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We are what we think & my blog entries reflect how I think. Have a sip of the poison of my mind.. It's not always lethal.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Taipei Day 2: of Mountains & Boutiques

Good morning (a very common greeting in the retail scene here irregardless of the time of day and even late at night that puzzled me off guard during my first time here. Now? I actually find it really endearing).

Buying 'Octopus' cards at 西门站
It's the second day and after having our complimentary hotel breakfast, the first thing we have to do is to go get the 'Octopus' cards which allow us to travel using not just their mass transit trains but also, their public buses.

So that's what we are doing now at 西门站 station, buying enough value stored in our cards that can last us this entire Taipei trip and we can return the cards on our final day and any balance left in them can be refunded.

So I told you yesterday that I'll be bringing you to some mountain today, didn't I? The mountain village of 九份 it is, so that's gonna be our first target of the day. The weather today is cooler than yesterday's and i'm hoping that upon reaching the mountain later, it will be colder and hopefully too, the cold spell from China which the Taiwanese affectionately call '冷气团' will hit us soon today as forecasted.

Upon reaching Taipei Station via the train from 西门站, we now have to buy tickets to transfer to another type of rail that will take us to 瑞芳 where we'll transfer to a public bus (公车) to get to 九份.

Searching the place, we cannot find the ticket counter where we bought the 瑞芳 tickets the last time we were here. After asking around, we decided to try our luck at this ticket counter we don't recall was there during our previous visit, so we bought tickets to 瑞芳 from there anyway.

Now I have to mention here that for this trip and the previous one, we did not encounter any rude & impatient Taiwanese except at the rail ticket counters here at 台北站 on both occasions. But just on one occasion per trip at only one same location is already too much of a good thing which is already a blessing.

No biggie, I can live with that. My Lioness is the one who bought the tickets. If I were the one, I would have returned the courtesy with a healthy dose of cynicism that basically says 'Fuck You' in a pleasant manner.

Kidding, I adore the Taiwanese folks. Don't think I could bring myself to do that to them even if I tried.

Arriving at 瑞芳, I'm having that 'time has stood still' feeling again as the train station, underpass, as well as the whole town still look exactly the same like they did two-&-a half years ago.

I bought a can of 台湾啤酒 (Taiwan's home-brewed beer) at this particular old provision shop just to repeat exactly the same thing I did during the last time I was here for a sip of the memories and relive them again before heading over to the bus stop.

And at the bus stop area, this little Doraemon car which my Lioness sat and posed for my camera the last time we were here is still here. Same weather-beaten Doraemon car. You know those cars that rock back-&-forth on the spot with kiddy music playing when you insert coins into them? That's what I'm talking about.

View from the bus stop area
The bus arrives and there is this Japanese couple with their toddler in a pram who are having trouble with the bus fare. Seems like they do not have the required change for the fare and so, they alighted the bus in order not to hold up the rest of us.

As the bus driver drives away, I'm feeling a tinge of pity for that young family. I hope they will be successful in changing for spare change but since they don't speak Mandarin, I wonder how they could do it. Heck, how are they gonna make it through their whole trip like that on free-&-easy all by themselves?

(Later, when we reached 九份, I saw them there alighting from the next bus that arrived after ours, thank goodness they made it in the end).

The bus has to pass through mountainous terrain along a road that is really too narrow for buses and whenever another bus or coach approach from the opposite direction, I can't help but hope that our bus won't swerve too much off the road and plunge down into the steep valley below, despite the barriers on the side which are kinda flimsy looking. Gawd, the Taiwanese are excellent drivers because that didn't happen.

Bird's-eye view at 九份
After a rather tense & exciting circular ride up the mountain which enabled us to indulge in good old familiar sights and pretty landscape, we arrived at 九份. Hopping off the bus, I'm glad that the temperature is much cooler here. It's not deliciously cold but very comfortable enough, slightly beyond cooling temperature and a tad into cold temperature. So I decided to walk around with my cardigan wrapped around my waist to maximize the nice sensation.

The village of 九份 consists mainly of a residential area, a main shopping tourists attraction area and a historical gold mine. The streets are narrow and lined with shops and stalls selling mainly souvenirs and foodstuff. Up-slopes and down-slopes is what traversing through the village is all about.

My only gripe about this place is the lack of litter bins and trash cans and there are lots of scribbled notices all over telling us not to litter. Now that's baffling, considering that lots of foodstuff & tidbits can be bought here, which are actually one of the main attractions here and they come served skewered on wooden sticks or put into plastic bags.

So us tourists will end up with lots of wooden sticks and plastic bags as we enjoy the different assortment of food & tidbits that we can't dispose of properly. So this a WTF factor to me.

My solution? When I can't find a politically-correct place to dispose of my trash, I improvised in little corners & alleys when nobody's looking. Don't have a choice about that. Too bad, so sad, dump your trash.

