Shilin Night Market

16 12 2007

A trip to Taiwan would not be complete without a visit to one of the island’s ubiquitous night markets. Almost every night, food and merchandise vendors will line the streets in little pockets all over the city hawking their wares and snacks. Some larger markets will even include a section of low tech carnival games. The Taiwanese night market is a combination of medieval market, food bazaar, and carnival show all rolled into one. In Taiwan, everyone goes to the night market, from children to teenagers to adults and to grandparents. As you can see from the picture below, night markets are frequently packed, noisy, and full of excitement.

Night Market

On this visit, we decided to check out Shilin Night Market, the most popular night market in Taipei. The night market is located right off the Jiantan MRT stop on the red line, the station before the actual Shilin stop.

The night market is a showcase of Taiwanese street food.

Chinese Sausages

Yummy! Freshly grilled chinese sausages and luo mi chang, aka dua deng (rice stuffed in sausage casings) are among my favorite foods.

Night Market

Grilled corn on the cob

Night Market

I’m not really sure what these are. They look like candied tomatoes.

Night Market

The main food tent is located just across the street from the MRT stop. Inside are a bunch of food stands catering to every taste.

Stinky Tofu

Taiwan’s famous stinky tofu. This is an acquired taste, but I love it!

Night Market

Some boiled Oden, including my favorite Ah Hue and Di Hue, or gelatinous rice.

Night Market

There are also numerous fruit smoothie and dessert stands.

Night Market

There is a small clothing and merchandise area under the tent.

Outside the food stands is a game area filled with low tech carnival games.

Night Market Games

You can win cheap plastic toys that are made in Taiwan!

Night Market Games

After exploring the large tent area, you can walk across the street away from the MRT station and follow the street stands down a few blocks for more shops selling everything you would ever need to live in Taiwan, including clothes, CDs, housewares, electronics, and more. The things sold here are of the cheapest quality, so buyer beware. However, you can get some great bargains as long as you understand what you buying in terms of quality. Bargaining is expected.

Night Market

Although the food here is cheap, delicious, and plentiful, be aware that these street stands are not the most hygienic. Therefore as a general rule you should examine the stands and make sure they look clean and have lots of customers before trying the food. This is not to discourage trying the food here. You would be missing out on one of the best places to get authentic Taiwanese street food. Rather, there are many cleaner food stands out there and one should endeavor to eat there, even if they are more expensive. If you are unsure, don’t feel like you need to eat here. You can always go to the food court at Taipei 101, which serves many of the same Taiwanese dishes, albeit the more sanitized (and sometimes blander) versions.





Glamorous Ximending

16 11 2007

Ximending is the Shibuya/Harajuku of Taipei.  Every night, and even more so on the weekends, throngs of young people flock to the pedestrian area right outside the Ximen MRT stop to shop, eat, and socialize.  Giant ads and screens light up the night sky and bursts of pop music fill the air while young men and women browse the boutiques and shops wearing the latest trends. 

Ximending

We decided to stay in the Ximending area because of its convenient location in the Wanhua district.  The hotel in which we stayed, Ta Shun Hotel, was also highly recommended on the Taiwan tripadvisor forums.  I will review the hotel in another post.  But most importantly, we stayed in Ximending because it is very “re nao.”  “Re nao” is a Chinese term that literally means “Hot Noisy” and refers to a place that is exciting, loud, and busy. 

Ximending

Ximending

Although there is a branch of the Eslite bookstore/department store here, the main attractions are the little shops and boutiques selling cute trinkets and clothes.

Ximending

Ximending

Ximending

Food carts line the boulevard, but they are technically illegal.  Every hour of so, a police officer walks down the street, dispersing all the food stands.  The owners of the food stalls quickly wheel away their stands.  Within 2 minutes of the police officer’s departure, the food stands are back selling their edible wares.  You can see the police officer in the picture below.

Ximending

Since this is a trendy, hip area, there are many American fast food joints.  They even had Dunkin Donuts.  This is the largest KFC I have ever seen!

KFC in Ximending

Ximending is less glamorous and more quiet during the daytime.

