A walk in Taipei

A few months ago I went to Taipei for a work trip and took advantage of the late-in-the-week meeting to stay for the weekend. I was unsure of what to expect, but was a pleasant surprise.

 

From a very pink Hello Kitty flight, I looked out from the airplane window as we landed to find what seemed like a grey concrete mass, turned even duller by the overcast sky and grey light, combined with the shower spray rain and the colder than expected weather forecast. In the airport though, I found some very friendly people and found my way to the office very easily.

On the first night I was lucky enough to be located in a fancy suite in a different hotel, but only noticed my view in the morning, so did not have a chance of a night photo of 101 face on.

 

Breakfast included, in addition to the western style food, some yummy baozi (steamed buns) that became my obsession at every meal. Put these together with all the bakeries I came across, street food stalls, and night markets and I can tell you that in Taiwan the problem is choosing what to eat.

 

I just had over 24h free time, as I wanted to experience the hotel pool and bath before the flight, so Saturday morning I grabbed the booklet I picked from the airport tourist desk and headed to the furthest point, Longshan Temple, where I was lucky enough to get lost for a few moment  in the chanting of monks among the chaos of tourists and visitors.

 

10 hours, 15 km and many pictures later I was back in the hotel with the feeling that there was still so much to see, especially in the mountains surrounding the city that probably hold the key to the Portuguese name of the island “Formosa”.

 

I realised at the end of the day that I didn’t really stop for a meal, but throughout the day I got to snack on a variety of foods from street vendors or samples from the dried fruit shops and many cups of Oolong (the local tea) and that was quite a filling experience. Still, there is one unknown ingredient on many street foods that does not agree with my senses and many times I had to hold my breath and walk quickly to cross the shops.

 

After all that walking, I can tell you that Taipei is not grey, as the temple lanterns, the taxis and many street signs give it a vibrant yellow tone, that better reflects the lively night markets and friendliness of the people.

 

Há uns meses fui a Taipei em trabalho e aproveitei a reuniao ser no final da semana para passar lá o fim-de-semana. Nao tinha muitas expectativas mas Taipei foi uma bela surpresa.

 

Pela janela de um voo cor de rosa da Hello Kitty vi que aterrava no meio de uma massa de betao, tornada ainda mais triste pelo ceu nublado, a luz cinzenta, a chuva miudinha e a aragem fria que nao estava prevista pela meteorologia.Mas logo no aeroporto as impressoes comecaram a mudar ao falar com pessoas simpátias e a descobrir o quao fácil é circular na cidade.

NA primeira noite tive um upgrade para uma suite num hotel melhor, mas infelizmente só de manha é que me apercebi da vista fantástica para o 101. Nao faz mal, a foto nocturna fica para a próxima visita.

 

Ao pequeno almoco, para além da comida ocidental, havia uns baozi (paezinhos a vapor) que se tornaram obrigatórios a todas as refeicoes. Estes baozi, juntamente com as padarias e pastelarias, bancas de comida e mercados de rua dificultavam a escolha do que comer, tal era a variedade da oferta.

 

Em Taipei tive pouco mais de 24 horas livres, especialmente porque queria experimentar a piscina e o banho do hotel, portanto sábado de manha pus na mochila a brochura que trouxe do balcao de turismo do aeroporto e segui para o sítio sugerido mais longe, o Templo de Longshan, onde me perdi por momentos  nos canticos dos monges no meio do caos de turistas e visitantes.

 

10 horas, 15 quilómetros e muitas fotos depois estava de volta ao hotel com a sensacao que ainda tinha muito para ver, especialmente nas montanhas que rodeiam a cidade e que parecem justificar o nome de Ilha Formosa.

 

Ao final do dia apercebi-me que nao tinha verdadeiramente parado para almocar, mas como ao longo do passeio fui parando em bancas para petiscar ou provar frutas secas nas lojas de especialidade e beber uns copos de Oolong (o chá local) acabei por nao ter fome. Ainda assim, há um qualquer ingrediente em muitas comidas de rua que infelizmente nao combina com o meu nariz e eu cheguei a ter de suster a respiracao ao passar nalgumas lojas.

