Illustration Concepts: resonance/atmosphere. I’ve been thinking about Taiwan a lot lately, which of course includes night markets. I’m going to try out different lighting options in the upcoming weeks.
One of the most popular things to do, for both locals and tourists, is to spend your evening at the local night market. For American foreigners like myself, just imagine your annual county fair - full of food, games and shopping - but on the street, every night and just around the corner of almost every major spot in the city. It’s incredible.
The night markets are typically comprised of various food vendors that set up alongside the streets and the allies. There are shops to buy clothing and whatever other accessories you might find at something like a swap meet, and there are also carnival style games to play for all the kiddies and couples. Folks from LA will know that the Asian community from the SGV have been setting up the 626 Night Market at the Santa Anita racetrack, but nothing compares to the OG-granddaddy-motherland version of a true Taiwanese night market.
Once the sun goes down and the crowds come out, getting in the night market mix can feel like the human version of sitting in Los Angeles rush hour traffic. If it gets really busy (and it almost always does), you find yourself taking baby steps in a line of people going in the same direction - right side is going one way and the left side is going the other. And so if you wanna “exit", or stop off at a vendor, you gotta jump out of the way and try not to get hit by pedestrians or people on scooters that plow through the crowds. Sounds like a nightmare, right? Well, it would be if you’re surrounded by American assholes, but thankfully people in Taiwan are generally pretty courteous and considerate. In fact, there are signs all over the public transportation systems that encourage young people to give up their seats to the elderly and disabled - a telling characteristic of a society loosely raised on Confucious’ teachings. So don’t worry about people being dicks to you, all the shouting and yelling you hear are probably just people advertising their food or product.
The food is simply amazing, not only because of the taste and the variety, but also because of the convenience. Everything there is sold on a stick, a cup or some kind of to-go package. You can spend anywhere between $15 to $100 NTD (that’s approximately $0.50 to $3.00 USD) and walk away with a sizable handful of snacks. Food is definitely cheap and in great abundance. You can find just about any type of meat (including tofu for vegetarians like myself) in grilled, fried, or braised form. Drinks are freshly made with fruits that taste sweeter because of the tropical climates, and milk teas are, of course, sold everywhere. There are delicious desserts that range from ice cream, to crepes, to some of the best shaved ice/snow in the world. I could go on and on about the food, but I feel like that in itself would need its own separate post.
As I mentioned, though, because I’m vegetarian I missed out on a lot of the more interesting meat snacks, but that’s not to say that I missed out completely. If you’re vegetarian, you probably have more options for great veggie food in Taiwan than you would in most other countries. The large Buddhist population has given rise to a lot of restaurants and food vendors to include or exclusively sell vegetarian food. This consists of a lot of fake or imitation meat products and the largest variety of tofu styles anyone can imagine. Stinky tofu, which is a popular treat at the night markets, is enjoyed by not only vegetarians but meat eaters alike. In fact, it seemed like a lot meat eaters ate just as much of the vegetarian options as the vegetarians did.
Buying clothes is also a fun and interesting experience. Generally everything is pretty cheap with the option to bargain. The styles can be pretty hideous but there can also be some really cool or cute looking clothes that will require a bit of searching. For guys, I would say there are a lot less options than there are for girls. If you’re a young woman, you could buy some really nice outfits with some accessories for less than $1000 NTD ($33.00 USD). Name brand stuff is still the same price as it would be in the U.S., but who would really come to the night markets to buy Levis? If you’re a foreigner, they might randomly tell you you’re handsome as a way of making you more willing to buy their shit, but don’t think for a minute they’ll take their eyes off of you. For some reason all the store owners like to really watch you shop, which I thought was odd since theft didn’t strike me as a big deal there like it would be here, but I guess it never hurts to be cautious and attentive.
One last thing I have to mention about the night markets is how many of the vendors are there illegally. A lot of the shops that are located in the buildings will have permission to sell food or clothing, but the mobile vendors are mobile for a reason - they don’t have permits to sell anything. In the tradition of the night markets, the police will do their rounds, hope that the illegal vendors will scamper away and hide from their field of view, and in some cases the police might just turn a blind eye completely. If you’re a purchasing something from one of these vendors, expect to run and hide with them if the police pass by, or just expect the street to be suddenly empty until the coast is clear. Another legal aspect of the night market, that is far less amusing, is the fact that many of the vendors have to pay off gangs a as sort of “tax" or “protection". It’s an unfortunate part of night market life that even many locals may not know about, but it’s a stubborn reality nonetheless.
