After the odd time in Hualien and “Taroko” we headed north to Keelung. We wanted to see a couple things around Keelung and it made sense to spend a few nights there. We got in late afternoon and headed to a night market. Like we said, we went to Taiwan for two things: to hike and to eat. We didn’t get to hike so now it was time to eat.
We started at a night market where we were the only white people and some of the taller people there. There were a few signs in English and the rest was up to guesses. We got some suckling roast pig and a Japanese snack takoyaki (deep fried dough with squid inside).
We walked around a lot more and found some strange looking pancake things. Looked cool enough – my god these things were good (says Chris). They’re scallion pancakes that are wrapped around a scrambled egg with a spicy red sauce. That may not sound like much until you learn more about the scallion pancake – it’s a laminate pastry- other laminate pastries you might be familiar with are phyllo dough or croissants. Layers and layers of flaky pastry with egg and sauce. Wow.
Also worth noting was the honey beer. Parts of Asia are going through a little honey craze. Japan and Korea are obsessed with “Honey Butter Chips” and now everything is honey butter this and honey that. Taiwanese Honey Beer is good unlike all those weird chips.
The next day was my birthday. We decided to take the Pinxi Line – an overrated train line that follows a route through old mining towns…. wow, when you say it like that it sounds a little familiar… Unfortunately the train isn’t even quaint or steam-powered, it’s just packed packed PACKED with people. Everyone is touching everyone else, there’s no space and it reeks of body odor. We endured this for 45 minutes before pushing and shoving our way out to see a waterfall.
Everyone was obsessed with the train tracks – something about love and romance. You couldn’t throw a rock without hitting a lantern salesperson. They were selling tissue-paper lanterns. You write a wish on it then send it into the environment as trash – er, you launch it. Again, some stupid wishy washy romance thing. We marched past that – I suppose it would be gorgeous at night but still trashy.
The waterfall was pretty enough but it was the only real thing to do on the whole Pingxi Line. The Pingxi Line doesn’t actually offer much besides tourist traps. Still we found a cafe nearby and had some peppermint tea and just people watched for a while.
We shoved back onto the Pingxi Line – it was somehow busier and worse than last time. We made a last minute decision to see the Cat Village. An ex-mining down that has feral cats living everywhere. It was actually pretty nice.
The cats were tired of people but still had the cat attitude of secretly loving all the attention and worship. There were cats on every surface and sleeping in every box or bowl-like object around. Shopkeepers had cats on their merchandise and on their tables. Most flower pots had crushed flowers from all the catnaps inside of them. And of course everything was cat themed. Cat shaped baked goods, cat music (Christmas jingles in meow-format). It was nothing else but a little cute.
Afterward we went to the big event – Juifen. If you’ve ever seen “Spirited Away” – a gorgeous Japanese animation you should watch just to see the art – a lot of the movie was inspired by this city. So we were interested in it. Basically all of Asia was as interested as well. It was impossible to go anywhere except to just be pushed along by the crowds. It was a mess. If Chris and I had been sepreated I don’t think we ever would have seen each other again. And it wasn’t even that pretty. A lot of the inspiration was exaggerated or it was too busy to enjoy it.
But because we make our own fun, we walked up the road to some kind of graveyard and got some fantastic views of the sea and the valley area.
We asked the hotel where we could find some famous Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup. They recommended a mom and pop restaurant a block away. It was a place we never would’ve chosen – there wasn’t a door but a plastic flap. The menu was a small sign all in Chinese. They didn’t speak English but we managed to get exactly what we wanted and it was the best thing we’ve ever eaten.
Again – wow. The beef has been simmered for ages, the flavors complex and the noodles were homemade and lovely. Here’s a recipe if you want to try.
The next day we headed to Taipei…