 

Ao fim desta caminhada, posso dizer que Taipei nao é cinzento, pois as lanternas de papel, os táxis e muitos néons dao a cidade um amarelo vivo, que reflecte bem a energia dos mercados de rua e a simpatia das pessoas.

 

The route / A rota:

Longshan Temple – Movie Street – Beimen – Dihua Street Commercial District – Dadaocheng Wharf – Ningxia Night Market – Huayin Street Commercial District – Main Station Area

 

Places visited / Pontos de interesse:

Longshan Temple

ASW Tea House

Taiyuan Asian Puppet Theatre Museum

Chinese Medicine Shop (pick one, there are many)

Bucket Shop (good for gifts)

Night Market (eat-drink-shop all in one place, after the sun goes down)

Mt Sekiro hiking trip

Last weekend we went into the Japanese countryside with our language school, as they have organized a hike for koyo.  Seeing koyo, meaning autumn leafs, is a Japanese past time usually in November where families and friends go for a hike to see the changing colours in the forests.

 

So on a Sunday we got up before 6AM, met at the school with a bus full of colleagues and off we went to Sekirosan, one of the many mountains around Tokyo.

 

While the bus ride was relatively quiet due to the early hours and lack of sleep, as we started walking the conversations mixed and we realised that probably half of that bus (and I suspect half of the school) is made up of French. Young French that come over to learn Japanese because they enjoy manga and videogames. This may seem like a generalization, but I overheard a conversation in French that got me a bit confused (they were talking about someone else that was on the hike), and a bit later I met a French couple, who turned out to be the someone else, that confirmed all the French were shocked they didn’t like manga nor video games and asked them what were they doing in Japan if they didn’t like those things.  It turned out the guy is a post doc researcher here… I think that is a good reason to be in Japan!

 

The climb up was steep but the path was well defined, so it was just a matter of taking small breaks and enjoy the colours of nature. Older Japanese people, fully equipped with backpacks, hiking boots and poles sprinted by us as if they did it every day. At every stop, one of the teachers would use a small whiteboard to sketch the mountain, our approximate location and distance to the top. Talk about organization!

But this was nothing compared to what we witnessed at the summit.

 

On reaching the top, families gathered at the tables cum daybeds and the familiar smell of hot cooked food filled our nostrils. On their backpacks, they carried small stoves with respective gas canisters, billycans, food ingredients, picnic blankets and tableware and prepared amazing food, enjoying the superb view. We moved away to enjoy our kombini meal of onigri and juice.

 

As expected and despite the table cum daybeds at the summit, there were no toilets or bins on the mountain, but the famous vending machines were there, selling fresh water, energy drinks and soft drinks for those who had some coins.

 

After lunch was the photo shoot and the walk back down.  We walked along the mountain ridge for about half hour and then the descent started.  While before the forest around us seemed like an organised pine forest became a mix of trees and bushes in a very disorganised fashion.  It seems that, like in Portugal, much of the Japanese forest is planted with a single type of tree. The walk down quickly became a slippery challenge.  It has been raining the days before and not only there was mud, the rocks had a thin layer of moss that made it hard to stand straight.  I slipped a few times and reached the bottom without any injuries but with mud coloured shoes, clothes and hands.  S was ahead and apparently managed to never fall, though one colleague did use him as a human airbag when she slipped.

 

At the bottom, the most expected moment of the trip awaited.  It seems it part of the tradition associated with hiking in Japan, that you end the journey in an onsen, the Japanese baths. So you spend the day exercising and sweating and finish on a relaxing outdoor heated bath with your friends.

 

We had experienced onsen once before, but this was amazing, not only because the day hike made it feel more desired but the complex had a series of indoor and outdoor pools, jacuzzi, sauna and salt scrub that got us all nicely smelling and fully relaxed, ready to sleep on the journey back. Or so I thought.

