Taipei, An Unexpected Trip

I had already planned perfectly before I left, and even set up Plan A and Plan B based on my physical strength, but no amount of planning can catch up with change, and right after I stepped off the plane, I was blown away by the overcast sky in Taipei. It wasn’t one of those cloudy days where you can still see a little bit of cloud texture, but rather a layered gray that stretched from one end of the horizon to the other. The next day, on my way to Jiufen, I was in the car when the rain changed from a drizzle to a downpour, so heavy that even though I had put a rain cover on my camera backpack, it was still soaking wet, and when I lifted up my feet, I could feel the water sloshing around inside my shoes.

Although the recorded words seem a bit pretentious in hindsight, I probably did look forward to it for a long time, so it still affected my mood a bit. But thinking that there were only four days in Taipei, I could only adjust my mindset as soon as possible, and made some temporary adjustments to the travel itinerary. At the same time, on the other hand, it was a rare experience to be able to travel on a cloudy day. We are used to seeing blue skies and white clouds or magnificent evening sunsets in videos and photos, and to be able to visit a city under ordinary or even ‘unsatisfactory’ conditions may allow us to abandon the ‘filter’ of tourists and see the city from a different perspective. It may still be a walk in the park, but consider it a different experience.

Day 1: Arrival in Taiwan, Dihua Street, Ximending, Ningxia Night Market

The flight time from Hong Kong to Taipei is actually not that long, it only takes an hour and a half to land in Taipei. After passing through the customs check, you can take the air-train from Taoyuan Airport to Taipei downtown. Since we stayed near the Dome, we had to take an extra trip on the MRT. Generally speaking, transportation in Taiwan is still relatively convenient. However, it is important to note that you need to have enough cash to recharge your EasyCard.

After settling down from our accommodation, we had a simple dinner and headed to Dihua Street. Dihua Street was first built during the Xianfeng period of the Qing Dynasty, and since the late 19th century it has been an important distribution center for northern and southern goods, tea, traditional Chinese medicine, and cloth in Taipei. Probably because Taipei has entered the winter season, it gets dark very fast in Taipei, around 5 or 6 o’clock, the sky is already completely dark. It was originally because I saw the Little Red Book that Dihua Street is a famous old street in Taipei, but actually I think actually every street in Taipei looks quite old.

If there is any difference, compared with other streets, Dihua Street looks more refined, with more coffee and cultural and creative types of products. At night, Dihua Street looks more peaceful, the grayish-white facade is crawling with green branches and vines, warm light shoots out through the wooden window frames, only one or two lamps alone illuminate the empty rooms in stores that have already closed, and the smiling faces of conversationalists are reflected in the windows of the cafes that are still open for business. Not far away, in front of a wantonly fragrant lu pork and rice stall, diners ritualistically blow on a few mouthfuls of the steaming rice, take a deep breath, and stuff their mouths with another mouthful of rice.

On the way to Ximending, the sky was drizzling, probably because we didn’t stay long, I felt that Ximending was a bit like Guangzhou’s Peking Road Pedestrian Street, with a well-developed civic culture, drinks so fancy that you can’t recall their names, tourists hitting the streets, and one or two buildings with a bit of history.

We then went to the Ningxia Night Market. Night markets seem to be a well known selling point in Taipei, with their own night markets in different areas, such as the Shilin Night Market in the north as well as the Shida Night Market in the south. Therefore, this meat lover was looking forward to this part of the trip. Before we even saw the signboard of the night market, we could already feel the air getting hot, filled with the tantalizing aroma of proteins and oils released together at high temperatures, and the voices of people and clashing of kitchen utensils made the otherwise quiet neighborhood gradually become noisy. The night market is a roughly two-hundred-meter street, with a variety of snacks lined up on both sides, and the passageway in the middle left for people to walk through is actually quite crowded, with only two people able to pass through side-by-side. Oyster omelette, boneless chicken fillet, Cantonese congee, octopus dumplings, and different snacks in front of the eyes like a walking lantern as in the heavy atmosphere appeared and disappeared. We ended up trying the boneless chicken fillet skewers and the teppan onion cake rolls.

