Though I don’t always appreciate the short-notice travel (yes, back in Taiwan again, this time with 5 days heads-up), I do a pretty good job taking advantage of wherever it is I end up. Take, for example, this weekend.

(It should be noted that in Taipei, it really helps that I have a good friend from college, Abe, who never fails to show me a great time or introduce me to awesome people. Everyone should be so lucky.)

After a long work week, I was happy to sleep in Saturday and then catch up with folks back home. Mornings here are afternoons in Seattle and evenings in Boston, prime time for Skyping and such.

I headed out around 11 AM on the MRT (super-convenient subway, about a 10 minute walk from the hotel) to the National Palace Museum.

It’s a very impressive collection of artifacts, art and writing from Taiwanese history, some dating as far back as the bronze age. Like any good museum, you could dive deep into any particular section and spend hours and hours there, but it’s not so big that you can’t get through most of it in a couple hours.

I hopped the subway back towards the city, hoping to check out what I’d read was the fabric/fashion district (Yong-le Market). I was told after the fact, there’s not that much of that kind of thing left in Taipei, and whatever remains was totally overshadowed by Dihua New Year’s Market.

Chinese New Year is just a few days away, and I guess this street market appears every year before the holiday so people can shop for goodies and gifts. The place was wall-to-wall people like I’d never seen before, but all surprisingly good natured and not too pushy. All the vendors are hawking their wares, but again, not too obnoxiously. To give you a sense of the craziness:

I ended up buying some candy and a few odds and ends from very friendly folks, and had some very nice conversations in broken Chinese. Oh, and the scallion pancake with egg totally hit the spot.I was happy to head back to the hotel for a spell after the madhouse of the market, and after a little rest I hopped in a cab to Abe’s place, about 10 minutes from the hotel. We hung out for a bit, had a drink, and made some plans to meet up with a couple of his friends for Korean food.

I’ve gotten a lot of mileage from the food blog Hungry in Taipei, and Saturday was no exception. Min Dong was a great spot with excellent food, and they were able to accomodate 7 of us on a Saturday night no problem (reservations, even at little restaurants where you would never have to call ahead in the States, are a must in Taipei).

It’s a trip hanging out with Abe, who’s really thrived in a lot of ways in Taipei (he learned the language in college, and moved here just afterward). His social circle is huge, and I’ve never gone with him to a place where someone didn’t recognize him.

But Abe wasn’t the only one recognized on Saturday, as we had a bona fide celebrity in our party. Not only were people coming up to her all night (seriously – there were muliple babies that were forced into her arms for photographs), but the owner of the restaurant eventually noticed and joined us for a while after we’d eaten. Along with his visit came a whole lot of beer, and then more food started arriving (could we possibly have looked hungry?).

After second dinner and uncountable beers (uncountable largely because the bottles are big but the glasses are tiny), we finally rolled out with tons of leftovers and quite a good buzz going.

A few of us went back to Abe’s and watched an Aziz Ansari Comedy Central special. Highly recommended; he is a very funny dude. I guess I got back to my hotel around 1:30 AM.

The next morning turned out to be pretty gray and rainy, which made short work of Abe & my plans for a nice bike ride in the mountains. After a brief telephone conference at 9 AM, we both went back to sleep for a while, and eventually met up for a coffee and a hike up Elephant Mountain.

As you can see from the photo/map, it’s really right in the city, but feels pretty far removed (much more so than say, Central Park). It felt good to get some exercise, see some wildlife and a bit of a different landscape for a while, and get some quality hangout time with Abe, too.

It took the hour long walk up the mountain for us not to feel full from dinner the night before, so naturally we splurged on lunch at the Marco Polo Restaurant (38th floor) at the Far Eastern Hotel

Two and a half hours and four or five courses later, we were again almost uncomfortably full, but it was totally worth it.

Abe had borrowed his roommate’s scooter, and so I asked him to drop me off at the Flower and Jade Markets, where I wandered for the better part of an hour. At the Jade Market, I either have impeccable taste or the vendors are trying to shaft me – whenever I see something I like (something that is actually attractive and well-made), it’s hundreds or sometimes a thousand dollars (US). Even factoring in bargaining, it’s way more than I want to spend, and the stuff that’s affordable doesn’t look worth it, even for cheap.

Empty-handed but satisfied, I walked (again happy for the exercise) the 4 km back to the hotel, sent some emails, and watched Premier League football ’til I fell asleep.

(More photos here.)

posted February 8, 2010 – 7:16 am
Old News
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