My first full day in Taipei was Saturday, and Chu-wan and I went sightseeing.
Our first stop was a Mongolian BBQ restaurant for lunch. We stopped at the Kublai Khan restaurant, where for only $NT249 (for patrons over 140cm tall) you can have a delicious all-you-can-eat meal. The Mongolian BBQ was not like any Iâ€™ve ever had in the states â€“ the meat and vegetables were fresh, the selection much more extensive, and you got plenty of exercise running up and down the stairs, as the eating area and the food preparation area were on different floors.
After our meal her father drove us to National Palace Museum. On the drive over, I began to get the feel of Taiwan traffic. Itâ€™s insane. There is only one traffic law (as you and I in the US would understand it): Stop for red lights. Otherwise, there is no order, no one pays the slightest attention to the lines painted on the roads. (Why did they bother?) Unsafe Lane changes? Ha! The cars spend the whole time weaving in and out of loosely defined lanes. If there are three lanes painted on the road, traffic flows in 4 or 5 self-made lanes. Left and right turns are made at full speed from any lane you want, and if that means pulling in front of a car going straight ahead or coming straight on, that’s ok too, they’ll slow down, or dodge. The same is true with pedestrians and scooters. There are lots of scooters in Taiwan!
Pedestrians be warned: The auto traffic would drive over the curbs if they hadn’t placed concrete and metal barriers on all the corners! As it is, the scooters do that anyway, when they arenâ€™t just driving on the sidewalk. What a harrowing experience!
Traffic notwithstanding, we arrived safely at the National Palace Museum. The collection of art treasures is impressive! The museum houses the Imperial Art Collection, which was collected over the last thousand years and contains Chinese art dating back over 5,000 years. There were lots of interesting exhibits, but we really didn’t have time to cover the whole place thoroughly, and, of course, you cannot take pictures. The museum itself can only exhibit a small fraction of the nearly 700,000 pieces of art in its vaults, so the exhibits are changed regularly.
I must admit, by this time, I was already taking comfort in “hanging” with the guided tours for the Japanese tourists. At least I could understand the occasional “kore wa… â€¦desu.” or “so desu ne”, whereas the Chinese language all around me was overwhelmingly foreign. (Mandarin, incidentally, doesn’t really sound like Cantonese, which is all I’d been exposed to through Hong Kong movies.)
After the museum, we went through the magnificent gardens comprising the museum grounds, then caught a bus back into town where we ate at Roundtable Pizza! Curiously, Roundtable is combined with Swenson’s Ice Cream in Taiwan.
The simple fact that there was a Roundtable Pizza in Taiwan was miracle enough for me!
The second most common question I get asked about Taiwan is: “Does pizza taste the same there?”
The answer is: “No, it isnâ€™t the same.” Nevertheless it was still good. Apparently, pepperoni isn’t the number 1 choice of pizza toppings in Taiwan. (Sausage pizza lovers, give up hope!) They had several standard “combination pizzas” but didn’t have “Montague’s All-Meat Marvel” which I figured would have a picture on the menu and I could just order by pointing. Instead, popular combinations seem to involve corn and peas. Once I had realized that crushing blow to my international communication skills, I asked Chu-Wan to order a pepperoni pizza for me.
“I think I got that ordered right”, she said after ordering.
“So, you don’t actually know what I’m getting?”
“Iâ€™m not sure what the characters for pepperoni are. Think of it as an adventure!”
“I don’t want adventure, I want a pepperoni pizza!”
I was beginning to feel pretty rundown by this point, so the arrival of the pizza (pepperoni) and Coca Cola (there’s no Dr. Pepper in Taiwan!) was most welcome.
We were near a Night Market, so afterwards we made our way through it. Incredible! Take every swap meet in Arizona, cram it into one square block of small space, pack the entire population of Rhode Island into that block, light it up with the collective light bulbs from Las Vegas and you have a Night Market. It was wall to wall people and I towered over everyone.
By the time I left Taiwan, I concluded that I was the tallest person on the entire island, including any foreign visitors – certainly, I hit my head on enough doorways, trains and buses. Despite my size “advantage” it was slow, slow moving. My back was killing me and I had a headache, so we gave up before completing the entire market. We headed home by bus and I conked out once we returned home.
Incidentally, the question I get asked most often about Taiwan is: “Is it true they donâ€™t have toilet paper in the restrooms?” Iâ€™ll leave this answer for your imagination, but I will provide one bit of practical advice: If youâ€™re walking along a street and a girl tries to hand you a packet of tissue paper with advertising on itâ€¦ TAKE IT.
Notes from the 21st Century
Charming though it was, the girls on the street handing out toilet paper advertisements seems to have diminished to the point of being non-existent. I cannot recall seeing any on at least my last two trips.
Perhaps this has changed due to the rapid expansion made in the Taipei subway system since my first trip. The subways always have nice, well-papered toilets waiting for the weary traveler.
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