Taiwan – Day Two

I slept until almost 4am, which I considered to be a success. And the Internet is an insomniac’s best friend, so I got on my tablet and took care of some emails. Technology has made it so easy to stay in touch with the structures you leave behind, even halfway around the world. I was calling US cell phones within five minutes of arriving at my hotel yesterday for two cents per minute on Skype. There are few places where your work can’t find you on the planet. But it’s certainly very nice to be able to keep in touch with loved ones.

At 6am Hiromi, Martin and I went to the Peace Park to enjoy a little T’ai Chi in Taipei. There were a lot fewer people there than on Sunday – a group of 10 doing Ch’i Kung, several people meditating sitting against the trees, and one man circling a tree doing Ba Gua. We warmed up and did the 100 step form together and then practiced on our own individually for about two hours. More people gradually arrived, some rather bemused by the three foreigners.

The park definitely lives up to its name; there’s a calm stillness among the trees, and the area is so blatantly well suited for martial arts practice that doing the forms comes easy there. It’s almost as if the park is constantly yelling ‘Hey – this is where T’ai Chi happens!’ in a quietly pleasant way.

Afterwards we walked to and ate breakfast at Dante’s cafe, the same place as the day before. I branched out and got a jumbo iced green tea with cream which tasted probably better than it was after the long practice in the muggy heat. The people behind the counter were extremely nice and were happy to see us back.

We decided to go up to Beitou on the subway to the hot springs and experience the advantages of living near volcanoes firsthand. The subways were ridiculously simple to decipher, and we paid our 25 NTD for the tokens. The tokens are very clever – they feel like hollow poker chips and I assume they have little chips embedded in them. You just wave them over the scanner to get thru the entry gate, and then you put them in a slot in an exit gate at your destination station. The maps make it very clear how much it costs to get to the station you want. The DC metro authority could learn a thing or two.

But the real problem with the DC metro of course is that there are no trains that go to hot springs. Let’s just say that Taiwan knows what to do with a volcano. It costs all of a buck twenty-five for two and a half hours of scalding mineral bliss. After an hour or two you are in no condition to perform the complex mental functions of finding your locker or tying your shoes. We did manage to make it a few blocks to a very traditional Japanese restaurant where we feasted on rice, eel, fish and pork to collect our wits sufficiently to get back to downtown Taipei.

We were pretty tired after all that relaxation so we recuperated in our rooms for a few hours before venturing back out at 6:30 to experience Taipei’s version of a ‘Food Court’. The food court is part of a larger ‘night market’ and is beneath street level in a large area probably half the size of a football field. It is a full-on assault on all the senses, a bit like the New York stock exchange if Wall Street traded mainly in stinky tofu, imitation(?) frog eggs and raw giblets. We found a booth with one or two recognizable items on the menu and sat at a table. Martin and I put our stomachs in Hiromi’s hands and were treated to shrimp, crab, squid and an omlette whose contents I am not at liberty to discuss, although it allegedly involved oysters and rhubarb.

I asked our young sullen waiter for some napkins and was greeted with a look of annoyance and two small translucent squares of paper with all the absorbing power of wimpy gauze. I stared at the appetizing but unpeeled, un-decapitated shrimp with the sinking feeling of a man who had been a toothbrush to mop a banquet hall. The food, as usual, was very cheap and very good. I made an absolute mess of the shrimp and Martin braved the poison darts of the waiter to snag me a few more small squares of the non-absorbent tissue paper so that I could grab hold of my very tasty mango juice without it slipping thru my fingers.

Our table was cleared by the same hapless probably-son-of-the-booth-owner and we re-joined the vigorous but polite and chaoticly organized stream of people flowing past the booths of fruit, flora and fauna, some unfamiliar, others all too recognizable. We made our way upstairs and cruised down a few alleys of market booths before making our way back to the hotel via the subway. Hiromi found some very reasonably priced T’ai Chi clothes and I saw a Bruce Lee t shirt that I figured I would see again and be able to buy which unfortunately never reappeared. We got back in time to meet up with John G. and Megan who arrived safely just in time for bed. More early morning group T’ai Chi tomorrow morning.

Another great day in an amazing culture that has this whole East Meets West thing down pretty good.

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