Faine Opines

Southeast Asia, liberation technology, drones, and pontification

Tag: travel blog

Taiwan: Longshan Temple and Shaved Ice

Longshan Temple roof.

Longshan Temple roof.

On Tuesday, I went to the Mengjia Longshan Temple, one of Taipei’s largest and most long-standing places of worship. It’s been around since 1738, albeit in different incarnations, and was last extensively rebuilt in World War II following bombardment by Americans.

Lighting candles.

Lighting candles.

On a Tuesday morning, the place is choked with worshipers lighting incense and candles and making the rounds, flanked by nuns and monks in light grey robes, many of whom have prayer beads and other knick-knacks to sell. The ambiance is like that of a Chinese temple most any place, but it’s a nice little look into popular religion in Taiwanese.


Of particular appeal are the lush grounds, featuring a waterfall, plenty of Rubenesque koi fish, and this fantastic dragon fountain that spurts water.

Tasty.

Tasty.

The area around Longshan is a busy shopping district with a lot of Taiwanese Sports Lottery storefronts, appliance stores, and the usual glut of Family Mart and 7-11 emporiums. I wandered around for a while, growing increasingly hot, and ducked into a Taiwanese buffet for lunch. It’s less of a buffet and more of a point-and-eat: lots of appealing food is laid out in a row and you point at what you want.

A severe looking woman spoons your food onto a platter and also hands you a bowl of rice, and you’re welcome to select a pot of soup as well. Mix your own sauces, then eat. Cheap and delicious, especially the eggplant and the braised spinach with tiny white fish.

sun yat sen statue
I hopped back on the remarkably pleasant MRT and headed to the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, which commemorates the other national political hero of the Taiwanese people. Dr Yat-sen had a remarkably adventurous life and attempted to carry out numerous revolutions before his ultimate success, a fact that the displays here are keen to remind you of. There’s signs in both Chinese and English, and it’s a pleasant way to learn about how Taiwanese democracy came to be — although I admit I’m not much closer to entirely grokking the fiendishly complex 20th century political history of China. It’s a start.

changing of the guard sun yat sen

Much the same as the Chiang Kai-shek memorial, there’s a constant guard here that changes on the hour, which is fun to watch for a while if you’re willing to brave the crowds that apparate within two minutes of the ceremony beginning. The rest of the hall, which encompasses four stories, includes adult classrooms, galleries with a somewhat random smattering of art and photography exhibits, and an air conditioned and very popular periodical room with lots of people taking naps. There’s also a cafe and a gift-shop, in which I purchased a t-shirt featuring a jade cabbage. This made me happy.

taiwanese shaved ice

In the evening, I decided to find a place to locate Taiwanese shaved ice, which is sliced off a big block in pretty much the exact same way as gyros meat. (The flavor is different, you’ll be happy to know).

It’s a specialty that has made its way to Silicon Valley in recent months, to the general acclaim of some of my friends, and I wanted to try the stuff in its native land. The Smoothie House came highly recommended, so I made my way to Yong Kang Street, which was full of wandering snackers at 9:00 PM. Mango is the big hit here but decent strawberries are rather harder to find in Southeast Asia, so I went with the strawberry sorbet option.

The menu.

The menu.

Verdict? A pleasingly light and rather immense dessert, with a curious but highly enjoyable “fluff” texture. Rather like eating frozen cotton candy, flavored nicely by the sorbet on top and the fresh strawberries. This is probably the ideal way to restore one’s electrolytes after a face-meltingly hot day of tourism in Taipei’s heat.

Mango Snowflake facade.

Mango Snowflake facade.

 

 

 

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Saigon: BBQ Ostrich, Boats, Bun Bo Hue

We’ve made it to Saigon. I call it Saigon because it is easier to type than Ho Chi Minh City. The Khmer call it Prey Nokor since it was Cambodian until the 1700s, but I won’t get into it.

We took the Sapaco Tourist Bus, which leaves from Sihanouk Boulevard near Olympic Market, and it was relatively painless – clean enough bus, something approximating leg-room, and a fairly painless border crossing experience. $12 each. I would use them again. They also showed us Terminator 3. A Vietnamese woman with a high-pitched voice did all of the voices, including Arnie.

We’re staying at the Ngoc Minh Hotel, which is just as nice as advertised on TripAdvisor. It’s clean, small, quiet, and tidy, and in a very convenient location. I can’t think of any witty complaints.

For lunch, we stumbled down the street and upon Mitau, a restaurant that specializes in food from Hue, the historic central Vietnamese city we’re going to end our trip in. I like Bun Bo Hue – we get this stuff back in Sacramento, which might as well be a Vietnamese annex in some spots – and this was tasty stuff. I especially appreciated the fish cake. We were served free jasmine tea and fantastic candied ginger chips for dessert. The lady who owns the place has a championship golfer son and the place is decorated in golf-Christmas-tea-shop kitsch which I found extremely charming.

It was nap-time at the model boat store. I love model boats and Saigon seems to have a curiously large number of speciality model boat stores. I really would like one but they probably wouldn’t fit well in my crap backpack.

SHARK BOAT IS POSSIBLY THE MOST AWESOME BOAT IN THE UNIVERSE

We walked along the Saigon River and found this large cargo boat being retrofitted. There were also some cannon and some little boys capturing goldfish out of the river – not sure how cute little dime-store goldfish survive in this river but they do. It was a pleasant spot to sit. The hawkers here actually just shrug and walk off when you shake your head “no” which is a pleasant departure from Cambodia.

We walked by a new hotel celebrating opening day. The bell-boys were burning some fake money for good luck. They do this in Phnom Penh but have never had a chance to take some photos. So I did. They were nice about it.

Lucky (fake) money into the fire. No, it’s not real.

We went to the Luong Son Quan BBQ restaurant, an old stalwart of a local grilled-meat joint. Open-air, lots of people drinking 75 cent Tiger beer out of mugs with straws, all kinds of bizarre things on the menu. The food was cheap and excellent. They don’t mark up Diet Coke here like they do in Cambodia. Is that some sort of economic indicator?

People eating tasty animals. Those people being Phill and I.

The menu at Luong Son is nothing if not creative – and extensive. We passed on the Steamed Penis and Ball of Goat with Chinese Medicinals. Maybe we made a dire mistake for our love life but I’m sort of doubting it. We did get ostrich, which was fabulous. Like the love child of chicken and beef.

Inside Bo Tung Xe. Thanks for making my photo more amusing without me noticing, random guy.

Saigon by night. The traffic is bad but not as bad as Phnom Penh. People drive mostly scooters here instead of exceptionally old bikes. People also sort of follow traffic regulations in Saigon, which they don’t in Phnom Penh. As Phill noted, security guards here are usually grown men instead of 16 year olds playing Angry Birds on their cellphones which may be another economic indicator.

It’s sort of impossible not to compare and contrast when you’re from a country that is constantly engaged in a sort of one-upmanship battle with the other (and very different levels of development). That’s one of the reasons I came to Vietnam.

Well, that and the food. The food is awesome.

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