It was past midnight by the time Chris and I got into our apartment on Friday. We were tired, stinky, and hot from so much travel. We got settled and into bed by 4:00 a.m. and I was really looking forward to sleeping in since I spent the previous night in a hard upright chair wedged against a cold airplane wall. Chris was so excited to go outside and reconnect with his “home land” that he woke me up at 5:45 and told me it was 8:00 so I wouldn’t put up a fight (smart man). I didn’t know any better and didn't guess otherwise because the people are up as early as the sun.
The moment I stepped outside the comfort of our de-humidified apartment I was hit with two things—first a really bad smell followed by a wall of muggy heat. At this point we were still in the hallway of our building. By the time I actually made it out of the lobby I felt like I was walking into a non ventilated bathroom that had a 100 degree shower running. It was hot, muggy, and miserable. Automatically my beautifully straightened hair crinkled up against the crown of my head and my face started beading up. I hate humidity. I hate humidity, and once again, I can’t stress how much I hate humidity. Throw me under the summer Phoenix sun, no problem. Heck, even give me 2 feet of snow and I’ll find a way not to be too pessimistic, but humidity? I’ll whine and mope because it’s something I’m not cut out for. I have lived in deserts my whole life and my body overreacts to moisture. Anyhow, moral of the paragraph: we walked outside and it was really humid. Period.
The morning was overcast, but still bright and bustling. We walked about 100 feet away from our apartment building and were surrounded by Asia exactly as I pictured it. Cramped streets, fluorescent lit signs, chintzy advertising with Pokemon looking characters, and hundreds of deafening mopeds zooming by leaving a cloud of choking exhaust.
It seems pointless to write solely about the streets, but they are that different. We live near a large busy road which we have to walk along to get nearly anywhere and the road doesn’t have sidewalks. To the left is six lanes of traffic with drivers who don’t seem particularly concerned about obeying traffic laws, and to the right is a wall of buildings, leaving a 2’ wide gap in the middle which I guess is the sidewalk. It’s not unusual for cars to park up against the building leaving their vehicle stopped in half a lane of traffic which forces the pedestrians into the road. You just hug your body as close to the stupidly parked car as possible, step into the road, and feel the breeze of vehicles passing by. It’s not the safest. We have almost got hit a couple of times, and it’s only day three.
When there is the occasional sidewalk even that has its hazards. Everything is pretty scraped together, so in front of one business will be concrete where a grate got chipped out leaving a hole, which causes you to trip. The business next to that will have cracking unlevel asphalt, which you snag your shoe on. The neighboring building will have a 2” rise of tile, which results in a stubbed toe. So, in addition to making sure you aren’t road kill, you constantly have to watch your step because the path is so unpredictable.
The side roads are where the action is. Most are crammed with street markets where people bring their goods for sale. There will be raw meat hanging from hooks, baskets of fresh fish, boxes of produce laid on the street, and the occasional guy with a crate of chickens and a bloody butcher block. Doesn’t get fresher than that. Then there are the little old ladies who grab a raw cut of meat and wave it in the face of the seller as they barter, then give up and move over to the fruit stand where they touch all the produce with contaminated hands. I have started washing my fruit really well.
I feel like now I should take some time to go into Taiwanese cuisine because it will be (next to the humidity) the thorn in the side of my experience. It’s disgusting. I feel so closed minded saying that, but I have given it a try, and I simply can’t do it. It tastes nothing like Chinese food. There isn’t any kung pao chicken, teriyaki, sweet and sour, or chao mein. Rather, it’s terrible, foul smelling food that I can hardly swallow down and it makes the streets reek—to the point that I have to hold my breath. There is a breakfast food or two that is ok and pot stickers are edible, but after finishing lunch on our first day, Chris announced that we had pretty much exhausted all of our meal options. I found out there is a Subway down the street, and as un-adventurous as that is, I don’t care. I'm there.
I hauled a couple bags of chocolate with me from the States to give to Chris’ friends as gifts, but the lack of edible food has driven me to a new level of selfishness, and I decided to keep the chocolate for myself. I wish I could better describe the cuisine, because the Taiwanese LOVE it and are offended when foreigners don’t. Let me say this though, the Food Chanel guy off of “Man vs. Food” has eaten everything presented to him, the only exception being his visit to Taiwan where they tried to feed him Stinky Tofu.
“Stinky” is a complete understatement. Because the tofu looks totally unsuspecting, the smell sneak attacks you, and the results is uncontrollable dry heaving. Picture an unventilated metal livestock shed full of pigs and piggy poop. In August. But that’s not stinky enough. Throw a couple of 5 gallon buckets of rotting meat into the shed, and we may be getting there. It’s like your body uses every defense it has—watering eyes, gag reflex, and mild suffocation—to warn you NOT to eat the reaky stuff.
Fortunately there is one food I look forward to eating—divine Taiwanese mangos. They are large, and fresh, sweet, and most importantly, made by God. Mangos at home have a rough texture and taste a little like grass, but they are soft as butter and sweet as sugar here. There is a mango drink at our favorite joint (Coco’s—it’s similar to a Taiwanese version of Jamba Juice). The drink is called bing sha and it tastes like Mango Julius. The drink is icy with chunks of fruit, and topped with rich cream. It’s the only thing that can cool me off when my face is beet red and I have sweat running down my cheeks. Maybe I’ll live off Coco’s for the rest of my trip.
|My first breakfast--danbing. It's similar to a crepe cooked with eggs and ham.|
|This is a restaurant known as a "hot pot". There are heated bowls inserted in the table in which to boil a plate of veggies and meat.|
|After. I had a plate full of foreign looking "things" but I tried them all. Overall, it was kind of a soggy, but a fun experience.|
|My first stinky tofu sneak attack.|
|This is the famous night market. All the surrounding streets were equally chaotic and packed.|
|Shopping for the fruit of life.|