Taiwan To Thailand.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

(A big ol' bucket of mojito)

After a 4:30am wake up call we lugged our suitcases down to the ground floor to await the taxi that Mumma Duck had very kindly ordered for us. She insisted on getting up at the ridiculous time with us, gave the driver instructions and then paid for our taxi! We were flabbergasted by her kindness, and there were hugs all round and promises to return soon, before we crammed ourselves and our ever-increasingly heavy luggage into the car.

Due to Mumma Duck's efficiency and our paranoia about missing flights, we somehow managed to end up at the airport three and a half hours before our flight time. We amused ourselves with the idea of breakfast, worked our way through some of our snack boxes and marveled at the check in guy (who looked impressively like Bruno Mars) until we were allowed through to the departure lounge, where I aimlessly flitted around the shops and Livi camped out on an excessively comfortable chair, which just so happened to be positioned in the middle of the airport.

(Oh Taiwan, what is this tomfoolery?)

Eventually our flight was ready and we made our way to the plane, where we were seated separately (boo) and settled down for our journey. I attempted to watch Fiddler on the Roof on the little screen in front of me, but inevitably fell asleep (as I always do) before the title credits had rolled.

We arrived in Thailand in the early afternoon and had a decision to make. Livi had procured an ABBA-esque fleece for herself during our stay in sub-zero-temperature Japan, and this instantly became a redundant, yet heavy item upon our touchdown in sunny Thailand. It was with great remorse that she made the decision to part with the turtleneck, and we spent a few quiet moments together, poised over the bin, reminiscing about the good times; the karaoke, the sushi, the bubble tea... and then it was time to say goodbye. We also sustained another loss on our voyage, I'd somehow managed to leave my scarf on the back of a toilet door in Taipei airport, disaster all round.

(A sad farewell)

Despite our recent losses, we soldiered on, gathered our luggage and attempted (yet failed) to procure Thai sim cards for ourselves. We then bumbled into a taxi and travelled across Bangkok, ending at our hostel (booked through AirBnB) via a million detours and dead ends, obviously attempting to avoid the riots as we drove. We were met by our host Paula, and were offered some cold juice (delicious). 

(Hostel lobby sneaky shot)

Livi took a quick shower, and reported back that it was cold. On further investigation it became evident that she'd managed to pick the only cold shower in the building, and all of the others were perfectly warm. We then headed out, taking pictures of lead-us-home landmarks in a Hansel and Gretel-esque fashion in an attempt to not lose ourselves on our first night in Thailand. We followed our hostel owner's vague directions and found ourselves on what we thought was probably the Khao San Road (we later found out that we were actually on the road parallel, but we were close enough!).

Having never visited Thailand before, I knew next to nothing about what to expect. We'd managed to do some serious pre-planning for Japan and Taiwan but by the time we got round to organising Thailand our enthusiasm (and time) had fizzled out and we decided to approach it with a happy go lucky attitude. The only thing I knew about Thailand was that the Khao San Road was a fairly awful but entertaining place. I'd heard horror stories about the shoddy cocktail bars, the scammers and the loud music...but that's about it.

What we came across was quite different (granted we were on the wrong street, but when we actually made our way to the real Khao San Road it was just a bigger, brighter and louder version of this street) and we meandered our way down the road, past the stalls selling printed vest tops, bags and jewellery; bashing into a couple of the tens of backpacked travelling types along the way until we came across a little outdoor cafe called 'Magic Max's', where we plonked ourselves down and ordered the first Pad Thai of the trip. These beauties cost us 50 baht (1 pound) each, and were so delicious that we hoovered them up almost immediately, nodding approvingly at each other as we devoured.

(Pad Thai #1)

Our next stop was 7-11, our home away from home, where we sussed the joint, located the essentials and stocked up on bits and pieces that hadn't quite made their way between the countries. We then stumbled upon the real Khao San Road and were entertained by the sights and sounds and the realisation that it wasn't half as trashy as we'd expected! 

