Time to say goodbye, Taipei… I’ll miss you!

It’s 10 pm.  I should be sleeping because I have to catch a taxi for the airport at 4 am.  In a moment of complete insanity, I booked a flight departing at 7.40 am.  And now, I am severely regretting the stupidity of this decision as 4 am looms.  The other flight to Sydney was at 11.55 pm but it would have meant booking the hotel for another night and only using it for half a day, so I decided to save the money.

Anyway, it’s my last day in Taipei and feeling a tad sad that I have to leave.  I wasn’t sold on Taipei at first.  It seemed like just a mini dirty Tokyo, but over the days I discovered many more layers to the city and really came to like it.  It’s a bit Japanese and a bit Chinese but still has very much it’s own unique special flavour.  The people are without a doubt some of the nicest I’ve ever encountered on my travels.  And there’s a real unpretentious, easy-breezy vibe to the place.  It is what it is and the people aren’t wannabes like those other people up the Han Peninsula.

On my second last night, I decided to ignore all the nay sayers on Trip Advisor and went to visit Raohe night market.  Night markets are a huge part of Taiwanese life.  They have unbelievable selection of foods.  I wish I ate meat… I could have gone to town on offal: pig’s fallopian tubes, tripe and chicken feet!

I had my Lucy Jordan moment… Not quite Paris in a sports car and not quite 37 either… But I got a ride to the night market through the streets of Taipei on the back of a scooter..

And today, on my last day… It finally stopped raining!!  The temperature maxed out at 29 degrees so I hot footed it down to Taipei 101 to check out the city view.  It’s funny… The Taiwanese appear to be really theoretical with their dress.  It was 29 degrees but because it’s still winter, they were all out in their hooded down puffer jackets.  Meanwhile, I was in shorts and a T-shirt.

Taipei 101 is a very nice building and definitely looks much better in real life than in pictures.  It was at one time the tallest building in the world but already in 2019, it has dropped to 10th place.  And next year when Jeddah Tower opens, it will drop another place.

Some random stupid Mainlander staging a one man protest against the Fallun Gong protest that was going on outside the building…

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The lift whisks you up to the observation deck on level 89 in a matter of seconds.  Level 89 is a windowed observation deck.  But then you go up 2 flights of stairs and you have the open observation deck.  When I got to level 89 and looked out the window, my first reaction was, “Why the f*** did they use smoked glass for the windows?” … But then a short while later, I went up to the non-windowed observation deck and noticed that the view looked exactly the same.  Of course the glass wasn’t smoky.  It was crystal clear.  It was just the blanket of smog hovering over the city.

Level 89…

Level 91…

Time for bed now… 4 am is certainly not going to be pretty.  And to add insult to injury, there is track work on my line when I get back to Sydney!!

And so my lovelies… That’s it ‘till the next trip!  I wish you all a wonderful 2019 filled with amazing adventures!

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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It’s all about the moments…

I have a little confession to make… I’m not really getting the high pitched buzz out of Taipei that I thought I would.  I keep walking around and comparing everything here to everywhere else I have traveled and feeling generally very underwhelmed.  It’s kind of odd because when the students complain to me that Sydney isn’t good because, for example, you can’t just stay in your room and buy and pay for everything through WeChat… you actually have to leave your room, or that curries here aren’t good because they’re not spicy enough.  I’m always telling them, “It’s not bad, it’s just different and that’s OK”.   Travel is about experiencing life and seeing how people live in other parts of the world.  I really need to remind myself of this.  I’ve been feeling just a tad let down. *hashtag first world problem* … Taipei is not an obvious city like Tokyo or Bangkok, but that’s OK!  The magic lies in the moments.  And the great thing is that you can get on a train or bus for 30 minutes and be in the country side soaking in a hot spring.

So far, I’ve made two trips to the Beitou Hot Springs.  Beitou is the closest and most convenient to Taipei City.  It’s only about 20 or 30 minutes on the MRT red line.  It was also the first hot spring area to be developed in Taiwan. The first hot spring spa there was actually opened by a German, but it was the Japanese that really developed the area and the whole “onsen” culture.  They needed somewhere to relax and unwind after a hard day of raping and pillaging the land.  You can certainly feel the Japanese influence in the area.

