Just came back last weekend from a 4 day trip to Taipei, Taiwan with Marianne, my missus. Interesting trip amid extremely HOT weather (there were some bad thunderstorms though). It was mainly a shopping trip not so much a sightseeing or a cultural one. I only wished it were longer, and there are certain things that I would have planned differently.

Left Singapore early Saturday morning but to a bad start. A migraine (of all days) decided to materialize itself and bother me throughout. Strangely, we weren’t offered any immigration arrival cards to fill up while we were on the airplane. It was only at the immigration counter that we noticed some people filling up forms and then we found some at the far end counter.  And it’s one of the easiest forms to fill up. Just one page. No asking of whether we have plants or have been to certain funny places the past few days. Now that’s convenience, and I really appreciate that.

The irony of coincidence in this trip is just too obvious to go unnoticed. We sat Transasia Airways which in Mandarin is: ???? , pronounced as Fuxing Hangkong. We then had to take a bus to our hotel which we had to stop near this MRT (subway/city train) station called Zhongxiao Fuxing: ???? … We’re practically “fuxing” all the way. :-).

Unfortunately, one of the many gripes I have with Taipei was the orientation of their travel maps.  Every map has it’s own custom angle of perspective. What that means is that on one map, the top of the map is north, on another the top is east, another, it is south…. which is one of the reasons why we got lost before we found our hotel.  Another reason was that the same zhongxiao fuxing street has TWO department stores of the SAME NAME (Sogo) DIAGONALLY OPPOSITE each other. We mistook the wrong one for a landmark to base our directions on and lo and behold instead of walking towards our destination, we were walking away from it. It was only a while later, that I noticed that things don’t really add up and realized that there are 2 SOGOs and my thumb was covering the other SOGO in the map where it indicates the direction we were supposed to go. 

By the time we reached the hotel, the migraine was having a field day. Somehow the earlier taken panadol doesn’t seem effective enough.

By near evening, migraine or not, I was not going to let that spoil my holiday. Fortunately, after some rest, I was feeling much better. Marianne and I then went to Taipei 101. It was an interesting experience, commuting and walking on Taipei streets. Their MRT “ticket” was a coin where you tap when you enter the station, and insert the coin into a slot when you exit.  The overall train system is modeled very closely to the Japanese one, from the system of queuing on one side where people get out another and high frequency and really reserving seats for people having special needs (they won’t seat on special seats even when it is crowded).  I wish the Singaporeans would take a leaf out of this. Walking on Taipei’s roads can be a breeze or a bane. On one hand, you REALLY have a lot of space to walk, and no one walks like they are intoxicated even though they are clearly not, unlike in Singapore. However, you REALLY need to watch what’s coming from above on some streets. Often than not, there will be water or some other pungent liquid waste being thrown out of apartments. While we were at the bus to our hotel, we saw a man watering the plants on his balcony using a hose without sheer regard to the scooters parked below his floor in the path of the water from the hose. Needless to say, I watched in horror as one scooter got really,really drenched. I am not sure whether to say that scooters shouldn’t have been parked there or the man watering his plants ought to use a watering can instead.

Yeah, scooters, there’s aplenty of them in Taipei. Plenty.

If the amount of scooters surprises you, wait till you see the number of pet dogs they have. There were poodles, poodles everywhere, it is almost like having an iPhone. Though I noticed that they had this queer custom of shaving all of the pooches’ tail, but just leaving a stump at the end. Marianne and me found that a little disturbing and disgusting. There are Retrievers too, we saw one trying to take a piece of bacon placed at its snout as a show by it’s owners. Dogs, dogs everywhere. I only noticed 2 sightings of cats all this while.

Taipei 101 was nice. We were unfortunate that the outdoor observatory deck was closed due to strong winds, but still, the scenery was breathtaking from the top. Marianne and I had some fun at the coral museum as well as the wind damper area.