(In all it's glory)

We promptly found ourselves in a rather nice bar with a Pina Colada (for Livi) and a Mojito (for me) in front of us. The cocktails were brilliant, and although they weren't particularly cheap by Thai standards, they still came in at some serious UK happy hour prices. 

(Piña Colada #1)

It seems you can buy everything on the Khao San Road and we were offered massages, dead scorpion lollipops, travel services, food, fake ID's (which I contemplated getting), ping pong shows, rickshaws, clothes, jewellery and all manner of other things. After our first cocktails we headed to Golf Bar We Do Not Check ID Card & Restaurant where we ordered the worst cocktails of our lives. Granted, they only cost 80 (1 pound 60 pence) baht each, but to say they tasted like washing up liquid would be more than a compliment. Yuk.

(Classy joint) 

(Dubious about our choice of drinking establishment and purchases) 

We convinced ourselves that we needed another Pad Thai to wash away the taste of the awful cocktails and ordered a 30 baht (60 pence) plate to share. Just as we were about to tuck in, Courtney, a friend of mine from a semester abroad program in London a few years ago who now lives and teaches in Bangkok, arrived to meet us, and between us we ordered a bucket of mojito, which we immediately regretted, as it tasted quite a lot like half melted jelly.

(Pretending to enjoy the bucket)

We decided to cut our losses and headed into a real restaurant that looked like it wouldn't try to poison its customers. Setting up camp on some beautiful floor cushions with a tiny table to sit around, we munched our way through a massaman curry and some tasty chicken satay and drank a couple of Thai rum mojitos (yes, it was our plan to consume as much Thai food as possible in our first day) while Courtney talked us through some of the sights of Bangkok.

(Mmmm... Massaman)

(Still semi smiling after a long day of travelling/drinking) 

(The girls doing some serious planning) 

By this time it was fairly late, and we were clueless as to where we were in relation to our hostel. We slowly followed our phone-photo trail back to our hostel, narrowly avoiding a run in with an evil dog who prowled about on our street (which reminded me once more of my lack of rabies jab...) and fell asleep on our sticky plastic mattresses.

Post Office Perils.

Monday, 17 February 2014

(With our lovely Leah!)

Having already admitted defeat, we awoke lazily and worked our way to the bank, ready for another battle. I sprawled across the chairs in the seating area, drinking bubble tea and trying to make sense of the nonsensical Taiwanese tv shows, while Livi worked her way through the rigmarole of procuring a ticket (like you do in the cheese counter of Tesco), waiting to be called up, explaining her blocked card situation and emptying the contents of her bag onto the desk in an attempt to show the failed ATM slips. At one point she had about 90% of the bank staff gawping at her bizarre antics, and the majority were being less than helpful. Finally she decided to call it a day, and left...none the wiser.

On the way out of the bank Livi decided (quite daringly, may I add) to give the ATM one last shot. By some stroke of luck her transaction worked, and soon she found herself the perplexed owner of 5000 fine New Taiwan Dollars! Usually people tend to celebrate with champagne... cava at the very least! Not us. We decided to celebrate by spending the next three hours trying to locate a post office, so that we could post all of our purchases home before we moved on to Thailand. Imagine the japes we had! To regale these tales to you would probably induce frenzied hysteria, or perhaps just extreme boredom.

After a two hour walk across central Taipei, using a combination of offline Google Map navigation and postal related hand gestures (in some sort of twisted version of 'gotta run my errands' charades) we located the elusive Taipei Main Station Exit Z10, the furthest exit from the station (which in itself is huge) that is nowhere near anything transport related at all. In fact it's next to some sort of university... I know this because we tried to go there first, only to be quickly shoo'd out of the door; I think they were quite concerned by the prospect of English students and didn't want us getting any funny ideas about studying abroad.