On the first trip to Beitou, I went to Kawayu onsen.  It’s located a bit further up the mountain so I took the MRT to Xin Beitou and then cabbed it from the station.  It calls itself by the Japanese pronunciation of the characters for “River Spring”  (Kawa + Yu) but of course all the cab drivers only know it by the Chinese pronunciation.  Fortunately the kanji for “river” is pretty easy and I could half remember the kanji for “spring”, so I drew them in the air with my finger.  The cab driver eventually worked out my air kanji and whisked me off to Kawayu.

It was raining that day, as it has been pretty much every other day, so it was difficult to take many pictures and you can’t take any pictures inside anyway…  The few snaps that I have don’t really do it justice.

The onsen was great and felt very Japanese, although it was a little more “rustic” than you would find in Japan.  There were no cabs to take me back so I bussed it to Shipai MRT station.

For the second trip to Beitou, I couldn’t be f***ed drawing air kanji and dealing with cab drivers again so I just went to Beitou Hot Spring Resort, two minutes’ walk from the station.  The resort itself was of a much higher standard, but of course you didn’t get the mountain view.

The other bonus of going to this resort was that “Thermal Valley”, a river of steaming spring water, was just up the road.

Yesterday, I went to visit Shen Keng “Old Street” which is a rural township in southern New Taipei City and is famous for its tofu dishes because apparently the best tofu is made here and the restaurants here use a distinctive cooking method.  There’s A LOT of tofu!  Pretty much everything is tofu… All different kinds like regular tofu, stinky tofu, dessert tofu, fried stinky tofu, BBQ stinky tofu, tofu cheese, tofu cake, sweet tofu drink, dried tofu, and tofu ice cream. As well as the tofu, they have a lot of sweet snacks and candies. I wasn’t too hungry so I only tried the tofu in spicy soup and deep fried stinky tofu.  Apparently people like stinky tofu.  Personally, I don’t get it.  It smells like rotting garbage… It’s like “Let’s take a perfectly good food and make it smell and taste bad just for the hell of it.”  I had to soak the deep fried stinky stuff in the spicy soup in order to mask the smell and taste.  And when you walk past a stinky tofu restaurant, it’s like walking through an open sewer.

I had a “temple” day.  I walked around the city and checked out a few of the Buddhist temples:  Longshan, Dalongdong Baoan, Confucius and Tian Hou.  As is the case with cathedrals in Europe, unless you are a worshiper of that religion or have a particular interest in the history of the structure, they all tend to blur into one after a while, especially Buddhist temples which are mostly built on a standard design.  The beauty of these temples lies in the small details: the colours, the flowers, the incense, and the intricacies of the design.  The structures themselves are all relatively modern as the original structures were destroyed one way or another.

I discovered this too on my temple walk: Toffee cherry tomatoes on a stick which were surprisingly good!

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I witnessed this mother/child bonding moment on the MRT the other day:

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Recently at work, there has been a lot of discussion about the issue of smartphone usage, in particular internet and smartphone addiction.  While this may have been an isolated incident and probably not the norm, it does make you wonder about the future generation.

And on that note..

I’m off to have dinner in Taipei’s Modern Toilet restaurant.   It’s completely toilet themed… Right up my alley… You can get such delights as “Modern toilet turd sub sandwich”, “Poop stuffed pancakes” and “Urine beer”.  Yummy, yummy… can’t wait!

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Flying to Taipei and first impressions

I really wanted to get away for the Christmas and New Year break.  Work had been getting me down and so I felt like I needed a bit of pick-me-up treat.  Not being a huge fan of beaches, I opted for a two week Asian urban adventure.  Taipei seemed like a good idea… It’s not too far away and I like travelling in ugly cities.  People are generally nicer in ugly cities, with the exception of Seoul of course.  It’s like they feel that they have to try harder to compensate.  But now, sitting in my room on the third day of rain, I’m thinking maybe I could have gritted my teeth and put up with a bit of sand and sun.

