What do the Chinese usually eat for breakfast in China and Taiwan? Usually the same thing – Dou Jiang (soya bean milk), You Tiao (crullers), Pao (dumplings filled with everything from cabbage to spring onions to fatty pork). Chinese breakfasts are always warm, fragrant and savoury … just the thing for chilly mornings. I’m having some today, at a little shop just across the busy intersection from Parachute.
It’s a loud, busy place – workers moving about animatedly, customers outside ordering their food to-go, the smell of freshly steamed dumplings wafting up from the steamers, flour floating in the air from the snow-white hands of the boss as he slaps a piece of dough onto the worktable, deftly shaping fresh dumplings. On a skillet, just-steamed dumplings are being lightly fried, sizzling in sync with the deep-frying of crullers in huge woks.
“Ni hao!”, I’m greeted by a friendly lady who takes my order. Though not a full-fledged cafe, there’s a little room at the back of the shop with long tables lining the walls. Minutes later, my food arrives. I just love mornings like this.
Ying Chang and family has just arrived from Singapore early this morning. He and his family are here ahead of the LCSG group, which will be arriving in 10 days’ time for their week-long tour. Ying Chang is staying at his sister’s home, not far from Parachute. We arrange to meet for lunch later for a catch-up. Meanwhile, I explore the streets on foot, wandering around the back lanes and stumbling upon on a small morning market, one of my favourite places to visit in any new country I go to. Back on the main street, a little cafe boasting freshly brewed coffee draws me in. Cup in hand, I sit on the sidewalk outside and contemplate the colourful goings-on of Shida Road.
“Let’s go for beef noodles”, Ying Chang suggests. We’re at his home, having cycled there from where we had arranged to meet at the main gate of Taiwan University. On the shortcut across the grounds of the university, I’m struck by how normal it is to be moving around on bicycles for these students. And if you’re a couple, it’s proper etiquette for your gal to stand on the custom-fitted pegs of the rear wheel, holding on to your shoulder while you provide the pedal power to get to wherever you’re going.
I park my bike at his place and we take a short walk across the narrow streets to a non-descript little shop. Inside, it’s abuzz with mostly students. In keeping with the appetite, and budget, of students, most food shops around the university serves value-for-money portions including all-you-can-drink tea; and I do mean value-for-money. I can hardly finish my bowl of beef noodle.
Back at his place, we discuss my intended solo route. He suggests an interesting route starting from the city of Chiayi, up to Alishan National Park, down towards SunMoon Lake, Puli and from there climb all the way to 3200m Wuling Pass on Hehuanshan, the highest road on the island. From there, it’s downhill all the way to Lishan, and then northwest across the island on the Northern Cross with stops at a few interesting places and ending at Sanxia, a few hours out of Taipei. That, of course, is the grand plan.
I also plan to camp where possible, not so much to save money but because I just enjoy the solitude and carefree nature of sleeping in the outdoors.
To get to Chiayi, about 300kms south on the western coast, I will have to ride the bus. So Ying Chang, who needs to finalise train transport arrangements for the group for certain segments of our ride, suggests we go to Taipei Main Station, where all intercity bus and trains converge, to inquire about the bus to Chiayi.
It’s quite a novelty pushing the bike all the way into a mall as if it’s the most normal thing to do. Well, actually it is, at Taipei Main. To get to the bus ticketing counters, we pushed our bikes past rows of shops and cosmetics counters. At the ticketing counters, we made inquiries for buses to Chiayi. Bikes, we are told in no uncertain terms, have to be bagged before they are allowed into the luggage holds of the bus. Ok, sure, no problem. I can already visualise large trash bags …
Then it’s across the road to the train station, with its cavernous lobby reaching all the way to the roof. Taipei Main is an impressive building. Leaving YC to his errands, I head off for some riverside riding, but not before we make a date for dinner with his family later that evening.
As a bicycle-friendly city, Taipei is on par with those in Europe. The riverside bike paths are simply world-class, and is both an idyllic getaway for its stressed-out city folk as well as a great alternative route for bike commuting.
Bian Shi 扁食 (or sui kao to the rest of us here in this part of the world), at least 40 pcs of them, and more beef noodles, and all-you-can-drink tea … that’s our dinner. This particular shop is a favourite of YC and his family, and Taiwan uni students, as can be seen by it being a full house. The wontons are excellent, and so is the company.
It’s off to Chiayi tomorrow where I’ll finally start my own tour. I can’t get wait.