After a taxing few weeks lying on golden sand, wallowing in crystal-clear seas, drinking cocktails atop skyscrapers and earning dollars at the donkey park, a long-weekend’s respite in Taipei was just what the doctor ordered.
Flying in and out of Hong Kong is a breeze. None of that crushing tension that I’ll be shot dead for standing in the wrong queue or orificially explored by a Millwall casual called Pete the Meat for accidentally leaving a ten-pence piece in my back pocket. That being said, when arriving back into Hong Kong you are met by the slightly Orwellian heat sensors that measure your body temperature – detecting any fever you may be smuggling into the SAR. Also, I was almost denied entry onto the plane after some slightly miffed stewardesses didn’t like the look of my electronic boarding pass, and thought that I was saying my name was Harry Potter. We had a good old chuckle afterwards before I nailed them with a textbook cruciatus curse. One detail I forgot to include in my debut post ‘A Storming Start’, is that just before landing into Hong Kong several stewards sporting Bane-esque masks and wielding spray cans walked down the aisles and literally disinfected us. They had the decorum to warn us and suggest that we cover our eyes, noses and mouths to avoid discomfort, but I couldn’t help but feel this was like the executioner telling Louis XVI to mind his head. As you can tell, Hong Kong has a very anal (hehe) attitude to the spreading of germs.
Taiwan was not high on my list of possible Asian excursions but now I have been I thoroughly recommend it. Taipei is perfect for a cheap, fun and exciting weekend away.
The first day included a short but savage hike up Elephant Mountain – sort of the Victoria Peak of Taipei. We arrived at the summit, battered by the heat and ready to collapse, but blown away by the views of the urban and rural landscape. As the Sun descended over the distant mountains, the streets and towers of Taipei came alive with light like a giant pinball machine. Many an Instagram (hongkongbarts) photo taken, we moved on to one of Taipei’s famous night markets.
Following on from my earlier point about Hong Kong’s obsession with hygiene, hawker stalls are all but illegal. So, although food here is amazing, it lacks the atmosphere, variety and cheapness of outdoor hawker markets. Taipei very much keeps the tradition of hawker stalls alive and well. The night markets stretch for hundreds of yards in every direction like a labyrinth of fried octopus and knock-off Nike trainers. The food bombards every sense and is so cheap that sampling everything is not out of the question. I recommend the fried quails eggs on a stick, and the pork and cabbage buns – which reminded me a lot of an English meat pie and gave me flashbacks to my days on the Kenilworth Road terraces circa. 1986. If you’re an adventurous eater, the night markets are the place to be.
The second day began with a trip to the National Palace Museum which contains nearly 700,000 Chinese historical artifacts and artworks spanning 8000 years. The pieces were evacuated from China during the Civil War but account for only 22% of the original collection of the National Palace Museum in Beijing – the remainder falling into the hands of the Communist Party. Museums and galleries rarely knock my socks off, but it was very enlightening to see ancient Chinese paintings, calligraphy, sculpture and pottery, the methods and subjects of which vary so greatly from Western art. A pleasant stroll through the beautiful 228 Peace Memorial Park gave me a chance to digest the afternoon’s culture, and the fabulous beef noodle soup I’d had for lunch. Next up, the perfect budget activity for a student living in the most expensive city in the world – a few gin martinis atop Taipei 101, the second tallest skyscraper in the world! Living in Hong Kong has got me into expensive habits that are just not befitting to a man of my current economic status. Nevertheless, Taipei 101 now holds the coveted accolade of the most spectacular view I have ever had whilst weeing. Plus the martinis loosened me up and prepared me for a second night market and an evening’s frivolities at the dubiously-named Babe 18. The less said about this the better.
The third and (basically) final day started a little later and slower than the others. Apparently you can have too much fun! LoL xD. A relaxed breakfast and a visit to the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial eased the transition back into semi-normal life. If you don’t know who he is, read a book. His memorial hall stand in Liberty Square, surrounded by gardens, the National Concert Hall and the National Theatre. Witnessing the changing of the guards was particularly interesting. I hesitate to offend an entire nation and military, but coming from a country with silly, antiquated military traditions, I feel I get a free pass. It kind of looked like the hokey-cokey. That night we went for hotpot, a deliciously social culinary bonanza that involves a large selection of raw meat, fish and vegetables and a huge communal bowl of boiling soup to cook them in. A lovely way to tie up the weekend.
In other news, myself and a few compadres have booked to go to Japan during reading week. Watch this space!