Taipei Highlights

A bunch of highlights from the last couple days in Taipei:

I played with a group of Taiwanese school children at the Confucius Temple and probably spectacularly disrupted the field trip. But the teachers seemed to like trying out their English on me as much as the kids. They made me miss my kids in Japan so bad. I also got to visit the Baoan Temple right next door. I was looking for some god to pray to that would heal my aching back, but instead prayed to the altar of ibuprofen.

Yesterday afternoon, I spent most of my time at the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall and the surrounding plaza where I got to see the changing of the guard. What a strange, anachronistic display. More fun, I think was the people watching outside in the plaza.

The highlight of the day was the night market and snake alley. I’ve been to a few markets in Asia now, but so far, this one takes the cake for volume and variety of ridiculous nonsense. Of course, the cheap garbage products were there. And the weird animal parts being sold for consumption. But, where this one stood out was the live animals.

They call it snake alley for a reason. Snake handlers put on mini shows with cobras and whatever reptiles they happen to have in their cages that night. Often the shows will culminate in the snake being killed and drained of its blood so that passers by can buy a drink. Other valuable parts are extracted and everyone except the snake seems pretty happy about the whole affair.

I didn’t stick around to watch the skinning of any of the snakes nor did I bother to watch a guinea pig get fed to a snake that was about the size of a boa constrictor but yellow in colour. The snake’s handler was just bringing out the ill-fated rodent and I couldn’t bring myself to watch. I walked past again later and it looked like that same guinea pig was still alive, so the whole thing may have just been for show.

Worst, however, were the turtles. These poor things had been laid out in a row and were gradually dying under a lamp while they slowly, but desperately flailed their tiny flippers in the vain hope of turning over. Occasionally, the owner of the shop would come by with a spray bottle and spritz the helpless amphibians keeping them hydrated enough to prolong their doom. Thanks for reinforcing my vegetarianism Ms. Turtle Torturer!

I had the fortune of spending my time in the market with a nice couple from Canada. The market was a good place to have some company. And one of them has been living here in Taipei for four months, so he knew his way around.

Today, I took a trip back to Longshan to take some photos of the hustle and bustle during the day. I happened to nitice a photographer there had the National Geographic logo on his camera. I said hi then proceeded to shadow him briefly just to see how he approached subjects. What I liked was how he just walked up to people and started shooting. It’s his job, after all. That prompted me to get over that somewhat lingering fear of just walking up and photographing a stranger. It’s actually pretty easy. I have moments where it doesn’t seem like any problem to just snap away, but this guy just proved how it easy it was to just get right in there and start shooting.

I then hopped on the train and headed to Taipei 101, currently the world’s tallest building. The high ‘end mall below it didn’t have much to offer me so I headed across the street and happened to find a little tradeshow for canine products. Fortunately, this was food for dogs, not food made of dogs. And plenty of dogs were there, having a merry time sniffing whatever they could.

As the sun started to disappear behind the clouds and the horizon, I headed up to the observation deck of Taipei 101. It’s a pretty incredible building. The views from the top are probably better saved for a day when there is less haze, but it was still quite a view from the top. The outdoor observatory was somehow eerie – hearing only the wind while in the middle of this metropolis left me feeling strangely alone. So I went and checked out the wax figures on loan from Madame Tussaud’s of Hong Kong. Nothing like getting up close to a David Beckham replica to comfort you.

Oh, and one last highlight. A store at the base of Taipei 101 had chocolate-covered almonds from Japan! Yay for the best thing ever!

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