Taiwan 2015 (pt. 2) | Recap
What we did in Taiwan
To catch up to to speed on what we did for the first part of our Taiwan trip, peep game here.
When we woke up, thus began the most trying part of the trip. Her dad and a few of his siblings had rented a large vacation home in the countryside of Yilan, and their entire (or at least majority of) Taiwanese family would be there.
Now, I'm not implying that I was nervous because we'd be in close contact with her family for so long. I was actually very excited about that. My main issue was my own lack of language skills and overall shaggy appearance. I was worried about how close-quarter interactions would go. Oh well, gotta suck it up and be a man.
We packed up our stuff and headed downstairs. After eating a quick breakfast, Wei Wei (and his parents) arrived in their car. Ewa, Andrew and I would be riding with Michael, and her parents would ride in Wei Wei's car, along with his parents. Everyone else would be meeting us there separately. We piled into the cars and headed out to Yilan.
Yilan is a County to the Southeast of Taipei. The County is split into two geographical regions. One portion is the "Plains" — a flat lowland surrounding the Lanyang River. The other is the "Cliffs" — a mountainous region that encapsulates most of the county. We would be driving through the Mountainous region that separates Taipei for Yilan; stopping along the way to visit some landmarks. After that, we'd head to our vacation home in the plains.
During the car ride, Ewa was reading the itinerary that her aunt and uncle had prepared. Everything seemed pretty normal, except for 2 things. The first was an hour-long time slot to "gather green onions". The second was a 2-hour time slot to "get eggs". We had no idea what this meant. When we reached a pitstop to use the bathroom, Ewa asked them about these 2 activities. Their reply was simply "yeah, we're going to get some green onions and cook some eggs, it'll be fun!" Okay...
We piled back into the car and continued towards our destination. After another hour or so of driving, we reached a small farm. We pulled into the parking lot (really just a sandy flat area with chickens walking around). What are we getting into!? When we got into the entrance, her aunt and uncle explained. This green onion farm was a popular spot for tourists. Each visit consisted of a tour of the green onion fields, followed by a chance to harvest our own green onions. Finally, we'd chop up our onions and cook our own scallion pancakes. I can get on board for that!
For the tour, they gave us rice hats to protect against the sun. "Can't protect against humidity though" said my sweat-soaked shirt.
Side tangent: I did not adequately pack for the trip. Her family is appropriately conservative according to the Taiwanese standard. This meant that my tattoos were a bit taboo. I wanted to make a good impression, so my only course of action was to keep my tattoos hidden from sight during the entire Yilan trip. The only problem is that I only brought one shirt capable of covering them all — a 3/4 Henley. I'd have to wear that Henley for 90% of my waking time in Yilan.... in the summer.... in the Taiwanese countryside. Awesome.
Okay, so we go into the green onion fields and learn about the cultivation of the produce. Everyone gathers their own bundle (except Wei Wei, because he is "too hot"). We brought the onions into the visitor center and chop them up. They give us each a portion of dough to knead and form the pancake. We add the scallions in and they fried them up for us. I think they gave us too much dough, because the pancakes didn't cook through all the way; the insides were a bit raw. But the green onions were fresher than a muhfucka!
After this excursion, we hopped into the car and headed out to the next stop — get eggs. Shortly after, we pulled up to the side of a mountain. Were we going to pilfer eggs from mountainous hens? Was that the plan? However, once we got into the visitor center, it made more sense. Inside, they sold eggs and corn on the cob in bulk. The popular thing to do here was to walk up the mountain to the hotsprings, and cook your food in the water. Something about the health benefits of the water and all that.
So we took our stuff to the hotsprings (which smelled entirely of boiled egg) and cooked the eggs and corn in the water. After eating them, I didn't really taste anything difference from regular boiled eggs and corn; but maybe the mineral water cleaned up our insides or something. We hung out here a bit longer and people watched. There were a large number of stray dogs for some reason. But they seemed to be living their best life — snacking on eggs and corn from all the tourists.
Eventually, we got everyone into the cars and headed towards the vacation home. The mountains gave way to flat, green fields as we approached. Were were officially in the Plains. The house itself was huge. From the main entrance, I could see a big living room, kitchen, side den, 5-6 bedrooms, 2-3 bathrooms and a big backyard. Oh, and most importantly, the house had air conditioning (salvation).
When the entire family arrived, I was introduced to everyone who I hadn't met before. Once everyone was situated, most of the adults went to prepare dinner. I went to shower off the sweat (and boiled egg smell) off me from the day. After hopping out, drying off and changing, I stepped out into the living room. Ewa's uncle immediately approaches me and asks if I want to come play basketball with them. It'd be rude to say no, so I begrudgingly accepted. We go outside and play for about an hour. I might as well have jumped into a pool, I was so damn soaked from sweat and humidity. After the game, I hopped in for shower #2.
By now, dinner was prepared and we sat down for a multiple course meal. Everything was so delicious. Andrew and I ate about 100 servings each.
