10:00am M/V Celebrity Millennium
Position: 28deg 2’ 52” North; 124deg 55’22” East
Cruising at 17kts on a heading of 047 in the East China Sea
Sunny and 20C with seas <1m
If Hong Kong can be described as Extravagance & Wellness – Gold & Tiger Balm, then surely greater Taipei is Street Food & Temples – Local Delicacies & Incense. We began our day by taking a 40 minute train trip from the port of Keelung to Taipei, then continuing on the MRT subway another 40 minutes to Tamsui. Our dentist, a native of Taiwan, recommended we take time away from the hustle and hurry of the big city, and indeed Tamsui was quieter and less crowded. Still, convoys of motor scooters weaved their way through the streets, engines buzzing like a hordes of bees. Pedestrians Beware! You are invisible.
We strolled the market streets of Tamsui. Stall after stall of snack bars selling all manner of delectables, savoury and sweet, some appealing others – well lets just say ‘not so appealing’, at least to western palates. If I lived here, surely I would be a vegetarian!
Market Delights of Tamsui:
In the West, our houses of worship by and large are surrounded by a perimeter of open space that sets them apart from the communities they serve. In both Tamsui and Taipei this is not the case, at least as far as we saw. The Buddhist Temples sit at the heart of commerce of life, some all but hidden by market stalls and motor scooters. A few times the only clue that a temple was nearby was a tall stove for the burning of the God Money and/or the pungent fragrance of incense. Even then, we sometimes had to have a good look around to find the temple.
The Temples of Tamsui
In Taipei, though busier and much more congested, it was much the same story as Tamsui – snack bars and incense but with the addition of some high end clothing stores and bakeries. The hordes of scooters sported some interesting characters. As was the case in Hong Kong it took us a while to find somewhere to eat that looked like it might just pass a health inspection. All we ask is an appearance of cleanliness and proper food handling. This where a local guide would come in very handy. At last we did stumble upon Na Na Kitchen – very clean, friendly and the menu had English subtitles – where we tucked into steamed clams with basil and chicken satays, all washed down with the local brew, selected by Schwartz of course. On the way back to the MRT station, we were drawn into a lovely bakery, almost European in layout, with an amazing array of savouries and sweets. Norbert opted for the chocolate and walnut loaf while I chose the egg and coconut twist. This dessert cost the princely sum of $2.85 Canadian!
We had planned to visit the Keelung Night Market on our return to the ship, but fatigue and aching feet (6+ miles on the pedometer) dictated otherwise and we dragged ourselves back on board at 6:30pm, some ten very full hours after having left it.
We prefer to tour on our own rather than surrender ourselves to large groups of sheep following a lollipop sign. In our past travels, this has allowed us the freedom to take the road less travelled and delve into nooks and crannies. Here in Asia there is an added level of complexity to such freedom seekers as we. The many hours spent researching and mapping out things to do and see whilst sitting at home in front of the laptop that is reliably connected to the Internet, fall to nought when confronted streetside by a script of characters and symbols that cannot be reconciled with the downloaded map, however colourful it may be. This is a long way of saying that we are spending an awful lot of time this trip just trying to figure out where we are and what street to take next. As frustrating as this can be, it is all part of the discovering a ‘new to us’ part of the world.
Next stop: Nagasaki, Japan.