Taiwan: Day 2 in Jiufen

On Sunday J, L, and I caught a train toward Jiufen, a coastal mountain town northeast of Taipei. Jiufen used to be a gold mining town, but when the mines shut down it was turned into a tourist destination because of its beautiful views and quaint old-fashioned shopping district. The train there was hot, loud, and slow (in comparison to the Japanese trains) but we got to the station, ate a quick lunch of pork bun, noodles, greens, and an omelet with oysters, glutinous rice, and a brown sauce.The omelet was interesting — tasty but a bizarre texture because the rice gave it a congealed, rubbery consistency. The rest of lunch was sortof so-so. There’s some spice which is in a lot of the food there that I can’t identify but the entire country smells a bit like it to me. Maybe some sort of red pepper.

We took a cab up the mountain to the town itself, watching the ocean appear behind us as we climbed the switchbacks. The weather was bright and sunny, and a lot of other folks had the same idea to head to Jiufen, so we clambered out of the cab into a crowd. Jiufan is on the shoulder of a large mountain, the peak of which perches above the town, with little pagodas winding their way up to the top.

There are a number of temples in the town, a few of which we saw. The temples have ornate, rainbow-painted rooftops with dragons and phoenixes, and all sorts of other scenes which I’d guess are from mythical stories. The ceiling tiles themselves are also usually orange, so it’s easy to see a temple at a distance.

We wandered along Jishan street, a historic market area lined with red lanterns and shops, restaurants, and teahouses. The street was packed, and it was unbelievably hot, so we stopped in one little teahouse with a great view down the hill to the water. I ordered something that was supposed to be mint tea, but when it arrived it was neon green and tasted like liquid toothpaste. I did stop at the oldest teahouse in Jiufen later on and bought some jasmine tea to bring back for Jen. The shops along the street sold a collection of tourist bits and bobs, knock-off purses, handmade soaps, and a lot of food. Like Japan most of them have samples you can try, so it’s always a kick to wander along sticking a series of odd things in your mouth. They do a lot of dried plums, which are deliciously tart (bought a bag of those) and I also found a guy who makes what I think is tofu jerky in different flavors. It was actually really good, so I bought some of that as well. (All of this with a fair deal of language assistance.)

On the far side of town we walked through a little park and some less touristy residential streets. We found tunnel #5 (which turned out not to be terribly exciting, despite a fair deal of advertising, and a more picturesque tunnel which ultimately was not the one we were looking for), a chorus of girls raising money for some sort of school trip, some pretty tropical gardens, lanky stairways winding up and down the mountain, more views, long lines for shaved ice shops, a dress-up-and-have-your-photo-taken bizarrely decorated establishment, and more temples. We had a great day and were just getting ready to head out anyway when it started to rain. We headed for the bus stop which already had a massive line winding down the road (rediscovering that in Taiwan they have very different concepts of personal space and line-etiquette), and finally ended up in what may or may not have been some sort of cab (a van, which wasn’t really marked like a cab). The driver put us all in fear for our lives, but we arrived in Taipei in one piece.

People in Taiwan are less formally dressed than the Japanese, some of them having a purposeful stylish-but-not-mainstream look, and some looking like they’d been having fever-dreams in those same clothes for several nights running. It surprised me how much I noticed it, after being in Japan for a year. Apparently the trend for young women is to have super-short cutoff jean shorts that show the bottom of your pockets out the front (often bejeweled or otherwise demanding attention) and the bottom of your bottom out the back (I did not see any bejeweled bottoms, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time until they think of it). At any rate, most of the focus for this clothing seems to be keeping cool in the heat and mugginess, which I can certainly understand.

We did a little wandering around Taipei, looked in some shops, and then went to dinner at a restaurant called 10 10. J+L ordered a bunch of dishes — one that had little cubes of beef, glutinous rice, and pine nuts in a sort of sweet brown sauce, another tangy chicken dish, and some lovely sauteed greens (I always end up not eating enough veg when traveling). All the food was really good — I particularly liked the beef dish — the little cubes of glutinous rice are the texture of light, rubbery pasta, and they soak up sauce really nicely (that’s a weird-sounding description, but really, it was good!). After dinner we walked over to ice monster where we got mango ices, which were amazing. They start with shaved ice, then add bits of real mango, mango syrup (it’s not sweetened), condensed milk, custard, and top the whole thing off with a scoop of mango sorbet. We sat out in the tropical night demolishing our treats and people-watching as the long lines queued up for their mango ice. Awesome way to end day 2.

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