2 months in Asia

Taiwan's public art

For the past 8 weeks I’ve focused on getting to know this fascinating island, or at least parts of it. I’ve really resisted comparing life in Taipei to life in the States, for fear that I will lapse into homesickness. There is much to appreciate here, but sometimes comparisons are inevitable.

Every Monday when I join the line of folks waiting to separate and dump their garbage , every week when I take my clothing from the clothes line several floors up (no dryer but hey, at least we aren’t washing our clothes in a stream), when I realize that I can’t bake even the simplest of cakes (I have no stove; very few people do) I can’t help but wonder what life would be like here with a few extra “modern” conveniences. Taking public transportation is a great leveler – everyone does it. Walking downtown at 11pm? Completely safe, if you don’t count the taxis cutting corners into crosswalks. The Harvest Moon festival, complete with a 3-day weekend, is coming up. We’re each getting a package of Moon Cakes. Guess that’s the Taiwan equivalent to Mrs. Fields…

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Worthless money

I went to the bank to exchange the last of my US dollars and got quite a shock: apparently US currency printed prior to 2003 is worthless here! Seriously? Are you kidding, I say? No, says the pimply kid behind the counter. It’s too old. Too old?!! Who looks at the printing date of the bills in their wallet? No one I know! I wonder what the one Bank of America branch in Taipei will say?

Jade market

Next up, the trek through the Taipei jade market, adjacent to the flower market under a busy overpass. Row after row after ROW of jade, beads, pearls, and all manner of  pretty shiny and carved things.

Jade (and other) Treasures

It’s difficult to know where to look next and after just a few minutes, the sheer volume of  -well – EVERYTHING overwhelming. I take a deep breath and soldier on. I attempt conversation with various vendors; most don’t speak English. I see a lot of antique-looking items from Tibet, old Chinese textiles (gorgeous!), Japanese watercolors, ivory carvings, and rhinocerous horns (ewww) among the most amazing translucent green, white, pink, and yellow jade  treasures.

 

Holiday flower market

A lot of Taiwan’s sights are located in spare spaces: hidden underground, beneath overpasses, in some really unlikely spots. You might easily drive, ride, or walk by them without notice. The Taipei “Holiday” flower and jade markets are no exception. I stumbled onto the flower market when I walked down the wrong side of Jianguo, trying to find the main Taipei Library.

Greenery Galore!

Inside the market, the first thing you notice is the fragrance of a million flowers and flowering plants. There are blossoms of every shape, size, and color. It’s like a wacky kalidiscope image, bursting at the seams. The market stretches farther than I can see and I wander along, simply amazed by it all.  The Taiwanese love their greenery and you can see why – so many options. Bonzai galore, one even taller than me (and that’s saying something!). Water plants (lilies, lotus) for dish gardens and outside fountains. Pots, saucers, rocks, gardening implements and garden furniture. Herbs, fruit and citrus trees, strange insect-eating plants, orchids galore all being misted from above to maintain their health (I guess the intense natural humidty isn’t enough, but I must say the mist feels good). Vendors pass out samples of their teas and various drinks made from herbs, and lots of, well,  I’m not really sure exactly what the ingredients were, but most of it was delish! So many choices but finally I settle on a bunch of sweetheart roses (20 stems for 50NT) for less then 2.00US. Of course the bouquet is beautifully wrapped, the stems inserted into water for the trip home, and then placed into a long plastic bag to protect it on its journey on public transportation.

Bougainvilleas

Library card

Heat was coming off the road in waves; oddly, you can feel it most when a slight breeze kicks up. Luckily I didn’t have to wait long for the 235 to show up on An He and transport me along Heping road to Daan Forest, a green slice of botanical planning. I walk through the “forest” and watch groups of people practice martial arts under the the cool of the trees, families bicycling along the packed clay paths, and one lady playing a haunting melody on her flute, under a gazebo. When I reach Xinyi I realize I’ve gone too far and haven’t seen the library (too-shoe-gwahn). But I have discovered the Flower Market! (I’ll go there later; now I’m focused on finding the library.)

I ask one of the policemen directing walkers across the busy streets. He points back the way I’ve come, on the other side of Jiangao. I’m feeling the heat and humidity descend now, wishing I’d brought a bottle of water. I’m not sure what the library’s address is exactly but I figure it should be easily visible – it’s the main one after all. And there it is, all 11 floors of it. I go inside, present my ARC and within a few minutes receive my very own card. Now to check out the books….

The entrance to Taipei's Main Library

On 4F there is one section of books in English, mainly non-fiction (I select a macaron cookbook, despite not having an actual kitchen) but there are a smattering of fiction options as well. One consideration: anything I select must be lugged around so I pick our several paperbacks and go up to 8F to check out the movies. Maybe I was looking in the wrong area but I found nothing of interest. Oh well, it’s hot inside and I still want to make it back to the flower market…

Drama in the pet store

We were walking along Zhongshao after dinner, on the way to Breeze, when the normal, ambient road noise spiked. Looking around it wasn’t difficult to spot where the cause: something was happening in the pet store. An iguana on the loose? A cat coughing up a hairball? A customer complaining about the price of Iams? Who knows?! What became obvious is that someone wasn’t happy – and they were letting everyone know about it! I could see a stocky man with short dark hair winding back to sock someone – it seemed like that object of his ire was a store employee (wearing an “official” smock). Several other people were attempting to hold him back. Then the altertercation spilled out onto the sidewalk with the angry man chasing the other man Next,  they were down ono the ground (sidewalk actually) and at least half a dozen bystanders had their cell phones out. Literally within 2 minutes, the cops showed up: 4 on scooter and 4 in two cars, all with lights and sirens. What excitement! A crowd gathered to watch. We had a great view point from across the street. Instead of cuffing or tasing anyone, the cops surrounded the angry man and his nemesis. No guns were drawn; I’m not sure the cops here even carry. And then they LISTENED to what each person was saying. What a concept! Even from a distance it was obvious that the angry man was calming down. After a few minutes the crowd began to disperse; talk can be boring when drama is expected. And just like that, the soothing sounds of another evening in Taipei enveloped the shoppers…

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As for me, I will take the road less travelled…