Outside, the skies were relatively clear. Indeed, temperatures hovered around 20 degrees the whole day which was good weather for walking around.
Right outside the hotel, we spotted this:
I could teach here!
We first went to the Ximending MRT station, to purchase the Taiwanese stored value card known as the Youka. There, we were helped by an eager English-speaking Taiwanese young man who must have been a volunteer of sorts; he appeared to have been lurking near the ticket machines, lying in wait for bewildered tourists. It seemed odd to have an English-speaking volunteer when there was noticeably a lack of tourists from Western countries. Not that it mattered - with his help, we bought our youka and took our first Taiwanese MRT train.
Before hitting major attractions such as Longshan Temple, we would first drop by Huajiang Waterfowl Park, the first of several birding locations I had in mind. Located along the banks of the Danshui River, getting there entailed a long walk through one of Taipei's oldest districts, the neighbourhood of Wanhua, replete with local sights.
Longshan Elementary School
outside a religious artefact shop
the courtyard of a condominium complex
Walking through the backstreets of Wanhua, I was reminded of what a friend had said about Taipei, that it was not a pretty city by any means and not a particularly attractive one, especially not at first sight. However, it was, according to him, a city that would grow on those who took the time to get to know it better.
It took us a while to find our way to the banks of the Danshui River, not least because a highway was in our way. Finally, when we arrived at the series of parks that flanked that particular waterway, we found the Taiwanese seriously at play.
a friendly game of hoops
Taiwan's national sport
complete with WAGs
We found a good spot for birdwatching but had to wait for some local park users to complete their morning routine.
what a view!
Huajiang Waterfowl Park was a little gem. It was nice to know that there were parts of Taipei that had been left relatively untouched.
While there weren't the flocks and flocks of waterfowl I had envisioned, we did spot some ducks, a grey heron, a Chinese bulbul (a lifer!) and a little ringed plover, enough to make me feel that the walk out was worth our efforts.
Then we headed back across Wanhua.
betel nut shop
We stopped when we saw this:
This was the Xuehai Academy, a Qing Dynasty school building and the Gao clan's ancestral shrine. Obviously the Gaos were having a ceremony of sorts.
ceremonial offering or lunch in the making?
a Gao elder, we presume, waiting patiently
Eventually we made our way to Longshan Temple, one of Taiwan's most important temples.
inside the courtyard
Well-known for its architectural splendour, the temple was suitably ornate.
What fascinated us though were the arcane rituals. We watched the ebb and flow of worshippers as they went about their business, invoking the gods and petitioning for help. Although, as Singaporeans, we are no strangers to Taoism and Buddhism, we were happy to note subtle differences in the way things were done.
devotees wore robes
offerings - a familiar sight...
...but not dedicated facilities for washing fruit
It seemed to us that these were not just superficial requests for lottery numbers. The Taiwanese seemed to be a spiritual people.
saying the Buddhist rosary
divining blocks, or puay as they are known in Singapore, at work
a direct line to the gods?
In the vicinity of Longshan Temple, there were numerous businesses providing related services and supplies.
tapestry being created
at reasonable prices too!
As we made our way back towards Ximending, we were pleased to chance across two much smaller and quieter temples, which after the liveliness of Longshan Temple, were a pleasant contrast.
the facade of Qingshan Temple
guardians of the altar
piece de resistance
above the altar
what's with the eyebrows
three gods in a row
Door God Left
Door God Right
one last look at the roof
at Qingshui Temple - three gods, one packet drink
prosperity candles, I believe
another Door God
At that time, we had no idea that these temples were more than 100 years old or that they were significant because the deities worshipped within were responsible for warding off pestilence and other evils. That didn't stop us though from enjoying these very Taiwanese expressions of faith.
Then it was back to Ximending for a spot of lunch and 21st century obsessions. We headed for Shi Zi Ting (Crossroads Pavilion?), a shop specialising in duck noodles and noodle soup.