Buying wild boar sausages
I've always wondered how wild boar meat tastes like ever since I was a kid that grew up on reading Asterisk & Obelisk comics which made my mouth water everytime the artist drew them feasting on said meat which looked really succulent & tasty, since the artist had the skill to draw them that way.

So when I saw this stall selling wild boar meat sausages, I bought some to try. Goodness, since those things taste delicious, I ended up eating like 5 of those throughout the time here, going back & forth just to buy them again from 2 different stalls. Perhaps it's due to the Taiwanese marinating style, their wild boar sausages taste similar to the standard Taiwanese sausage (台湾香肠) made of pork.

We tried looking for this particular restaurant where we had drinks at the balcony with a panoramic view of the mountain the last time we were here, but since we can't find it, we decided instead to go to 阿妹茶楼.

Now that we are sitting here at the outside seating area of 阿妹茶楼 sipping our drinks, we begin to look around our surrounding and my Lioness spots above us and to the right, the balcony of that restaurant we were looking for just now. It's just like next door, LoL. Oh well, try something new on a new day, I guess.

And I remember we could see the sea in the distance from the cafes and restaurants here the last time we came. But not this time of the year because the horizon is enshrouded with fog.

The fog comes
Standing up and looking out over the railing of the balcony from where we are, I can see this giant blanket of mountain fog fast approaching and swallowing everything in its path as far as my eye can see. It reminds me of 'The Mist' by horror master Stephen King.

Needless to say, I'm delighted as the fog fast approaches towards our direction because I'm hoping it brings colder air with it, yummy.

There is no escaping the fog. It comes too fast and too suddenly. When it hits, the atmosphere not only feels so much more cooler but wetter too due to the abundance of water vapor the fog brings with it in the atmosphere. My picture on the left is not blurred, that's how it came out when my Lioness snapped it after the fog enveloped us and the entire area. Love it!

After resting at 阿妹茶楼, we continue walking along and come across the souvenir shop you can see on the right which I remember well where I bought little wooden slippers souvenirs for my colleagues & customers during the previous trip. The shop and its merchandise still look the same but I'm quite sure the lady shopkeeper is different this time round.

And finally, before heading back to 西门町, I started to search for the residential area of 九份. I remember that the houses and little motels here are quite unique with character and I would like to see them once again. Searching around, I just can't seem to find that part of the village.

Feeling wasted, we have to forgo this little mini quest and started heading back to 西门町, leaving this little magical mountain village still enveloped in the fog..


西门町 during late evening

Having dumped the things we bought in our hotel room and having rested for awhile, we are now arriving at 師大夜市 after getting lost for a short while and asking for directions from the locals.

There were these two young ladies we asked for directions from just now and they didn't seem the least bit interested in helping us. They weren't rude, just very disinterested as they just grunted and pointed in the general direction towards our intended destination.

东京着衣 at  師大夜市
Anyway, the reason why we are here is because my Lioness wants to check out the 东京着衣 boutique which is quite popular among the ladies back home who buy their clothing from the boutique online, which was what my Lioness did and since we are here in Taipei, she figured we might as well check out their boutique shop in-person.

By now, the temperature has started to turn colder as the fringe wave of the 冷气团, the cold spell from China arrives. Finally :) Makes me glad the local weather forecast proves to be accurate. I can't help but smile since I chose to come here during this time of the year precisely because of the forecasted cold season. Looks like this won't be a wasted trip weather-wise.

Now, back to the 东京着衣 boutique: I don't know if it's because of the lighting in the boutique but the clothes in here look old. My Lioness agrees as she decides not to buy anything here. She's also supposed to buy a couple of pieces here for her colleague but she won't, given the condition of the clothing, at least as far as what our eyes are telling us.

Like I said, it could be due to the lighting that the clothes are looking this way, which is why I didn't provide a hyperlink to the boutique's website within this blog entry. That's because if our judgement are being distorted by store lighting, then I won't want this blog entry to have a direct hand in spoiling the boutique's name or reputation.

Hey, I'm not insulting your intelligence here, dear gentle reader, I know that everyone knows about the existence of Google and Copy & Paste within its search box. But like I mentioned above, I do not want to cast a bad light on something directly here when I'm not exactly sure if lighting has distorted my perception, so there.

A jazzy little boutique
Moving along, we ended up buying 2 of the same little purple sling handbags from another boutique which are really unique which I think goes really well with jeans and casual wear - one for my Lioness and one for a customer of mine.

Lots of the boutiques here, especially those further in in the area are really unique & creative like the one shown on the right. The pic isn't adequate to do these boutiques here any justice; you have to be here in-person to marvel at their creative decorations, atmosphere & ambience.

They basically turned the shophouses into rows of cozy, attractive & thought-out-of-the-box jazzy fashion mini worlds, each boutique with its own character and I'm mighty impressed, to say the least. You know what they say about how 亲切 the Taiwanese folks are, yes?