Finally we made it. We strode nonchalantly into Taipei Beimen Post Office, attempting to look as if we'd just happened upon the place and not as if we'd spent the past few hours on the world's worst adventurous cross-city trek. Assuming it'd be as easy as just dumping our items on the counter, pointing at the word 'England' on the glossy poster behind us, and handing over our freshly procured cash... we attempted to do just that.

Oh no no! Don't be silly...you're in the wrong queue. What ensued was somewhat of a comedy sketch, with us sidestepping our way around the building trying to decipher the entertainingly written types of postage. Eventually we found the section that appeared to send non-commercial packages to England.

Before we were allowed to purchase boxes for postage, we had to first tip all of our items out onto the counter and try to jam them into various 'dummy' boxes. 

(Everything fits in if you squish it hard enough)

We both settled on size 2, paid our dollars...and set to work packing. I'd been a little too overcautious with my box choosing, and once all of my items were safely nestled in their cardboard house...I still had a fair amount of space to fill. Luckily the post office had a 'paper strip' pool (similar to a ball pool) and I dove in, box in hand, and stuffed my box to the brim with loose paper strands.

(Box contents well and truly trapped!)

Next we ventured to the 'sealing' desk, unfortunately trailing long strips of paper behind us, where we fought with stupidly sticky tape and blunt serrated cutting blades until we'd fashioned our handy-work into things that resembled parcels.

We weighed and stamped our parcels, filled in numerous forms, paid our shipping fees and were finally done. Phew. A quick stop to the 'normal' part of the post office sorted us with stamps for our postcards, and we relieved ourselves of the burden of communication with the outside world too.

(Just a few postcards to send)

With our bags feeling a whole lot lighter we finally clocked the time, and the realisation hit us that we'd actually spent a stupidly long amount of time on our post office hunt, and were now late to meet Leah. We headed back towards Taipei Main Station to catch the MRT to meet her, and attempted to stop in at every Family Mart and 7-11 along the way, in an attempt to stealthily communicate with her online. Luckily Leah was also running a bit late, and was happy to meet us later, and we found her a short while later, perched outside the station.

We took a quick trip to Leah's sister's bag shop to say hi before meeting Mumma Duck. As always, a trek ensued and we soon found ourselves at a food market, where we feasted on oyster omelettes (a food that can easily be instantly rejected by your stomach for sure!) wrapped in the familiar jelly 'shell'.

(Yummy oysters?!)

The problem for me with Taiwanese food is that it often tastes delicious... If you can get past the unusual consistency, smell, look and ingredients! This omelette was actually pretty tasty... But without coaxing there's no way we'd have gone near it! It's not the most appealing looking specimen! 

Next we hit round two of food, and chowed down on sweet pork and rice (which instantly became Livi's favourite Taiwanese dish) and some mystery meat soup! 

(Pork and rice- Before and after) 

(So much mystery!!)

Post-meal we were instantly whisked to the Chinese New Year market. Unfortunately we missed actual new year as we'd planned to be in Thailand, but the girls were keen to give us a preview of the festivities.

(Sweets galore!)

The market was heaving and we muddled along at a snails pace, soaking up the colour, culture and content of the occasion. Food samples were offered in their hundreds and stalls selling every dried fruit imaginable, huge bags of nuts, dried fish, jelly beans, sweets and meats overflowed on to the street. The market was decorated in the traditional gold and red, and preparations were well under way to welcome in the year of the horse! 

(Decorated with traditional red paper lanterns)

(Some sort of vegetable stall)

(Prawn man!)

(Dried squid)

Exhausted, we squeezed our way along the crowd until we found an exit, and headed to the station where we said our tearful goodbyes to lovely Bagel Lin (who is coming to England in the summer to study at Warwick, so it definitely wasn't goodbye forever!).

(With Leah and Mumma Duck!!)

We headed back to the flat and said our goodbyes to our adopted family, who had been ridiculously kind to us. We promised that we'd come back to stay soon and handed over the box of Lindor chocolate that we'd spied in the 'we-sell-all-the-foods' shop, which didn't even come close enough to thanking them for the hospitality and love they'd showed us over the week!