Night markets are an essential part of the Taiwanese experience. They’re overwhelming, often times chaotic, but thrilling and delectable. It’s the perfect place for foodies, people looking for a bargain and a great way to spend an evening with friends. It’s also a great place to a spot brown poodles…
“Oja-ale is the night market run by the dead. Everything can be bought for a deadly price. Alan Pearson is a sceptical British diplomat, contemptuous and dismissive of native superstitions… Until the day he receives a terrifying purchase from the Night Market, which defies Western science and logic. And Alan must finally confront the chilling truth of Oja-ale. - “Night Market - Oja-ale” A dead child returns to haunt his grieving mother with terrifying consequences - “The Unclean” The ghost of a drowned slave is resurrected from his watery grave to exact revenge on the family that betrayed him and sold him into slavery, with tragic consequences - “Our Bones Shall Rise Again”.
Three chilling stories of revenge by the restless dead buried in Unhallowed Graves by the frontrunner of African Horror and author of The Reluctant Dead, Nuzo Ono”
I’ve been putting off my Taiwan post because a) looking back at all of the pictures makes me want to go back so badly b) a lot of stuff happened and I know it will take me a long time to write everything c) I had midterms for the past two and a half weeks d) I haven’t had enough time to sleep let alone blog So I apologize for this super late post. Taiwan seems like ages ago (one month feels like ages ago) and it was when I embarked on my first trip outside of Hong Kong, without my family, and it was amazing. Imma big girl now. :)
So first of all, Taiwan is freaking fantastic! I want to go back so badly. There is food everywhere you go and the food is really different than what I’ve encountered before, even in HK. Also, shopping is super cheap. So here I go, I’ll try my best to summarize everything that happened in those 4 days while I was in Taipei and Kaohsiung (this will take multiple posts).
I went to Taiwan with my friends Jennifer and Larry. Even before we got out of HK we ran into trouble. Our whole trip was really about overcoming obstacles and bumps on the road. It made it that much more memorable though. We were leaving on Thursday night (10/6). When we arrived at HK Int’l Airport and went to check in, we found out that Larry (who booked his ticket on his own) was flying on a different airline and arriving a bit earlier than us. AND THEN we found out that he was actually arriving in Taipei which is in northern Taiwan. We were supposed to all fly to Kaohsiung, which is in the south, and then head up to Taipei together the next day. We really freaked out now because we didn’t know what to do. Larry was going to Taipei, we were going to Kaohsiung, and we didn’t know if our cell phones would work in Taiwan AND Larry doesn’t know Mandarin at all. So after a lot of “OMG!” and deliberating over Popeye’s fried shrimp, we decided that Larry would stay in the airport in Taipei for the night and wait for Jennifer and me to meet up with him the next day. This was hurdle #1. We learned to first check if we were on the same flights before we left. We just all assumed that we were on the same flight so we never talked about it. So if you plan to travel with your friends, please check if you’re on the same flight/going to the same destination. It’s kind of important.
Jennifer and I arrived in Kaohsiung and she (and Larry) had a really sweet and awesome friend who let us stay at her place. When we were taking the taxi from the airport to her apartment, we had an extremely nice taxi driver who was such a sweetheart. Taiwanese people are really nice and he told us about his life story and how Taiwan is a really safe place and he told us to be careful and all of that. Well he was talking to Jennifer since I don’t know Mandarin but I was really amazed by how genuinely kind he was.
After arriving at the apartment (around midnightish) Jennifer and I tried to find a hostel in Taipei (yes, we planned this trip very well) so that we would actually have a place to stay when we get there the next day. We stayed up pretty late trying to find a hostel and trying to get in contact with Larry. We thought he was going to have internet access at the airport so we would be able to talk to him but he was not online. Luckily, Larry had the number of his friend who we were staying with and he called us. He told us the airport didn’t have free WiFi so Jennifer and I had to find the hostel (Larry was supposed to look for the hostel while he spent the night in the airport) and we told Larry our plan to meet him in the morning. Jennifer and I kept saying that Larry owed us big time for making us go through so much and having to find hostels so we decided that he owed us a million winter melon tea drinks. We were half-kidding.
