Bryan in Taipei: Monkeys and Mazu

October 22, 2018

The title of this post should actually be ‘Bryan in Tainan’ since that’s the trip that inspired me to write this. Tainan is a city in southern Taiwan (the “南” (nán) in its Chinese name, “台南” (táinán), means south) known for its history and culture from the Qing Dynasty. I also visited its southern neighbor, Kaosiung (高雄), on the recommendation of a mountain there with scores of wild monkeys. Needless to say, I wasn’t disappointed.

Monkey Road

About a dozen monkeys along the road up the mountain in Kaohsiung

When I arrived at the hostel, the owner couldn’t understand why so many foreigners were obsessed with seeing monkeys. Whereas she saw them as annoying and bothersome animals, most of the tourists who visited this mountain from other countries were incredibly excited to see monkeys in the wild for the first time. Signs were up all over the hiking trails warning hikers not to provoke the monkeys or eat in front of them. Apparently these monkeys have grown accustomed to the presence of people walking by and to an extent feeding them as well, so they were much less apprehensive than I would have expected. I even saw a few walk straight in front of hikers and hang out beside two elderly people drinking tea.

Hand Puppet Performance

Hand-puppet street performance by local students in front of the templeEnter a caption

In Tainan, I also saw someone dressed in a monkey costume in front of a temple doing some sort of performance. If I had to guess, this would have been inspired by the Monkey King from the famous classical Chinese novel, Journey to the West. It was just one of many of the street performances I saw – all accompanied by food stands, of course. I even ran into a hand puppet performance in front of a tiny temple in a not very busy side street. Although it was difficult to follow, I ended up watching almost the whole performance with only one other person in the crowd who likely worked at the temple. She was happy to see me interested and to explain the basic/dumbed-down version of the plot to me in Chinese as well.

Fort Zeelandia

The Dutch Fort Zeelandia in Tainan

Nearby, I also ran into a fortress built by the Dutch in the early 17th century called Fort Zeelandia (or 安平古堡 in Chinese, meaning Anping District Ancient Fort). This was another vestige of foreign influence/colonialism in Taiwan that now still stands as remembrance. Taiwan and its relatively young few hundred years of history have seen a striking number of foreign countries or empires’ presence and influence, which is interesting to see throughout the island. Tainan is the historic capital city under the Qing Dynasty, so these roots stretch even farther back than Taipei, which was more bolstered and developed under the Japanese colonial period than the Qing Dynasty.

Statue of Mazu

Mazu (sometimes spelled Matzu) is the Chinese goddess of nautical navigation pictured in the statue above. You’ll find statues and shrines to her throughout port cities throughout this region and Southern China. There are lots of legends about her and how she became elevated to the status of goddess, but the basic idea is that she helps guide sailors back home safely. In an area prone to typhoons, this was important before modern sailing technology. I’m not certain why there were so many children playing and blowing bubbles that night I visited, but with the sunset it was an incredible sight altogether. I was taken aback visiting the south by how friendly and laid back people there were. I had a problem returning the city bike to the station and asked someone also renting a bike if they could help, and they proceeded to spend upwards of twenty minutes of their time helping me. Another person I met at a food stand was surprised I could read some of the Chinese characters (traditional here is much harder) and told me that if I could read the street signs I ought to go to this restaurant that the locals love instead of the touristy place I was headed towards. It was fascinating how different it felt being in a place only two hours away from Taipei by high speed rail and I am tempted to go back before I leave.

Bryan


Bryan in Taipei: Arrival and Adjustment Period

September 7, 2018

It’s been a few days since I’ve arrived in Taipei and moved in to my apartment. Upon arriving I almost immediately noticed the towering, bamboo-inspired Taipei 101 in the skyline. My apartment is about a 20 minute walk from it, so it’s a very lively yet local area with lots of restaurants and cafes. Taipei has a very convenient metro and bus system, which makes accessing the rest of the city incredibly easy. Even beaches and mountains are accessible. There are plenty of possible day trips.

Elephant Mountain

My first “hike” here has been up Elephant Mountain. Lots of tourists and locals gather here and spread out on some rocks to see the city. We tried to make it by sunset, but unfortunately we underestimated the amount of stairs going up! The perch overlooks the city and offers a view of Taipei 101 that’s hard to beat.

Din Tai Fung

Din Tai Fung specializes in Huaiyang cuisine (also known as Jiangsu cuisine), which is among the ‘Four Great Traditions’ or schools of classical Chinese cooking

Having travelled to Taipei for a short week when I was 16, I already had a pretty decent idea of the abundance of good food in this city. That being said, I knew my very first meal had to be at the much-acclaimed Din Tai Fung. This restaurant is known for its world-famous Xiaolongbao. It has spread throughout Asia and is even in the United States, but I had to go to the original. It was even better than I had remembered and the service and atmosphere were phenomenal as well.

Skyline

View of Taipei at sunset from a local rooftop restaurant

In retrospect, it was a good decision to come before orientation and school started. I’ve had the opportunity to explore the city and get comfortable with everything before starting classes. I’m excited for the semester to start so I can see more of the school and clubs and activities on campus.

Bryan in Taipei


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