Mumma Duck disappeared and came back with two heart shaped boxes, stuffed to the brim with local Taiwanese snacks for our journey, we were bowled over by her generosity (the snacks were delicious, I'm still working my way through the last of the nougat a month later in Thailand!).

(So many treats!!)

We drank our last Taiwanese bubble tea of the trip (green tea, passion fruit, less ice, 30% sugar, coconut jelly... If you're wondering) with a wave of sadness washing over us. I'd well and truly fallen in love with Taiwan, it had exceeded all expectations and we'd met such wonderful people, been to some amazing places and eaten some interesting and delicious things! I vowed to come back someday soon. 

(Last ever bubble tea in Taiwan!)

We spent the rest of the evening packing our (stupid) rucksacks, and then took some pictures of our lovely family before snoozing, ready for our stupidly early wake up call and the beginning of the next part of our adventure- Thailand!

(Mumma Duck, dad and Amy!)

(Lovely Mumma Duck and Amy!)

(Liv and family :) )

(Me and my family!)

(Amy and I!)

Tainan Or Not?

Thursday, 13 February 2014

(Our alarm clock)

We woke up stupidly early (well, earlier than I'd have liked) to head off for our day trip to Tainan. The train journey is pretty long, and even on the fast train (akin to the bullet train I hear) it still takes a good few hours.
Things were going well, we were packed up, ready for our adventure. Scarves on, shoes on...out of the door.

Alas, it wasn't to be. Although Tainan was calling out to our heart strings, our bank accounts were having other ideas! We stopped at our usual ATM to stock up on dollar, only to have both of our cards rejected by the machines.

Uh oh.

What to do? We tried again in different ATMs and had the same problem. Shit. Livi went off to have some arguments with Lloyds, and I hopped into the local 7-11 and pretended to peruse the shelves, while I logged onto their free wifi and searched for online friends to call my family, so that we could work out what was going on.

Before heading off on my adventure, my family kindly sorted out a Caxton Card for me. I'm not really sure what all the details of Caxton entail, but basically it's a card that allows the folks back home to load on pennies for me to spend on my travels. We figured this would be a good way of not getting all of my money stolen in one lump sum, plus as the lead card holder is still safely holed up at Herman Headquarters in Bournemouth, any problems are theoretically easily rectified by them. Only problem is, nobody is awake at 3am back home, luckily my friend Maggie is a bit of a night owl and was able to call up the Herman household and raise the alarm.

5 minutes later a conversation with my mother on Facebook revealed that actually there was nothing wrong with my card, I'm just an idiot and forgot how much I'd spent. I was due another 'top up' from my funds to the Caxton, and that was it. Phew.

Unfortunately Livi seemed to be having problems that weren't linked to personal stupidity, and she spent most of the morning battling with the 'slot machine' telephone that ate all her dollars, while shouting 'I don't know exactly how much I spent in Boots in England 17 days ago' at a Lloyds employee who obviously resented being forced to work at 3am. Eventually, no better off than when we started...she left Lloyds to do their thing and work out what was going on, whilst we tried to think of a plan that would entertain us for the rest of the day without costing us money neither of us had.

After much deliberation we decided to check out Es Lite, Es Lite is a bookshop chain that seems to have stores all across Taiwan (we kept accidentally stumbling across them on other adventures), but we headed to the one recommended to us by Sue. The Es Lite just so happened to be housed in another culture centre and rather than just being a book store, was a multi-levelled shopping complex with a 'fashion' floor, a 'crafts' floor, a 'food' floor and a 'book' floor. 

(Spot the Livi at the culture park entrance)

(Es Lite)

Before you get all excited at the mention of crafts (and I'm there with you, crafts totally rock my world) let me tell you that although everything was beautiful, exquisite and displayed in perfect, innovative and eccentric ways, it was also beautifully, exquisitely and perfectly expensive! We toyed with the idea of spending 80,000 NTD on a pair of handcarved wooden chairs, but then decided that we should probably leave it, as neither of us had anything near 80,000 NTD and we didn't think Fed-Ex would transport the monstrosities home for us anyway.