We finally found a place near Ximen, which was close to the heart of Taipei. After getting maybe 3 hours of sleep, Jennifer and I woke up really early to head out to Taipei to reunite with Larry. Our first meal was at this food stand place a few blocks from where we were staying. We actually ended up having most of our meals here. The ladies working here were so nice and the food was BOMB! I wanted to eat everything (which was how I felt most of the time I was in Taiwan).
We bought our food and flagged down a taxi and Jennifer used her mad Mandarin skills and asked the driver to take us to the metro station (it’s called the MRT there). When we got out of the car, Jennifer said “Uh oh” and I was afraid of what she was going to say. She left her cell phone in the taxi car. Her brother gave her a phone to use in Taiwan (it belongs to his friend) and we were going to use it to contact Larry when we got to Taipei. Hurdle #2. We hoped the taxi driver might have noticed the phone and returned to the MRT station to return it to us but that didn’t happen. We continued on and joked that Jennifer pulled a Larry…trying to stay positive.
On the high speed rail! This photo doesn’t tell it all: 3 hours of sleep, losing a cell phone, not knowing how we were going to find Larry, don’t know how we could be smiling. With all that happened to us, I felt like any little thing that went smoothly for us was a mini-victory and I was thankful for any victory.
We arrived in Taipei after 1.5 hours and tried frantically to find Larry. Fortunately, my cell phone worked and Larry had his phone on so I called him and tried to meet up at the MRT station. This didn’t go so smoothly since Larry was taking the bus from the airport to the station so he we didn’t know where the bus station was and he couldn’t go in the station to meet us. We were running around trying to find him and after almost 45 minutes, we found him! I saw him come up the escalator and it was such a relief and happy site! Hurdle #3 complete.
So we headed to our hostel to drop off our luggage but getting to the hostel was difficult too. Our taxi driver didn’t know what street it was on and we couldn’t really translate it into Mandarin for him (the website only gave us the address in English) so he drove aimlessly down cramped roads doing U-turns and getting us lost. He even stopped and tried to ask some people on the streets what the street name was but we finally found the street. Hurdle #4. When we got to our hostel, the woman who owns the place, Cindy, wasn’t there. Hurdle #5. We waited a really long time, ringing the doorbell but no one answered. I saw some people nearby and asked Jennifer to ask them to borrow their cell phones so we could call the hostel lady. We got rejected a few times but we found some nice people and she explained to them our situation and that we needed to call Cindy. We got a hold of her and she came in 5 min to let us in.
We had our own room and we only had to pay 14USD for it. I thought it was a bargain!
So in my earlier Beijing post I talked about how I didn’t get to try 85 Degrees Celsius Cafe because I was too full that night. Well it turns out that there are like a million of these bakeries in Taiwan so I was really excited to finally get some baked goods from 85 Degrees!
LOL I was so hungry I ate this before remembering I should take a picture.
We spent our first day at the Tamsui District in Taipei. We hung out and took lots of pictures at Fisherman’s Wharf and Lovers Bridge.
OMG HE HAS THE MOST AMAZING VOICE EVER! I don’t understand Mandarin but whatever he was singing, it sounded wonderful. My Taiwan Lover♥
So after we left Tamsui, we headed to the Shilin Night Market which is the most famous night market in Taiwan. Night markets in Taiwan consist of lots of snacks/food and small stands that sell clothes, accessories, souvenirs, etc.
This is a really famous fried chicken steak place. YES, THAT IS A CHICKEN STEAK. IT’S HUGE. It’s the size of my head, or bigger!
So after eating our way through Shilin Night Market, we wanted to go to Taipei 101 which is a famous skyscraper in Taipei and it was once the world’s tallest skyscraper. We literally ran to 101 because it closes at 10. We ran probably 4 blocks (a good way to burn off all that food we ate?) but by the time we got there, it was 10 so we couldn’t go up. :( Trying to go up to 101 is hurdle #6.