I booked a ticket to Taipei on China Airlines.  The main reason for this decision was that it’s the only airline offering non-stop flights between Sydney and Taipei… And of course, the price was very competitive!  If you Google “Airlines + most fatalities + last 30 years” China Airlines comes in at the number 1 spot, beating out Korean Airlines at number 2 by about 200 people.  Mind you, for “most fatalities of all time”, Aeroflot is the hands down winner there! China Airlines was founded by an ex-air force pilot and throughout the 90s, they mainly recruited ex-ROC Air Force pilots.  It took them about 8 crashes and 700 odd fatalities, to work out that this practice wasn’t working for them.  For about the last 15 years though, they’ve been cleaning up their act. They recruit university graduates and put them through a pilot training program and have also overhauled their maintenance programme.

Anyway, today’s China Airlines is not too shabby… Now, on the Sydney – Taipei route, they fly brand new Airbus A350s. The A350 is like the Dreamliner… It has higher ceilings, bigger windows, variable mood lighting and a higher cabin pressure so you don’t feel so disgusting when you arrive.  The economy baggage allowance is 30 kg, which is perfect for “just-in-case” travelers like me.  I packed 25 kgs for two weeks, including jeans that I never wear.  That’s the heaviest outbound luggage I’ve ever had and for the shortest trip. For the interior, they’re going for a kind of zen bamboo forest thing and have done the walls in a sort of wood grain finish and an angular pattern on the carpet.  I’m not a big fan of Chinese aesthetic. For me personally, I don’t get “bamboo forest”.  I just all feels a bit chintzy.  Anyway, at the end of the day, economy is economy and we were all crammed in like cattle on a live export to Asia.

I’ve been here for four days now, and my impression of Taipei is that it’s a pretty nice place.  Visually, it’s no show-stopper… It certainly ticks the ugly box, that’s for sure… Kind of a dirty mini-Tokyo… But… It proves my  theory of “ugly city, nice people”.  People here seem very polite, kind and friendly and the language barrier doesn’t seem to cause too much awkwardness.  Overall, the city has a relaxed, unpretentious vibe to it.  It was part of the Empire of Japan for 50 years so culturally it feels like a Chinese/Japanese hybrid.  The Japanese influence can be felt most noticeably in their manners, and of course the Japanese style hot springs and Japanese food chains.  Announcements on trains are made in Mandarin, English and Japanese.

Perhaps in part due to the Japanese influence, I’ve been having flashbacks and have been reliving my time in Japan… Going into supermarkets and restaurants and not being able to read the labels and not knowing what’s in the food, and having to rely on people to always translate everything.  And then there’s the whole “gaijin” scene (whatever the Taiwanese equivalent of “gaijin” is) … Going into bars and witnessing the “zero to hero” phenomenon or the foreigners who are trapped in a bubble one way or another… And then there’s the whole who’s into rice versus potatoes versus sticky rice.  While I still do use the terminology myself, it’s always with tongue planted firmly in cheek.  I’m so glad I can just observe it now and walk away.

On the other hand, one positive flashback is the relaxed attitude towards alcohol and drinking in Asian countries… Being able to buy alcohol in the convenience store and just walk down the street drinking… Here, not only do you have the choice of the usual stuff, but you can buy shots!  It’s one of those bucket list items to walk down a city street doing shots you bought in a convenience store.  I started with Pussycat, moved on to Buttery Nipple and ended on Porn Star!

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The food here is INCREDIBLE!!!  Perhaps in part due to there being a lot of elderly Buddhists living here, there are quite a number of amazing vegetarian restaurants.  So far, I’ve checked out “Three to Vegetarian”, “Minder Vegetarian” and “Rice Revolution”.  I thought the name Rice Revolution was pretty cool.  It sounds like an Asian protest rally… But the other two names?  Not sure what the idea there was.  The first two restaurants are buffet restaurants.  They each have about thirty or forty dishes.  You help yourself and then they weigh it at check-out.  Although Rice Revolution sounded cool, it was quite small and they had a very limited menu.  However, outside of designated vegetarian restaurants, it’s pretty much a porkfest everywhere else.