(This'll look good in the conservatory...)

We headed down to the food court to try our hand at ordering a hot pot lunch. I left Livi in charge, and we ended up with something completely different to what we thought we'd ordered. It's tricky in Taiwan, as all of the pictures on the menu show you the 'before' pictures of your food pre-cooking, and you're clueless as to what the 'after' order will really look like. However, our food was quite edible, and we ate it anyway...slurping our noodles all over the place (of course).

When we'd finished battling our noodle dish, we ventured up to the book floor, which seemed to focus mainly on artsy culture books. This, of course, would have been perfect...had we any space in our bags for such frivolous purchases; but we were travelling with rucksacks, had 10 weeks of venturing across several countries left and didn't really know what we'd do with hardcover glossy paged books depicting the finest patterns in contemporary Taiwanese wallpaper art (I may be using a touch of artistic license here)!

Defeated by the day, and using our misfortune as an excuse to feel sorry for ourselves, we headed into one of the little cafes on the bookshop floor, to cheer ourselves up with an 'afternoon tea'. Curious, oh so curious. We'd seen a few afternoon teas advertised across Taipei, but I was skeptical. As an avid scone fan I love nothing more than spending my post-lunch hours in beautiful gardens drinking loose leaf tea, and complaining that the raspberry jam hasn't enough 'bits' for my liking. However, I was prepared to enter into this tea-perience with an open mind.

We were seated at a lovely table overlooking the forecourt, taking pride of place on the concrete was some sort of 'bus experience' contraption that consisted of a bus-mobile being driven backwards and forwards for 100m or so in a straight line, lovely. 

(Room with a view...of concrete and warehouses)

(Pointless bus...)

A pot of tea was priced at 350 NTD (7 whole English pounds) which, even by our standards is steep, however for 30 NTD more you could purchase the tea as part of the 'Amazing Afternoon Tea Set', and it came with a side something. This seemed like much better value, and we chose our sides. I opted for the 'Creme Brûlée Berry Extravaganza' (it was called something along these lines, I forget the exact name). Livi chose petit fours (I'm not sure why). We both decided to choose Taiwanese locally grown tea.

My creme brûlée was interesting, and not entirely dissimilar to what I was expecting (well, by this I mean it had a burnt sugar top and, subject to a police line up, would most likely be identified correctly). I was served two huge slabs of brulee, with sprinklings of all sorts of other things littering the plate. On closer inspection my brulee seemed to be sharing its home with some prawn-less prawn crackers, quarters of strawberries, pistachio dust, lemon zest, blueberries and tiny squares of mystery fruit jelly. The experience was not entirely unpleasant, although even as a brulee lover, I found two massive slabs to be a little too much. I'd definitely ordered a better option than Livi though, as her plate housed a small bowl of nuts, another of dates and a piece of pineapple cake (b-o-r-i-n-g).


(Petit Fours)

Our tea was served in bowls, with the beverages trapped in tall shooter glasses in the centre. The waitress made a show of releasing our tea from its prison, and swirled the shooter glasses around for us to 'smell the aroma' of our freshly brewed tea. Lovely.

(Tea, why are you so expensive?!)

We slurped our tea from the little bowls, topping up our drinks until our teapots were empty (we weren't about to waste any of the world's most expensive tea!) If we were pretentious folk, this is the part where we'd be telling you that the tea was fragrant, with lots of body and layers of flavour; however we're not, so we won't.

(Writing blog notes!)

We sat for a while, contemplating the day's misfortune, and then took a stroll past the stupid bus-mobile and a design museum, that we hadn't the energy to tackle. We made our way back to the MRT and found ourselves at Taipei Main Station, where we walked to our place of comfort, Q Square. Here we attempted (and failed) to locate a post office...and eventually gave up. Just as we were about to call it a day, and head home with our tails between our legs... our evening got a little brighter.