Ximending





Taipei 101 and the Xinyi District

9 11 2007

As Taiwan’s capital city, Taipei is the political, financial, and cultural center of the island. Taipei is a modern metropolis with world class shopping, dozens of museums, a wide variety of excellent restaurants, and history, all connected by one of the best public transportation systems in the world.

The Metro Rapid Transit (MRT) system, which was completed just a few years ago, is clean, reliable, convenient and made me have major public transit envy. The MRT is 1000x better than the CTA (Chicago Transit Authority). If you are staying in Taipei for more than a day, I would suggest buying an Easy Card. Easy Cards are available at all MRT stations and convenience stores in Taipei. They cost NT$500, which include a NT$100 deposit and NT$400 in transit credits. With this card, you can easily swipe in and out of MRT stations and not have to worry about calculating your fares. MRT fares are based on distance. If there is any money left over at the end of your stay, you can get the amount remaining on your card refunded and the NT$100 deposit back at any MRT station booth.

After purchasing our Easy Cards, Charles and I decided to get out and explore Taipei. Since I first heard about the food court at Taipei 101, I have always wanted to go. Dinner time was a’calling so we made our way over there. We took the MRT from our hotel in Ximending and alighted at the Taipei City Hall station in the Xinyi district. The Xinyi district is one of the most modern districts in Taipei, and home to the Taipei World Trade Center, Taipei 101, Taipei City Hall, and tons of shopping, movie theatres, and restaurants.

Taipei 101

Taipei 101

Taipei 101 was the tallest building in the world until July 2007, when it was surpassed by the Burj Dubai in UAE. Designed by C.Y. Lee, Taipei 101 is mostly office space except for the observatory on the 91st and 89th floors, restaurants on the 85th floor, the large shopping mall at the base, and of course the wonderful food court in the basement. The building was designed to look like a tall sheaf of bamboo. When I first saw this building being built, I thought it was really ugly. After learning a little more about its architecture, I’ve grown to appreciate the design a little more. I like the idea that it represents a bamboo stalk that is strong and flexible at the same time. The building is built to withstand strong winds and earthquakes.

Taipei 101

We visited the shopping mall and food court, but decided to forgo the observatory. Taipei 101 is considered the nicest/poshest/most expensive shopping mall in Taiwan, and international brands such as Gucci, Prada, and Louis Vuitton are well represented. Since we didn’t have any interest in this kind of shopping (not to mention we can get international brands cheaper in the US), we bee-lined to the food court. When we arrived and saw the huge, clean food court featuring every kind of Asian food possible (and Subway, KFC, and McDonald’s) we were in food heaven! Just circling the area to decide where to eat was an adventure in itself. We were surrounded by Chinese, Taiwanese, Japanese, Korean, and Indian stands, each specializing in a certain kind of food. There was a curry stand, a shave ice stand, a juice stand, a hot pot stand, and many many other varieties. The prices were a little higher than normal street stand prices, but did not seem as expensive as US prices.

Taipei 101 food court

I am compelled to take pictures of every KFC I see in a foreign country.

After dinner, we walked around the Xinyi area to help us digest. Xinyi is considered the high end shopping district, similar to Michigan Ave in Chicago (or Fifth Avenue in NYC).

New York New York

This is the New York New York shopping center, which features casual American brand name stores such as Toys R’ Us, Apple, Marks & Spencer (not American as far as I know), Cold Stone Creamery, and, of course, Starbucks and McDonald’s.

Xinyi

Shinkong Mitsukoshi

Here is a view of one of the many buildings in the Shin Kong Mitsukoshi mall complex. Shin Kong Mitsukoshi is a high end Japanese department store with stores all over Taiwan.

Warner Cinemas

The Warner Village Cinemas – where you can catch all the top American flicks.

Shinkong Mitsukoshi

Interesting Public Art: It’s like a thumbs-up but with your toe.

I don’t have a picture of it, but the flagship of Taiwan’s Eslite Bookstore is also located in Xinyi. With 7 floors of books, magazines, and mini specialty bookstores within the larger bookstore, it is reading heaven. We stopped by briefly intending to return, but we never did. Next time!

