNN betel nut is the "fourth most commonly used psychoactive substance after tobacco, alcohol and caffeinated drinks".

So you put a nut in a leaf with some lime and chew it. It gives you a buzz and also produces a lot of blood red spit which people of course hack up everywhere. I've been curious what this was about since seeing a ton of it being enjoyed in Myanmar and in especially in the Solomon Islands. Man the cab drivers there loved this stuff. It turns out I do not like betel at all. It tasted real bad.

I think I'll just stick to the one psychoactive substance in my life for now.

We stopped at a place that made only pineapple cakes. They were alright. Kind of like overblown Fig Newtons if you ask me.

Our last stop was a visit to Kao Chi to feast on tea and soup dumplings.

There was so much soupy deliciousness inside of these that it was kind of hard to eat.

Cab to the airport time. Taipei was great.

Maybe we look dirty/gross from hard adventuring but airline employees will often see us walk up to the first or business class counter and get real snooty. "Economy class is over there." Then we get to whip out our fancy plane tickets and they get to be embarrassed, sit down in their little chair, and then devote themselves to the no-doubt rewarding work of printing out luggage tags.

China Airlines is the national carrier of Taiwan and having enough Delta points to book a business class flight from Asia was a central reason that we had come to Taiwan in the first place. Let the fanciness, begin!!

The lounge was pretty sweet. I liked the decor and the food was fun.

I rarely have a need to take a shower at lounges but we'd had a long day.

I think these were roasted sweet potatoes?

The terminal areas were full of really cool art exhibits. Gives you something to enjoy while you are sitting around for hours waiting for a plane.

Luckily the ending of Game of Thrones was so bad that it helps me to resist buying its licensed merchandise.

The hot towels were extra hot. So luxurious.

I started off with a lil bit of:

"Pol Roger Brut Vintage Rose, Champagne, France

The Pol Roger Rose Vintage is based on Brut Vintage with 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay, before the bottling and second fermentation, approximately 15% of Pinot Noir from the best crus of the Montagne de Reims been added to the final blend. Produced only in limited quantities, the Brut Rose Vintage 2006 is aged 7 years in cellars before being released onto the market.

A deep salmon pink color with a fine stream of small bubbles. The nose has aromas of ripe fruits with elements of citrus fruits, pomegranate and small wild red berries. On the palate, a deep mineral character with creamy ripeness and a hint of vanilla. The wine is tender and smooth with a balance of delicate freshness and refined elegance.

Good for drinking alone, as aperitif, and also the ideal choice to accompany fish such as grilled salmon, seafood, and poultry, it also marries perfectly with fruit tarts and other fruit desserts."

Can't argue with that!

I like to collect the menus from my fancy flights. Usually that's not a big deal but on this flight they kept trying to collect them. I was forced to perform some... sleight of hand but the menus were secured, I can assure you.

I felt a little bad because the food seemed well prepared I just didn't really care for a lot of it, which is unusual for me. I believe the situation on the bottom right is "scallop and baby abalone with smoked turkey apple roll."

Peeing while looking down on one's enemies is a very business class experience.

There was a lot going on here. 

"Prawn and minced pork in mushroom sauce over noodles

Assorted delicatessen
Stir fried burdock tempura
Minced pork with preserved vegetables
Tossed shredded ham and vegetables
Pork floss
Salty egg

Steamed bun
Seasonal fresh fruits"

Now that's a salty egg right there.

There were no amenity kits which was an outrage. I should have stolen this blanket in retaliation but I was merciful.

I guess it was Emmy decision season in LA because there were a lot of "please give us an Emmy" ads all over the airport.

We had a couple more flights in lesser Delta first class until we landed in St. Louis. It's kind of like a tapering of luxury down until we returned to normal life. It can be jarring not being able to suck on rose champagne and salty eggs whenever you wish.

Minneapolis had a fun golfy lounge where you can practice your putting.

The flooded Mississippi was looking pretty angry that we had been away so long. Please, please forgive us.

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