I had spotted a 'Gourmet Market' area in the food court when we had first visited the shopping centre, which looked like it could be the home of some funky snacks which would be good to send back to England. I convinced Livi that it would totally be a good idea to check it out, as perhaps they'd have wine (Livi's trigger word) and we could buy some and drown our (minor) sorrows. It turns out that the market (which wasn't a market at all, it was actually just a shop) sold food from all over the world, and was actually full of delicious things that we love. The best part was the Waitrose concession stand that we managed to stumble upon, selling all sorts of home comforts including Duchy Originals shortbread, Twinings tea, Bonne Maman jams and all types of soup. 

(Oh Waitrose, you're always there for us when we need you!) 

(Comforting soup) 

They also stocked lots of wine and other alcohols and Livi found comfort in a miniature bottle of Gin and Tonic. We headed home, a little happier...and fell asleep (before Livi even had a chance to open her gin!).

(They stocked the good flavours of Koppaberg too!)

Jade Cabbages and Forbidden Palaces.

(Stinky tofu with Mumma Duck)

After a breakfast of battered oyster mushrooms and bubble tea (this had become our usual breakfast routine, and we were working towards our 'regulars' status at the stalls) we navigated our way to the station to begin our first bus journey of Taiwan.

(Delicious battered treats)

After a couple of failed attempts at locating our bus stop we finally struck gold and soon found ourselves surrounded by fellow museum-goers, bouncing along the road to our destination, National Palace Museum.

We were deposited at the museum gates and made our way up the multiple sets of steps to the museum entrance. We paid for our student tickets (we hadn't asked for them, we were only charged 80NTD each as opposed to the 160NTD or so it should have cost, but we weren't about to complain...we wouldn't have known how to anyway!) and set off up the escalators to explore the museum.

(The museum entrance, how ornate!)

I'm going to leave the serious museum information for Livi to write about, but I will fill in this little bit...
One of the rooms had a 'contemporary' exhibit, which seemed to be loosely based around the idea of how emperors and other figures of greatness would look and act in today's society. They didn't get this idea across particularly well, but rather had some mildly entertaining interactive components to the exhibit which we attempted to use. Our favourite was a photo booth that scanned and replicated 3/4 of your face and attached it to a character (similar to a Wii account avatar). Your character would then appear on a screen, interacting with other 'people' going about their daily Taiwanese business. The scene seemed to incorporate elements of historical and contemporary 'business' and builders and royals appeared to be co-existing harmoniously alongside each other.

(Jus' going about our daily lives)

(Some giant robot thing that didn't seem to have any relevance to anything)

Cue Livi's piece...

As the representative culture vulture on the trip, I was sold on a visit to the National Museum of Palaces on the basis that it held ‘the Forbidden Palaces greatest treasures’. My basic A-Level history knowledge had taught me that when Chiang Kai-shek and the Kuomingtang fled China amidst the rise of Mao and the Communists, they carried some of the best of the Imperial treasures with them to Taiwan. The fact the museum promised it held more treasures than it could actually show at any one time, and had to rotate its exhibits also sounded interesting, like you could never have the same experience twice.

We arrived to a promisingly packed museum. The cattle like tour groups with their ‘have your eye out’ flags proliferated the entrance halls, and it certainly felt like we were about to see a world class collection worthy of the British Museum or Louvre. The short introductory timeline of China’s history and extensive dynasties also helped us locate the objects we were about to see. Hopes raised high we went in search of treasure. Instead we were confronted with some nice but hardly eye catching wooden furniture of an imperial prince, some porcelain and a whole lot of samey same calligraphy by someone called Shen Zhou; whose main activity seemed to be lecturing his drunk friends on the error of their ways and painting grey and greyer pictures of foliage. Faking more interest than I was actually feeling in view of Laura’s understandably apathetic reaction to such items, we pressed on, and actually found a pretty hilarious interactive gallery ‘for kids’. Here Laura and I had pictures taken and our faces superimposed on digitized characters in a street scene who looked more akin to merchants from the Dutch Golden Age than anything from ye olde China but which provided an amusing aside nonetheless.

