Friday, January 29, 2010

Taiwan Translated: 3 days in Taipei

Yesterday, Junior J (since he's now a toddler, we can't keep referring to him as "baby"!) took 2.5 hours to fall asleep for his 2nd nap.  Within that period of time, he managed to:

1. Gnaw at our bedhead and gouge out a little piece of wood (which I had to take out of his mouth, which earned me tooth marks all over my fingers).

2. Find out that falling backwards on the bed from a standing position was fun.  It gets even more fun if the Mama has to scramble out of the way each time.

3. Practice standing up without support repeatedly.

4. Crawl and disturb the sleeping post-call Papa by sitting on him, stealing his spectacles and patting him on the face and tummy.

Needless to say, I was exhausted when he finally conceded defeat and fell asleep (after falling face flat on one of his nesting barrels and crying like crazy), and didn't have any energy to blog!  So just to conclude our Taiwan travelogue (do I hear sighs of relief here?)...

We spent the last 3 days of our trip in Taipei, and travelled around using public transport (the bus and the metro).  We didn't manage to visit all the places on our list (and hubby kindly choose those places that I wanted to go instead of those he preferred), but we did enjoy ourselves pretty much.

First up on our list was a visit to the National Palace Museum (Gugong Bowuyuan), which houses the best collection of Chinese art in the world.  Photography wasn't allowed (Hubby was relieved he didn't have to drag me away from each exhibit while fiddling with shutter and aperture settings!), so we spent half a day just admiring all the artwork, ranging from ancient bronze vessels, to intricately carved ivory pieces and elaborately painted porcelain bowls.  (Look out for the concentric ivory balls, which consists of 17 balls one inside the other, all carved from a single piece of ivory... Its nothing short of amazing!)

I am baby, hear me roar!

We had lunch at the restaurant at the museum, and discovered to our delight, that their set meals were not expensive (NT $150 for mains, a drink and decent soup that didn't come out of a can).  They served pretty good beef noodles there too.  We also stopped at the tea house inside the museum to give baby J some crawl time, and had some floral tea.

View from the tea-house

Then it was off to the king of all night markets: Shilin Night Market.  All the food stalls are located within a massive complex and there's a dizzying array of food available, from the usual Taiwanese snacks, to teppanyaki (which looked very yummy, but we were too full to try that!).  However, we were rather sick of the usual night market food (like Taiwanese sausages), and opted to try the cuttlefish soup, which was pretty good.  Two other interesting things we tried were the "Love jade ice" (Aiyubing), which consisted of jelly floating in a lime-based syrup, as well as white bittergourd juice (It was blended with carrot and honey, so it wasn't too bitter, but hubby absolutely refused to try it!).  Perhaps we had our fill of night markets, but we didn't really enjoy this one at all, possibly because the hawkers here tend to be pushier in getting customers (You could blame it on the stiff competition since many stalls sell the same things!).

Strawberries frozen in syrup... another common street snack!

We headed to the Su Ho Paper Museum (Shuhuo Jinian Zhi Bowuguan) on the morning of the second day.  The museum's an interesting place to bring kids, as there are exhibits showing all sorts of information on paper and paper-making, as well as stations allowing you to test out the various properties of paper.  Also, you can try your hand at making paper, which was pretty fun (but the water containing the paper pulp was freezing!).  The museum sells various paper products ranging from alarm clocks made with recycled paper, to paper-making kits (which comes with the deckle and paper pulp).

Armed with some paper products, we headed to Din Tai Fung for lunch.  This restaurant (which was the original Din Tai Fung) puts all its Singapore branches to shame: Their food is done just right (the hot and sour soup is not overly sour, which tends to be the case in many Chinese restaurants here), and their service is good even though the place is packed during lunch time (their waitresses can speak Japanese as well, and they have one waitress dedicated to just topping up everyone's tea).  Though the place does not look as classy as those in Singapore (it looks like a coffeeshop and is pretty cramped), I'd choose the Taipei one over the Singapore ones any day!

We then visited Longshan temple (Longshan Si).  One feature of this temple that stood out amongst the others was the crowd.  The place was bustling with tourists and school children, and a long queue flanked both sides of the sidewalk outside the temple that could rival those made by fans queuing up to get tickets for their pop-star's concert.  A check with the information counter inside the temple revealed that there was going to be a lantern lighting festival in two days time, so those outside were actually queuing outside for that!

The day ended with us having dinner at Snake Alley (Huaxijie Yeshi), which, as the name suggests had shops with all sorts of snakes that were used to prepare all sorts of dishes and drinks.  We fled from all the shopkeepers trying to entice us to take a look (and perhaps a bite) at the snakes, and went to Tainan Tan-tsu-mien.  The place looked like a usual seafood restaurant from the front, as there are bubbling tanks filled with all sorts of fish and crustaceans, but enter the place and you'll be greeted by very European decor, complete with oil paintings and chandeliers!  Distinctly odd especially since its located in Snake Alley, but the food was pretty good (but it was expensive though!).

Prawn mantis, served on distinctly European porcelain.  Hmm...

The last day in Taipei was spent doing all our last minute shopping.  As we wanted to get some goodies for our friends and family, we trooped down to Dihua Street (Dihuajie).  This long street has countless of chinese medicinal shops selling all sorts of dried goods (we bought dried osmanthus from one of them), as well as fabric shops and other shops selling all manner of products.  For those not inclined to shopping, this street also has Taipei's best preserved historic architecture.  Our star find of the day, however, was the shop selling beef jerky (I forgot the name, but its at 311 Dihuajie), as we had hunted unsuccessfully for that for the whole trip and had failed to find one that wasn't too chewy.  We also managed to buy our Taiwanese beef instant noodles from a wholesaler there.  So lugging a box of beef jerky, a box of instant noodles and a pretty heavy baby, we ended up at the market, where the 3rd floor was just filled with fabric shops selling all types of fabrics.  Hubby allows me to go nuts shopping for fabric for awhile, and we then trudge back to our hotel laden with all our purchases (needless to say, we busted our luggage weight limit!).

Just one last note: If you're looking for a cheap place to stay when in Taipei, Lilai Hotel's probably the place to go.  We chose the place for its excellent location, as its was a 5 minute walk to the metro, and near various places of interest such as Ximending.  The rooms are pretty big given the price you pay for them, but the decor is really tacky (ours had mirrors above the bed head and all sorts of moldings that made the room look like something from a Asian horror movie set).  Oh, and don't throw toilet paper into the toilet bowl.  I missed the sign the first time I used the toilet, and found out about it the hard way!

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