New Year in Taipei

It’s day 14 out of a 15 day trip to Taipei, and for 12 of those 14 days it has rained…  Not just a one hour monsoon shower in the afternoon, but it has pretty much rained for the entire day every day.  As such, I haven’t been on as many day excursions as I had anticipated… Well, the rain is part of the problem at least.  The other part of the problem is that the drinks here are really cheap and really strong and I have been indulging a little bit more than I should.  So, I haven’t been springing out of bed at 5 am like a Sealy Posturepedic model like I usually do.  My day excursions have been mainly limited to various restaurants and bars, with the odd museum thrown in for good measure.  But hey… It’s an urban vacation in an East Asian city in winter.

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I finally got to go to one of the restaurants that I’ve been wanting to try for a long time: The Modern Toilet Restaurant in Ximen. It’s a completely toilet themed restaurant.  The interior is set up like a bathroom with exposed plumbing and everyone sits on a toilet to eat their meal.  The food is served in toilet bowls and bed pans and the drinks are served in small urinals.  The menu features such treats as “Poop stuffed pancakes”, “Diarrhoea Cocoa” and “Taiwanese Urine Beer”.  It’s a restaurant that you go to purely for the gimmick of it, and as such, there were no locals there, only tourists.  Having said that though, the food wasn’t too bad.  I had a vegetarian hot pot served with rice and tea served in a small urinal.  The service is a bit slow… The problem is that the restaurant is on two levels and the wait staff have to lug these huge toilet bowls up and down the stairs… It’s not like you can stack a few plates on your arms and do it quickly.  They can only do one toilet at a time.

I was in Taipei for New Year’s Eve and went out to partake in the celebrations.  I have always maintained that going out partying on new year’s eve is just for amateurs and bogans.  It’s their one big night of the year.  The cool people stay at home on New Year’s Eve… But somehow, this year I managed to get caught up in the hype of it all.  New Year’s Eve parties always have such a build-up, but ultimately are a huge letdown.  This year was no exception.

The big ticket attraction for new year’s eve in Taipei is to gather around Taipei 101 and watch the fireworks.  Since it was raining quite heavily though, I opted to go to a night club and watch the fireworks on a screen there, rather than stand outside in the rain getting wet.  The word on the street was that this club “Cercle” would be fun… I contacted them via Facebook messenger and got a good vibe.  600 TWD for all you can drink all night and a screen showing the fireworks… Woohoo!!  This night would go off I thought.  You could reserve a table but I figured that wasn’t necessary.

It was a small club, about the size of two large classrooms.  As far as nightclubs go, it looked pretty cool and was set up very nicely with lockers, tables and lounges.  They had digital lava light type projections on the wall and the DJ was playing house remixes of 70’s, 80’s and 90’s songs.  Some of the songs and mixes were pretty cool, but you know, on New Year’s Eve in 2019, can we really not do any better than Sade’s “Smooth Operator” or The Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me Baby”?  Nice for nostalgia, but come on…

We rocked up at the club at about 10.30 pm.  I realize it’s very early to go to a night club at that time, but since the point of it was to do the countdown and watch the fireworks, I figured it would be ok.  When we arrived, there were only four other people there.  Thank God for the staff, because at least they boosted numbers and the club didn’t look quite so empty.  Up until the time we left at 12.30, maybe another 20 or 30 people arrived.   There were about 20 or so tables there and about 15 of them had reserved signs, but most of them remained empty for the whole time we were there.  No-one danced at all… All the Taiwanese people sat at their tables playing games and complaining that the music was too loud.  At about 11.10 pm, they stopped the lava light show and started to project a stop-watch on the wall in order to do the countdown.  It was a bit foolish to start the countdown already from 50 minutes I thought, because it just emphasized how boring the night was.    We all just stood there watching the clock for 50 minutes: tick, tock, tick, tock.

So anyway, the clock is ticking away… It gets to 11.52 pm and suddenly the clock freaks out an starts showing the wrong time.  It showed that it was 12.52 am rather than 11.52 pm.  Next thing, a skinny Taiwanese guy, one of the staff, flurries onto the stage, has a panic attack and screams, what I assumed to be the Chinese for, “Faaaaaark!!!  Has anybody got a watch?” He grabs a watch from a customer and starts doing the countdown.  At midnight he screeches, “Happy new year”, throws a bit of confetti in the air and then the other staff promptly race in with brooms.  Woohoo!!!

