taiwan entries, part the third: taipei (a)
written: 5:25 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 18, 2004

chronology - part the first - part the second

台北 101

I'll say this upfront: I love Taipei. Taipei is amazing. But this isn't how I planned on starting my entry; I just couldn't help myself. So, let's pretend that none of this has been written and start afresh, shall we?

The thing about globalisation is, it feels like home wherever you go. At Changi Airport, before boarding the plane, I was wondering if there's Starbucks in Taiwan. And lo and behold: barely an hour in Taipei itself, and I spotted about three Starbucks joints. Xing ba ke, they call it in Chinese. To add to that: Pizza Hut, McDonalds', Esprit, Mos Burger, The Incredibles, Jielun's Panasonic ad... if it weren't for the fact that people speak very differently, and that the lanes are really narrow and smell like dogshit everywhere, I would've thought that I never really left Singapore.

Or so I thought on the first day, upon arrival in Taipei. Home is a weird concept. Familiarity cons you into believing that you're home everywhere in the globalised, modernised world; but what if you really are? Or rather, not you, but me. Home again, in Taipei, Yonghe, Lane 52, although I grew up in an apartment located in Lane 42. Same difference though, because 永和 has always been Yonghe, that stationary store I frequented as a kid is still there, the night market is still as busy and crowded as I remember it to be, and the roads are still as dirty and congested as before.

Yes, it was home. And here I am, getting all nostalgic and sentimental when we haven't even begun telling the whole story. My bad; let's start again.

So, the first half-day in Taipei. Reached the Lane 52 (sounds fucking weird in English though) apartment at around 3 p.m. And the first thing I did? Crossed the road to the 7-11 store and bought a nice box of liang mian. A direct translation: cool noodles. It's a box of noodles that comes with carrots and cucumbers, a packet of soya sauce and a packet of sesame sauce. You dump everything into the box and mix them together, and voila, you get one of the things that I will always miss as long as I'm not in Taiwan. I love it; and no, no idea how much it costs. Who cares anyway.

We took the Metro to...some place whose name I've forgotten. Have I ever mentioned how bloody convenient it is over there? The metro station is only a 3-minute walk away at most.

The thing about Taiwanese society is that they seem to have this thing for being considerate and polite. The service itself is extremely telling of this, but what I really want to say now is that on the escalators, you have to stand to the right to let people who are in a hurry walk on the left. On the metro itself, I heard an announcement for mobile phone users to lower their volumes to prevent disturbing other passengers.

And you know what? People do keep to the right, and the metro isn't half as noisy as the MRT is. More intriguingly, people there actually queue up behind the yellow lines to wait for a train, which is so unlike Singapore where boarding the MRT during peak hours is a bloody rat race in itself. It's hard to imagine that a society plagued by its violent, melodramatic and thus hilarious politics can be that polite, so much more so than one with a stable and passive political scene.

For dinner, we went to Taoyuan Street for a bowl of beef noodles. It's absolutely brilliant; or at least, I remember it to be so. (I had it without the meat, of course.) Unfortunately, we ate at like, 5 p.m. that day, and I wasn't the least bit hungry. And for some reason or other mine was really oily; had a layer of red oil (as it was spicy) on top. Didn't finish it and it wasn't as good as I remember it to be. It did feel like dinner time though; it was only 5, but it was already so dark that it felt like it was already 7.30 p.m.

We were supposed to go to Xi Men Ding (西门丁, I think, but I also think that it's another xi but I forgot which one it is), and we did end up there...after walking around a lot. It was there that I saw the Jielun Panasonic billboard. I forgot which model it was though; it had a lot of red on it...I think. Or maybe it was the X400. I can't remember which one I saw there and which one I saw on a few buses, so yeah.

Anyway, Xi Men Ding is a shopping haven for teenagers. I didn't like it there too much; too many high school kids walking around in their uniforms and it was weird. The nice thing about it is that it's Orchard Road without the cars and the buses. They closed off the road and thus you're left with the shops and the people. It's pretty cool. Wouldn't mind going back there with someone younger than...my folks. Haha.

Saw a few nice skirts and blouses in a shopping mall. The price wasn't nice though; came in four digits, which totals up to three digits when converted into Singapore dollars. I really should be rich, you know. I deserve to wear nice, expensive clothes. Bleah.

So anyway I bought a nice long-sleeved top from Esprit that I'm able to wear in Singapore and not completely melt, so it wasn't a completely wasted shopping trip. My brother got damn pissed off though; he hates shopping and leaving the house (don't ask me why). So at Esprit he decided to vent his anger by kicking the wall. Haha! My dad left with him soon after, and yay, it was just my mom and I! I like going out with her...or rather, likeD, before she got all uptight about spending. Oh well.

