Today was jam-packed with activities. Taipei and the surrounding area is so full of things to do, see, and eat that it is a little overwhelming at first. But when visiting here I am never at a loss over what to do with my time. This morning started out in a unique way: I woke up at 5am to a house that was literally rocking back and forth. There was an small earthquake (5.0) deep under the northeast section of Taiwan. There was no damage, but it was enough to keep me from going back to sleep. That's okay, though, because Taiwan gets started really early in the day. I was staying in Sanchong and my place was right next to a morning vegetable/food market. morning market goods are always the best: the most fresh and cheap. I started things off with breakfast at a popular joint in Sanchong that is famous for its sesame sauce noodles and wonton soup 麻醬麵, 餛飩湯. The sauce on the sesame noodles is a little bit like Thai peanut sauce, but not sweet. The flavor is light and little salty--very satisfying for breakfast. The wonton skin is light and fluffy and they are filled with a paste made with ground pork and other goodies. The cook serves them in a seafood soup with shrimp.
After breakfast I set out for Jiufen, an old gold and coal mining town outside of the city in the neighboring mountains. Several decades ago Taiwan experienced a gold rush with a loads of people flocking to the mountains to try and strike it rich. Jiufen sprouted up as a result of these incoming crowds of gold-diggers. The town filled with restaurants, shops, and even a theater that became a popular destination for actors who would come in from Taipei to perform and the celebrities who would come to watch them. There still is a little mining that goes on in the area, but mostly the town has turned into a tourist hotspot that is extremely popular among Japanese tourists and western visitors, but the local Taiwanese people also love coming here. The theater is still open, but it is now a museum and guest center that shows old footage of the mining community and theater days. Jiufen is a tiny town perched precariously up on a hillside. It takes about 30 minutes from Taipei by car and you have to drive up a tiny road with several switchbacks to get there. I can't believe it has taken me this long to come to Jiufen. I often hear about it from friends and read about it in books and websites, but I've never had the chance to get up there. I wish I had done this a lot sooner. I recommend renting a car and driving up with friends--it is more convenient than taking the bus and you can blast the air conditioning all the way.
I spent about 2 hours walking the various nooks and alleys of Jiufen, taking in the scenery, and enjoying the street snacks on the way. For the next stop I wanted to stay in the north, but out of the city center, so I decided to go up to one of Taiwan's national parks at Yeliu, on the northwest side of the island. This is an environmentally protected peninsula that juts out into the Pacific. The rain and waves have eroded the rocks leaving curiously shaped formations in the land, the most famous of which is a rock called Queen's Head because it is bears a resemblance to the back of a woman's head and hair. Yeliu is another very popular spot for tourists. I recommend taking an umbrella and lots of waters if you visit in the summer, because the sun in Taiwan can be punishing and when you are out walking around along the beach there is no escaping it. On the way back into town from Yeliu we stopped on the road for some roasted corn-on-the-cob and kuabao 割包, which is a kind of sandwich. The Taiwanese like to cover their corn in a thick bbq sauce and fire-roast it on a spit. The flames caramelize the outside, making a crispy crust that is covered with sesame seeds. The kuabao is a steamed bun sliced in half and filled with pickled cabbage, cilantro, chunks of fatback that has been braised for hours, and covered in a peanut powder for sweetness. It's great. A perfect treat after hiking around the beach.
Back in Taipei I went to check out some of the night life at Ximen ding. Originally, this area was set up in Taipei by the occupying Japanese in the beginning of the 20th century. Nowadays it is like a mini version of Shibuya in Tokyo, with an intense collection of restaurants, shops, neon lights, street performers, and tourists. I ate dinner at the Japanese restaurant Meiguan Yuan 美觀園. The sashimi, tempura, cold udon, and omelet w/ rice were all excellent. After dinner I went to a popular shaved ice spot for some mango flavored shave ice. It is summer in Taiwan, so it would be a real shame to not eat at least a little mango nearly everyday.
Check out the pictures below: