24.11.15

Rhythms and repetitions in Taipei 2015

Photo by J - Taipei night light

It's old news that some things in Taipei don't change...and neither does the itinerary of our visit every other year. [See http://ampulets.blogspot.sg/search/label/taiwan for past trips]

But as with every trip, we would always discover a few nice new spots in the city.  Here are some that we were at first loathe to share because we wanted them to ourselves, but hey, our friends and the city have been generous to us, so we can only be generous back!

Some notes
I made 1-2 sketches of J to mark each day of our visit. I've posted them here, together with some of J's images for now...these sketches reflect perhaps our mood and show our itinerary for the day.

Most of the places mentioned in this post are logged in on Google Maps. So I didn't give detailed instructions on how to get there.

Treasure Hill artists and village
One morning we woke up and decided that, despite the strange Autumnal humidity and heat, we would make our way to a interesting cluster of houses called 寶藏谷 (Treasure hill valley)  that J's friend had recommended.

It was a settlement of tiny houses built by mostly farmers and retired soldiers, like nests lodged against the side of a hill and by a river bank, linked by windy footpaths and stairs. Only a few of the original families are left, and many of the houses are now artist studios and residencies. It still has an abandoned air about it. Nothing fancy has been done.  And this is where Taipei has been great with how they "repurpose" old buildings but don't "eradicate" the signs of age (with the exception of the major Government developments like the Huashan and Songshan cultural districts). The algae and chipped edges, the worn concrete and invading plants, the aged timber and peeling paint, they all remain at Treasure Hill. There is a sadness that is allowed to linger, even against the bright blue skies.

We made a video for the Good Sweat hankies at Treasure Hill.

Good Sweat 3 from ampulets on VimeoNeighbourgoods in a foreign hood.

Delicate and Taimo
A short walk from the LiuJiangLi MRT station on the WenHu line is a quiet residential street (Jiaxing St) where two shops have also sensitively inhabited old buildings.

Delicate is a gallery of vintage furniture and knickknacks, mostly from Japan. Unlike the more popular vintage Scandinavian shops, Delicate's items are not "restored". They bear their rust and brokenness with a quiet dignity.

Taimo is a cafe just across the street. It is not unlike many hipster cafes in Taipei, but it is too lovely a building and the folks running it are a good balance of friendliness and leave-you-alone-ness.


Between Whiles 時常在這裡
This shop/bakery/cafe/interior design office is no secret (with 84k followers on FB) . It is on the ground floor behind a residential front, completely nondescript on the outside, and just as understated inside. They open only from Thursday to Sunday, 1 to 5pm. We got there at 1.30pm and there was only 1 slice of cake, three jars of honey, and 2 bags of granola left. The two boys running it are shy and equally unassuming.


Shimokitazawa 
This too is no secret and quite a Taipei institution now. We've been meaning to visit this bookstore ever since they opened. Located on the 2nd floor in a business/residential building about 15mins walk from the LongShan temple MRT station, it is not that hard to find if you have Google maps. The walk is an interesting one which will bring you past a street of pet shops specialising in birds. Once you discover the building, the security guard most likely will - as he did when he saw us - prompt in mandarin "The bookstore is upstairs". It's not 6th sense, given that the building's one-room units are mostly taken up by residents or the offices of other trades not likely to attract bookish or designer-ish types.


Photo by J taken at Elephant Hill

Elephant Hill
At the start of the trip, we were really ambitious and were all psych-ed up for the Caoling Historial Trail. After Day 4, we chickened out. Perhaps 10 years ago, we would have done it. But.

Anyway, determined to still do something fairly outdoorsy, we went for a morning walk up Elephant Hill. I recommend you take the MRT to the Taipei 101 stop on the Red line, fuel up at Good Cho's [read about it on our 2013 trip], then take a leisurely 10-15min walk past Taipei's upmarket Xinyi condominiums to the foot of Elephant Hill.

The steps up can be killing if you are not too fit - so take your time and not let the crowds rush you (avoid weekends if you want a quieter walk). But once you reach the top, explore the various rest and viewing points. And if you aren't too tired, continue on the trail to other hill tops. There is a good map  at the Elephant Hill peak and all the trails are well marked with indicative timings. On your way down, try a different route from your way up - and you'll end up near the quieter working class district of Yong Shun.