After that, we went to sit down at one of the unreserved tables… Not that it would have mattered if we had sat at a reserved table because there was barely anyone in the club and what’s more, the reserved tables were mostly empty … About 15 minutes later, the aforementioned skinny guy sashays up to our table and says, “This table is reserved”.  I didn’t need to sit down anyway, so we got up but I proceeded to point out to him in a less than diplomatic tone, that most of the reserved tales were still empty anyway.  10 minutes later, skinny guy comes back and says, “Oh sorry, it’s not reserved after all.  You can sit there”.  I’m trying hard not to react to people or situations these days… Clearly I need to try harder, because suddenly, my mood plummeted faster than a fat kid on a see-saw… I put my face into his face and pointed out to him in a less-than-kind tone of voice, that this was the worst club in not only Taiwan, but the whole entire world.  He apologized.  We left.

By this stage, I had drunk quite a bit, so we headed to the Ximen pedestrian area to eat some street food.  Ximen was buzzing … I ate lots of stinky tofu… It’s amazing what you’ll eat when you’re drunk.  Clearly however, the food vendors didn’t have licences because the police kept driving through with sirens chasing the vendors away.  The vendors merely parked in another spot and the customers followed.  After three plates of stinky tofu, and being quite wet, we called it a night and I went home.

The days since new year’s eve have just been spent eating more food!  I have branched out and tried some other vegetarian places.  Thankfully, there are a lot of nice vegetarian restaurants in Taipei. New Year’s Day, I had fake beef and real broccoli, fried noodles and dumplings at Xin Hong in Ximen.

And… on the day after, on January the 2nd, I tried a vegan burger at Ooh Cha Cha.

In between eating and drinking, I did manage to make it to the National Palace Museum.  It has an extremely impressive collection of Chinese Imperial artifacts and artworks collected by China’s emperors.  When the civil war broke out between the communists and the nationalists, Chiang Kai Shek decided to move the collection to Taiwan.  They only managed to get about 22% of the collection before the communists stopped them, but they did manage at least to get the best pieces.  And so, the National Palace Museum is one of the most impressive of its kind in the world.  As with any large museum, my approach is just to get a quick overview of the whole place and then just focus on one area.  I focused on the pottery, which was truly stunning.  The funniest thing though in the museum was watching all the (who I presumed to be) Mainlanders, hell-bent on cataloging the entire collection, not looking at anything, just going click-move-click-move-click-move-click-move-click-move-click-move….

And some leek filled pancakes to finish off the day…

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Akko

Meanwhile, I made the trip to Akko despite my Tel Aviv host’s discouragement  “It’s a dirty Arab town and not really worth the time and effort to get there” he claimed. It indeed did take a while to get there and I can understand… When people tell me they are going to go by train to the Blue Mountains, I’m like, “Whatever the hell for?” But as a tourist, it’s not like you have to rush off to work or anything.. So, I threw caution to the wind, threw on a pair of shorts and off I went.

Akko is in the north of Israel on Haifa Bay, about another thirty minutes on the train past Haifa.  Along with other cities, it claims to be one of the oldest continually inhibited cities in the world; about 4000 years apparently and is the holiest city for the Bahai faith.  It was initially meant to be part of an Arab state during the UN partition plan for Palestine, but it was captured during the war and annexed along with other parts of Palestine.  It then became a development town for thousands of Jewish immigrants mainly from Morocco and then later Russians and Ukrainians from the USSR.  However, the old city of Akko still remains very Arab Muslim and is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

From a distance, the walled old city of Akko is quite attractive.  It sits on a peninsula surrounded by water that comes up right to the city wall.  In the centre of the old city is the very attractive Al Jazzar Mosque… and no problem entering in shorts either!  The rest of the town is a labyrinth of covered walkways, part market and part residential.  There are a lot of sweets and spices at the market and also an open fresh fish market.  I’ll pause for a minute, so you can fully imagine the aroma of fish wafting around the labyrinth in 40 degree heat…

