The pineapple, dragon fruit and buddha head fruit beckoned her from Portland’s dreary winter and she said, “I’m coming and I want to do everything that brings you joy.” Easy peasy.
Three’s Company meets Project Runway meets …
Many things you can’t explain around here. It’s just Taiwan and Rachel embraced it all.
Private Residential Tea Tasting
Before the rains came we headed out of the city to find some tea fields with our driver Michael (he’s a professional driver with Nike. We call him Baby Driver). I’ve been to a few fields, but wanted to see some new ones which Michael helped locate in the Nantou region. Upon arriving we saw fields and fields of tea plants, pineapples, dragon fruit, ginger and banana trees. No tourists. Just us walking down a quiet country road goofing around. It was perfect except no tea tasting rooms in sight. Hoping to find one, Michael asked a man who was out puttering in his yard where to go. In Taiwanese fashion, puttering man invited us in to HIS living room, for TEA. This is Taiwan to a T.
Mr. Man of Tea Ceremony
He invited us inside, introduced us to his daughter and promptly started boiling water. We drank copious rounds of tiny cups filled to the brim with oolong tea from their tea fields. A tea tasting couldn’t get more authentic than this.
The whole family lives in this house which was designed by his daughter (far right). Behind them you can see their small farm of pineapple plants (left) and a 4-season tea plant (right). They get 4-5 tea harvests from this particular plant a year, which is high. What hospitality to invite three strangers in for tea!
Houtanjing Sky Bridge
Behind their house is a suspension bridge which we were not only encouraged to walk, Mr. Tea Ceremony himself escorted us to the start of it. It’s impressive at 670 feet long, 265 steps and a 492 foot drop to the valley below. On a clear day, which it was not, you can see the ocean.
Back in the city
I take full responsibility for Rachel’s bubble tea addiction. She immediately began a strict BTaD habit (bubble tea a day). Just call me her Bubba Lord.
It Rained, Like A lot
You know who doesn’t care? TWIN DRAGONS. Serendipitously we found the finest purveyor of rain coats at the local market and acquired the very finest Twin Dragon brand of rain wear.
Rachel is an architect and so we made a visit to Toyo Ito’s masterpiece, the National Taichung Theater. It opened the year we moved here in 2016. We are proud members who enjoy the modern dance performances that come through. It’s a stunning space filled with three large theatres (largest holds 2,014 seats), exhibition spaces and restaurants open to all to wonder and explore.
It’s illuminating exploring a city with an architect, a city in which doesn’t have much regard for what we call the ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] and doesn’t exactly share the same standards for safety (excluding earthquake safety – that they get 300%). I kept asking Rachel, “so is this to code? Answer, “no”. It doesn’t take long to notice that many things are not square, even or level. Not bad, just different and always entertaining! Tip: Never take your eyes off the walkway here.
Speaking of Earthquakes
We visited the 921 Earthquake Museum of Taiwan. It’s dedicated to the 7.3 earthquake that struck the center of Taiwan at 9/21, 1999 – 2,415 people were killed, 11,305 injured. It’s a sobering museum because it’s located on the site of a former high school. The shell of the building forms the exterior walls of the museum and one of the museum’s gallery crosses the actual fault on which the earthquake occurred!
Rachel, being an architect, collected lots of photos, data and stats which she hopes to present to her colleagues in Portland. I brought Scott’s dad here, also an architect, and he was moved in the same way. It’s such an informative, educating, eye-opening experience because you are seeing REAL structural damage with write-ups about how and why certain structures failed and how it has since been improved. Kudos to Taiwan for creating and preserving this.
High XiaoLongBao Standards
At the famous Din Tai Fung, we ordered a basket of famous xiaolongbao along with some truffle dumplings. When our server opened the xiaolongbao basket to present the dumpling masterpieces she had a look of horror on her face. One xiaolongbao had exploded, meaning its soupy delicious fatty pork broth had escaped it’s delicate dumpling package. She said she would replace it immediately. And she did. She also told us in a strict dumpling school marm way that we were to eat the xiaolongbao and the truffle dumplings separately to avoid spoiling the delicate flavours of each.
Project Runway, Taichung
We are the craftiest of friends, literally. Some people have pen pals, but we’re art collab pals. Maybe, someday we’ll share what we’ve been up to. Until then, we introduce Project Runway, the Taichung Edition (where each designer gets a luxurious hour at the fabric store). I took Rachel to my favorite fabric shop and along the way we got inspired by a purse, a large purse, which warrants its own large blog post (because I can’t do small). I’m not sorry about that either. This is my blog, my diary and truthfully I bet just my mom, Rachel and her mom will read all of this.