This is how it looks like from the outside…so since we couldn’t go to 101, we wanted to chill at a bar and just relax after so much running (literally) around. There were a lot of bars/lounges near 101 (the Taipei City Hall station). I think that’s where the night life is in Taipei. I wanted to practice my Mandarin and Jennifer taught me how to ask “Do you know any bars nearby” so I went up to some nicely dressed girls who looked like they were going out and I tried to ask them but I totally failed. After struggling and coming out with 3 words in Mandarin, they told me they knew how to speak English. HALLELUJAH! Anyway, they recommended we try this bar lounge called in House. It was fun just hanging out there for the night and just chatting.
Next morning we were supposed to wake up at 8:30/9 to go to 101 and then go to Jiefen (the literal translation is “nine portions”) which is a very scenic area near Keelung. It takes about an hour bus ride to get there. We woke up at 11:30. FAIL. Hurdle #7. But it wasn’t our fault because our hostel didn’t have windows and it was really dark so it always looked like it was still night time. I woke up a couple of times at night and just went back to bed because I thought it wasn’t morning yet. When I finally decided to check the time it didn’t register with me that it was 11:30am. We were so late and that ruined our plans completely. All that running around and lack of sleep finally caught up to us so we overslept. Anyway we panicked, hurriedly got ready, got some breakfast (this was such a delicious jung!), and went off to 101.
This is our 2nd attempt to go up 101. When we got there, the line was ridiculously long and we didn’t want to waste our time waiting so we decided we would come back another time. Here’s another shot of 101…from the ground.
We went to get xiao long bao (Shanghai dumplings) at this famous restaurant, Din Tai Fung. And it lived up to the hype. It was so good! Well only the original one was good, don’t get the shrimp one. The soup and wrap and meat just went so well with each other. Best xlb I’ve ever had!
After our xiao lung bao we decided to still go to Jiufen even though we would arrive in the evening. Finding the bus to Jiufen was difficult as well (like anything is easy for us in Taiwan). I decided to ask a couple and they knew how to speak English. Oh, how I am so thankful for people who can speak English. The bus ride there took almost 2 hours because of traffic and I was so heartbroken because it was raining and foggy. We couldn’t see anything and it was getting dark so the beautiful scenic mountain range was completely covered and obscured by the fog and rain. Hurdle #8. :( When we got there, it was raining the hardest too.
But, like with all sad situations, food is the cure. Jiufen has these “historical streets” filled with food stands. This made me less sad even though I really wanted to see the scenery because it’s supposed to be spectacular but I guess it’s a sign I need to go back to Taiwan in the future.
And let the eating begin! Warning: the following photos contain graphic images of delicious food. Not recommended for those who are hungry.
STINKY TOFU! Better than the ones in HK. No lie.
This was a peanut wrap with taro ice cream I believe. SUPER YUMMY!
Ba-wan: gelatinous dough with bamboo shoots, mushrooms, and other goodies.
Mmm oily, artery-clogging sausage
Taiwan is the birthplace of boba (bubble) milk tea but I couldn’t find any good ones! :( Very disappointed with my first boba milk tea :( Letting me down Taiwan.
So after stuffing ourselves with delicious snack foods and eating like crazy, we left Jiufen pretty satisfied (even though I was still sad we couldn’t see anything around us because of the stupid rain). When we got back to Taipei, I still wanted to go to 101. This was my third (and last) attempt to go up 101. And just like how fate would have it, I got there at 9:30 but they don’t let anyone go up after 9:15. :( Sadness but I think it was just another sign that I just really need to go back to Taiwan because there’s still so much I didn’t get to see/do.
After taking my last picture of 101 from the ground, I went to drink my sorrows away. HAHA jk but I met up with Larry and Jennifer and we went to a bar. The bartender was really nice and gave us a free bag of popcorn. Taiwanese people are so nice.
My night won’t be complete without some awesome street food from the night market near our hostel :)
I realize this post is SUPER long (but most of it is pictures) and I’ve only detailed two of my four days in Taiwan but there’s just so much that happened and I really want to remember everything. I super duper appreciate it if you actually read the whole thing :)