Going to Taiwan and don’t read Chinese? Well get google translate ready because you are going to need it! Actually, a lot of Taiwanese speak basic English, but it’s the lack of English signage that makes it a tricky country for tourists like us. Thank god for modern technology, even if the google translation may seem a little bit off. My first attempt at google translate was inside Taipei zoo. We were looking for lunch options that did not involve eating organs (or meat in general). I waved my phone at some of the signs outside a food outlet. From the picture it was hard to say what the item might be. Sweet? Savoury? It was anyone’s guess. My screen popped up with ‘crispy concentrated heart puff’. Let’s just say we skipped lunch. It was our first clue that the Taiwanese had rather experimental tastebuds.
We were constantly delighted, surprised and a bit disgusted at some of the food options available in Taiwan. We strolled through some of Taipei’s night markets and sampled potato puffs, jelly balls, chocolate dipped fruit, ice cream crushed with candied peanuts, ice mango deserts, pineapple cakes and many other delights. I also sampled some of the famous ‘bubble tea’. It seems that everyone in Taiwan drinks it, and it comes in many different flavours and varieties. The ‘bubbles’ sit in the bottom of the plastic cup. They are round and gelatinous. The tea and milk sit in layers on top. You shake it vigorously then suck the balls up into your mouth as you sip the tea. It was fun. It was different. In between all of the ‘delights’ we came across many ‘what the’ moments. Unlike us, if you are adventurous you could sample roasted snails, intestines, tendons and other various organs. Perhaps you might select a giant live snake to be barbequed? Or maybe some stinky tofu (yes that is the official google translate). Let’s just say we knew when were close to the stinky tofu and most people near us knew that we weren’t stopping to sample it. Brooke would walk past with her fingers over her nose loudly complaining about the stinky smell. The food options are endless and definitely a big part of the Taiwanese experience.
What did we do in Taiwan besides sample food and simultaneously consult google translate? Well we went and played game machines. I’m not kidding – they are everywhere! I’m talking about the sort of machine that you put your money into a try to ‘win’ a prize with a metal claw. Who knew it was such a big thing in Taiwan. You can barely walk 50 metres in Taipei before you stumble across a machine or 10. It makes for a long and expensive walk to the train station with 3 kids. You can win anything from iphones to perfume, keyrings, toys, hats and underwear. Yes, underwear – new of course. We spent a small fortune on some key-rings and stuffed toys (ok I might have won a perfume or two). It’s quite addictive. It’s impossible to visit Taipei with 3 kids without parting with cash for these machines. They want to go back to Taiwan just so they can play the machines!
After spending all of our money in Taipei on a couple of keyrings we travelled by high-speed train to the city of Tainan. Murray was as excited as a kid in a game-machine parlour to ride a high-speed train. He kept checking one of his apps and letting us know how fast we were travelling. Admittedly it was a pretty quick ride to travel from the north to the south of Taiwan. Maya has since declared that she now only travels by airplane or high-speed train. She will be in for a rude shock when we reach Hong Kong. We had four long days in Tainan. Maya was not overly thrilled when we made our first ‘tourist stop’ at the Tainan Fort. It was rated the number one tourist site in Tainan. It was okaaaay. Maybe I needed to do a bit more historical research to fully appreciate it. Murray loves a fort but even he had to acknowledge that it wasn’t the most exciting outing. Next the beach. Hmmm….let’s just say there are no beach chairs, no white sand and no bars or cafes. There was no swimming either. It was actually quite a beautiful spot, just not what we expected. I’m still scratching my head a bit. Perhaps the Taiwanese just don’t like swimming?
After a quick stop off at Taichung and the Sun Moon Lake (no swimming here either) we were on our way back to Taipei. We actually did pull our swimming costumes out of our bags in Taipei and got them wet at the local hot springs! It was a fun experience. We were the only obvious tourists at the hot springs and fortunately an elderly Taiwanese gentleman was eager to help us out. He explained the different pools and where to start. There were two cold pools and four hot pool which ranged from hot to ‘holy cow’. I managed about 30 seconds in the pool hot enough to boil an egg (45 degrees). The Taiwanese literally boil their eggs in the water outside the public pools and sell them as snacks. No, we didn’t try them.
Besides some visual communication obstacles, and getting used to a country that does not need to cater for English speaking tourists, (because there really aren’t all too many non-Chinese tourists) , the Taiwanese people are extremely friendly and go out of their way to make you feel welcome. We had people approach us to help us ‘win’ toys for the kids in the dastardly game machine parlours. People offer to translate for us, to help us purchase tickets and explain how things worked. We had no idea what to expect when we arrived in Taiwan. It was unique, it was wacky and wonderful and just a little bit weird all rolled into one.
Next stop … Hong Kong