We began the day by going to the University for lunch. The bus was pretty packed! Janny had given us a voucher so we could have a meal in one of the campus dining halls. The system seemed more confusing than it should have been for us – maybe we were just tired!
We got a plateful each and sat down in a quiet area of the dining hall. We were immediately surrounded by other diners, even though there was loads of room elsewhere. Maybe we should just take it as a compliment!
I enjoyed our last walk through the beautiful campus, and we popped into the souvenir shop to pick up something for Rob’s mam.
The picture below shows one of the gates to a student hall of residence, decorated for New Year.
We left the campus and headed back towards the beach, along with everyone else in China, or so it seemed. We went a couple of stops on the packed bus and then practically burst out of it with relief when we got close enough to our destination to walk.
We got off and walked along the coast road a few kilometres until we reached an area known as ‘Little Gulan’ as it’s sort of similar to the commercial district on Gulangyu. The main theme of this busy shopping area was, if course, food.
One of the first stalls we came across was a place doing duck pancakes with fresh cucumber. You can smell them for miles. I couldn’t resist getting some, and they were fantastic.
As you can see, the streets were jam packed, so we decided to stop off here and there along the way to have a rest and a drink.
This is a common sales technique which seems to work. The stall holders clearly know that the smell of your food will sell it! Lots of stalls have a fan blowing over their hot food to spread the smell, and cured meat stands often have a strip of meat attached to a spinner to do the same job.
If you’re feeling lucky you can try hacking open a shell to see if there are any pearls inside. I’ve never once seen anyone doing this apart from the shop owners!
After a while the impossible happened and we came across a tea shop / restaurant with no one inside. The buildings and courtyard were really beautiful, so we decided to stop and escape the crowd for a while.
It was a really peaceful spot away from the noise and crowd. Rob made friends with the dog and had a drink, and I had some lovely tea, a popular local one called tie guan yin.
After a little while a local couple came over to say hello, and we shared a few drinks and some tea and chatted for a while. As it started to get dark we headed off to find something tasty to take home for tea.
On our way back to the main road we happened to find a tiny place where there was live music. Once he finished playing, one of the performers explained it was a folk bar. We went in and listened to some songs, and Rob played a couple too, getting some surprise harmonica from the guy who had been playing guitar earlier.
We got a taxi back and we went to have some food and a drink on the roof of the building. It was a nice view with the stars and the lights from the taller buildings around.
We went to XMU campus first of all, to meet Janny and to have a look at the parts of the campus I hadn’t yet seen. As it was the first day of the new year, it seemed like everyone had had the same idea, as the campus and the area around it are popular tourist destinations. The place was really packed!
The campus is really beautiful, and was looking fantastic now the sun was out. Even the fountains were on near the main gate.
One of the popular places on campus is a long tunnel which connects two areas underneath a road. You can walk or cycle through. It’s very long, and is the only place I’ve seen graffiti. Murals have been done by various groups of students, and are changed every so often. There are lots of pop culture ones featuring popular characters from TV or films, and also plenty relating to various disciplines studied at the university.
After we’d walked the tunnel twice, we met up with Janny to say thank you for all of her help with organising us! It was lovely to see her and we exchanged gifts and had a chat.
The campus was decorated for Spring festival with lots of floral displays and lanterns hanging up.
When we left the campus we walked by Nanputuo Temple which was closed and deserted. It looked even more peaceful than usual without all the people inside.
It was a really early start to go to Taipei, and I got to the airport with plenty of time to spare thanks to Janny who had arranged a taxi for me.
Going into the airport early in the morning always feels quite strange, but at least there were bright lanterns to greet me. I got through to the departure lounge and discovered a machine selling short duration data SIM cards for various destinations, including Taiwan. The price was a little over a pound a day for a week-long card, a bargain considering how useful online maps are when you’re in a new place.
Once in the air we were provided with this snack pack and a hot meal with rice. I was really surprised as it was only a short flight! By the time these had been given out, eaten and cleared away it was pretty much time to land!
I only had a small backpack, so I got out of the airport quite quickly and found a train to the city centre. The first thing that surprised me about the geography was all of the hills covered in thick forest – I hadn’t realised Taipei was quite so hilly. As we got into Taipei city centre the land flattened out a lot and I managed to get data on my phone, making getting to my hotel a lot easier.
My room wasn’t ready when I arrived, but I was able to drop off my backpack and just take a small bag out to explore a while. I was staying in a busy district famous for its night market, Ximen, so I decided to go out and find some lunch.
I didn’t go far from the hotel, but here was a lot of life in the streets, including street performers and lots of open fronted shops. After a bit of a wander I found a place where I was confident I could order lunch without too much language trouble! My favourite restaurants are often the ones with pictures when I’m abroad.
The noodles hit the spot, and there was a staff member who spoke a little English, which helped me!
I went back to the hotel and settled in a bit, and got my bearings. The hotel was really nice, though my room was tiny it had everything I needed and made good use of the small space. The sun was setting and I decided to go back out and look at the night market.
I didn’t know much about Taiwan at all before I left, and ended up reading about it a bit on Wikipedia before I arrived. The Japanese influences are easily seen in Ximen night market, as there are lots of shops dedicated to various Japanese youth subcultures, not to mention plenty of cute cartoon characters available in giant plush form.
There were lots of people out and about shopping, and to give myself a little task to accomplish I thought I’d look for a few souvenirs.
Much later on I went out to a Japanese restaurant for tea. There are lots of them in Taipei but I just chose one close by.
The currency in Taiwan is the dollar and there are about 40 to the pound. It didn’t make this order card any less scary looking with the prices though. You choose what you want on the menu and tick off the dishes on the order sheet. Mine was easy as I was having a set meal, partly because I couldn’t decide what to have. My meal included sashimi and tempura, which I always enjoy.
After a long day I was happy to go back to the hotel to sleep.
I had a lazy day, planning my trip to Taipei and doing a couple of little errands. When I finally ventured out for breakfast I discovered that the dumpling shop I’d been planning to go to was closed! A minor disaster.
After finishing my errands I found a shop selling hot baked sweet potatoes nearby, so got one of those and a bottle of juice and went back home to enjoy it.
Just as I was finished I got a message from Mei to tell my my seal was ready. This was something I really wanted to have made while I was in China. It’s a stamp carved in stone with your initials, and is used like.a signature on art works such as calligraphy and paintings. While I’m certainly no artist, so have done some Chinese calligraphy and thought it would be cool to have my own seal to stamp my work with if I made something I was proud of.
I was given a Chinese name by my first Chinese teacher, so I have always stuck with it. A few days ago Mei had found an antiques shop which did the seals and carved them, and got everything set up for me. All I had to do was pick it up.
I took the bus about 45 minutes across town to the shop and got there easily thanks to Du. As soon as I walked in the assistant knew me and handed me the seal, showing me the result of stamping it. It looks great! The writing style used on the seal is not the same as modern Chinese, it’s a Qin dynasty type which looks very different to the modern style. I was in the shop less than a minute, and took the bus back across town to meet Rob and Annie for tea. Annie treated us to a meal at a lovely Western restaurant. We had burgers, pasta, salad and fries, as well as some enormous chocolate milkshakes which were phenomenal.
The food really did taste Western, which isn’t necessarily always the way when you’re abroad. We all really enjoyed our food and took a slow walk home.