Thursday, October 20, 2011

How I ate my way through Keelung

As promised, here is the story of the trip Christine and I took to Keelung. It starts with wet pants, ends with us befriending some of Capitol Star's finest bus drivers, and we pretty much ate everything in between.

The morning dawned wet and grey (as they have a tendency to do here in Yilan county). But Christine and I decided that we weren't going to let a little thing like a torrential downpour stop us from venturing up the east coast. So we headed out the door to Keelung. This seemed like a slightly less good idea by the time we got to the bus station, as we were soaked to the bone from the scooter ride despite our rain gear.
Taiwan Centennial celebration rooster at the Keelung Cultural Center.
We had more or less dried out by the end of the hour and a half bus ride. After a quick visit to the Keelung Cultural Center to get out of the rain, we found a Dunkin Donuts!

I got a Boston creme and coffee. It was almost like home. Of course, since it is Taiwan, there were a few differences:
Boston creme and a half chocolate/half creme filled square
"Love" donuts

Once we had a good caffeine/chocolate buzz going, we hopped on a local bus and headed up to a picturesque little village called Jiufen. The town is literally hanging out on the side of a mountain, so the bus ride was a little scary but the view was totally worth it.
The view from the top: It was a little wet and foggy but still beautiful!

A bit of fun background information: Back in the day, there were nine families that lived in the village. So, every time someone went down the mountain and into town, the had to bring back nine of everything to share with their neighbors. So the name Jiufen (九份)literally translates to "nine portions." Then, gold was discovered in the 1890s and, as usual, a gold rush ensued, turning the isolated little village into a town. A lot of the town's development occurred during the 50 year Japanese colonization of Taiwan and many of the Japanese features are still prominent today. In fact, downtown Jiufen was used as a model for the Miyazaki film Spirited Away.

Christine on the most famous section of old street
A small sample of the crazy ocarinas
 After thoroughly exploring old street and picking up some sweet decorative ocarinas (they're big here, don't ask me why) from a local artisan, we finished off the day by heading back to Keelung to check out the night market. 

... and now we arrive at the photo montage of food and of me eating things...

I was told when I first arrived in Taiwan that eating was pretty much a national pastime. Taiwanese people are very proud of their cuisine and, in addition to some of the more ubiquitous Taiwanese dishes that show up all over the island, pretty much every city or county has its own specialties that you just have to try when you go visit (otherwise you've failed as a tourist in their eyes).

The Keelung Night Market
Seafood is big here
The making of one of Keelung's famous oyster omlettes
It tasted okay but I was not a big fan of the texture
The night market is known for its "pot side noodle soup." It was pretty good. Even the flowers in it were tasty
Some various tentacles on sticks
Japanese style squid balls. Not quite as good as Taiwanese style squid balls but these come with wasabi sauce!

Our evening became even more interesting after we left the night market and tried to go home. We couldn't for the life us us figure out where to buy bus tickets for the company we needed to use to get home. So we ended up following a random Capitol Star bus down the street in the hopes that it would take us to the bus station. Instead, it took us to the motorpool where all the off duty buses hang out. We ended up making friends with some of the security guards and one of the bus drivers who was on break. It turns out that the driver who was on break was about to drive the route back to Yilan and Luodong. They took pity on us and let us hang out in their little guard house (all the while testing the limits of our Chinese skills) for a while until he was ready to leave. Then he took us with him to the station and all the way home back to Luodong.

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