I don't know if you can see through the reflection of the glass, but this is an iPod and iPod accessory vending machine at SFO. I am rather curious as to what their sales are. I mean... who buys an iPod last minute at the airport?
Similarly, a Motorola Razr and Razr accessory vending machine, right next to the iPod vending machine. Again, who buys these things at the airport?
Our first meal in Taiwan! Well, Rachel and B's at least. I quickly scarfed down a few snacks the night before. On the left are little minibuns and on the right is sticky rice year cakes. This is at Gao Ji, the second-best dumpling place in Taipei (the first best is Ding Tai Fung, imho).
And then, we hit the market right away!
The sign advertises compressed cakes made of caviar which is supposedly a famous Taiwan food product, and on the right is the skin of a pig's head.
Mmmm, Chinese sausages of all varieties!
And for some reason, they dried and flattened a duck. Thankfully, nothing at the market made B or Rachel lose their appetites.
And since it is the Year of the Pig, there were all sorts of cute pig things. I think this is a bun filled with red bean paste, in the shape of a pig's head.
Rachel next to a stack of cute pig buns. The other cakes next to her are tasty Zhejiang cakes meant to be steamed (we had some for breakfast a few days later).
Giant shrimp! Shrimp larger than my hand! Rachel made me hold stuff up for size comparison. However, my aunt sniffs at this, as the shrimp are dead and therefore not as fresh.
Giant cute carrots! They are so round and fat!
On a side note, I'd like to say that the scratch on my wrist is not some sort of botched suicide attempt, but a lovely souvenir from the rats and their sharp little claws.
I think Rachel stopped dead at this vendor's place. "Fish! Look at all the dried fish! They're as tall as me!"
And now, the infamous goat head. See? No pentacle. On the other hand, I think there are some goat feet right behind it...
Dragonfruit, which sadly look much, much better than they taste. The insides are greyish-white and dotted with tons and tons of tiny little black seeds. It's sort of sweet and mushy and tasteless.
Lien wu, aka wax apples! Rachel had them for the first time here, and she liked them. I like them a lot too -- the best ones are crispy and juicy and sort of sweet-tart.
We also got dates here too, and I tried to convert Rachel to them. Thankfully, the effort was successful, as the dates here are crisp and taste a little like apple, but much more fragrant and honeyed.
The first of many Very Large Dinners. He skins the duck! Also, the wrapper for the duck was incredibly good and thin so you could taste more of the duck. The duck itself was wonderful and fat and crisp.
A giant fish! Other tasty things from this Very Large Dinner were: really tenderly stir-fried kungpao chicken (the entire table talked about how good it was), thin slices of pumpkin cooked with bits of salty egg (this was also acclaimed by the entire table, as the salty egg gave the pumpkin more flavor and the thin slices were the perfect texture and not too crunchy or too overcooked), the fish roe cake on radish, shark fin chicken soup, hot almond milk with little tapioca balls, and probably a lot more stuff that I've already forgotten.
And then, because it was New Year's Eve, the lion dancers came in! We all pet its head, as my mom said it was good luck. Someone with a mask on (supposedly the god of wealth) also came in to ring in the year. And most anticlimactically, my mom confessed that she was scared of drums.
I, on the other hand, really like them, and it didn't much feel like new year until the banging and the noise and the jangle.
New Year's Day proper, we all went to Taipei 101 for lunch at an Italian place (they had really great garlic bread -- a flatbread with crispy garlic bits on top) and then went shopping. Outside, there was a giant game of dice being played, in which people would pick a red envelope and claim a prize later.
The newest food fad in Taiwan seems to be bamboo charcoal. There was a little sign in the bakery expounding upon the health benefits of bamboo charcoal, and here is bamboo charcoal bread with cheese and egg. The little bang proclaims that it's the new product of the month. It's pitch black and looks sort of gross, but when I tried it later, it was actually really tasty.