Shopping at 101, well not really, too touristy. Pleased to see there are more products Made in Taiwan than Made in China though.

The night markets were interesting. We went to 3 big night markets, Linjiang, Shida and Shilin while we were there. We got lost again though, when trying to locate Linjiang Street night market. And something we discovered too, that when a Taiwanese say it’s very near, it usually means a 10-15 min walk.  Near means around 30 mins train ride. For city bumpkins like us coming from a small country, a 10-15 mins walk is sort of far…. That aside, it is the FOOD that was the main draw in the markets, not really the games, shoes or the clothes. Walking around, sweating and sticky, I don’t think Marianne and myself had the mood to try on the clothes, get bumped around when trying on shoes in narrow spaces. etc… We discovered that shopping in night markets may just be restricted to getting accessories, etc.. not really big items. But the food is awesome, really cheap and good. Our dinner for the past 4 days we were there consists of just going around trying out the street food that they have. From the fried “night market” chicken chop and over juicy sausages to a bit more exotic stuff like fried milk balls and winter melon with milk and the divine pan-fried horfun.

The food in Taipei can be best described as this: Cheap. Good. Delicious. 

We finally found a place that we could decently shop. Ximending. There we can try our clothes/shoes in air con comfort, sip green tea in a nice cafe and visit unorthodox but interesting places like the Modern Toilet Restaurant. Perhaps I’m a tad bit elitist when I go for shopping. I must have comfort if not I am not really in the mood to shop. I love Ximending, though some parts were a bit grimly but it has very interesting shops and characters. We also went to Guanghua Digital Plaza. It is similar to Sim Lim in Singapore, but prices are so much cheaper. And they do have more exotic stuff that you have to search very hard in Sim Lim to find them. 

The Taiwanese seem to be a bit averse to people from the mainland. At least that is the feeling that I felt when we talked to some of them. We were talking to a very nice and hospitable tea saleslady and we discovered some interesting things, whether these are rumors or facts I am not sure, but it sure did echo the sentiments of the ground a bit. According to her, the pu-er chinese tea used to be very good. But now, according to her, they process the tea leaves next to a place where they… rear and feed pigs!!. If you find that shocking, the best is still to come. The lady says that fermented tofu, a dish that is quite prevalent in Hong Kong and Taipei that is infamous for its smelly odor, is usually prepared with a certain method. The mainland Chinese however, use human excrement to cook the tofu in order to replicate the same effect… Ugh.. I’ll never eat anything locally if and when I have to go to China. &nbsp
;Probably just bring instant noodles and boil water.

But I digress, the Taiwanese are really very hospitable when servicing you. We really felt treated well (sometimes a little bit too well from overenthusiastic saleswomen) when we were there. That said, they have a bad habit of bundling you over when they are in a rush (at least an “excuse me” or ??? which some do say), and their fashion taste well, there are some really nice stuff, but I find that they have clothes that are so nearly beautiful and perfect but because of a small fancy addition/subtraction that it has, it caused the whole blouse/jeans/shirt to fail miserably. The shoes well, they are cheap, but the soles of some of the women shoes are the type that will definitely slip on slippery floors or make noisy applause while walking on non-carpeted floors.. kind of reminded us of shoes from a certain “something & something” shoe boutique in Singapore. 🙂

But yes, some things are still quite universal. Hardware/electronic shops are cheaper as you traverse higher floors, departmental stores are the opposite. 

That said, I do enjoy this trip, I liked shopping in Ximending and eating at the night markets. I only wished that it was not so hot. Infrastructure wise, it has a good transport network, though I still wish they have more signs and spruce up their maps… (my goodness, we even saw 2 maps in the same MRT station that are 90 degrees perpendicular in different perspective…). Perhaps not to live, but I wouldn’t mind coming back for more food and this time, I hope to see more scenery in addition to shopping.

And last but not least, a small collection of pictures, as they say, pictures say a thousand words.

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