My mom and I went to the night market and I got a pair of XL jeans that hangs loosely around my hips without showing half my arse to the world. I LOVE IT. I love the night market too; it's so alive! I could go there every night and not get sick of it. The small downside to it is that Taipei is full of motorcycles; half the vehicles on the road are motorcycles. As a result, there'd be bikes zooming around while you're trying to walk and it's easy to lose a kid in that crowd, but sometimes, you just gotta take the good with the bad.

So after that first half-day we left for Kinmen and only returned after spending a day in Taichung. December 7, 2004 then. My parents and I went out without my brother, who chose to stay behind to watch basketball. Right. We went to Zhong Xiao Dong Lu Si Duan (忠孝东路四段) in an attempt to look for Jielun's curios shop. I read in Life! sometime back that it's located there, but I didn't know how bloody long the road was until I got there. I was quite irritated with my folks, especially my mom, 'cause they made it very clear that they thought I was being dumb. So after a while, when my dad called up the yellow pages thingy and found that the shop wasn't registered, I decided, fuck it, let's just go to Taipei 101.

Taipei 101 (picture on top) wasn't amazing, but it was pretty nice. Another shopping haven, this time for filthy rich people. I found PageOne there, and also Julian Barnes's "A History of the World in Ten and a Half Chapters" which I was dying to get but couldn't find in both Kino and Borders. MORE IMPORTANTLY. I FOUND BOOKS BY THE MARQUIS DE SADE.

You know what? I really regret not buying them now. Who knows when would be the next time I go overseas? And you certainly cannot find his works available in local bookstores, since Singapore is such a stupid stuffy uptight place. I mean, Sade's writings could be considered pornographic but I really wanna see what the big deal is, you know? The closest I've got is only Quills, and even so, Sade was treated more as a character than a historical figure.

Still, there was no Justine or that other book with the word 'sodomy' in its title, I think. There was Incest and...I forgot the title of the other book. It was also a female name that ends with 'ine', and it's not Claudine (that's a track on Maksim's "The Piano Player"). There was also a compilation of his earlier works published by Oxford but it seemed quite lame so I didn't get it. I really should've got Incest though. Oh well.

We had lunch at a Chinese restaurant there that claimed to sell Yunnan's guo qiao mi xian; I don't know what it's called in English, but a direct translation would be 'rice noodles over bridge'. Haha. Right. That was stupid. It's a type of noodles though, and when I went to Yunnan with SNGS in 1998, we had it and it was amazing.

It wasn't as amazing in Taipei 101. The fried rice was pretty good but they used a really cheapskate ingredient: frozen peas/carrots/corn. Yes, those shit you get in a huge packet. Ugh, it sucked. And it was extremely overpriced as a result. Who pays NT$300 (approx. S$15) for fried rice with shitty ingredients?

Still, the prawns were good, so yeah.

There are a few malls surrounding Taipei 101; one of them is called New York New York.

God, I also had a heart attack when I saw it on my way there; I was so excited! Inside, it was pretty cool too. They sell really nice clothes, but once again, the prices aren't as nice. Saw a nice black skirt with green patterns for like, NT$4000 (approx. S$200).

FUCK I WANNA BE RICH AND I WANNA BE RICH NOW. It was torturous looking at all those nice clothes but being absolutely paralysed when it came to buying them. Oh, the perils of not having money!

I'm such a brat, aren't I.

This was taken outside New York New York. Once again, how very England, England-ish. Even the name of the mall smacks of Barnes's great novel!

It'd just stopped raining when we got outside. I looked up at 101, and saw that it was covered in clouds, and very prettily so as well. The picture above doesn't do enough justice to that breath-taking sight, but I tried my best. And anyway, my stupid phone was running out of memory so I could only take one shot.

Went to the Yonghe Eslite bookstore on the way back. I knew about it when I read an issue of Time magazine that featured top places to visit in Asia, and Eslite was included. It's an old version of the French/English word 'elite' and the main branch sells a lot of English books. The one at Yonghe only had a handful though.

I made my folks drink a cup of coffee at the Eslite cafe. Had an iced Vienna coffee; I was trying to order by telling the lady that wo yao iced Vienna coffee (I want iced Vienna coffee) but for some reason or other it didn't register in the woman's mind and my mom had to say it in Chinese.

Okay, seriously, the English exists in the menu for a reason: for waiters to learn the fucking English names! Hello! Obvious enough isn't it!

But then again, the Taiwanese have really really really appalling English so I guess I shouldn't be too surprised. I spotted a lot of spelling/grammatical mistakes while I was there, which I will reserve for another entry. Hahaha.

Don't quite remember what happened at night.

I will continue with my Taipei entry in another entry; this is getting long, and I'm also getting rather tired of writing. So, yes. Stay tuned for part (b)!

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