After walking around for a bit, we decided to head home. It seemed silly to shop for American products in Taiwan, where they are much more expensive, when we live in one of the biggest shopping cities in the US. However, it was nice to see that Taipei offered these kinds of beautiful and expansive shopping and entertainment areas for its residents and visitors. Not only are these areas good for the city’s image, but they are also revenue generators for the city. If I lived in Taipei, I would definitely shop here.





In Taipei: Taiwan Storyland

1 11 2007

After spending a few relaxing days in Central Taiwan, we boarded another train and headed north to Taipei.  We passed by more vignettes of small town Taiwan (by the train tracks).

Small Town

The mountains reappeared behind storm clouds and/or smog.

Countryside

I love seeing the mountains in the background.  It’s also good feng shui!

Countryside

After we arrived in Taipei, we dropped off our bags at the hotel.  Since (of course) it was raining, we decided to check out some indoor activities until it lightened up outside. 

My guidebook suggested a place called Taiwan Storyland, an underground replica of Taiwan from the 1950s – 1970s.  Taiwan Storyland is located across the street from Taipei Main Station and next to the local branch of the Shinkong Mitsukoshi department store in the basement of the K-Mall.  We found this attraction to be very stange but interesting at the same time.  Think of it as the Disney version of 1950-1970s Taiwan, complete with snack stands and restaurants every couple of feet, except that you are allowed to take pictures and there are no rides. 

Taiwan Storyland

When we first walked in, it was a little creepy because everything is so dark and since it was 1 PM on a weekday, it was a literal ghost town.  Music popular from the 1950s played softly in the background, and you really felt like you were out of time and place.  If you have ever read that children’s book, “Help I’m a Prisoner in the Library,” that was the feeling I got when we first entered.  The snack stands looked good, but since there was no one around, we weren’t sure if they were real or not.

Taiwan Storyland

This snack stand (below) was real enough for me, and they served my favorite – dan dan!  The server pours batter into these hot molds, waits for a few minutes, and then pops out little crepe/sponge cakes.  The ones we got in particular were in the shape of different objects, such as a bicycle and a gun.

Dan Dan Stand

There is an entrance fee of NT$250 for each person, but you get $250 in Storyland vouchers you can use to redeem anything inside the attraction.  We used ours to buy some snacks and lunch.  There are snack stands and themed restaurants scattered throughout, including a Japanese place, a Chinese place, and a traditional Taiwanese place.  The food was nothing to write home about (or blog about).

Taiwan Storyland definitely has atmosphere.  The signs and many of the objects found here are collectibles from the private collection of Mr. Franky Wu, as described in this article from the Taipei Times.  I was impressed by the attention to detail.

Taiwan Storyland

There were some very interesting exhibits, such as this replica of an old schoolroom.

Taiwan Storyland

Notice the picture of Sun Yat-Sen, Taiwan’s founding father, next to the chalkboard.  I guess there are two pictures.

Taiwan Storyland

Here’s an apothecary.

Taiwan Storyland

And… a torture chamber/dentist’s chair.  I told you this place is scary!

Taiwan Storyland

There were many “streets” to wander through, much like a neighborhood.  There was even a police station and a little section of old children’s games.  There didn’t seem to be a lot of labels explaining things, at least in English, but it was easy enough to figure things out.

Taiwan Storyland

All in all, we were amused by our hour there and thought it was a great way to see some Taiwanese history, albeit a cleaned up version. 





WSJ on 48 Hours in Taipei (with Kids)

26 10 2007

The Wall Street Journal published today in its Weekend Journal Asia some interesting suggestions on what to do if you have 48 hours in some major cities in Asia – with kids. While I often read the Travel section of this newspaper, I was pleasantly surprised that they included a section for Taipei. I thought this article might be helpful to readers who have kids. The other cities mentioned in this article series are Tokyo, Singapore, Beijing, and Kuala Lumpur.

