Friday, 12 August 2011

Top o' the World, Ma! Top o' the World!!! Well, almost...(Taiwan Part 7)

And a good Saturday morning to you from across the globe after another GREAT EVENING in the Lion City. As construction and RIDICULOUS hoopla and noise spews forth from the street below and the temple beside our condo, my muffin puffin remains sound asleep. I am excited about this, however, as a) she's fighting a cold and I'm sure the sleep is helping, and b) if this is any indicator of how our kids will sleep, we will be BLESSED parents (sorry, mom and dad). Okay, I know that this was a day you thought might never come, but FINALLY FINALLY FINALLY Sammy the Bull is gonna wrap Taiwan today. Actually, wait, that's not right, as I'll still have one more day after this. Oh well, let's get amongst it!
So Friday was a really big day for me, as I crossed off one of my Life's "to do" list items - Taipei 101. For whatever reason, this place has fascinated me for years, and much like the Taj Mahal, the Brandenburg Gate, the Pyramids, or all the other myriad places you learn in history books but never really know if you'll get to see in person, I just couldn't believe it when I was standing in front of it. However, I am getting ahead of myself - you remember the little quip in yesterday's blog about being "upgraded to an exec floor?" Yeah, well, what they don't tell you until AFTER YOU'VE SLEPT THERE ONE ONE NIGHT, is that there is CONSTRUCTION on the floor above it. Why is it an Exec floor? BECAUSE THEY ARE BUILDING DAMN OFFICE SPACE ON THE FLOOR ABOVE. Holy @#$# it was being in the middle of the stock market when a fire alarm goes off during a New Year's Eve celebration. Not even the Striker could sleep - what does THAT tell you? But anyhoo, back to Taipei 101...
So this experience was, simply put - FANTASTIC. The walk to it (complete with 3 donuts in tow) was just amazing, as you round a corner and see it looming on the horizon. Constructed in the shape of a bamboo stalk (and it really does resemble one), this is the world's second highest building (after the Burj Dubai in, well, Dubai obviously), but it was the tallest until recently. And more importantly, given that it's in one of the most geologically active areas on the planet, it's among the most stable structures in existence. How is it stable, you ask? Well, let's consult the "Damper Babies," shall we? Yes, yes - go ahead and ask it: what the hell is a Damper Baby?
So here's the deal, a Damper is basically a MASSIVE weight that functions as a gyroscope to counterbalance wind, earthquakes, and anything else that could move a building. Taipei 101 happens to be home to the "world's largest visible wind damper," weighing in at 5.5 tons and absorbing 40% of the motion of the building. How do I know all this? Well, that's where the Damper Babies come in. You see, EVERYTHING requiring an explanation in Asia has a cartoon attached to it (remember the Netball Championships and "Nettie?" Yeah, same thing...), and the Damper Babies are these 5 multi-colored blobs that give you information about the damper. If it sounds creepy, I can assure you it's even more odd in person. Case in point - each of the 5 Babies has a name, catch phrase, magic power, and mission in life. I mean seriously -HAS THE ENTIRE WORLD GONE INSANE? All the same, we did have to pause for a photo with one...
It was a bit hazy at the top, but the view really was amazing, and the audio with the view was excellent (WAAAAAAAY better than Malaysia and the Menara K-L - shocking, that...). And the craziest part was that you actually get to go to the 91st floor (as well as the 89th in the world's fastest and most pressurized elevator - seriously, we can't make this stuff up) and go the OUTDOOR observatory. Let me tell you - that is CLOSE to the sun and a LONG way down.
After that it was over to the food court for lunch, where Sammy went CRAZY on another Taiwan delicacy - mochi. The only way to describe it is "a gelatinous rice goo covering red bean curd or peanut paste filling." I realize that sounds like GARBAGE, but it is actually REEEEEEEAAAALLLLLY good, and I ate about 600 of them. You are supposed to keep them refrigerated, however, which was bad news for the one I carried around in my backpack all day...details...
After that, it was over to the Sun Yat Sen Memorial, where we got lucky enough to see the changing of the guard - talk about an affair! We had no idea this was going to take place, but luckily we arrived 5 minutes before the ceremony kicked off. And since we were about 3 feet taller than everyone else in the place, we had a GREAT view of the whole thing (much to the chagrin of anyone behind us, I'm sure). Sun Yat Sen is considered the "father of China," and as with a lot of the history in Taiwan (the official Republic of China, not to be confused with the People's Republic of China), it gets a bit complicated to figure out whether or not he was loved by all. I took the consensus to be yes (more so than Chiang Kai-shek, at least), as there were TONS of folks snapping pictures.
