Sixth excerpt from my travel journal: miscellaneous observations

Read the previous journal excerpts, posted Oct 12 (and the day after), Oct 17 (and the day after), Oct 19last Thursday, and yesterday.

On September 28, we took the high-speed rail (HSR) to Taichung to visit some of Erik’s relatives, who drove us around the mountains and back to the city for dinner. On the 29th, we took the HSR to Taipei and visited two museums and a landmark, using taxis to get around. In between stops, naps, and meals, I made notes.

From my travel journal, Wednesday 28 and Thursday 29 September 2011

Nice quiet day today [the 28th], first such.

After driving all over, I conclude that niurou mian (beef noodle soup) is the hamburger of Taiwan.

Noodle soup lunch

In the basement food court of Taipei 101. Sarah and Devin are eating niurou mian.

Does Taiwan make some kind of sense to me because I can read enough to know what many of the shops are? They’re almost uniformly tiny and often dingy-looking (this could be an effect of the humidity), with people seemingly just hanging about inside. If I didn’t know what the signs said, all these storefronts would just be an unidentifiable mass to me, and then I might feel more Other about it all.

Mountain town

Mountain town

Storefronts

Approaching our lunch restaurant in the mountain town

Inside the restaurant

Inside the restaurant. If you want to see what we ate there, click on this image and move through the ones that follow.

On the other hand, there are also many department stores and Western-style shops (like the convenience stores: 7-11, Circle K, etc). They present quite a contrast to the other stores: bright, airy, plenty of signs, everything neatly arranged. The mix of these two styles of business makes it very fun to wander through Taiwan (and Hong Kong, too): I can get a slightly overwhelming and intimidating foreign experience, and then when it becomes too much, scurry next door to find a more familiar shopping environment, with all the prices marked and everything labeled!

Fishcakes at 7-11

Fishcakes at 7-11

Fishcake sign

Fishcake sign. Because I'm able to read some Chinese I can make out that: (a) these are, in fact, made of fish, (b) except for the ones that seem to be meatballs, and (c) some of them are handmade. It's not much to go on, but it's something... and the one that looks like a crab claw is actually tofu, which means I'd avoid that one for sure! Can't stand the stuff!

Steamed buns at 7-11

Steamed buns at 7-11

Tea eggs at 7-11

Tea eggs at 7-11. I love these! They're boiled eggs cooked in a broth of tea and spices. So savory.

Driving in Taiwan is something else. I can’t believe Yifu navigates around with such ease.

Driving through Daxi market

Photo taken inside Yifu's car as he drives through a market in Daxi.

Driving through Daxi market 2

Everyone is in everyone else's way... until they move aside. The man rummaging in his truck, at left, kindly closed that door so we could get through.

Driving through Daxi market 3

Yes, that's how much space we had (we followed the path of this van in front of us). I don't know how Yifu or the other driver did it. Even more amazing, no one seems to mind. Thankfully not all the streets are like this... but some are!

While waiting for the shuttle in Hsinchu we get to watch the morning rush hour. Mopeds hurtle past, bearing girls in skirts and heels, guys in flip-flops and shorts, and parents taking their children to elementary school. I saw one fat boy riding behind his parent, taking bites out of an onigiri.

Moped duo

Moped duo

Moped driver in high heels

High heels? No problem!

Moped drivers

Moped drivers

Dog riding on a moped with two people

Why NOT bring your dog along?

Moped laden with parcels

If a moped can fit passengers, it can fit parcels!

Approaching the elementary school

Approaching the elementary school

Entering the elementary school

Entering the elementary school

Traffic here is a wonder. Everyone drives like a maniac, yet I feel it’s somehow all very orderly. Can’t stop comparing it to capoeira: rapid and apparently hair’s-breadth encounters conducted with what looks like perfect safety and comfort. It must be dangerous, and yet we haven’t seen a single accident. It’s not just cars that zoom around the roads, either; every street seems packed with mopeds, a scattering of pedestrians, and the occasional bicycle.

Hsinchu morning rush hour

Hsinchu morning rush hour

I can see why everyone here wears those face masks, with traffic so dense and everyone so close to the streets. I almost want one myself. There aren’t many sidewalks, so pedestrians walk right next to the traffic — I can’t get used to seeing mothers shepherding their small children around just inches away from speeding drivers and mopeds. And the masks are a fashion accessory, as are motorcycle helmets; they come in every conceivable pattern and color. At the hospital in Hsinchu one of the doctors arrived wearing one in Burberry plaid with black patent trim.

Pink floral face mask

Pink floral face mask

Strawberry moped helmet

Strawberry!!

[written in a Taipei taxi] If you trust your driver, Taiwan car rides are as good as thrill rides for sure!! Just had quite a zoom… bus on right, car on left attempting to merge in, and our driver just cut right between them. It does help that cars here are smaller and the speeds slower, but still. It’s craziness. These drivers must have very good reflexes and spatial perception; I wonder if they’d do well if trained as race car drivers?

One more random note on traffic: There are light-up signs at many of the red lights, that count down how many seconds until the light turns green. So handy.

To say that people in Taiwan are skinny is like saying they’re Asian: it’s stating a fact so obvious there’s no point even commenting on it. I feel huge.