The Taipei Shopkeeper Friendliness chart
Food doesn't rank as high on our to-do list any more. But still, these little spots of charm and generosity related to food/drinks and the occasional retailer deserve a special shoutout. Many of the people encountered in these little casual exchanges are why we keep coming back to Taiwan.

"The Jelly of Sleepwalking Herbal Jelly" (literal translation)  愛玉之夢游仙草/ 通化Tong Hua Night Market
This was the only night market we visited, off the LiuZhangLi MRT station (near Xinyi). After walking the stretch, we decided to sit by a Teppanyaki store next to a good-looking young man wearing a baseball cap backwards, a loose fit tank, goatee and tattoos. He was eating the most delicious looking plate of fried rice and chatting with the stern looking chef.

Intrepid J began this conversation in mandarin, "Hey, that looks really good. What's that?" The young man looked up, cast us a cold sideway glance, and replied - "Fried rice. But it's special. To eat it, you have to visit this store for 17 years before the chef will make it for you."

To me, that seemed like a conversation killer. We dutifully went back to checking out the "official" menu, and continued behaving like clueless tourists. What took place a few minutes later was a nice surprise.

"Boss," the young man asked, "you will cook this for them?"

Bossman-chef ignored his request, just as he had been ignoring us. We had waited less than 10 minutes, which was 16 years 364 days 23 hours and 50 minutes short of target.

"With chicken or beef?" Bossman spoke, after a minute of silence.

From then on, the young man intermediated between our greedy orders and the chef. It was a series of exchanges which ended with our finale of "wagyu" beef steak, shared with the young man.

Bossman managed what looked like ten percent of a smile. "You should try desserts after this. There's a very popular store near by. But I warn you, the queue is very long. I know the boss and even I have to queue up." We agreed to go try it. The young man sniggered. "There, he's the boss."  Bossman-chef pointed his spatula at our young intermediary.


After some more bantering, the young man stood up and led us to his store. If I was still a teenager, I may remark - "swag." But being the old lady, I would only conclude on the swagger. He apologised to us for the wait and said he had to pump up the music in his shop first. Up went the thumping rap. He took over an older man (his father) at the store, and dished us a bowl of very good Qing Cao with taro and pumpkin mochi, pearl and jelly, topped with a peanut stew. A queue formed, drawn by the music (and the young owner, no doubt). And we noticed the many celebrity signatures left on the wall in front o us. Ah.

This is the FB page of the store. If you ever visit, look for the good-looking young man running the store, and tell him you are from Singapore.

Cow Records 
Notwithstanding the name of this shop, it does not sell cows, milk, steak, or records.  The owners who run the store are real friendly, knowledgeable, and you can tell they love what they do - which is not retail, but to connect with people and to connect people to products they love. Of course, it helps that everything ends with a sale. But there is a genuineness in the person that cannot be bought or sold.

I haven't quite said what the store sells yah? Here's their FB page.

回留 The return (?)
A beautiful and reasonably priced teahouse at Yong Kang. Of course, what made this place tick for us was the warm service in the pristine setting. It helps that they have a poetic name.


Mutton Hotpot
We don't ever eat mutton or hotpot. But on this trip, we had a very enjoyable midnight mutton hotpot, sitting by the road, with some friends from Singapore we bumped into at our hotel! For our past few visits to Taipei, we've walked by this Mutton Hotpot store because it is right across a cafe we like (Le Park Cafe) but never tried (repeat: we don't ever eat mutton or hotpot) despite the secret curiosity both J and I had about the groups of vaguely drunk middle-aged men it seems to attract.

To visit this mutton place, google Le Park Cafe [See our 2010 trip for a review of Le Park]. The tofu is good and so is the stomach. Great with a cold beer past midnight - and most definitely, in the company of friends.

And on this note, we end.


3 comments:

Toddler Bed Singapore said...

Worth a read journey.

invisible said...

Thanks for this, going tomorrow, pp

ampulets said...

Enjoy Invisible!!!!

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