After dinner, it was time to bust out the mahjong. No Asian family get together is complete without one (or several) rousing games of mahjong going on at once. The clicking and clacking of the tiles — which can be loud and obnoxious to some — always brings back great memories of family time for me. Unfortunately, even though I have been surrounded by mahjong my whole life, I never learned how to play.
Her family wasn't buying this excuse. They had me pull up a chair and slowly taught me the rules. It must be the Cantonese blood coursing through my veins (we are known gambling fanatics), but I picked up on the game really quickly. We played for over an hour. Just as I was getting into the zone, we changed gears again.
The mahjong tables were pushed aside and fruit bowls were brought out to the table. Someone cued up the TV and it was time for karaoke. Everyone took turns singing their favorite song. Once it reached me, I had to bust out the only Mandarin song that I know by heart — Forever Love by Wang Lee Hom. After a rousing performance, her family gave me a round of applause. I can't speak Mandarin very well, but dammit, I can knock Forever Love out of the park! Up next, Andrew sang 朋友 by Emil Chau. This was also met with a chorus of cheers. Finally, Ewa joined in and we all busted out Beijing Welcomes You. Her whole family was singing along with us by the end of the song. After the finale, we all split off to rest up for the next day of activities.
Henley shirt usage: 1 day
The next day, I woke up sluggish. Even in the cool AC of my bedroom, I could feel the heat and humidity emanating into the room. Today would be a rough one. I decided to risk it and give my henley a chance to rest. I put on a t-shirt, and wrapped some bandanas around my arms to cover my tattoos. This'll be fine, I thought to myself.
As I stepped out into the living room, breakfast was being served. Some of the adults had woken up early to prep everything. I quite admired their energy. As we ate, the daily agenda was shared with us. We'd be visiting a few popular parks near the mountains, eat at a famous seafood restaurant, then go home and eat some smoked chicken. Oh boy, a day full of outdoor adventures!
After breakfast, we hopped into the cars and headed out to the first park. The park consisted of large lake, surrounded by a concrete path and situated right next to a lush mountain side. It was insanely picturesque. If you've never been to Asia, the vegetation and landscapes are very different from that of the US. It's worth a trip just to check out the scenery.
We rented bikes for the whole family and rode around the lake. By the 2nd lap, I was completely drenched, and the bandanas kept untying from my arms. I periodically fell behind the group so that I could adjust them. After riding around and taking in the view for a while, we returned the bikes and stopped by the shops near the park entrance. My body was nearly as dried out as a pork fu, so I got a shaved ice to revive myself. Ewa thought that she was gonna get some of it but I turned her down real quick. You gosta getcha own baby, you know what it is!
Sufficiently hydrated, we then climbed the path up a steep hill to get to the top of a mountain. There was a huge Buddhist Temple up here. The tour was dope, but the real attraction was the view. From up here, you could see (what seemed to be) all of Yilan. It was higher than Method Man back in the 90's.
After a long walk back to the bottom of the hill, we drove off towards our next destination. For lunch, we pulled up to this huge seafood complex. On the grounds, there were several pools to farm the fish, a shop and a restaurant. Fuck yeah, talk about fresh!
After a quick peak at the pools, we went inside the restaurant. The place had a rustic, country-side vibe with a splash of modern aesthetic. It was a weekday afternoon but the place was still bustling. We sat down at a big family-sized table and the adults handled the ordering.
They must have been feeling fancy because they ordered the works. I think we got something like 12-15 dishes. Each more intricate than the last. One dish was comprised of 9 whole fish, each fried into the same curvy shape. Another featured a mountain side prop with sashimi scattered throughout. Every time we finished a dish, another one replaced it immediately. By the end of the feast, even Andrew was full (and that boy's stomach is like a black hole).
Older Taiwanese folk must be impervious to the effects of food coma. We barely had a chance to digest when they were already getting up to head to the next spot. Outside the restaurant, we stopped to take some photos by the Koi pond. I leaned in closer to get a look at the fish. They were all enormous. Like, eat a small-puppy-whole sized. Out of curiosity (or maybe just being a dick), I poked the top of one's head with my sunglasses; because I wanted to see if their scales were hard. Turns out, their scales are hard. Also, turns out that they don't like being poked in the head. As soon as I touched it, the koi lashed up in the water at me. Startled, I dropped my sunglasses into the water. Commence the feeding frenzy. At least 20 of those sea krakens swarmed in to get a bite of my 5 dolla knockoff shades. I hope it was delicious dudes.
Next stop, we hit up another park. This one also had a big lake in the center, but with the added touch of some nice architecture. There were several ornate bridges around the area and the whole park was filled with what I assumed were some blossom trees. We walked around the park, admiring the scenery and taking photos. At one point, we saw a snake, and I wanted to grab it. However, I didn't want to spend the rest of the trip in a hospital, so I fought off the urge.
After about an hour and a gallon of sweat later, we headed back to the vacay home. While the adults went to a nearby market to get groceries, Ewa and I rode bikes around the neighborhood. It was super peaceful and the serene landscape reminded us of a Studio Ghibli scene. When we got back, my clothes were thoroughly soaked. I guess it was time to break the henley back out for dinner.
