From Roanoke to Detroit to Narita to Taipei, it took a good 24 hours to finally arrive in Taiwan. The drive to the Cat’s Pajamas was a little confusing, but my taxi driver was very patient and nice on the way. The hostel is so cute and homey inside! It’s located in the heart of Taipei so it’s convenient to get around. I arrived around 11:30 at night and was welcomed by screaming from The Last Exorcism playing on the TV screen. I refused to watch the movie but had a nice little encounter with the students in the lounge. There were two guys from Sweden, two girls from Malaysia, and one girl from Hong Kong staying here, I think all for traveling purposes. After finishing some emails and web surfing, I went to bed for a restful sleep.
Day 1 highlights: street food and window shopping
So I voluntarily woke up at 8:45AM today, very unexpected from my body but hey, I went with it. My mission for the day was to get a SIM card for my basic Asian phone, find a bank, and take a look at the National Taiwan Normal University (NTNU) – so proud to say I did all three and so much more!
It seems like 7-Eleven’s in Taipei are like the mini Wal-Marts in the U.S., because I was told by a lot of people to try these convenience stores to get my SIM card and other personal items. Well, that was kind of fail because both of the ones I went to didn’t have any cards, and the one I found that sold them didn’t open until 11, so I had over an hour to kill before I could buy one. Therefore, I went to a Bank of Taiwan, embarrassed myself with my not-so-fluent Chinese (man, I need to brush up on my skills quickly), and decided to find some breakfast. On the way to the 7-Eleven’s, I passed by at least 15 street vendors that sold xiao chi (snacks) and weighed out my options (also avoiding the fact that I didn’t know how to read half the things on the menus HA) before I settled on a little dumpling shop right outside the Bank of Taiwan. To start off the day, I had corn soup and pork dumplings:
The corn soup had the sweetness of corn juice, if you’ve ever tried that. They also added chopped carrots, eggs (like in egg drop soup) and ham. It was a nice compliment to the pork dumplings which were served fresh from the pot. They were a little salty for my taste, but I would definitely go back to try their leek dumplings and guo tie (fried dumplings).
I basically walked all of Heping East Road past the clothing stores, sunglasses huts, electronic stores, cafe’s, bakeries, modern art galleries, hair salons, and more street food until I decided to get my phone card. I found a post office in case I want to send mail, and on the way back to Cat’s PJs I stopped by a cute little souvenir/bookstore. I’ve been searching for a pencil pouch for the last few months, so I was soo excited when I found the perfect slim and simple pencil pouch. It was a big deal for me.
A pit stop was needed to unload and change shoes (it was sprinkling throughout the day, and having almost tripped in my flip-flops three times or so told me I should probably switch to my more reliable Keds. I came out again, determined to find NTNU, and on my way there I fortunately bumped into Marissa (who I met earlier this morning) because I was walking the opposite direction hahaha. She was on her way to register for class and I wanted to get acquainted with the campus for future reference, so we walked to the library campus together. This part of campus is more student-service focused with buildings such as the library, the Mandarin Training Center, foreign affairs, etc. From there, I explored around and found a little garden with wooden characters dedicated to Japan:
I decided to look at NTNU’S main campus where the academic buildings were located. Um, I totally walked past it the first time, asked a lady which way to go (she didn’t know and later on when I went back towards the Cat’s PJ’s I saw her again…awkward), turned around and took the correct cross walk, walked past the main entrance because the sign had a different name than on the map and it looked way to quiet to be a school, and finally had two people direct me back. LOL
I first walked around the music building which had about three stories of private practice rooms for students to practice instrumental and vocal performances. When I passed by the gym, I was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of girls moving to “Candyman” by Christina Aguilera – dancers! They were practicing for a graduation performance and were just starting their rehearsals, all student run sort of like UK 101. I stayed and watched for a little bit just to see the style – I think they were going for something simple and cute.
The gym also had two large dance studios, one with an aerobics class and another with a ballroom class when I visited. They also had basketball courts, multi-purpose courts, weight-training rooms, a gymnastics room, and the home of the athletic department.
I familiarized myself with the area around Cat’s PJs since I finished my plans earlier than expected. I decided to let my instincts lead me where to go the rest of the afternoon, and I think it brought me around the long way back because I kept getting pulled into looking at food, shops, and bookstores. I snacked on my fruit jelly tea while I window shopped:
There are a lot of grocery and personal care stores in addition to the street food and specialty stores for umbrellas and beauty products. I went into this really cute souvenir shop that had a whole wall dedicated to fake eyelashes. I meant to take a picture of it but forgot to on my way out because I got distracted and found the perfect trinket for a friend. I think she’s going to love it :) I also found a really cute skirt and stopped by a bakery to munch on a scallion bread and save a tuna roll for later:
I had enough window shopping for the day, so I started looking for the street I was on to head back to the Cat’s Pjs. This entry’s title shows how bad I was with directions throughout the whole day. I ended up walking the opposite direction of Taishun Rd, the street that Cat’s PJs is located on, asked someone for confirmation only having her tell me to walk the other way, and finally figuring it out after a cafe employee told me the correct turn. I really appreciate the high quality customer service here in Taiwan – I’ve had positive encounters with all the store employees so far. However, I really need to have a better sense of direction…
After my unnecessarily long walk back, I chatted it up with Jing Jing, one of the hosts, who’s actually my age and studying at NTNU. The staff here is so nice and welcoming, so I definitely recommend anyone coming to Taiwan to stay at the Cat’s PJs. I met a couple from England who is staying here for a few days, and Jacqueline who’s studying Chinese at NTNU with Marissa. Jacqueline, Marissa, and I went to dinner at a street noodle vendor near the night market. I ordered wonton noodle soup:
Adding a little red pepper oil made this dish perfectly refreshing for the drizzly evening before us. Through our conversations, we found out that all of us have been all over China and Southeast Asia for different reasons, and as Marissa said, we’ve become “united” by meeting each other in Taiwan. Aww. On our way back, we found the ever-so-wonderful night market, with all the inexpensive food and clothes that you can possibly find:
I thought that my night was going to end here but when we returned to the hostel, Lucas, one of my our other hosts, and two other guests from Seattle invited us out to Snake Alley and Ximen. Through this trip I was exposed to how clean and organized the metro stations were – I was very impressed. There’s a night market on Huaxi Street most commonly lined with massage salons and snake restaurants, hence the name Snake Alley. Nice combination right?
Honestly, I felt nauseous after seeing such large live snakes and knowing they were also an eatery. Lucas tried settling our stomachs with tomatoes dipped in ginger and soy sauce:
It was a very interesting mix. The sweetness of the tomatoes mixed well with the savory sauce. However, I still felt funny after the Snake Alley experience. Well, Lucas was still hungry so we went to another shop where he ordered shredded chicken over rice and fish stew, which was apparently really good (confirmed by the two Seattle guys). Afterwards, we went to another vendor to try some fried oysters and beef porridge:
Lucas uses the porridge as a source of recovery at fatal times. Thanks to these two dishes, we were able to gain back our appetite. Of course, that meant we had to make one more stop for shaved ice with vegetable toppings:
The left was topped with peanuts, red beans, kidney beans, mung beans, and assorted mochi. On the right, corn and peanuts. My favorites were the peanuts and red beans with the shaved ice. I never would have thought to combine these ingredients to make a summertime treat. Asians are so smart.
Jacqueline and I were pretty beat, so we decided to head back while the three guys continued their night at Ximen. And so, this concludes my first full day in Taipei. Woo! I definitely went into more detail than I planned to, but it was just as much fun reflecting as it was experiencing it. Now, off to bed for another full day ahead!