Trip Start Feb 26, 2006
Trip End Sep 16, 2006

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Flag of Taiwan  ,
Sunday, March 12, 2006

In this episode:

- The world's tallest skyscraper!
- Cheese!
- Din Tai Fung!
- Beautiful girls who love pigs blood!
- Eva's other sister!
- Thrills
- Chills
- A girl named Yoyo
- Snake (tourist) night market
- Did I mention... cheese!

Taipei is so far the only place in Taiwan that didn't feel 95% alien to me. Rather, Taipei felt on or about 85% alien, in that I was finally able to find a reliable source for cheese.

I miss cheese desperately. I also miss grilled meat. It's not that I really dislike Taiwanese food, it's just that... well, I don't love it, you know? I can subsist on it, but the flavors, smells and textures are not the kind of thing that I crave, aside from the Taiwanese dumpling chain Din Tai Fung (see attached photos and videos in photo album).

"Ha, Mister Western Tourist, you're in Taiwan! What did you expect?? Why don't you just go home and eat Big Macs and Coca Cola??"

Actually, I could do that here... in fact it feels like I've seen more McDonald's in Taiwan than in the US. (I've also inexplicably seen more 7-11 stores here than I think I've ever seen in the states.) In fact the steamed spicy pork buns that they sell at the 7-11s here are really quite tasty (and cheap at 50 cents each).

It was in the base of the Taipei 101 skyscraper (near the convention center and the Hilton hotel) that I found a huge western supermarket, of the type really unheard of by typical Taiwanese people. I bought some gouda with cumin, a sharp Canadian cheddar, some sweet, rich Danish butter and crusty French bread and the bus ride back to Taya was made considerably more pleasant.

The funny thing is that when I shared this food with Eva's parents, they considered it wildly exotic. Her father would not taste it-- he would rather snack on normal food like salted pickled plums. Her mother was quite open minded however, eating the gouda (although she gagged on the cheddar). We did not have apples so we ate Asian pears. Her mother at first did not like the combination of these unusual flavors but soon came to like it. The likelihood that she would crave it is about as likely as me craving pigs blood soup.

Speaking of pigs blood soup, it's quite an extraordinary thing, these cultural culinary taboos that all of our cultures have. I came to this realization in full force when I sat with three beautiful Taiwanese girls (Eva, her sister Ebay and Eva's Taipei friend Yoyo) and they proclaimed their love for pigs blood soup (see video in this travelogue). I tried to imagine the experience of sitting at a table with three beautiful women in Los Angeles and having the same enthusiastic testimonial.

Taipei definitely has a more international flavor to it, as they are attempting to draw more tourism to the country. The corner of the city which contains the Taipei 101 tower feels slick and polished with new pavements, hotels and lots of things to make American businessmen feel comfortable. Several blocks away however the real Taiwan takes over. The spit polish gleam goes away and the reality chaos of Taiwan comes out.

There are areas in Taipei geared to tourists. Although night markets are a very common part of Taiwanese culture, the "Snake Tourist Night Market" in Taipei is certainly not one of them. A covered indoor alleyway of shops selling all manner of snake products to purchase and/or consume. One man stands in a doorway, barking into a microphone as a 10 foot python slides across his feet. I ask if it is alright to take a photo, and he says "If you buy 200 new Taiwan Dollars worth of snake meat, you can." I opted not to take any photos. In fact snake shop after snake shop had curious vials of yellow liquid filled with dead snakes, and photos of various snake infused dishes to whet the palate of those inclined to consume such products-- all marked with signs in English saying "No Photo". One man killed and skinned a snake as a crowd of onlookers watched. I could not. Perhaps it is just as well, as my mother would probably never read this web site again had I taken photos of that.

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