Taiwan: Unexpected familiar faces

Day 13 highlights: It’s Battle Time Vol. 3 and peculiar street food

It’s been WAY too long since I’ve last updated, so I apologize to those who were waiting.  Enjoy the photos and videos!

And so the day arrived – the big dance battle at Kainan University.  Though, I’m sure this is only one of many that take place in Taiwan, I was so excited because it was my first time going to an official battle.  (insert cheers here).

We took the metro to Taipei Main Station and then rode a train to Taoyuan County, which is an hour south of Taipei.  Our tickets said “no seat” so we had to either stand the whole way or sit in the back against the walls.  We chatted and made jokes along the way, and before we knew it Taoyuan was the next stop!  Immediately coming out of the station, we spotted two students holding the poster I saw at NTUST.  This was great for contestants who were unsure of where they were going or for people like us who needed a little guidance getting to the university:

Photo Credit: Christopher Dragan

We took two cabs and we failed greatly in creating small talk with our driver.  Our conversation pretty much went like this:

“So what is there to do near Kainan University?”
“There’s really not much to do near Kainan, it’s really small.”
“Oh ok, then what do you suggest seeing in Taoyuan?”
“I don’t really know.  Taoyuan’s really big, there’s a lot to do here.”

Yep, so the rest of the trip we just talked among ourselves.  About 15 minutes later, we arrived in front of Kainan University:

It was really quiet near the gates (I’m thinking everyone was already at the gym and warming up because the competition was scheduled to start in 10 minutes) but we found a group just pulling up in a taxi, and followed them to the gym.  One of the guys looked extremely familiar, but I couldn’t tell if I was just making stuff up in my head.  It turns out that I saw him dancing at Sun Yat-Sen Memorial last Sunday, and his friend had taken classes with Tony and Andye when I went on Monday and Tuesday.  What a small world!  We heard music blasting as we approached the gym, and upon entering, all I could do was drop my jaw at the number of people here:

Photo Credit: Conrad Woo

I chatted with Elaine, the girl from the group we followed, and we started sharing our experiences in dance and our admiration for the contestants participating in the battle today.  Elaine was here to support two of her friends who were competing in the hip hop round of the battle.  It was delayed for about 45 minutes, I’m guessing to ensure that everyone had enough time to practice and prepare their muscles for the long day.  Here’s a video of the gym about 30 minutes before the battle began:

Video Credit: Conrad Woo

The emcee announced that the battle was officially starting, so everyone gathered around the front of the gym, leaving a spacious square in the middle for the dancers.  This is how it played out:

Round 1: Audition

Today’s battle consisted of three categories: hip hop, popping, and locking, and each team competed in pairs.  Each style had three judges who specialized in that particular area of dance and voted on who would advance to the next round.  In the tryout process, teams went up in threes and had one minute to show their potential to the judges.  First up, hip hop (sorry, the focus isn’t too great on this one):

Photo Credit: Felix Alfelor
Photo Credit: Felix Alfelor

The poppers:

Photo Credit: Felix Alfelor

And last but not least, the lockers:

I already knew that Xiao Hei, the instructor I met at Sun Yat-Sen Memorial last Sunday, was a judge for the hip hop category, but I didn’t expect to see the popping instructor I just took a lesson from to be there as well.  Needless to say, he was judging for the popping round of the competition.  I asked Xiao Hei if he thought any of the teams stood out today, and he mentioned that a pair from Japan was pretty good.  Later on, I realized he was talking about Kento, the Japanese dancer who guest taught at HRC earlier this week.  When I watched him dance, I could tell that he definitely stood out from the crowd.  We called him pocket-sized because he was so little yet so full of energy.

Round 2: Spotlight

The judges from each category determined which teams would advance to the next round, which required each pair to do a spotlight dance:

From Locking round | Video Credit: Conrad Woo

Round 3: Preliminary battle

The judges then chose the top 16 pairs in each category to begin the preliminary two-on-two battles.  Here, the pairs competed against each other through a random drawing, the judges decided individually who should move on, and the team with at least 2 votes of 3 would continue onto the semi-finals.

Some hip hop:

Popping:

Locking:

Round 4: Semi-finals

The top eight chosen from the previous top 16 then battled it against each other until the judges picked the top 4, and then the top 2 teams.  Elaine’s friends made it to the top 8 but were cut right before the top 4.  Here, they had a three-way battle because there was an odd number of teams:

From Hip Hop Round | Video Credit: Conrad Woo

Round 5: Finals

Finals for hip hop started right away, with Kento and his partner as one team, and my hip hop instructor from yesterday and his partner as another.  After a grueling battle of 3 rounds, Kento and his partner snatched the title of Best Hip Hop Dancers at IBT Vol. 3’s battle:

It was about 5:00PM by now, so they let the dancers take a break and it was the judges’ turns to perform solos.  Here’s the first popping judge:

And here’s the popping teacher I took class from the day before:

After the break, we returned with the semi-finals for the popping contestants, switched to the lockers, and then the popping final began:

Video Credit: Conrad Woo

My friends and I were rooting for the team on the left for their creativity, but according to the judges the pair on the right had better technique and were more well-rounded.  Congrats to them!