Day 2: Chifeng Street, Jiufen Old Street
We woke up late the next day, so we looked for an unnamed breakfast place to try inside a small neighborhood near our hotel. It was a handwritten breakfast store, run by a husband and wife, the husband was frying spaghetti while the wife was making noodles, and once they greeted us, they told us to find a place to sit down. The store was small, maybe 50 square feet, and besides us, only one family was having breakfast.

I have to say that our Taiwanese friends have a really cute way of using the word: “for internal use” or “for takeaway”. It’s just like the building security in Hong Kong who have to hang a sign at the reception to say “dine in” when they leave, so simple things can be said with a sense of ceremony.

We ordered a burrito roll, a plate of black pepper beef noodles and a cup of soy milk. A teppan yakisoba roll is actually an omelet rolled up with cheese, cut up and squeezed with tomato sauce. Personally, I didn’t find the blend of different ingredients to be very good in terms of texture, but the good thing was that the pastry was thin but tough, and the flavor of the pasta mixed with the cheese was good. The soy milk was mellow. As for the black pepper beef noodle – I was able to see the black pepper and the noodles, but not a few slices of beef. I was waiting for the owner to make breakfast, and suddenly I felt that if there was a machine that could control the time, people passing by every now and then to get their breakfast in front of me, and the roadside gently swaying the red eye-catching flowers under the drizzle …… I wish I could cut out this period of time individually and then keep it playing on a loop.

Chifeng Street doesn’t give me the feeling that it’s like a specialized “literati street” like Guangzhou’s Dongshankou. There aren’t a lot of hipsters on the road, and you enter Chifeng Street by turning into a slightly narrower road from the main road. In addition to coffee and cultural stores, there are also motorcycle repair stores, Lu pork restaurants, Japanese restaurants, and a park next to the street. Everything is a little less intentional, but a little more natural and comfortable and appropriate.

It is worth mentioning that there is a store on the street that specializes in selling small items shipped from Japan to Taiwan. There are small dolls made of ceramics, as well as chopsticks, cups and saucers, and the wooden shelves are stuffed to overflowing, with the light shining through the cracks and gently sprinkling on each item. Unfortunately, the shopkeeper wrote that photography was not allowed, so there was no way to document the store for you to see. We then saw a curtained-off hallway next to the store leading to the upper floors, and driven by curiosity, we went up to the second floor to find out what was going on.

The second floor is a cafe, and just like the first floor, the brown color of the wood is the dominant theme. The large windows and thin curtains increase the brightness and ventilation of the interior, and also make the whole space feel lighter, subtly offsetting part of the depression and dullness brought by the brown color. There are plenty of dolls placed in the corners and some cups and saucers and Marshall speakers on the sideboard. Perhaps out of the principle of making the best use of old things, part of the table was an old sewing machine converted. We found a corner spot near the balcony, where we felt safe and could feel the breeze coming from the balcony.

I had planned to go to Jiufen and Tenth Point today, but after reading the weather forecast, it might rain in the afternoon, so I canceled the trip to Tenth Point. And because I just missed the direct bus from Taipei to Jiufen, so I can only take the bus to Keelung first, and then Keelung ride to Jiufen Old Street. It is said that Jiufen Old Street was the inspiration for Hayao Miyazaki’s “The Thousand and One Hundred Hunt”. The undulating terrain and the style of the old Chinese buildings give a fairy tale feeling just by looking at it. There are no less than twenty compositions that I have envisioned in my mind, but when I arrived in Jiufen, they were washed away by the pouring rain and flowed into the Pacific Ocean with the washing water. As I write this, I’m starting to feel sorry for my new camera bag. I’m glad I didn’t buy the expensive one, otherwise I don’t know how much I would have suffered.

Of course, since I’m here, I still need to do enough formality. I ate taro balls and photographed the red lanterns. The taro balls are delicious, but they’re not that different from the ones I usually eat, and the red lanterns on the street are really a bit familiar and unfamiliar. Lanterns are one of the widely recognized symbols of Chinese culture, but now many places no longer have such a string of lanterns. Instead, when I saw them here, I felt a sense of strangeness as I listened to the Korean and Japanese spoken in my ears. The old streets of Jiufen are not easy to walk on, climbing stairs for a while and going downhill for a while, but as a result, the scenery ahead is obscured, and you have to look really close to really see the scenery in front of you, waiting at the end of every turn and every staircase.

