Thursday, August 22, 2013

Linkou, Taipei and Danshui

Last weekend Angela and I traveled by bus to Linkou to visit a former student, Anna, of a family friend. This family friend put me in touch with Anna back in April. She was one of his students at UMKC. Anna and I had been emailing back and forth over the last few months and she invited me to come stay with her family in Linkou for the weekend. 

Angela and I got on the correct bus thanks to our friend Glory writing a note that said "Please help me get on the bus, I do not speak Chinese". The bus people stared our tickets, came and got us from the waiting room when the bus came and helped us get on the bus. It was amazing. 

Upon arriving in Linkou, Anna told us we would be dropped off across the street from a big McDonald's and her dad would pick us up there. That did not happen. We saw a McDonald's sign down the street, so we just decided to walk there. Our plan was to use the bathroom and then call Anna's dad and figure out where he was. As we were exiting the bathroom, we see this man standing by the door and he said my name. It was her dad. He had seen us walk into the restaurant and considering that we were two white girls in a McDonald's, in a non-touristy town he figured that we were probably the right girls. 

He walked us to his car and we were whisked off to their apartment. He was so sweet and spoke good English! When we got to their apartment, we dropped off our bags, met Anna's mother and were taken across the street to eat the best soup and dumplings I've had in Taiwan. While we were eating we met Anna's younger cousins and tried to talk to them. I say tried because they were really shy and did not want to speak to us. After eating we got back in the car with two of Anna's cousins and her dad and we headed for Shilin Night Market in Taipei. Most of the half an hour car ride was spent with Angela and I saying the Chinese words and phrases we know, the cousins laughing at our pronunciation and then trying to translate what we know to the little bit of English they know. 

The market was huge and filled with lots of food and clothing that our markets in Taichung don't have. We spent the first part of the night wandering around, sampling food, drinking delicious bubble tea and doing a bit of shopping. Anna met up with us when she was done teaching at 10 and then we walked around some more and did some more shopping. We headed back to Linkou late that night. 

Shilin Night Market

Going Shrimping!

The best mango shaved ice I've ever had

The next day Anna had to work again, so Angela and I slept in and then were escorted to a huge temple by Anna's eleven year old cousins.We walked through this gigantic day market right outside of their apartment. The market was selling everything from whole chicken to live squid to bakery items, clothing, electronics, tofu and of course tea. It was so much fun to wander through and look at everything. The temple we visited was massive and of course absolutely beautiful. The girls took us into the temple and then onto the grounds outside of it. On our way back to the apartment we stopped at 711 to buy drinks and I offered to buy all of them. At 711s here, if you buy two drinks you get to stick your hand in this little box and pull out a card for a certain percentage off. Since I bought four drinks, I got to pull out two cards. When I pulled out the second one the girls started jumping up and down and squealing. It wasn't until later that day when I found out that I got 51% off our total. 

The entrance to the day market

The entrance to the temple

Statues on the grounds of the temple

Our tour guides for the morning, Lisa and Lucy

Items for sale at the market

When we got back to the apartment, we watched some tv while waiting for Anna's aunt and uncle to be ready to leave. The aunt and uncle do not speak any English, but they were wonderful people and so sweet to us. We all got on a bus bound for Taipei. As we arrived in Taipei, it started to rain so we immediately went underneath the train/bus station into this huge underground mall. Angela and I were starving  and we kept walking past all of these restaurants. Finally we came upon it and when we saw it we knew that it was where they were taking us. It was McDonald's. At that point though, any food sounded delicious and they were so great to want to be accommodating and buy us food that they knew we would like. 

After lunch we walked around the underground mall for awhile and then headed to another huge skyscraper mall. We did laps around all twelve floors of the mall, killing time while we waited for the rain to stop and for Anna to get off of work. We walked and walked and walked. It was fun to interact with the girls though, they were so cute and funny. 

After Anna got off work she met up with us and we started to explore more of Taipei. Highlights included: eating taro spring roll ice cream, seeing Taipei 101, hearing live music, seeing local artists in the streets selling their wares, eating a delicious pancake and drinking tea on the street corner, watching teenagers break dance and riding the subway. It was Angela's first time ever on a subway, so that was very exciting in itself. 

Like DDR, but done with your hands

A fancy shopping street in Taipei

Ice cream spring roll! Taro ice cream, cilantro and a peanut brittle like concoction all wrapped in a rice tortilla. A ridiculous combination but it was ridiculously good. 

Modern toilet, the restaurant where you eat out of a toilet. Only in Asia. 

A street artist

The African's first time on a subway!

Most of the buildings in downtown light up, it was beautiful 

We found Iron Man!

What used to be the tallest building in the world

We took the bus back to Linkou around midnight and upon arriving at the apartment we all decided to go to this lookout spot in Linkou where you can see the lights of Taipei. Anna's dad loaded their car up with snacks, chairs, a table and things to make tea with. Anna, Angela and I hopped on scooters and drove to meet them at the spot. Linkou is up in the mountains, and Taipei sits in the bowl of the mountains so we were looking down on it. It was beautiful. We just set up a little camp on the viewing platform and Anna's dad started brewing traditional Taiwanese mountain tea. We all just sat around and talked while eating sunflower seeds and drinking delicious green tea all while looking over the twinkling lights of Taipei. It was magical. 

On Sunday, Anna's dad drove us to his farm in the mountains on the outskirts of Linkou. It was such a peaceful and scenic spot. We then went to lunch at this restaurant on the river bank. It was delicious because they knew what to order and didn't have to fumble around with pictures and halfway translations. We talked about Taiwanese dating and wedding customs almost the whole lunch. 

Anna's family's farm


On the boat across the river

After lunch we went to Danshui about twenty minutes away. We took a ferry to the other side of the river and then wandered around the river front area. The area included a large park and tons of tourist shops and restaurants. 

Later in the afternoon, we headed back to Linkou and then got on our bus back to Taichung. I cannot thank Anna and her family enough for such an amazing weekend. They welcomed almost two complete strangers into their home with extremely open arms. They went above and beyond any expectation I had for the weekend. I cannot wait to go back and visit them again! 

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