Taipei Withdrawal

Forgive me for the lack of blog posts the last 2 weeks. Since I returned from Asia, I have been in a deep blue funk – a dark place. Depression might be too strong of a word – but definitely a cold, dark, lonely, and distracted place. Actually, depression set in the first morning back in the USA, where breakfast out cost me $23 plus tip – I’m not sure I spent that much in 2 weeks worth of breakfasts in Taipei (and there is no tipping there by the way, but do not get me started…)

But the funk I have been in – it could be the post-vacation blues, the normal back-to-work blahs, but I think its more a withdrawal or heaviness that cannot be explained…well, except by the great Rodney Dangerfield:

I get a lot of pressure and this pressure is like a heaviness. It’s always on top of me, this heaviness. Other people wake up in the morning, “Ahh new day, up n’ atom!” I wake up, the heaviness is right there waiting for me…sometimes I even talk to it, I say “Hi heaviness.” And the heaviness looks back at me, “Today you’re gonna get it good boy…you’ll be drinkin’ early today.”

Some days I felt like Denzel in the first 20 seconds of this clip from the 1990 Movie Mo’ Better Blues – YES IT HAS BEEN THAT BAD (You can stop after 20 seconds, but I recommend forwarding to the 3:00 mark to hear Cynda Williams sing “Harlem Blues”) sigh…

Back on topic – what happened to me in Asia? Where did I slip? Why am I craving the sights and the smells of Taipei – yes, even the less than stellar air quality had a mystical effect on me somehow. What is the cause of the withdrawal  – what am I missing? The people? The culture? The ease of getting around? The friendliness on the wallet? Well, from my previous food posts, you know I am a huge fan of the food in Taipei, but it goes deeper than that.

No, the Shilin Night Market in Taipei is the most guilty for my withdrawal symptoms.

Entering the Indoor Pavilion at Shilin Night Market - the smells are already surrounding you at this point

The Shilin Night Market is a crazy, hyperactive, and magical place – a singular cultural event. It is a dream for people with short attention spans (like me), because it is an orgy of visual and gastronomic delights and heavenly odoriferous emanations (If I may be so Right Guard about it– wait for it, it comes at about the 16 second mark) – and one thing looks better than the next. Located right in Taipei (it even has its own subway stop) the Shilin Night Market is a place where both locals and tourists frequent – and the lines between both become blurry, since everyone is giddy with excitement at the food and shopping possibilities. You can get anything you want there: clothes, shoes, exotic foods (snake soup, fried milk, chicken butt, etc.), as well as the not-so-exotic foods like beef noodle soup, oyster omelette, etc.

Just in case you forget, your stomach will tell you where to get off

How do you navigate the market? It’s tough…Some nights, you go and sample many small bites (My first night there, I sampled 15 different items). Other nights, you plan to do the same thing, but end up eating too much at one place and are full the rest of the night (My second night there, I did not make it past the first stand I went to). If that happens, there is plenty of walking around to do to view the shops and all the hawker stands.

What amazes me most, is the constant traffic. I was there on both a Tuesday and a Sunday, and it was crazy-crowded both times.

As you get off the train, you can see (and smell) the action

There is always plenty of traffic and activity around the Shilin Night Market. Here, they are about 7 scooters wide!

Here is a quick video I shot that shows some of the craziness:

And for you shoppers – do you really want to know where the cheap clothes and inexpensive jewelry comes from? While there were some pricey boutiques, most of the shopping is of the bargain variety – and they have to store those clothes somewhere…take a peek (Disclaimer – this is for fun, and it’s not as bad as it looks – nor is it indicative of Taipei – I do not want to create any false stereotypes ):

What was also interesting to me was the amount of kids there – kids of all ages, but especially the 12-15 year old range kids. It seems that a normal routine is to hit the night market after school (since Taiwanese kids seem to always be in school, “after school” can be a variety of times in Taiwan. Some kids go to “double sessions” and can get out very late) and hang out with your friends. It makes sense – since its an inexpensive way to be entertained (You can eat well for $3-$4) and the place, while constantly mobbed, is a very safe environment. I suppose it is the equivalent of going to the suburban mall in the states, but just not as exciting. Plus, the kids in Taipei are eating much healthier and much fresher food.

What will I do to feed my need (or as I said previously – my addiction?) Will I get over my withdrawal symptoms? Possibly – but at least I have my memories and dreams of Shilin Night Market – and you can’t take those away from me.

Here is a sample of some of the sights with some commentary:

Seats are at a premium

The fruit looks and tastes incredible - highlighted by Lian Wu (The red apple looking fruit)

How good does that look?

They had lots of different meats and vegetables here at this Yakitori Stand. You pick what you like and they cook or finish it on the grill for you. I had some great tofu in a stick and Chicken butt...yes, CHICKEN BUTT. It tasted like...well..chicken (Photo by Sofia - French/Polynesian Guide Extraordinaire)

Handful of mini-crabs served like french fries in a bag. Soooooo GOOD and so crunchy - about $3 - one of the 15 things I ate my first night at Shilin Night Market

Mobbed would be one way to describe it here

Just another of the many places to eat that would not be open in USA. This place was great - and you could shop for luggage while you dine

Long lines mean the place to be - but sometimes you can sneak into a good one without a wait

It's a grill...it's a table...it's a plate...it's all of the above. This spot was so cool They cook and serve all in the same place. The cook's "mise en place" was the most organized and streamlined I have ever seen

With all this food (and there was more to come) - you can see why I did not make it past this place on my second trip to the market. Total cost was less than $10 for 2 people.

For those with a sweet tooth - you will not be ignored either. These are candied strawberries

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Posted in Culture, Food, Travel

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