Trending: fanny packs & ear muffs
Our fashionista was woke when we found fanny packs at market (not far from the chickens). They’re back. You heard it here first. You’re welcome.
Fine, fine art at the MFA
The Magical Light and Shadow in Nature show by Lin Hsin-yueh was phenomenal and made us hungry for all the local fruits.
Stingray + Barracuda
We visited our local stamp maker to get our aliases etched in Chinese characters. Stingray. No problem. Saracuda… a bit more problematic in Mandarin, therefore I opted for Barracuda which prompted a ‘Really?!” with gesturing biting hands. Why yes, that’s exactly the fish. Thank you. Traditionally people get these stamps made of their full formal names and stamp formal documents. I can only imagine what this guy thinks of two American women who want fish stamps. Oddly, he never asked and simply made them and took our money. There’s very little judgement in this culture.
Out on the Taichung Town
Japanese Alley Curry
After two failed attempts of eating here we struck gold on the third try. This tiny and super popular pop-up Japanese curry restaurant is located in a dark and grungy alley / day market. The owner’s name is “Uncle” and he loves music and New Balance. “Do Not Bully My Uncle” and “No Curry, No Life” signs hang around the eclectic decorations and rows of CDs. The name of the place translates (in google) to Don’t Be Uncle. It’s a fun place with great tunes!
Deconstructed Mocha with Cloud
Big City Taipei
We grabbed our big-ass Project Runway bags and hopped on the High Speed Rail for 3 nights in Taipei, the capital. Rachel, as I mentioned, is an architect and one of her many expertises is in hotel design. She was curious to experience some Taiwanese hotel designs so she sleuthed out two hip ones.
The first,”Play Design Hotel”, not your typical hotel with only 6 rooms, featuring locally designed goods, beautifully designed and usable maps of the neighborhood and managed by a woman named Beta. We reserved the Play Tea Room with DIY in-room tea ceremony.
The second was “S Hotel” by designer Philippe Starck, a more traditional hotel that we didn’t get to spend as much time in, but was sleek, comfy with robotic window blinds! Both lovely in different ways, and in different neighborhoods. Such a treat to experience together.
Ningxia Night Market
We devoured everything we could which was all foods on all sticks.
Tomato is a fruit here
This bright and shiny gem can be seen at every night market which I’ve always shied away from, fearing it was super sugary, like a candy apple and I’d lose a filling. I’m here to say NOT TRUE! It’s actually quite delicious. It’s a ripe cherry tomato coated in a thin sugar coating that’s reminiscent of a creme brulee crunch. The dark separators are a sort of candied, fermented, salted plum. I think?
This is another food I feared but at one point you just have to start checking foods off your night market bucket list. This is a Taiwan Corn Dog and what makes it “unique” and so VERY Taiwan is that it’s dipped in SUGAR. Barf. We ate it though.
I love this dish. It’s very popular and often fried, but this was grilled, therefore it’s a healthful night market choice. Grilled squid lady hooked us up with VIP seating.
I loved poking along Dihau Street in the Dadaocheng neighborhood with Rachel. This is Taipei’s historic neighborhood, with older architecture and a thriving artistic community. The street is packed with shops selling cute things that you think you need but really don’t, lots of tea ceramics, dried goods, herbal medicines, museums and many cafes.
Don’t Be Shellous of our Nails
Taiwan does nails really well and it’s not crazy expensive. This is something I don’t engage in very often but is fun when girlfriends are in town. Rachel was hot to get the latest trend of actual thin slivers of pearly shells. Taiwan, always leading the nail trends!
Don’t be a Dingdong. OK.
Greasy Spoon Diner
Rachel wanted to try a local breakfast so we ordered up my favorite savories: dan bing on left (a Taiwanese version of egg burrito with scallions) and radish cake on right (mild in flavor, like a hashbrown it’s always comforting). The coconut butter on soft white toast was new to me (thanks to Rachel) and quite tasty!
Friend Honeymoon Complete
Rachel, Twin Dragon, thanks so much for coming to visit me way over here. You have no idea how much it means to me. Actually, I think you do, and that’s why I love you so. It’s been magnificent to see this city through your eyes, catch-up, check-in and discuss all that is life – face to face. Until the next Mobo Project Runway challenge…
Love, Sarracuda, Twin Dragon
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