I have excerpted the Taipei article below:

Nellie Huang, “48 Hours in Taipei,” Weekend Journal Asia, Wall Street Journal, (October 26, 2007).

As a child, my visits to Taiwan with my family meant enduring long Chinese banquets with relatives, and worse: a visit to the boring National Palace Museum. Now that I have kids of my own, I set out to find some fun things to do with them in Taipei.

Day One

8:30 a.m.
Our hotel, the Far Eastern Shangri-La — chosen for its central location and its two swimming pools — offers a sumptuous breakfast buffet. But we’ve opted instead to introduce Kate, who is 3 years old, to a traditional Chinese breakfast of doh jang (sweetened soy milk) and you tiao (fried breadsticks). My relatives in Taipei tell me there’s only one place worth going to for this breakfast: Yung He restaurant, next to the fire station on Fuxing Road, Section 2.

11:00
Next, we went to the Eslite bookstore with its Children’s Museum on Song-gao Road in Xinyi district. Kate is soon in heaven. (So am I: There’s a Lavazza coffee stand at the museum entrance.) The so-called museum, it turns out, is a giant playroom filled with smaller rooms: There’s a play grocery store, a pretend cafe and a toddler room with a slide and small climbing gym. There’s also a fire truck, two motorcycles and even a Mini car, all of which kids can ride on or climb into. We spent an hour in the make-believe dressmaker’s shop, outfitting a paper doll with clothes we designed and cut out.

2:30
After a bite to eat at the Eslite cafe, we took a taxi to the zoo. Given Taipei’s stifling heat, in the summer at least, and the park’s hillside design, it’s best to ride the train from the zoo entrance that takes you to the penguin habitat at the other end of the park. From there you walk back toward the entrance to see the animals, but it’s a comfortable downhill ramble.
4:30
Near the zoo is the Maokong Gondola (100 meters to the left as you exit the zoo). It’s a 20-minute, four-kilometer ride to the top of a ridge, with two stops along the way. The cars aren’t air-conditioned and the windows don’t open. Still, it’s an exhilarating ride. Near the gondola station is a place to rent bikes for a ride along a new path by the river — great fun for older kids.

5:30
Next to the gondola ride is the Zoo Mall, an indoor amusement park. There are toddler-size rides — a ferris wheel, a merry-go-round and a crazy-car ride — and I make a note to remember this place for a rainy day.

6:45
We decided to visit the Taipei 101 building before dinner. I was fascinated by the structure and the sweeping view, but Kate is too young to appreciate it. This diversion is best for kids over the age of 5.

Day 2 … continued here. (Subscription not required for this article.)

The author, Nellie Huang, took her 3 year old daughter to the Eslite bookstore with its Children’s Museum on Song-gao Road in Xinyi district, the Maokong Gondola, the Taipei Zoo, Da’an Park, Children’s Recreation Center in northwest Taipei (amusement park), The National Science Education Museum, and the Taipei Astronomical Museum. Sounds like a very full 48 hours! 

While I’m not sure that I would take my hypothetical child on the Maokong Gondola, I agree that certain museums are inappropriate and boring for kids. It sounds like Taipei is quite kid friendly from all of these suggestions. However, I’m sure all of these entrance fees really add up!





Lukang, Part 3

26 10 2007

We wrapped up our visit to Lukang with two Taiwan Living Heritage Artist shops, shrimp monkeys in a hole-in-the-wall restaurant, and a quick peek at Tianhou Temple.

The main north-south artery that runs through the historic part of Lukang is Jhongshan Road.  On the southern end of Jhongshan Road are the Martial Temple, Wenchang Temple, and Wenkai Academy.  Longshan Temple is also in the southern section of the historic center on Sanmin Road, which is perpendicular to Jhongshan Road.   Meanwhile, the entrance to the cleaned up part of 9-Turns Lane is just off Jhongshan Road on Sinsheng Road north of Longshan Temple.  Tianhou Temple caps off the northern end of historic Lukang and Jhongshan Road.

The first place we visited, at 312 Jhongshan Road, was Master Wu Dun-Hou’s Folk Lantern shop.