Close to calling it quits, we headed upstairs to the promising sounding tea house restaurant. Here our spirits were lifted by a charmingly olden and authentic feeling tea experience, where we were given transparent plastic flasks that infused our Green and Oolong tea leaves and then poured delicious smelling tea straight into our cups- an ingenious piece of equipment that we both wish to purchase for use back home. Refreshed we stumbled with now limited time to the last but most interesting piece of the museum- typical! The Jade collections. These were impressive, featuring a large assortment of Jade bowls, weaponry, grave goods and jewellery. I was especially interested, working at Stonehenge, to learn of how Jade was prized by people in Neolithic times in Asia, and how they associated its value as akin to ritual connection with the gods. We also saw the museum’s most highly prized two items- the Jade Cabbage and ‘piece of meat’ Jasper, which are proudly reproduced on a staggering number of merchandise in the gift shop to hammer home their value. Overall I would recommend the museum to for Chinese art/ pottery enthusiasts, and was impressed with the amount of information in English to allow greater understanding, but would say for people fairly uninterested, it would look just like someone’s painstaking collection of the same porcelain spoons. Laura went away happy with her novelty post cards of the misshapen gemstones however, and we went merrily on. 

Back to Laura... (note that I hadn't read Livi's account, and she hadn't read mine before we put the two together...cue two versions of the same experience described!)

The highlight of the visit (at least for me, less so for Livi I believe) was a trip to the tearoom on the top floor of the museum (of course)!

(Livi perusing the impressive tea list)

We both ordered our teas of choice, mine appeared to have been grown in Taiwan and came with a piece of pineapple cake.

(Pineapple cake is famous round these parts)

 My tea arrived and was served in a marvelous contraption. A teapot, designed for one, with a chamber for the loose leaf tea to brew, and a button to release and hold the liquid after the brewing time, ensuring that the tea remained a perfect strength. Both pots of tea came with specific brewing instructions and little sand timers. We managed to brew some pretty impressive tasting tea, and we slurped away at our tiny bowl cups until our teapots were empty.

(Sippy sippy)

(The ingenious teapot contraption)

Some delicious shrimp dumplings and steamed port buns were delivered alongside our tea and we happily devoured these too.

(Dumplings and buns)

We spent the last 15 minutes or so of our trip wading through the gift shop which was stacked to the brim with odd, obscenely expensive household trinkets. I bought two giant postcards depicting the Jade Cabbage and Meat in all their glory.

(Bye museum!)

We headed back to meet Mumma Duck, who took us to Shi Lin, Taipei's most famous night market. Immediately upon arrival she sat us down and ordered us more food than we could fit into our hungry tummies. First up was a bowlful each of stinky tofu, which was great (but not quite as good as its deep fried sibling we'd consumed with such mouth-watering love in the mountain village).
We were also given a bowl of unidentifiable meat and fish parts in some sort of sauce, which we weren't quite as keen on and nibbled at gingerly.

(Stinky tofu and pot o' mystery)

Next up was a food we encountered several times on our Taiwan adventure but never seemed to master the art of eating. We also never quite managed to fully identify it, but I will try and describe it as best I can.
The outer 'shell' was a jelly like sweet gloop covered in a brown, salty sauce. This jelly substance is near impenetrable, slippery as hell and the consumer deserves nothing less than a round of applause if he or she manages to get a piece in their mouth using the chopsticks provided. We couldn't even break the gloop open, nevermind stuff the jelly into our mouths, but to be honest, we were kind of ok with this as the gloop was similarly as difficult to eat once in your mouth, as it was too tough, chewy and strange to go down without a fight. The contents of the jelly parcel vary quite a lot,but this time we luckily were met with a delicious pork sausage type substance. It was (almost) worth the effort!