Other than eating and walking down streets drinking, I’ve done the usual kind of tourist stuff and checked out the main sights.  I even did a Bikram Yoga class.  If you’ve ever wondered how you Bikram Yoga could be more challenging and unpleasant… Try doing it in Chinese!  That takes it to a whole new level!

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Here are some random scenes around Taipei…

Taipei 101 viewed from Elephant Mountain…

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Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall…

One final thought…

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Day 3 Guadalajara: Drinking the blood of Christ

So, it turns out that the day after the day after the day after is actually worse than the second day after! Or maybe that’s just me … The main problem is just the jet-lag. I was tired all day yesterday but held off sleeping ’till nighttime. Of course the minute I tried to sleep I was wide awake and only managed to doze off at around 5 a.m. Miguel in all his design wisdom hasn’t put any blinds or curtains on the ALL GLASS fronted ALL WHITE loft… It’s on on the roof and there’s a brick wall around the balcony so privacy is no problem… But as soon the sun comes up, it’s like trying to sleep in a Seven-Eleven. Read: IMPOSSIBLE.

I got out of bed around 10 a.m. but without my usual morning bucket of Japanese green tea followed by a celery, carrot and beetroot juice chaser I was feeling pretty rough. So an excursion to Tequila Town was out of the question. It’s about two hours by bus. Apparently the busses are good but the roads are not! So it was another low-key kind of a day just hangin’ ’round ma ‘hood for me.

At about 11 a.m. I downed a handful of “magic beans” a.k.a raw organically grown Peruvian cacao beans and hot-footed it down the road to go and brunch. I made sure I packed two packets of beans… I think it’s a sure sign you’re getting old when you start travelling with your own food, like all those old Japanese people who travel to Paris with a suitcase full of cup ramen.

There are a lot of really funky eateries around here with simple down to earth home-cooking made with lots of “amor”. I went straight “Mama’s Stews” to get me a heapin’ helpin’ of mama’s love…


You could feel the love as soon as you walked in and mama just radiated pure love!


And here is my plate of “amor”… A delicious plate of stew served with refried beans, a paella-esque rice and salad.


It’s always refreshing to travel in non-Australian parts of the world. I get such a kick out of the lack of rules and regulations. I always make a point of walking down the street swiggin’ a can of beer at any time and going to a club completely wasted… Just because I can! It was interesting to see Mama sloshing about in all the sauces and rice with her bare hands. Cleanlinss is good but I think we sometimes obsess over it and “use by” dates and the such a bit too much. Having said that though, I have been guzzling probiotic yogurt by the bucket load… Just in case!

After mama’s love, I went and explored the other end of my street, Calle Priciliano Sanchez…

As luck would have it, stumbled upon this scene…

This was it! This was my opportunity! Time to roll the dice again! I really love the humble down-to-earth uncomplicatedness of Mexicans. I went in and in my basic Spanish pointed to my hair and said, “Short here, here and here and here short also but a bit longer.” No problem! And wham bam, thank you MarTAN, I was in and out with a big smile on my face and looking fabulous!


I’m sure in the Sydney the same haircut would have been served up with a huge helping of attitude and there would have been tears before bedtime.

That was about it. I spent most of the rest of what was left of the day trying to find an automatic teller machine… Or “any time money” as my students like to say. They’re few and far between here it seems.

And now I’m back in my secret hideaway drinking “Blood of Christ”.

Yes, that’s right… Drinking Blood of Christ…


It’s ok. It’s sweet wine (not my preference)… I guess it’s intended for communion. I bought it just because I wanted to try Mexican wine and be able to say that I went to Mexico and drank the blood of Christ!

And now I’m off to see if what they say about those Wednesday mini-weekends here is true.