I wanted to buy one of the lanterns displayed outside (shown below) but my mom laughed because most of these lanterns were run of the mill lanterns for restaurants, and say things like “fried noodles” or “fish” on them.

Folk Lantern Shop - Lukang

Master Wu Dun-Hou is a renowned creator of traditional Chinese lanterns who is one of the winners of the Living Heritage Awards in Taiwan.  The Living Heritage Awards are given by the Ministry of Education to recognize Taiwan’s top craftsmen.  Lukang is unique in that it claims 6 Living Heritage craftsmen, the most of any city in Taiwan.

Master Wu Dun-Hou

Master Wu has been making lanterns in the traditional way for over sixty years and has devoted his life to developing and passing down this traditional art form.

Folk Lanterns - Lukang

Although Master Wu was not there when we visited, we met one of the artisans who told us about the lanterns.  Most of the lanterns are still hand painted, but some of the smaller, cheaper lanterns are partially printed and finished off by the artisans.  The lanterns inside the store are more suitable for inside the home, unlike the ones displayed outside!  When you purchase a lantern, you can pick an auspicious saying that they will paint on the lanterns for you.  You can then pick them up in about an hour.

Amidst dozens of lanterns are the artist’s paint brushes:

Folk Lantern Artist Tools

We got the yellow lantern with the dragon in the bottom right hand corner of the photo above.

After the lantern shop, we walked up Jhongshan Road to the Tianhou Temple area to eat lunch.  There is a small square outside the temple with dozens of food stands, tea shops, and restaurants.

Lukang - Main Square

Main Square

Like most tourist destinations in Taiwan, Lukang has a bunch of local food specialties. They include oyster omelettes, deep fried oyster cakes, shrimp monkeys (fried mud shrimp), ox-tongue cake, and steamed port buns.

We had oyster omelette and shrimp monkeys for lunch.  Honestly, we were not too impressed with the food here.  It could just be this restaurant, though, which was a little too hole-in-the-wall for our taste, if you know what I mean.
Shrimp Monkeys (Fried Mud Shrimp)

Shrimp Monkeys

Since it started raining again, we were only able to catch a quick outside glimpse of Tianhou Temple.

Tianhou Temple

Tianhou Temple

Our last stop of the day was at another Living Heritage shop called the Divine Woodcarving Shop.  I didn’t realize until we found the shop that its name was literal.  This shop carves religious statues for temples around the island.  It was just past Tianhou Temple on 655 Fusing Road, but it was difficult to spot because it looked like the living room of someone’s house.  One of the master carvers was hard at work carving, but I didn’t want to disturb him.  He was shy about pictures, but let me photograph the wood carvings on display.

Heavenly Carvings

We had to end our trip to Lukang at this point because it started pouring rain.  I would have really liked to see some more sights though!  I think we missed some good stuff.

As I mentioned in a previous post, Craig Ferguson, a photo blogger, did a great series on Lukang with beautiful pictures (on a very sunny day!).

Wandering in Lugang, Part 1

Wandering in Lugang, Part 2

Wandering in Lugang, Part 3





Lukang, Part 2

21 10 2007

After we finished with Longshan Temple, we set out to look for other historic sights in Lukang, including Nine Turns Lane and Gentleman’s Lane. Nine Turns Lane is a long narrow lane, more like an alley, with lots of sharp turns that was built to repel bandits and cold winds in September. Thus its name is not derived from the number of turns, but rather refers to the month of September. The houses and walls running along this lane are among the oldest still standing in Taiwan.

We had a little difficulty finding this narrow lane, and actually ended up walking through real, modern alleys and the non-restored part of the historic lane before we happened upon the part of Nine Turns Lane that is featured in guidebooks. There are signs posted of all the historic sights, and we had a map, but it was still a little hard to find. I suppose if we had come on an ordinary non-rainy day, we could have just followed the crowd. The easiest thing is to just ask a local, but that mostly only works if you speak Chinese or Taiwanese.