(Livi trying to dissect the gloop with multiple utensils)

Stuffed and ready for a nap, we soldiered on to our next stop, which turned out to be a long queue. Happily we stood in line, trying to hurriedly digest our food and leave room for feasts still to come. When we reached the front of the queue we were met with a huge vat of water, with savory buns floating on the surface.

We were each handed a hot, sesame seed topped meat bun and we juggled these for a few minutes until they were cool enough to devour without burning the roofs of our mouths. Oh my, the buns were delicious! Steamed to perfection, with fried bottoms and amazing sweet meat and veg fillings. We instantly regretted not having ordered a whole bag of these beauties, and we savored every mouthful until there was nothing but sweet memories left.

(Oh buns! We love you!)

To wash our food down, Mumma Duck bought us a cup of 'frogspawn'. This is apparently a popular drink in Taiwan! Lime flavoured liquid and more gloopy frogspawn-like jelly- it was actually quite nice and we sipped away.

(Frogspawn funtimes)

We took a stroll past some of the other food stalls, marveling (and breathing a couple of sighs of relief as we were too stuffed to eat some of the more terrifying looking foods) at their wares. Huge pieces of fried chicken (think entire carcasses butterflied) are pretty popular in Taiwan, and we passed a couple of these stalls, impressed but also slihtly mortified.

(The market)

Our next stop was one of my favourites of the trip...a giant multi-floored stationery shop! Mumma Duck knew we'd be in there for quite some time, and shot off to a local masseuse for some pampering. We grabbed ourselves baskets and methodically worked our way through the aisles. Nothing seemed to cost more than 70NTD and our only limit was weight- as we were sending stuff home it didn't make sense to buy something that would cost more money to send than it did to buy!

1 hour later Leah appeared in the doorway of the shop...where she found us still frantically cramming bargains into our baskets. Finally we were done, 3 full receipts worth of purchases later I came out of the shop, only 20 pounds poorer, my purchases definitely would have cost me over 100 fine English pounds if I'd even managed to find the same items back home. Victorious we strode onwards, checking out the pet clothes, water fountain speaker systems and other wonders that often blocked our pathways.

It was time for snacks, and we sought out pork wrapped spring onions (super tasty but difficult to eat, and potentially not worth the onion breath afterwards), papaya milk (not one of my favourites, but I've never been too sure about the fruit/milk combo!), strawberries coated in a sugar shell (possibly one of the most delicious things I've ever eaten... sharp strawberries in a toffee-apple like shell that cracks when you bite it. The combination of the sweet and sharp...too good for words!) and penis cake...

(Pork wrapped spring onions)

(Papaya milk, pre-milking)

(Strawberry-on-a-stick heaven!)

Penis cake is actually something that I looked up before our trip to Taiwan, and was on 'The List' (we wrote a list for each country, but I'll fill you all in on that some other time). Made in a similar way to the egg cakes (as mentioned in the Sky Lantern post) these cakes-on-sticks are filled with a chocolate or vanilla goo and coated in different glaze/toppings. I opted for chocolate after Livi commented that the strawberry one looked like it was harboring some type of unidentifiable STI. The cake itself was far too doughy and gloopy to consume with any real enjoyment, however we gave it a go (and of course received more than a few unimpressed stares from our elders in the process) and took the standard 'look at me, I'm eating a phallic shaped cake' snaps with our cameras.

(Proud penis cake owners)

(In all its glory!)

What amused us more than the cake itself was the sign offering this appealing bargain- 'Buy one big cock (nt.$60) Get one big Asshole Egg for free!'. It was a tempting offer, and we gave it much thought before deciding that no, perhaps the big asshole egg wasn't for us.

(Almost too difficult to resist!)

We'd had more than enough excitement for one day, and we decided to call it a night! We parted ways with Leah on the MRT and headed back to our lovely bed!