Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Nanjichang Night Market (南機場夜市)

Nanjichang Night Market can be found to the immediate east of Zhonghua Road in that hazy area between Zhongzheng and Wanhua. It's just south of Tibet (Xizang) Road and just west of Dingzhou road. MRT Guting, Taipower and possibly Xiaonanmen will take you there, as will Bus 304, or just do it the easy way and take a taxi.

On Sunday, we went looking for a Vietnamese place I like on Heping West Road that has either closed or disappeared, couldn't find it and ended up at Nanjichang. A student had told me about this night market - a little jewel hidden in the blue-collar not-really-historic-just-kinda-grody butt end of Wanhua, or Zhongzheng, or wherever. The name means, literally, "South of the Airport" (though "South of the Station" is also an OK translation) but it is not south of any airport. This area was apparently settled around the time Wanhua Train Station was built, and railway employees moved in. At the time a "機場" was not necessarily an airport, so my student says.

The place truly is a little gem - it's not as expansive as Raohe, not as convenient as Jingmei (which begins literally across a small street from the MRT exit 2) and not as historically-located as Ningxia, but it's local, it's authentic and it has delicious food.

We started out at "Jia Chou Tan" (or however it's pronounced) - Taiwanese 'jia' (to eat) plus 'chou' (stinky) plus the sound element for list with a water(?) radical. In Taiwanese it turns into "Tasty Place" or something. We sat at old-school wooden tables and had deliciously stinky and savory mala chou doufu (麻辣臭豆腐)and sweet potato leaves (地瓜葉) in a flavorful meat sauce. Our friend got sesame noodles (麻醬麵)- well-made thin noodles with a sesame-oil sauce and whole sesame seeds, which made the whole thing a lot more light and easily digestible than the usual crushed sesame paste noodles. Absolutely great. Across the street, we got mba wan (肉圓)from a little stand that was constantly crowded.

Jia Chou Tan (?) Nanjichang Night Market, Zhonghua Road Section 2 Lane 311 #15 (台北市南機場夜市中華路二段311巷15號)

Then we headed to a tian bu la (甜部啦?) stand that had an unceasing line for deliciously fresh fish mash goodies. These were so well-made that I could practically taste the hands of the wrinkled old obasan who squished them together from a giant plastic bucket of fishy goo.

I stopped at a candy vendor to buy some black sugar cashew candy (黑糖) which was quite good and we got shaved ice at the place with the longest line. Brendan and I loved the mango milk ice (芒果牛奶冰)but our friend was less enamored with his sour plum (酸梅)traditional-style ice.

The only unsavory part was when we saw a sign hanging from some grated apartment windows in one of the night market lanes, above the vendors. An approximate translation from the Chinese was: Those miscreants who caused Huang (Name) to be shamed and to die at home - his ghost will return and those people will be avenged upon for justice. Or something like that. Huh. We didn't ask any of the locals, because while we're sure they all knew what the deal was, we figured nobody would really want to tell the curious white people about the goings-on in their neighborhood.

All in all, the food was excellent and the local atmosphere - very salt-of-the-earth - made it worth the trek. Plus, we were not only the only foreigners there but we suspected that we may be the only foreigners who've happened by it in a loooooong time, from the way kids were staring at us.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Photos from Sandiaoling and another shameless plug

Thanks all - especially my Thorn Tree crew who've come out in droves to vote for us, and those who not only voted for us but spread the word to their friends! Keep it coming - we're really getting excited about (possibly) winning this thing now!

The link, as usual, is here: Team Zhen Tai

Here are some photo from our recent trip to the Pingxi area, where we spent the day hiking from Sandiaoling to Shifen. For whatever reason (don't ask me, I don't know) the photos are reversed in chronological order. I guess I uploaded them backwards. Oh well. They're still nice!

The long red bridge leading from the end of the trail to Dahua Station, where a train left just as we arrived - hence our continued hike to Shifen.

The end of the trail culminates in a big schlep up a hill at the end of a creepy parking lot near Wild People Valley, and an accompanying descent down slippery moss-and-stone stairs. Watch your step, and take time to admire the bright green moss underfoot.

Hiking clubs in Taiwan leave these markers not just out of pride in their accomplishments, but to let other hikers know the way down a clear trail.