We sought out Nine Turns Lane because it sounded really intriguing and romantic. My first impression of this area was that it was a lot smaller and more rundown than my expectations. Obviously, my expectations were off base, and it makes sense that the scale of these historic buildings would be much smaller than modern abodes. People grouped themselves close together to defend against strong winds and pirates, as the name implies.

Lukang Alley

With crumbling structures and mold surrounding it, this part of the lane was not as “touristified” as the official Nine Turns Lane. Old structures, some abandoned and some still occupied, were surrounded by teardowns, more modern but ugly buildings, and empty lots full of detritus, which I felt no need to photograph. There were still some historic gems among the signs of modern living, however. The non-restored buildings also seemed more authentic.

Lukang Alley

As you can tell by the scooters parked outside and the trash piled next to them, local residents still live here. They must have thought it odd that people would find their homes interesting when Lukang first became a tourist attraction. I’m sure they are used to the gawking tourists by now, though.

Lukang Alley

I love the woodwork and brick on these buildings.

Lukang Lane

My mother was not impressed with these houses because they brought back bad memories for her. To her, these buildings represented the poor conditions people lived in when she was a child in Kaohsiung before more modern homes were built and people’s living conditions improved. Her comments really gave us a different perspective of these historic lanes and brought home the point written offhand in many guidebooks – that Lukang only had historic buildings because it refused to modernize when other parts of Taiwan had. So while it is good that these buildings have not been torn down (especially since Taiwan is generally bad at historic preservation), the people of Lukang did pay a price when the town did not modernize. Ideally, the townspeople of places like Lukang should recognize and preserve historic buildings, but then move to more modern abodes either in Lukang or elsewhere. Unfortunately, not everyone has the means to do this.

Lukang Lane

Ugly, more modern (but not that modern), buildings peek out behind the historic buildings.

Lukang Lane

A neighbor has beautified this corner of the lane.

Water Pump

My dad was intrigued by this old water pump. He used them a lot when growing up because there was no running water inside the home. Also, he is an engineer.

Brick Window

Old Windows were made in this brick formation, as you can see in this abandoned building.

Brick Window

Window

The slightly more modern version of these windows, circa 1950. Actually, I think Taiwanese buildings still use these type of security bars on their windows.

Start of Nine Turns Lane

Ah, we have finally reached the “official” part of Nine Turns Lane!

Start of Nine Turns Lane

Signs like these are all over Lukang, so look UP!

Nine Turns Lane

Oh wait, we are still seeing cement buildings!

SHIH YIH HALL
Shih Yih Hall

Shih Yih Hall

Shih Yih Hall

Shih Yih Hall

Shih Yih Hall

Nine Turns Lane

Looking back to Shih Yih Hall

Nine Turns Lane

This door looks hundreds of years old.

Approaching one of the many turns of Nine Turns Lane…

Nine Turns Lane

Nine Turns Lane

Here a Turn…

Nine Turns Lane

There a turn…

Nine Turns Lane

Hi Dad!

Nine Turns Lane

Around the bend…

I guess on nice days, vendors sell food in this lane.

Nine Turns Lane

Description of Nine Turns Lane

Here is official description of Nine Turns Lane.

Nine Turns Lane

Looking Back at the Last Turn

Nine Turns Lane

Another Turn…

Nine Turns Lane

Nine Turns Lane

Nine Turns Lane

Another twist and turn.

After we reached the end of Nine Turns Lane, we came to a large (modern) intersection that had lots of food stands. We asked a vendor where to find Gentleman’s Alley, aka “Touch Breast Lane.” It was just a few blocks from Nine Turns Lane.

Gentleman’s Lane was so named because it is so narrow that only one person can go at a time, because otherwise touching someone else is unavoidable.

Gentleman's Alley

It was so narrow, we nearly missed it but for this sign. It looked like a gutter from the street.

Gentleman's Alley

We were kind of scratching our heads about why this was an attraction, but I believe the whole of Lukang is better than the sum of the parts.

Lukang

We were rewarded with this juxtaposition between old and new, although the picture looks a lot nicer than the reality.

Next: Lukang, Part 3.








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