The lockers showed so much energy and determination even after waiting so long for the other rounds to complete.  After the top two teams gave all they could to the judges, the winners for the popping and locking of It’s Battle Time Vol. 3 were finally announced.

Eight hours.  That’s how long the battle was from the first round of tryouts to the last locking final.  We were tired from just watching dancers in the audience, so I can’t imagine how the contestants must have felt.  I spoke with our favorite popping group, and the pair told me they managed to pulled their routines together just a week before this battle.  Of course, they practice their other freestyling on a regular basis, but their time spent together was pretty limited.  I’d say with a week’s worth of practicing, second place is not bad at all.

We cabbed it back to the Taoyuan train station and on the way back to the metro, Jacqueline, Josiah, Conrad, and I went to Ximen for dinner.  Ximen at night is like the typical hangout spot for many young people, with street food, shops, clubs, bars, and restaurants of all types.  I even saw Elaine’s friend from the dance battle there!  In a matter of 30 minutes or so, I tried the most foreign Taiwanese food that I’ve been scouting for my entire trip.  First up, rice sausage and pig blood popsicles:

Retrieved from http://www.jaunted.com

I was not a fan of the rice sausage.  At all.  I’ve seen it at night markets before and Lucas mentioned that it was pretty good, so I decided to try it.  It’s basically rice stuffed into pork sausage skin.  No, thanks.  My camera battery died at the dance battle so I couldn’t take any more photos for the night, but I wouldn’t have even wanted to save an image of this thing.

The pig blood popsicles were better.  The ones I had were squares of rice seasoned in pork blood and stacked atop another forming a pattern of diamonds.  One of my friends tried it before and said it was sweet, and I do agree that there is a hint of tart from the blood.  Overall, it was much better than my attempted half bite in my rice sausage.  You’re probably thinking how gross both of these sound, but I was thinking of taking advantage of tasting what I couldn’t back in the U.S., and for the most part I’ve been pretty satisfied.

Next, we have stinky tofu:

Photo Credit: Conrad Woo

You know you’re near a stinky tofu stand when you feel the stench creeping up your nostrils, hence the lovely name of this dish.  It’s fried in a soy-sauce type oil and you can choose what sauces to go with it, but it is usually recommended to have something spicy to complement the stinkiness.  The tofu itself is not too bad.  I’ve had the “Chinese” version where it’s slow-cooked to create a creamy texture.  This one is soft and stays truer to its tofu consistency.

We stopped by a famous Taiwanese fried chicken chain and got a big bag to share among the four of us.  The chicken was great, but I think what makes this place special is the staff.  They all do this little chant basically saying that fried chicken is yummy and tossing the chicken is fun.  They do the “are you sure?” when people order the small bag to upsell the sizes.  They seem to be having a lot of fun working together, and if they’re not they are certainly faking it well.

I wanted something refreshing to wash down the stinky tofu and chicken aftertaste, so we found a shaved ice shop down the street.  This was without a doubt my favorite dessert I had in Taipei.  Shaved ice made with milk covered with fresh kiwi, strawberries, and mango, with a scoop of mango ice cream just to top it off.  This beats any smoothie or fruit dessert I’ve ever had in my life.  Yeah, in my life.

Photo Credit: Conrad Woo

We were on the metro heading back the hostel when Marisa called and told us to meet up at Ximen for the night.  Just as the doors were opening for us to change trains, Conrad and I decided to stay on and take it back to Ximen to see what Marisa, Jing Jing, Jeremy, and Bixx were up to.  We met them at Cafe Dalida, one of the many outdoor bars near the Red House Theater.  Then we took a taxi over to Cafe Fresh near the hostel and danced the night away.

I gave myself a pat on the back for quite the successful day of my two favorite subjects: dancing and food.  A few weeks later, I found out about a b-boying battle called Battle of the Year, an international battle that started in 1990 and the finals this year are hosted in Montpellier, France.  I felt like I should know that…still so much to learn!  Anyways, the Taiwan section was taking place on July 9, just two weeks after I left, so I was kind of bummed.  However, now that I know of it, I can plan to make one of these preliminaries or even finals in the coming years, either in the U.S. or maybe even abroad! 

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