Sunday, July 3, 2011


It's been 11 months in Taiwan and would you believe it: I've never taken the train South. I've rushed onto the train dozens of times towards Taipei, past Taipei, into the nether regions of Taiwan but never, never South.

It was time.

This weekend, Chelsea and I decided to escape the rainstorms on Northern Taiwan (Forecast: 60% chance of rain, while already raining), and head to Taichung - a quick and painless train journey for the weekend. 

Time Capsule in Lugang
Did you know that on some Taiwanese trains, there is a "storage" car for bicycles that you can sit in if you are lucky enough to not have a seat on the train? Did you know it's very cold and leaks water? Well, you do now. Good news for you: Chelsea and I tested it out for you, along with our new group of Taiwan military teenagers training home for the weekend who kept us entertained playing pop music on their cell phones and trying to pronounce the word "sexy," which ends up always sounding like "sessy."

So after we disembarked our cattle car, we wandered the train station looking for the bus to Lugang, a tourist spot we found on a Taiwan map. Important point: This was my first weekend trip without the luxury of a Chinese translator, and had to rely on every single word I have picked up this past year to get us from place to place. With the help of about four different Taichung-ians, we finally found the bus stop on a random street and within an hour, were in the coolest place ever. Ever. 
"Where's the Whitey?"

Lugang is awesome. Over 20 blocks of decaying brick buildings, temples big and small, outrageous food vendors, people crafting crafts, and serenity. I really don't want to spoil too much for people who dream of going somewhere fabulously Asian, so hopefully the pictures paint a good...picture...of the scene. We contemplated scrapping our plans to stay in Taichung for the night and simply sleeping on the streets, possibly in the rain, in Lugang, simply because we didn't want to leave.

If you do visit Lugang, please give a shout out to our favorite pottery store, which you will recognize because it's one of the only stores in Taiwan where you are positive everything is made by hand and completely original. We walked away with five mugs with wooden handles, a teapot, free keychain things, and some room scent diffusers. These ladies were awesome, and it's rarer than not to see real art on this island.

But we did have to leave, because James' Chinese tutor hooked us up with a free room, and of course, my mother (or father) always told me to never turn down a free room, so we needed to make it back. We walked to the visitor's center to find out which busses would take us near Feng Chia University, only to find that we were 7 minutes late for closing time and the visitor's center closed on time. 

I've gotten really good at this point at either chasing buses, sticking out my thumb for hitchhiking (not yet successful), and making sad/hopeful faces at people who end up giving us rides places. In Lugang, the trick was chasing busses, and after boarding one with TAICHUNG on the front, using my excellent language and pantomime skills to communicate we wanted to be kicked off the bus by Taichung's biggest night market. Worked like a charm!

You've never had THIS dan bing.
The better kind of shrooms.
Enter Xiao Hei, our mystery accommodation host, who meets us at McDonald's and surprises us by being completely normal and cool. He takes us to our "room", only two blocks from the awesome night market, which turns out to be his dorm room. He's apparently working on his thesis and has decided to give us his bed, computer, bathroom, TV, etc...for free...while he studies through the night with his friends. Strange? TIT, is what I say. This Is Taiwan. Thank you, Xiao Hei, for your funky and functional room. 

Fung Chia University Night Market is the bomb. Though, it wouldn't be a great place for  a bomb, considering how many people squeeze into the tiny streets on a Saturday night. We're talking a 30 people+ line up for the most popular food stands - which seemed to be the "hot dogs" - condimented Taiwanese sausages of either the pink or white variety.

A quick shout out to my newest favorite Taiwanese food: white sausages. I was very, very skeptical of this pale weiner (is it intestines? is it chopped up pig skin?) until a friend cut into one at our favorite all-you-can-drink barbeque restaurant (where drunky me tipped over a steel hot pot onto hot grey coals....dui bu qi!) White sausage is filled with sticky rice! What a genius idea! Needless to say, I found some at the night market.

Other highlights include handmade dan bing (Since 1978), boozy milk tea (didn't try but gave the guy a thumbs up), and Chelsea's vegan favorite, barbequed monster mushrooms. Rolled into our free bed stuffed!

This brings us to Sunday morning, where we set out on foot to the Wu Wei Tsao Tang Tea House. If you love walking, Taichung is walkable. We walked diagonally across nearly the whole city in about two hours total. One hour down the road, we found our destination (so lovingly described in a blog I found!) a gorgeous oasis in the middle of the city that you might just photograph and walk past if you didn't know what was inside.

From 10:15 to 1:00, we sat at a beautiful wooden table next to a giant coy pond, where we were taught how to pour traditional Chinese tea service, ate copious amounts of food including vegan hot pot, fried radish cake and glutinous mushroom balls (don't be scared, the names are the only thing disgusting about it), and talked about anything/everything important in life for a grand total of about $20 USD (600NT).

Your tea lesson will be in Chinese, so be ready to nod happily and utter a lot of "Dui....dui...mmmhmmm....mmmhmmm..." but one of the most important things I have learned in all my time traveling is the best communication is simply through smiles of acknowledgement. And she got great pleasure from watching me try to pour tea like a deranged Caucasian concubine.

And there was no rain.

1 comment:

  1. That sounds great. What kind of tea did you have? That bicycling picture is perfect, it couldn't be staged better--what with the girl on the bike looking incredulously at you, and the dude behind flashing the peace sign.