 

The original programme mentioned something of a karaoke bus. For karaoke you expect a screen, and as there was no screen on the bus I thought that there would be no karaoke.  I was wrong, very wrong. Not only there was a state of the art fold down screen and 2 microphones, there was a very good dolby-surround sound system and a busload of people willing to sing. Forget earplugs.  I think even those noise cancelling headphone would not work.  But suddenly a French guy starts singing Japanese songs, not only know the tunes but actually reading kanji, and then this guy performs to a Lionel Richie song and suddenly it is like a virus and the whole bus is karaoking and the poor driver not only has to endure the continuous traffic jam but also us, singing, for 3 hours non-stop.

No fim de semana passado fomos com a escola de línguas passear ‘a floresta Japonesa para ver koyo.  Ir ver koyo, a folhagem de Outono,  faz parte da tradicao Japonesa e toda a gente sai da cidade para ir apreciar a natureza a mudar de cor.

 

Domingo levantámo-nos ‘as 6 da manha e partimos da escola bem cedo em direccao ao monte Sekiro, uma das montanhas perto de Tóquio.

 

No caminho para lá, o autocarro ia praticamente em silencio, pois  a maioria das pessoas aproveitou para por o sono em dia,  mas mesmo assim foi suficicente para perceber que metade do autocarro e provavelmente metade dos alunos da escola sao Franceses. Franceses, aí com 20 anos, que veem para o Japao porque adoram manga e videojogos, ao ponto de acharem absurdo quando um casal Frances lhes disse que nao gostava de nenhuma dessas coisas mas estavam a fazer um post-doc na melhor universidade do Japao.

 

Subir a montanha nao foi difícil, pois apesar da inclinacao o percurso estava bem marcado e tinha bastantes pontos de descanso de onde se podia aproveitar a paisagem. Pequenos grupos de Japoneses com idade para estarem reformados iam passando por nós como se alguém tivesse carregado no botao >> e sempre de botas, bastoes de caminhada e o guizo para afastar os ursos preso ‘a mochila. Em cada pausa, as professoras usavam uma lousa para desenhar o monte e indicar a nossa localizacao no monte incluindo altitude e o tempo que faltava para chegar ao topo. Isto é que é organizacao!

 

Ao chegar ao cimo do monte o cheiro a comida a ser cozinhada encheu-nos as narinas.  Nas mesas-bancos instalados no cimo da montanha, ou em mantas de pique-nique no chao, várias famílias preparavam almocos em pequenos fogoes de campanha e grelhadores portáteis que iam saindo das mochilas que maos pareciam o saco da Mary Poppins.

Nós juntámo-nos ao grupo da escola a almocar os nossos onigri e sumo de pacote comprados no kombini ao lado da estacao.

 

Como seria de esperar em qualquer montanha, e apesar dos bancos lá no cimo, nao havia casas de banho ou caixotes do lixo mas nao faltaram as máquinas de vendas, tao famosas pelo Japao inteiro.

 

Depois de almoco tivémos direito a foto de grupo e comecámos a descida. A primeira meia hora foi ao longo do cume da montanha e fomo-nos apercebendo da mudanca de floresta de pinheiros plantada para uma floresta mais selvagem, com muito mais cores e formas.  Parece que afinal nao é só em Portugal que se fazem florestas de monocultura. De repente, a descida transformou-se num escorrega de lama e folhas. Nos dias anteriores choveu e para ajudar, as pedras estavam cobertas com uma camada de musgo que parecia teflon.  Como seria de esperar, caí umas 3 ou 4 vezes e chegei ao fim com as roupas, botas e maos com uma bela coloracao acastanhada.  O S ia mais ‘a frente e segundo ele nao caiu mas serviu de airbag a uma das nossas colegas.

 

O momento mais esperado do dia estava ao fundo da descida.  Nao por termos acabado, mas porque iamos todos para o onsen, o spa Japones.  Parece que por aqui é tradicao acabar a caminhada num banho relaxante numa piscina aquecida ao ar livre no meio da montanha com amigos. Fantástico, quero que a partir de agora todas as minhas caminhadas acabem assim.