A funny little puffer fish cake in one of the 101 bakeries. We also got these bread cheese balls that were baked with a little mochi, so they were incredibly chewy on the inside. I have no idea how they're made, but I want them in CA, because they're really good! The Mister Donuts are also now offering these donuts made with the mochi; the donuts look like small rings made of connected circles, and each circle breaks off easily for sharing. Soooo good.
I was just amused by the misspelling of "omuraisu" (ome-rice, or omelette rice) in katakana.
And there was a street fair outside! It was so incredibly crowded everywhere because of the holiday.
One guy making takoyaki. We didn't get any, since we were pretty full, but we got some hand-made dragon whisker candy, and I got to watch the lady pull the malt sugar/flour mix herself.
Taipei 101. It really doesn't look very tall from a distance, but it's a bit overwhelming when you're up close.
Taipei 101 again. My dad was going on about watching something on the Discovery Channel that talked about the engineering difficulties of building a giant building in an area that gets both earthquakes and typhoons. We also learned that it was located right next to a fault line. I will never quite get why all these Asian countries on the Pacific Rim, subject to both earthquakes and typhoons, keep trying for the world's tallest building.
Squid on a stick! I think everything is made better by a stick. At one point, Rachel asked if her sausage on a stick was the Taiwan equivalence of trailer trash food, but I don't think so. It seems the traditional street food is enjoyed by pretty much everyone and not as looked down upon, but I may be wrong.
Candied tomatoes on sticks! I like the strawberry version better though. After we got the strawberries, it started pouring like mad, so we raced back to 101 and plunked ourselves down at the bookstore.
And here's the front of the strange hotel with fake water beaded shower doors.
The view from the hotel window. It was a little less spectacular when I realized the whole thing was a man-made backdrop to the swimming pool, not actual mountain scenery.
The first of several odd meals at the hotel, including the Mysterious Pink Fruit (later revealed to be pink-dyed Asian pears).
And when we went on our first long walk, we discovered that the hotel actually has its own heliport! Why, I do not know.
Funny little bamboo things with wishes tied to them.
Funny little bamboo reindeer. Again, do not ask why. Also, behind is a sign that says "Ha Pig New Year." It's not actually a typo -- "pig" in Chinese sounds a lot like "wish," so all the signs this year say "Wishing (with the character for pig) you much luck!"
The first of many small dogs in strange clothes. We didn't end up photographing the little chihuahua in overalls that we saw though.
Rachel remarked that the forests looked like they were straight out of Crouching Tiger
. I love how absolutely overgrown with greenery this little pavilion is.
I always forget how jungly Taiwan is; Rachel was remarking on the gigantic ferns while I barely gave them a second glance. But it really is jungly and green and wet. Alas, no mushi.
Cute little pet pigs! They were really friendly and soft! Everyone behind us was making comments about how they suddenly felt a craving for pork.
Yet another small dog in clothes.
The lobby of the strange hotel. It looks rather nice until you realize all the marble pillars are plastic and the elevators don't really respond to the up and down buttons and the hot and cold faucets are labeled "C" and "F," respectively.
The extremely strange pharoah child lamps. Though really, I am not that surprised.
The really, really amusing signs for the bathrooms at the hotel! This did surprise me.
Aaaand, now for the ladies. I took this picture while a family and their dog (small, dressed up) sort of stared at me for taking a picture of the bathroom door.
The next day, we hiked to a waterfall. Hiking in Taiwan means that you walk along a paved path with eighty other people and four or five small, dressed-up dogs. It's not very wild, but then, I am ok with not that much strenuous hiking.
Finally! A large, un-dressed-up dog!
A giant owl made of bamboo.
So, my high school was an "experimental high school" (it even said that in the school name!). I was happy to find that this was an experimental forest as well, even though I'm not quite sure what that means. From the sign, I think it means people from the National Taiwan University conduct research there?
Rachel being terrified by a giant bug.
I think this covers the first four days or so...