After a wonderful week in Cambodia, Abby and I took off for Taiwan, and we were greeted at the Kaohsiung airport with big hugs from our friends Grace and Whitney who had just been in Nepal.
Hungry for more adventures, we woke up the next morning, ate an amazing interpretation of American breakfast at Lee & Daughters (a cozy, incredibly popular cafe with no English menu), and took off for Monkey Mountain on our scooters. We sped up and down the hills past motorbikes and plenty of monkeys until we came to Grace's favorite lookout point where we all climbed onto the coral rocks overlooking a sea of cargo boats.
The biggest similarities between Cambodia and Taiwan were immense amount of scooters, lively night markets, and celebrations of Chinese New Year. We quickly realized, however, that there are also some big differences. Unlike in Phnom Penh, we couldn't expect waiters and shop-owners in Kaohsiung, the more developed of the two cities, to speak and understand English. Thankfully Grace, who is living in Taiwan this year, speaks fantastic Chinese!
When we first arrived at the night market, it was if the sky opened and buckets of water poured down. Of course we forgot our rain gear, so Grace went on a hunt for ponchos while we crammed together like sardines under the awning of a food stall. At the market we walked up and down the aisles in our purple ponchos trying oyster omelettes, more dumplings than we should mention, black milk tea with bubbles, and fresh mochi (little jelly-like balls made of rice). We discovered that the Taiwanese love the chewy, squishy food texture they call QQ — think gummy bears crossed with jello. From that night on, we too were addicted to the QQ texture and bought bubble tea every time we went out (tea with milk and chewy jello-like balls of tapioca).
On our second day in Taiwan, we took the HSR (the high speed rail) to Chiayi and from there took a taxi with a local family up the windy roads to Alishan, a famous national forest recreation area. As we drove, we passed quite varied vegetation including banana palms, bamboo bushes, tea plantations, and fir tree forests. Once we arrived at the top, we agreed that all of Taiwan had also planned to see the lush national park that day — it was packed! Outside the visitor center though, it was less crowded, and we explored as heavy fog hung over the mountains like a cloud sea.
The next morning, we woke up early, along with all the other tourists to see the sun peek it's rays over the Jade Mountain, one of the tallest mountains in Taiwan. The four of us huddled together and drank hot milk tea to stay warm as a native Taiwanese guide introduced the sunrise in Chinese and Grace translated bits and pieces of his speech. All the other tourists all oohed and ahhhed as the sun rose. I don't think I've ever seen such a large group of people marvel simultaneously at the sunrise.
Back in Kaohsiung, we were invited to a Taiwanese family's house to learn to make dumplings. You know I love to make food, so I was very excited to actually make one of our three favorite Taiwanese indulgences! (The other two being bubble tea and steamed taro root buns from the bakery in the picture to the right above).
When we arrived, the ingredients were already prepped, so the seven of us talked as we pinched together little dumpling packets. These little morsels, filled with some mixture of pork and scallions, were then put in cold water and boiled until they rose, then more cold water was added, and they were boiled again until they sprung to the top. The family served the dumplings with garlicky green veggies (that tasted similar to broccoli), bamboo shoots, a brothy mushroom and carrot soup. The entire evening, the delicious dinner and the after meal card games, was such a treat!
When Abby and Whitney took off to their next destinations and I still had one evening left. Grace and I decided to go out for my new favorite food, Japanese hot-pot (somewhat similar to the one I made with Anne Marit at the ceramics studio in January). To top off the evening, we scootered to a lookout point to see the lights of Kaohsiung at night.
All trips unfortunately come to an end at some point, but thankfully the memories last forever!