I'm even feeling ashamed for our own boutiques back home where everybody just copies everybody else mindlessly. This is one reason why we choose to come to Taipei to buy our clothes - the clothes back home are like homogenous factory-produced pieces with not much differentiation & unique style. We are dinosaurs when compared to the fashion tastes of the Taiwanese.

By now, the temperature has dived marvelously as Taiwan gets hit full in the face by the cold spell from China. In order to celebrate this, I took off my jacket and began to walk around exposed to the cold with only my t-shirt & jeans between myself and the weather, drawing inquisitive stares from the people around me. After awhile though, I had to wear back my jacket. 10 minutes hero.

The cold is freaking awesome.

At 85℃ cafe

We are now back in 西门町 at 85℃ cafe a stone's throw away opposite from our hotel. I missed this little 24-hours cafe much. During our previous trip here, lots of past-midnight nights were spent hanging around shooting the breeze over coffee & cakes at this cafe at their exterior seating area.

The exterior seating area

I'm hoping to see the same staff I chatted with last time but new unfamiliar faces are all I'm seeing. And I'm dismayed to learn that the seats at the exterior seating area will be kept past a certain time at night and that the cafe will be closed I think on Monday nights.

I guess much can change within 2-and-a-half years. So nope, I don't think I'll hang out here past midnight for this trip, I noted with regret.

Cakes & coffee from 85℃ cafe
85℃ sells an assortment of coffee and cakes. I like their Caramel Macchiato (in fact, all of the Caramel Macchiato we've tried all over Taipei are awesome) but their cakes are just meh. Still, for the sake of the memories, we bought some and brought them to our hotel lobby to eat since the seats at the exterior seating area at 85℃ are all taken.

The plan before retiring for the night is to go back to the 24-hours Carrefour near our hotel again which we visited during our previous trip. I can still remember like the back of my hand the walking route back to that Carrefour past the Family Mart to the right across the road from our hotel.

My Lioness begins to worry that we might be walking the wrong way and that the place could be farther than I think as we make our way there but I'm convinced to the bone that this is not the case. And before we know it, Carrefour's building pops into view. The walk has really been a briefer one than expected. So she suddenly becomes quiet as I show her a smug 'Told you so' look as we walk into the building.

The instant noodles section
It seems like nothing much has changed inside this Carrefour right down to the shelf spaces, layout and the merchandise. I walked over to their instant and cup noodles section I remember well because of their wide and much more varied assortment which we don't see back home. Same goes for their tidbits.

As I'm experiencing dé·jà vu walking around this familiar place, I began to superimpose mentally our past selves from 2-&-a-half years ago into the place, watching our past selves standing around checking out the merchandise and walking around just like we did back then.

I guess they weren't aware that their future selves would be back at the exact same place doing exactly the same thing and observing them 2-&-a-half years later. That's one of the ways I play with and celebrate my memories. I'm just hoping I'm not looking older now, though.

The art of Impulse Buying
Taking the escalator to check out the next floor above, we check out the merchandise lining along the sides of the escalator. Goods line along the entire length of their escalators. What a brilliant idea that gives us shoppers something to do as we go up & down between the different floors.

Only disadvantage is that shoppers have to make quick decisions since the escalators are constantly moving, I guess. Oh, wait a second.. there's such a thing as 'impulse buying', is there not? Well, that makes a brilliant idea even more brilliant.

Anyway, I bought a Japanese classics music CD from this Carrefour to try out. (My future self here: After listening to it when we got home, I realized that their idea of 'classic' turns out to be more than traditional because I suspect that the songs in that CD were produced before I was even born).

The streets at night
Leaving Carrefour, we crossed over the street to the opposite side facing 西门町 to walk back to our hotel instead of back the same street we came from earlier for a change of perspective, just like we did the last time we were here. The streets here still look exactly the same. I turn to my Lioness to tell her that the only difference this time round is that it's freaking cold.

Arriving at this mausoleum-like memorial structure by the street which I still remember well, I whipped out my phone to take a snapshot of it but she tells me not to do it. I can understand her thought. Why? Because that mausoleum-like structure IS creepy looking. So I kept my phone and we continue our stroll.

And because I forgot to bring my own L'Oreal Colour Vive shampoo from home for my coloured hair, we now have to pop over to the 24-hours Watson's in 西门町 to get one.

Inside Watson's, I can't find the shampoo I wanted and has to settle for an Ascience shampoo instead which I've never tried before. Turns out that shampoo actually makes my hair dryer after buying and using it. Dud.

Anyway, it's late at night now. So we are going back to our hotel to catch some Zzzs. See you tomorrow and tag along with us and I will be bringing you to savor yummylicious Taiwanese Hotplate and we'll hit more boutiques for cool clothes.

- De Lion Speaks

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