We’ve been in Taipei just over 24 hours now. We stayed up for the first 14 hours straight and then finally slept. Ah, glorious sleep. When we planned this trip, we were hoping to set up a Taipei with Kids writing opportunity. There’s not a lot out there on the subject. Is 1 day really enough to say anything? Well, within 10 hours, we accumulated quite a few funny and “educational” experiences plus a few “rules” for enjoying Taipei with kids.
1. First stop was breakfast at a little hole in the wall restaurant. They took one look at us and handed us some sticky, laminated menus. One had American food. The other listed Chinese breakfast items. Rule #1: Stick to the local specialties. We ordered breakfast crepes with egg and bacon, egg and pork, and egg and corn. All were delicious! And the milk tea for the kids arrived in a sealed cup that we punctured with a sharp straw. Brilliant and yummy.
2. We stumbled into a pink store that had a name all in Chinese characters plus “DIY”. It turned out to be a giant craft supplies mega-store. Bead kits, ribbons, paintables, twine, colored wire, huge bottles of glitter, and fun little make-it-yourself felt kits.
3. Rule #2: Hold hands when you cross the street and look out for motorcycles everywhere, even on the sidewalks. Trying to cross the huge and very busy street with kids, we went down stairs into what we expected was a subway stop under the main train station (Taipei Station) and, voila!, it’s packed with little shops. It reminded us of an underground boulevard. When we looked at the map it even said “underground street.” Very fun!
4. We wandered through the back alleys between Taipei Station and Longshan Temple. Getting lost by simply searching for the smallest and most interesting opportunities was a part of our plan. We landed on stores full of cute knick-knacks and little restaurants. Our travels brought us eventually to the “Modern Toilet Restaurant.” I had seen it on one of our maps. I assumed it was a bad translation but nope! It’s a restaurant at which you sit on a toilet seat, cozied up to a bathtub covered by thick clear plastic, and order curry that arrives in a plastic toilet seat shaped bowl with a giant brown plastic swirl on top (think – Dairy Queen chocolate soft serve). Rule #3: Get a lot of different maps. Each tourist map we picked up had different attractions identified. Imagine if we had missed the toilet restaurant because we had looked at a different map? It would have been a big loss.
5. We kept wandering alleys behind the temple, hoping to arrive at it from behind. We found vegetables, fish, raw meat, and, eventually, many older extremely made-up women sitting alone in plastic chairs. Yes, I think we walked our kids down a row of prostitution. Educational?
6. While we’re on the subject of sex education … Rule #4: Be careful changing channels. The cable TV in our hotel room has three channels of pornography conveniently located just next to the kid’s channel.
7. Longshan Temple filled our senses – smells of incense, sounds of a magical waterfall, glittering gold, and a gloriously, ornately-carved roof. What everyone was doing waiting for numbers from an office remains a mystery. Fortune telling maybe? And the little men for sale in the gift shop doing Tai-Chi or karate while wearing sunglasses?
8. Rule #5: Take taxis for medium-length trips. Taxis are pretty cheap compared to everything else and when traveling as a group can be much more economical than trains and buses. We have yet to pay more than a few American dollars for a ride. Plus, the taxi drivers have been fabulous. One took us on an extra loop to see the president’s house and then, as he let out a huge deep laugh, called to me as I exited the cab, “You the funny Mom!” Our next driver was enthralled by American baseball and kept taking both hands off the wheel to show us how you hit the bat.
9. At Chiang Kai Shek – CKS Memorial, we learned a little about Taiwan history and reviewed the basics of democracy. We also found out a little of what it might be like to be a move star. A mob of Japanese teenage boys started smiling and flirting with our blond teenage daughter, sending her running to the gift shop for an escape. Later, out in the square, there were other tourists constantly photographing us. Some asked and other simply pointed their lenses at us, clicked, and gave us the thumbs up. Rule #6: Ask before you take a picture. Come on! But, for our kids, what better way to teach them the art of respect? These two Chinese guys asked via thumbs and smiles for a whole photo shoot. Sorry, we didn’t know how to explain that we’re planning to write a blog post.
10. We eventually ended up at a “tourist night market” which was clearly not aimed at American tourists looking for a late night snack for their kids – chicken feet, eel noodles, thick squid soup, and more raw meat than you can shake a stick at. Rule #7: Always pack a little snack and don’t head to the night market looking for a quick and easy meal.
All in all it was a fabulous and action-packed day. We were also chased by pigeons and practically attacked by a heavy-furred, aggressive squirrel. We enjoyed a bubble tea on the street – bubble tea was started in Taiwan! And, we marveled at the lack of a 4th floor in our hotel. Funny how superstitions vary across continents. We invested in a set of family foot massages after seeing a foot massage center advertised on one of our maps. We never found the exact business on the map but there were plenty of others to choose from. That was a cross-cultural experience that gave us all the giggles and revived us enough to head out for a second day of walking and wondering.