After that it was to the end of the yellow line for a HILARIOUS adventure for the Taylors - the tea plantations of Maokong. We arrived at the Maokong stop to find that the Gondola (which we were REALLY excited about) was closed due to weather, but we managed to hop a bus and venture into the mountains just outside the city. This brought us to Maokong, home to oolong tea, the most famous tea of Taiwan. And since our guidebook told us that we needed to rock up to a tea plantation and try this oolong stuff, we decided to give it a go.
We get out of the bus and find a nice little dive with a view of the valley and Taipei 101 in the distance, at which point we settle down and order some tea. Now, the B & S are thinking that a nice little brewed pot with 2 cups is going to appear, but NOOOOOOOOOOOO, NELLY - that's not how they roll up here. Instead a laminated sheet of paper appears with "instructions" in English. This should have been a first sign indicator of what a bad idea this was.
Next up, Lady Mao rocks out with about FIFTEEN different instruments and then hooks up a coffee pot filled with water at our table. She then deposits a bag of FRESH tea leaves beside us and walks away. And then it hits us - we have to figure all this @#$% out ourselves. And THAT, ladies and gentlemen, was hilarious.
The instructions were CLASSIC, including steps like "waking up the tea" and "arousing the pot" (who the hell wants to "arouse" a pot?), but essentially here's what you had to do:
1. Boil the water (obviously - and it should be noted that you pay a "water fee" for using the pot - but since it was less than $2 USD PP, we didn't argue)
2. Pour the water into the tea pot (this is where it apparently gets aroused)
3. Pour the water from the tea pot into the pitcher (this cleans the pitcher)
4. Pour the water from the pitcher into the vat (this big aluminum pan)
5. Add tea leaves into the tea pot and repeat (this wakes up the tea, and I gotta think the pot was REALLY aroused at this point)
6. Boil the water for 30 seconds, then pour into tea pot and drink
7. Rinse - repeat "until the tea is tasteless"
So I gotta be honest, after 7 cups, it didn't matter whether there was flavor or not, as I was FLOATING OUT OF THERE. The dudes beside us must have had 48 cups, but I could do no more. It was a really neat experience, but tea is just not my thing. It is Jenny's thing, however, as she was NOT going to leave the remaining tea leaves on the table - HECK NO! She wrapped those puppies up and packed them into our day bags - haffa not waste!
Before leaving Maokong, we did find another "tea house," only this time we rocked some brewskis instead. The view was just FANTASTIC, and we watched the sun set over Taipei and the city light up whilst perched on a stilted balcony - VERY cool. We then checked the Gondola and were pleased to learn that it was back to working, and so for the bargain basement price of $1.50 USD, we got a TWENTY MINUTE RIDE back into the city. Let me tel you - this...was....AWESOME. The ride was long, you could turn out the lights in the cabin, and the lights of the city were just AMAZING. We had GREAT views of Taipei 101 (kind of hard not to given that it's about 1,000 feet taller than the rest of the city, but still), and it was a REALLY neat experience.
The last activity of the night was the Shida Night market, which started out as a disappointment but ended strong. We found some food stalls (and those AMAZING MANGO JUICE DRINKS) early on, but we then spent the next 20 minutes DESPERATELY looking for more food. I did find a chicken heart vendor (and TORE INTO THOSE PUPPIES - Hitman, it was just like the London Food competition) wearing a UNC shirt, but she didn't seem to understand when I pointed to her shirt and said, "Go Tar Heels!" Poser...
At last, however, we did manage to find the food stalls, at which point I took it to the next level of street meat (Miller - you would have been so proud). Rounding a corner, I saw a sign in English that read: "Intestinal Sausage filled with intestinal sausage." I mean, is that a challenge or not? Yep...HAFFA HAVE! But consumption, however, I can tell you that it was, well, REAAAAAAAALLY bad. My cheeks were peppy from the fat chunks in there, but not from the taste. Oh well, still an adventure!
Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print. Chat tomorrow!
Sam and Jenny

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