These folks are the Yangs and the Xiongs (the woman in grey on the right is Yang Taitai and opposite her is Lao Yang, her mother. Her husband is Ah-Xiong and the white-haired lady is his mother.) Their ancestral home - which is huge, equipped with modern living quarters on the edge of the property and is the home of lots of flora and fauna - has a flatscreen HDTV inside. We came across it as we, starving, saw the gate soon after the trail hits a rural road. We thought it might be a cafe because we heard lots of noise and saw picnic tables everywhere. Turns out it was just their house and they were showing around another group of hikers and entertaining their mothers-in-law, hangin' out at the lao jia on a sunny Sunday.

(I wish I had a lao jia to hang out at, but oh well.)

They happily invited us in - we were still all "Is this a restaurant?" - and fed us some green bean noodle dessert and chao mian (fried noodles - think chow mein). At first we were embarrassed, crashing someone's home, but they were delighted to have foreign guests. Apparently we aren't the first crashers - that other hiking group is shown in the photo, and Mrs. Yang said every few years a wayward Aussie or Brit passes through, and they feed them all, but they've never had Americans before and so they're quite happy about that.

Also, Old Yang is well into her 90s and still has quite a personality. I never thought a 93-year-old could strong-arm me into eating "MORE NOODLES!" but she did.

I love this country!

The trail doesn't seem long - it's only a few kilometers. But huge sections of it require wading, climbing or heading up ladders, so it takes longer than one would guess.

My sister at the base of Sandiaoling's main waterfall. It's not a terribly long hike to get here, past another waterfall viewable only in the distance (the path that seems to have once gone to the base is long overgrown), but you do have to wade across a stream where a bridge has given way. There is a cave behind this waterfall but we didn't make it there - the pathway was quite slippery after some heavy rain and the entire roof of the overhang on the walkway and the rock wall opposite was covered in sticky, gooey insect eggs/larvae/gross stuff. Really - I'm not being a priss about this. It was GROSS. I got some in my hair and even the guys were all "ew. Nasty."

Not far from here is a lovely place to sit on a rock and soak your feet. It's also a fun place for a picnic; more unorthodox than the viewing platform by the falls. You could even go for a dip if you were so inclined. Brendan is standing on one of the rocks in this area below:

Along the way we passed a lovely small shrine, half hidden but not forgotten in the undergrowth. As I've said a million times, spiritual beliefs here run deep; deeper than most people can fathom. Everything is sanctified and modernization is not changing that...merely adding to the ways in which people get in touch with their gods (and ghosts, and ancestors, and demons).

The area is lush with bamboo, as you can see, making for a lovely green backdrop as well as calming 'forest' noises as the very slight breeze whistled through.

Locals in this area are...um, zhen tai. More Tai than we'll ever be despite our fancy video. And very friendly.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Vote for us!

Well, Brendan Sasha and I have gone ahead and submitted our video for the Taiwan Explorers contest. Here's the link to our entry:

So, vote for us!

(Despite my newly acquired video editing 'skills')!

Monday, June 15, 2009


That's me, in the top center window, waving at my adoring public.

The golden window and reflection of the Grand Lisboa Casino, officially the most tack-tastic casino I've ever seen (and that's saying a lot...it is a casino after all). I think this basically captures the essence of Macau.

One of the historic buildings of Macau - this is a library off a square at the top of the hill opposite the biggest square in town (Leal Senado?)

A fountain in a small square in front of the Macau Cathedral.

The church of St. Dominic, in the Leal Senado Square. I love how Macau switches from old Chinese town to Portuguese European old school colony to casino-crazy strip of tacky buildings and brothels (well I am not too keen on the brothels and exploitation therein) to quiet sanctuaries. I love how the Macanese language and food reflects those idiosyncracies and blendings of culture.

Graffiti near the touristy heart of Macau.

TV and statues near the Ruins of St. Paul.

Macanese women idle in front of a tiny temple next to the Ruins of St. Paul.
City view of Macau, from ruins to high rises.

One of my favorite photos - incense sticks contrast with bamboo construction poles.

Tourists from Mainland China pose in front of the Ruins of St. Paul.

Three girls come upon the most famous sight in Macau.

Pro-Vegetarian groups have stuck these all over the backs of street signs in Macau.

Lion at a Chinese temple.

Making large quantities of the famous Macau almond cookies.

