Scary looking fish heads at the market, Jim gets to pose with Santa again, and dreaming of stinky tofu.

Day 184: Taipei, Taiwan. Our ability to make early morning coffee ground to a halt today, as we discovered our travel kettle won’t work in Taiwan (at least not without causing some issues).

We stumbled out onto the local streets in search of caffeine, and steered into the first eatery we spotted. Which turned out to be a very good choice. The lady who runs the place doesn’t speak a lot of English, but she still whooped when she heard we were from Australia. She made us two huge coffees and when we tried to pay said “No, no – free for you!” A pretty awesome start to the day.

With hefty amounts of caffeine coursing around our system, we set off for a very long walk around Taipei. We’d only gone 50 metres when we spotted a local street market selling heaps of great fruit, vegetables and fresh flowers.

A little further along, we found ourselves walking through another market, where a man was doing pretty much anything to sell towels, including wearing them on his head. We also viewed some whole plucked chickens in a glass case, and and a scary looking selection of fried fish heads.

There was a chilly wind blowing today, and we passed lots of dogs and cats wrapped up against the cold.

We paid a visit to Longshan Temple, first erected in 1738 by Chinese settlers from mainland Fujian. It’s a folklore religion temple, with over 100 deities to worship. A firm favourite is Yue Lao, who can grant that you will find and stay with your true love forever. Pretty impressive.

A service was underway while we were there, with many local people reading from prayer books and quietly saying their prayers, along with the priest in the main pavilion and a few small drums. No one was making a lot of noise individually, but the overall effect was incredibly beautiful. The flower arrangements within and around the temple were also spectacular, with thousands of fresh lilies, roses and chrysanthemums.

Even though Christmas is just another day in Taiwan, with no public holiday, we were surprised at all the Christmas trees and decorations in shops and in the foyers of local businesses and hotels. Jim got another chance to pose with Santa – it certainly won’t be his last.

Next we wandered through the Western shopping mall – a trendy place for young people to hang out. We walked past the Modern Toilet restaurant, which had a bathroom display in the entrance way – the restaurant itself was upstairs. Jim scanned the menu but decided against going in for swirly poop ice cream.

We also walked though 228 Peace Park, a memorial to the bloody period between 1945, when Japanese rule ended at the close of WWII, and 1987 when military rule ended.

The park is full of birds – herons, egrets and of course pigeons – and also some very tame chunky-looking squirrels who come down from the trees to be fed by the locals. They’re super cute.

The park also contains a foot massage path. This brave guy was slowly walking along the rocks in his socks, grimacing – it didn’t look like fun at all.

Our walk around the city ended at the National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial, named for the man who ruled mainland China and then Taiwan for 46 years from 1928 to 1975, helping to end the war and bring prosperity to Taiwan. Fabulous buildings and displays, including a couple of Chiang’s old cars.

Once the sun went down, it got really cold. We headed for dinner at Jin Feng, a small restaurant renowned for its Braised Pork with Rice. We were fortunate to share a table with an English speaking guy who helped us fill in our menu card, meaning we managed to skip the pig brain soup – this time at least. Along with braised pork, we ordered some greens, stewed egg and some oily tofu – though we still need to try the Taiwan specialty – Stinky Tofu.

We caught a train back to Yonghe – the MRT here is cheap, clean and very frequent. Something we’ve noticed is people don’t just sit down because seats are free, lots of people seem to prefer to stand. Which worked well for us after our 15km walk – we were quite happy to be able to grab a couple of seats.

Our last stop was for a couple of beers at the bar we had food at last night. The guys at table next to us said cheers and insisted that in Taiwan, if you say cheers, you have to knock back your glass of beer in one go (which they were doing lots of). Lots of fun people in a lively environment, and a lovely finish to the day.

Tomorrow we were planning to go hiking in Yangmingshan National Park. However given heavy rainfall this evening, the tracks will likely be soggy so we may well do something else instead. And so knows, perhaps tomorrow will be the day Jim gets to try Stinky Tofu.

More then.

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