 

To be honest, Akko was a bit shabby and it was mainly a case of take some snaps, tick it off your list and leave.  One good thing about going to places like Akko is that it makes Tel Aviv look a whole lot better when you return.  It makes it easier to appreciate what it has to offer and overlook the ill-mannered and entitled Tel Avivians and the horrible service you get in shops and restaurants.  At the better end of the spectrum, the service in Tel Aviv can be quite stern.  At the other end of the spectrum, it’s just downright rude.  I was tip shamed the other day at a club.  The barman shouted at me, “It’s usual to tip in Israel!” as I went to pick up my change from the tray.  I’ve worked in the hospitality industry so I totally get tipping and I generally DO tip … But at bar, when you’ve just paid an extortionate 65 shekels (that’s 24 Australian dollars!!) for an extremely ordinary drink and the barman doesn’t speak to you… He just scowls at you and flicks his face upwards as if to say, “What the f*** do you want?” … Can you explain to me WHY I should tip you?

And now from one extreme to the other:  From a dirty Arab town to staying in an Orthodox Jewish neighbourhood in Jerusalem… More to follow!

After party

So I finally had the chance to realise one of my dreams: going to a Mexican after-party. And all I can say, is that it didn’t disappoint… It was everything I hoped it would be plus a WHOLE LOT MORE. Unlike in Guadalajara where clubs organise their own after-parties, the tradition here is that after the club closes for the night, everyone moves to someone’s house to have the party.

The night started off at a techno club a short taxi ride away from the Sacristy. I’m not really a huge fan of clubbing by myself these days, but in Mexico it’s absolutely not an issue. Mexican people are so genuinely warm, welcoming, friendly and hospitable (at least towards foreigners anyway) and everywhere I’ve gone people have seen that I’m by myself and asked me to join their group. So even though I knew no-one in this club, within about 20 minutes of arriving, it was like I was out with a bunch of old friends.

The club was really cool with three different DJs playing… The main annoyance were the drinks waiters who were on a mission to rip-off everyone as much as they could. I’m sure they make a killing every night this way. They automatically took their own tip, as much as they felt they should or could. At the beginning of the night the tips were small but by the end of the night the tips got bigger and bigger. Nor would they return change unless you chased after them and made a special point of asking for your change back. The price of a beer was 40 pesos and a bottle of water was 20. At the beginning of the night the waiter wanted 50 and 30 respectively but by the end of the night the price for a beer and bottle of water was 150! The general feeling I got was just pay the money, keep them happy and avoid risking any trouble. So despite being in Mexico, it worked out to be quite an expensive night.

The only other issue in the club was a plumbing issue. Nothing flushed in the men’s bathroom so you can imagine what state it was in by 6 a.m.

After the club closed at 6 a.m. about 40 people shuffled off to someone’s house for the after-party. Anyone who wanted could go and there was quite a collection of characters. I’m the first to admit I’m a bit of a pig when it comes to household tidiness and cleanliness but even I was a bit shocked at how quickly and how badly trashed this guy’s house became. Just about every drink was spilt on the floor and nothing was mopped up and pretty much everything else ended up on the floor aswell. On top of that, in Mexico it seems that the floor is used as the ashtray… and Mexican people like to ash and put out their cigarettes with such passion and gusto. So after a few hours, everyone was slipping and sliding around in a sea black debris strewn murkiness. The owner didn’t seem to mind and for me it was truly the cultural experience to end all cultural experiences.

I arrived back at the Sacristy at about 1 p.m. on Sunday afternoon looking a little rough round the edges. The only bummer about the Sacristy on days like this is that it’s maximum security. First there’s a big wooden bolted door and then another padlocked iron gate, so there’s no way of just discreetly sneaking in with no-one seeing you. You have to buzz for someone to let you in.  

I went up to my room and and at that time the housekeeper had had arrived to clean my room. I must have looked like a fright because she took one look at me, jumped, dropped her keys and cried, “OK, I’m leaving” and rushed off. I was glad she left but I was a bit embarrassed by the whole situation.

Last night was a very lazy night just hanging at the Zocalo and eating tacos and today it was hanging on the rooftop of the Museum Amparo taking in the sun.