 

Nós já tinhamos ido a um onsen mas este foi diferente. Nao só por ser depois de um grande esforco físico mas porque tinha várias piscinas interiores e exteriores, jacuzi, sauna e exfoliacao de sal, o que nos deixou a todos bem cheirosos e prontos para dormir no autocarro. Ou se calhar nao.

 

O programa da viagem incluia uma coisa chamada autocarro de karaoke.  Pelo meu pouco conhecimento da coisa, karaoke normalmente precisa de um ecran, e eu nao vi nenhum no autocarro portanto pensei que tinha lido mal.  Mas nao, de repente, ecrans gigantes desceram do tecto do autocarro, um sistema de som dolby-surround comecou a funcionar e do fundo do autocarro comecaram a ouvir-se as primeiras vozes. E nao valia a pena usar tampoes nos ouvidos, eu acho que nem aqueles auscultadores com cancelamento de som fariam alguma coisa. De repente um Frances comeca a cantar J-pop, ele nao só conhece a música mas conhece a letra e consegue ler os caracteres kanji.  E depois um tipo faz uma performance ao som de Lionel Richie e de repente o autocarro inteiro está a cantar e o condutor deve estar a entrar em desespero connosco e com o engarrafamento de transito que nos deixou presos no autocarro por mais de 3 horas.

More photos and videos can be found here.  Mais fotos e vídeos aqui.

Shitamachi Tanabata Matsuri

Today we went to Kappabashi – a district famous for restaurant supplies – for the Star Festival (Tanabata) celebrations.  It is a street party that lasts a few days, inspired by Chinese folklore and according to Wikipedia, brought to Japan in the eight century.

 

I first noticed something was going on as a few days ago a bamboo tree appeared in my building lobby accompanied by a small basket with coloured paper.  After a day, the tree was coloured by hanging papers with some writing on.  It seems this is the time to ask for a wish.  I wrote mine, but as my Japanese is still limited to a few oral words I wrote in English, but it should be fine as I am sure Japanese spirits are proficient in languages.

 

So, this morning I was browsing what to do today in Tokyo and found out the Tanabata celebrations were still going on and just half an hour away.  There were performances, street food, stalls selling the usual plastic toys for children.  All familiar but still different.   It was crowded but people were orderly and patient, respecting personal space.  Despite all the street food, there was no rubbish on the floor. There were groups of neighbours with canopies and improvised tables sharing food. There were storytellers we couldn’t understand but enchanted everyone else.  There were people in yukatas and traditional wooden slippers, which I was amazed by as I had never seen such clothes in real life. It was fun and I guess you just want to look at the photos so I will stop.

Hoje fomos a Kappabashi – um bairro conhecido por ter os fornecedores de produtos de restauracao – para o Festival das Estrelas (Tanabata).  Segundo a Wikipedia, esta é uma festa de rua que tem como história um pouco de folclore Chines e foi trazida para o Japao no século VIII.

 

Eu já tinha reparado que devia ser uma época especial, pois há uns dias apareceu na entrada no nosso prédio um bambu que foi rapidamente decorado com papeis coloridos com escritos.  Diz que se deve escrever um desejo e pendurar no bambu.  Como nao sei ainda escrever Japones, foi em Ingles mas certamente os deuses Japoneses sao poliglotas.

 

Entao, esta manha estava eu a ver o que havíamos de fazer hoje quando descobri que a meia hora daqui de casa havia um arraial de Tanabata.  E na verdade nao faltaram espectáculos de rua, bancas de comida e barraquinhas com bonecada para as criancas.  Tudo igual mas ao mesmo tempo diferente.  As ruas estavam cheias mas as pessoas nao se empurravam.  Apesar de todas as barraquinhas de comes e bebes nao havia lixo no chao.  Grupos de vizinhos trouxeram toldos e improvisaram mesas e sentaram-se nas ruas laterais a apreciar quem passava.  Havia contadores de histórias que nós nao percebíamos mas parecam encantar a plateia.  Havia pessoas com roupa e calcado tradicionais e eu estava maravilhada pois nunca tinha visto estas coisas ao vivo.  Foi divertido mas agora vou calar-me porque voces devem querer ver as fotos.