Dried fruits and nuts!
The heavy, non-stop rains in Taipei in mid-December limited to my itinerary to two sites, preferably indoors, per day, plus any more I had time and energy for. I also didn’t force myself to see all major tourist attractions. This might have been a very lazy approach to experience the city, but with a huge umbrella (nicely provided by the hotel. The small, cute umbrellas wouldn’t help), wet boots, dampened spirits, I really didn’t want to stress out too much about having to see everything. Okay, maybe I shouldn’t have been too relaxed because I ended up shopping quite a few times. Oh well.
Of course I had to visit a temple. Longshan Temple is not the biggest temple, but it apparently is one of the most beautiful in the city. I went at around 6 PM so I could witness the offerings. I expected people meditating and doing tai chi. When I arrived, the crowd was just starting to gather. With the smell of incense, the sight of the colorful offerings of flowers and fruits, the jam-packed people in close quarters, it was sensory overload. There were a lot of people and a lot of sounds, yet it was very peaceful. I walked around taking it all in, wondering what they were praying for, trying to be as unobtrusive as possible. It was, after all, their sacred space and I was a just a visitor.
Outside the temple, I met a monk named Yuan Hong (not sure if I spelled it correctly). He was standing near one of the exits. Not wanting to impose, I asked him if I may give him a donation – a strange question, I know. He said yes, and when I asked if I could take a photo of him, he agreed.
Walking a little further, I reached the Hua Xi Night Market, also known as Snake Alley, as some stalls cook and serve snake meat. It was still a bit early and some stalls weren’t even open yet, so I decided to get a foot and back massage at one of the massage parlors at the market. For 50 minutes, I paid only around €5! They made me change into shorts so I could put my feet into a tub with hot water and some kind of salt. While my feet were soaking, I was given a back massage; I could feel a lot of tension on my back. After the back massage, my feet were next. The masseuse couldn’t understand English, so whenever it hurt, I just made gestures and winced in pain, and she’d understand.
After a relaxing 50 minutes, I decided to look around the market to see all my food options. I stopped at a stall that had what I was looking for, but didn’t know what it was called. There were tables but I sat in front of the cook and pointed at my order. When I asked him what it was, he took out his cellphone. Because I thought he was going to get his calculator to show me how much it was (as happened quite often), I tried to gesture, “no, not yet” but it turned out to be his smartphone and the Google Translate app. Ha! With it, he told me it was a Taiwanese Hamburger. I heard another woman order the same, calling it Gua Pao. I loved the combination of the soft bun, the salty meat and the cilantro, but the sweet sauce was a bit too sweet for me.
To wash the taste of the sauce off, I bought bubble tea. Before this trip, I didn’t know it was invented in Taiwan! I ordered taro-flavored milk tea. We have a few bubble tea stands in Vienna, but aside from the chewy tapioca, I didn’t really like the flavors they were serving. The bubble tea in Taipei was different, a little tastier, creamier, sweeter. It made me really happy. Really – I was walking around sipping the cup with a grin on my face.
Happy and satisfied with my food choices, I just walked around to see the other food stalls. A lot of them sold grilled sausages. There were colorful sweet things, like jelly balls.
I stopped in front of a stall with terraria of huge snakes in front, a dining area at the back. Just as I got there, a man sitting on a high chair looked at me sternly, shook his head, and wiggled his index finger. I think he was forbidding me to take pictures. Although I wasn’t planning to anyway, the man scared me and I walked on.