Shi Zi Ting
duck meat (NT$120/S$6)
bee hoon soup (NT$50/S$2.50)
We had us a bowl of bee hoon soup each and a plate of duck to share. We liked the duck, although we thought the person doing the chopping and slicing could have been more skillful. There was more "shrapnel" than we cared for. The bee hoon was excellent - very fine noodles in clear stock, with lean meat to top it off.
Right outside the Shi Zi Ting was one of those "frog laying eggs" stalls.
qing wa xia dan
It sold drinks such as Taiwanese-style lemonade laced with bits of jelly that looked like, what else, frog's eggs. The "eggs" reminded us of passion fruit seeds. We opted for a cup with aiyu, the soft jelly dessert that is uniquely Taiwanese (NT$30/S$1.50) - very refreshing indeed.
After lunch, we hung around Ximending for some shopping and sightseeing.
Taiwanese serial in the making?
Taiwan Tourism Board mural?
edible but are these animal, mineral or vegetable?
a new ad at that time
We were beginning to recognise some "fixtures":
paper silhouettes on demand
blind er-hu player with trusty companion
hehe, now which of the ba xian (Eight Immortals) is this?!
permanently parked outside a cafe
Of course there was the shopping, including our some of our favourite brands, Japanese or otherwise:
HM was on a make-up spree though, Japanese and Korean drugstore make-up lines being both available and reasonably priced.
HM spent much time at this and other personal care stores
The afternoon proved productive. We returned to the hotel with two t-shirts, one sweater, and a pair of boots, from the Eslite Shopping Centre, and some make-up, but not before being "robbed". HM had just stepped out of one of these make-up stores with a bunch of receipts in her hand, when some woman ran up to her, snatched her receipts and ran away, leaving her bemused.
After a short rest back at the hotel, we went to Taipei Main Station to collect our train tickets to Hualien which I had reserved online prior to arriving in Taiwan. The process was pain-free and at NT$800 (S$40) for a return ticket, not a bad deal at all.
We went back to Wanhua for dinner at one of Taipei's most established night markets.
Huaxi Night Market
crowded with tourists, local and otherwise
Once notorious for the sale, slaughter and saute-ing of exotic creatures, Huaxi Night Market was more mellow than we expected. Sure, there were still several restaurants hocking snake meat, but most of the animals we saw were more docile than that.
aieee, animal wearing animal print
Batcat taking a nap
There were many food options.
from "exotic" food like feet of fowl...
to pastries like "scholar" cake...
even steak restaurants
We had our eye on something else though.
soup in the making
the people behind the food
We had ourselves a bowl of soup and a plate of omelette, for NT$120 (S$6).
peppery and yummy with cilantro
The oysters were delicious, but we did miss the crunchy savoury bits that characterise Singapore style orh jian.
Next, we decided to try lu rou fan (rice with minced stewed pork) and pai gu mian (pork rib noodles). Lu rou fan in particular looked appetising. It was certainly ubiquitous; every street corner in Ximending and Wanhua seemed to have a stall selling it.
this shop sold both
We chose a shop that seemed popular.
We shared two items:
pai gu mian (pork rib noodles)
lu rou fan (rice with stewed minced pork)
For one bowl of each, the bill came up to NT$195 (S$9.75). The pai gu mian was tasty - redolent with Chinese five spice - but we preferred the beef noodles we had had the day before, especially the texture of the noodles. I loved the lu rou fan with the little bits of pork fat making the rice ever so fragrant.
Then we found room for two small snacks, some corn and...
hu jiao bing aka pepper pastry
one for NT$35 (S$1.75)
These were flaky pastries filled with meat in a peppery sauce. Spicy and intensely savoury, they were just the thing for a cool winter night.
We ended our repast with something sweet - a cup of almond "tea", really a drink made with almond powder, for NT$30 (S$1.50).
On our way back, we swung past the Longshan Temple. By night, the temple offered a different experience. There was an air of quiet mystery.
Then it was bedtime for us. It had been a day of tradition and custom. We had an outing to look forward to, something quite different.
Ximending by night