The menu that evening consisted of smoked chicken — entire birds soaked in Chinese sauces and smoked in a cooker along with vegetables. The chicken had a nice charred flavor from the smoke, but the meat was still juicy and tender from the sauce. We ate the meal outside in the backyard. There were plenty of mosquitoes out that evening. No worries though, the family was safe because Jeromy-The-Human-Mosquito-Magnet was on duty that evening. I added several new bites to my growing collection.
After dinner, a few of us headed to the Luodong night market. Luodong was less crowded than the Liaoning Street market we went to a couple nights before. This was a nice change of pace though, as we could slowly browse the shops and cafes along the way.
After an hour or so, we headed home to rest up. We'd be packing up and leaving for Taipei the next morning.
Henley shirt usage: 1.5 days
On this morning, I woke up feeling pretty refreshed. I guess my body had finally acclimated to the time zone (or maybe I finally recovered from the massive blood loss from all those mosquitoes). Today was the day that we'd be heading back to Taipei.
Everyone packed their bags and loaded up the cars. We said goodbye to the relatives that wouldn't be joining on the way home. Then, we took off.
We stopped off at a nearby mall for lunch. Apparently, there was a tasty steakhouse here. When we got there, Ewa's cousin Peggy arrived to hangout (she was not there for the Yilan portion of the trip). Peggy is a nurse and model/ghost. We were told by her family that this place had really good steaks. I was excited to have a quick break from Asian food. However, when the food actually came out; it was not as advertised. Her family must have never eaten a good steak before, because these were sliced too thin, thus, they were overcooked. In addition, they were not quality cuts. Steak connoisseurs they were not.
After lunch, we drove to a popular sweets shop in the area and picked up a bunch of treats. Apparently this is the tradition when leaving Yilan. I snuck a few of the sweets and damn, they were tasty! I may have eaten half a container of pineapple cakes, but there's no proof, so did it even really happen?
After the gift shop, we opted to take the scenic way home. Rather than driving directly through the mountain range to get to Taipei, we drove around them. This brought us along the coast of northeast Taipei.
Along the way, we stopped at several scenic areas including a beach, a pier and the Sandiaojiao Lighthouse. The sky was a bit overcast and it was drizzling a bit, but the view was still beautiful.
After another hour or so of cruising the coast, we pulled off and stopped. We got out of the cars and Wei Wei told us to look towards the range. In this particular area, there was a path that lead directly up into the mountain, and several outposts at the entrance way. He explained that this area was the site of a gold mining operation during the Japanese Occupation period. On the side of the hill was a 13 story mine that looked deserted. In fact, this whole area looked like a ghost town (or the start of a Scooby Doo mystery).
After the presentation, we got back in the car. I thought that we were continuing on to Taipei. However, to all of our surprise (Ewa, Andrew and I) we started driving up the mountain path. Wei Wei, you fool, don't you know that this is how people disappear into the abyss??
A little ways up the path, we stopped and got out again. Here, we stopped to admire the Golden Waterfall. Some of the heavy metal elements seep through the old mines and deposit into the riverbed. This gives the water a distinctive yellow hue. Hence, the "Golden Waterfall". Dope AF. We took a few more pictures, then continued up the path.
This path was quite perilous, and I was certain that we were heading towards our doom. However, as the sun started to set, we could see a glowing light at the top of the mountain. As we got nearer, an entire city came into view! Holy shit, is this a magical ghost town? I must have said this out loud, because Wei Wei started to explain where we were going.
The town at the top of this mountain is called Jiufen. It was founded during the Qing Dynasty but really started to grow after the discovery of gold in the late 1800s. As more people flocked to find their fortune, the town was built up and became more populated. In the 90s, the town became quite the tourist destination, especially for the Japanese. And here, we discover the sickest fact about Jiufen. The town served as the inspiration for Spirited Away! This shit is so dope. During the day, the city is relatively normal (besides the fact that it's built at the top of a mountain). However, at night, everything lights up and a bustling, festive crowd hits the streets (just like in the movie).
We couldn't park any faster. I needed to go explore. As soon as we left the parking lot, the adults went one way, and us kids split off to do our own thing. As we walked through the narrow paths and up and down the steep stairs, the magic of Spirited Away unfolded before our eyes. Definitely one of our favorite parts of the trip so far.
When we reached an alleyway, Wei Wei took us down a dark path. As we went through the twisting walkways, we wondered what shady spot we were being lead to. However, the walkway eventually gave way to a brightly lit square. We were at the center of town. There were a bunch of restaurants, bars and shops around us. We hopped into a cafe and ate like the piggy parents from the movie.
After a bit more exploring, it was time to leave. I wanted to stay forever and meet a flying talking dragon, but whatever, priorities I guess. We drove the last hour in silence, as everyone was super wiped out from the trip. When we got home, we all slithered into our beds and passed out immediately.
Henley usage: TOO DAMN HIGH!