Day 3: Second Air Dependents Village, Huashan Cultural and Creative Park
On the third day, we had already had too many snacks and decided it was better to have a more formal meal. After searching around, there was a small family village restaurant nearby, the rating is not low, the price is also quite suitable (compared with the mainland is still a bit expensive, but compared with the prices in Hong Kong has been a lot of friendly), ordered three dishes, curd milk fried chicken, steamed small fresh and a fried squash. It was about 800 NTD, which translates to about 30 bucks. I have to say, the food is much better than that at the night market. The fried chicken with fermented bean curd was many times better than what I had at the night market, crispy on the outside and tender on the inside, with the flavor of the fermented bean curd bringing out the tenderness of the chicken. The steamed chicken was actually fish that was pan-fried and then steamed, with some tofu and shredded carrots and mushrooms underneath, and the fish was already steamed to a soft consistency, which made it flavorful without being fishy. The ingredients at the bottom soak up the juices, scooping up spoonfuls of thick and dense.

A family village is a dormitory area built by the Kuomintang (KMT) military in Taiwan for members of the police and military and other organizations, as well as their families. The “empty” in the name of this restaurant refers to the air force. To put it in simple terms, the restaurant probably still carries the style of certain cuisines from the mainland region, and the local dishes and ingredients of Taiwan have fused to produce a kind of food culture. With the passage of time, the term “Juan county” has changed from a common geographical term to a cultural term covering food, identity, dialect and accent, attracting one batch of diners after another. When we opened the restaurant’s social media page, the latest post was a photo of director Ang Lee and the restaurant’s chef’s wife from a month ago.

When we entered the restaurant, we directly lowered the average age of the diners in the restaurant by at least ten years. Halfway through our meal, the Taiwanese diner sitting next to us (uncontrollably) asked us where we were from and what a ‘local’ place we were. We laughed and said, “We’ve been looking for a long time before we found this place. Our Taiwanese friends smiled with satisfaction.

After eating and drinking, we headed to Huashan 1914 Cultural and Creative Park. Formerly known as the Taipei Distillery, Huashan 1914 Cultural and Creative Park has been providing cultural activities such as art exhibitions and music performances by various organizations since 1999, and there are also many restaurants and cafes in the park. In contrast to the industrial undertones of the park, a large number of the stores in the park use wood as an element and inspiration for their decorations and merchandise, and although it feels a bit cheesy, it’s true that the word ‘Japanese’ describes the style of these stores very well. On the other side of the Cultural and Creative Park, a few bands were singing, some factory buildings had been converted into western restaurants and were chatting, and there were also some areas where exhibitions were being held, which were not really very readable, but there weren’t too many people, and it was a unique experience to walk through the different stores.

Day 4: National Palace Museum, Freedom Square
The last day of the tour was given to the National Palace Museum. Taipei’s National Palace Museum houses nearly 700,000 artifacts and works of art, mostly from the royal collections of the Forbidden City, Summer Palace and Summer Resort. For the more famous pieces, the Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains was resting, the Braised Pork was on loan for exhibition in the South Hall, and the Chinese Cabbage was thinner than I expected. But the good thing is that we also saw Chu Suiliang, Su Shi, Wen Zhengming’s authentic paintings, it is not worth the trip. Similar to the National Palace Museum of Culture in Hong Kong, the Taipei National Palace has a lot of virtual augmentation devices, such as the ability to look down on the entire painting like a bird by opening your arms in front of the painting, as well as the ability to show documentaries inside a small house.

After our tour at the National Palace Museum, we headed back to the hotel to get our luggage and headed to Liberty Square as the last leg of our trip. Freedom Square is located in the CKS district, and I don’t have any particular preference for this attraction, except that it’s too famous and nice seems a bit of a stretch. Standing at the entrance of the CKS Memorial Hall and looking out over the square, the National Opera House and the National Concert Hall loomed large against each other in the traditional Chinese palace style, making the blue and white colored Memorial Hall look a bit shabby. Although it was only after four o’clock, but because the sky has become dark, did not see any good picture, and hurriedly left to catch a plane.