Sunday, 22 January 2012

Taipei night tour

            Just before dinner, I got picked up from my hotel for a Mongolian dinner and Taipei night tour.  It wasn’t a bad experience by any means but the crowds and cheesier-type attractions made me grateful that my trip was largely personalized tours by locals!  Anyway, first stop was dinner at Mongolian BBQ, aka tourist feeding hole.  Many tour buses came to this large buffet where you could eat unlimited prepared dishes, bring a meat, vegetable & noodle creation for the chefs to cook (like Fire & Ice in the US) or pick out things to cook in the table’s hot pot.  I enjoyed getting to know Felix, the tour guide and a family from the Philippines but this food… had room for improvement especially considering the quality of everything else I ate in this country. 
            After everyone ate, the first stop was the tourist-friendly Hui Xi Night Market.  It was a well-organized hallway of vendors that stood in stark contrast to the chaotic, jumbled, jam-packed Night Market that I went to back in Chia-yi.  As I mentioned in a prior entry, historically, this market was known for killing snakes (drinking their blood was supposed to make you strong) and prostitutes.  Today, there were several snakes in display cases but it was pretty tame.  When I saw all the foot and body massage businesses, suddenly all the rock-hard Taiwanese beds I’ve slept in made sense.  Perhaps the hotels and Universities conspire to support the masseuses!
Entrance to Night Market
Inside the tourist friendly night market

            The Loushan (dragon) Temple was next and actually interesting.  The outside of the temple was completely covered in paper lanterns, which Felix says only happens a couple times of the year.  The main Buddhist figure is famous for surviving a WWII bombing, even though the rest of the temple was destroyed.  There were some tourists but also many people leaving offerings of food or flowers, while lighting incense so the smoke could bring their prayers to the gods (as the Chinese believe they can’t speak to the gods directly).  In the back, there was a Daoist temple with several deities, specialized for various needs- success in commerce, matchmaking, examinations and more.  I loved the offering of Choco-pies in front of this education deity.  In the below picture, you can see two Philippine women and me.  They loved taking pictures with me- I’m in more than a half a dozen of their family photos.  Every time, someone would say “Now we can take you home” and everyone would cheer “souvenir”!   I can’t imagine what they are going to say about me when they share these photos back home.  It’s kind of like the boy who videotaped my whole SCALE-UP talk on his cell-phone- is he going to listen to my talk on active learning as a late night lullaby before he goes to bed?

With Philippine friends at Loushan Temple
            The last stop was the 101 building so I enjoyed exploring that for a second time today.  I didn’t go to the top, because that was an additional charge and it was too foggy to see much anyway.  But it is the fastest elevator in the world (at least until 2014 when a Shanghai skyscraper should be completed and is planned to surpass that record).  They also have an impressive “damper” at the top to absorb extra wind and earthquake jiggles to protect the building.  They sell “damper baby” key chains and stuffed animals as a silly souvenir.   So that was the night tour- the Philippine family was sad to see me go, but they let out a jubilant cheer as I left.