Streets in Macau are lined with a mix of Chinese and Portuguese influence.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Hong Kong

Some photos from our recent trip to Hong Kong...

We arrived the Thursday of Dragon Boat Festival (a long weekend with an unfair makeup day the next week for Taiwanese, an equally unfair Thursday off but working Friday for Hong Kong residents), thus missing any of the actual races. That's OK - we've seen them for the past few years.

We arrived in the late afternoon and immediately set out to exploring, heading from our hotel in Wan Chai (not too far from the hotel quarantined for Swine Flu) to Kowloon, via Central. Central was a mess of cloudy skies, awash in construction and a glut of Southeast Asian amahs and domestic helpers enjoying a day off.

In Kowloon, we hung out until the sun went down, and it started to rain briefly. Being damp and uncomfortable, we got coffee with whiskey at a tiny, unkempt bar not too far from Hung Hom. After that, we wandered the Tsim Sha Tsui promenade and walked up Nathan Road to the night market, where we ate tons of delicious seafood with San Miguel. Despite the rain, it was a fantastic afternoon.

One thing I like about Hong Kong, that makes me less annoyed about visiting the (evil) People's Republic of China, is that they do enjoy some basic level of free speech. Falun Gong protesters were out in force despite the weather.

Delicious seafood, almost grinning.

On the way to the Promenade, we passed the Cross-Harbour Tunnel, interesting mostly because brand names, mounted high on Central skyscrapers, shown across the harbor like hypnotic, transgalactic space-advertising.

Kowloon is one of my favorite parts of Hong Kong - it provides cheap shopping, good food (seafood, local or Indian, take your pick), fun with just the tiniest hint of sketchiness to keep things interesting, crazy traffic, good deals and topped off with amazing views of Central that area 100% free. Lots of shouting, lots of bargaining, none of the cool indifference and high-end satchels of Hong Kong Island.

We headed back for the night and the next day, explored the northern part of Hong Kong Island before meeting up with some friends for Indian food and a few drinks. We had dim sum in Causeway Bay, then took the MTR to Sheung Wan, which reminded me of Chinatowns across the USA, with lots of market areas selling all sorts of interesting things, trucks unloading more interesting things, and general lack of organization. We walked from there to Central via Hollywood Road and Cat Street, enjoying the kitschy market along the way.

It was a lovely day, despite our original plans to go hiking on Lamma being scuppered due to rain.

People keep tiny shrines outside their doors, even more so than in Taiwan (where even the most modest apartment is often adorned with a huge, red-lit shrine that takes up half the living room).

Lion puppets in the market just south of Central, up the hill a bit.

The fruit-sellers cat.

Incense coils are different from the regular sticks used in Taiwan, and can burn for days at a time. These are in Man Mo Temple on Hollywood Road, not far from the alleged spot where the British took possession of Hong Kong Island.

A medicine shop in Sheung Wan, above, and flayed dried lizards below. Ah, Sheung Wan.

Cat Street Market tchotchkes. Can be fun shopping if you bargain hard.

Causeway Bay - a mess of people even on a work day.

The next day was brighter - but not sunny. The sky dawned a vaguely reticent white, and stayed just white enough to give us sunburn and squinty-eye but not white enough to count as clear. We headed to Lantau and took the cable car up the remarkable mountains, many devoid of trees, to the Big Buddha at the Po Lin Monastery, which also seems to be a Buddhist-themed amusement park.

We enjoyed the splendid mountain, sea and airport views and wandered around the Buddha, amazing mostly for how big it is, ate South Indian food and took a bus and ferry to tiny, narrow-laned Cheung Chau island, with its bustling harbor and friendly old folks.

Temple carvings on a Cheung Chau temple.

Cheung Chau temple lion

Cheung Chau's tiny harbor was in direct contrast to Victoria Harbour, famous as one of the greatest urban views in the world. Cheung Chau is quieter, more rustic, dirtier, and doesn't seem like it's in Hong Kong at all. It reminded me more of a small coastal town in southern Taiwan than a part of one of the world's great international metropolises.

We took an evening boat back, enjoying the city views over the water while local passengers slept.

The next day we headed to Macau, but returned to Hong Kong in time to have a beer on the Promenade - which is so free that you have to actively search for places to get a drink - and enjoy the weather.

Next post: Macau