We docked in Keelung where most of our fellow passengers boarded coaches to travel to Taipei. There they would see the National Palace Museum, Chiang Kai Chek’s Memorial Hall, Taipei 101 (the 2nd tallest building in the world), and swing past the Grand Palace Hotel. We have been to Taipei twice before and found the Memorial Hall ominously militaristic and museum a bit of a snooze. It contains many treasures that would be greatly appreciated by folks who are not rubes like us. It exhibits all manner of historic jewels, statues, pots, etc. that Chiang Kai Chek brought with him when he fled the mainland. We’ve heard that it is a popular spot for the mainland Chinese to visit; they like to see what he stole from them. The hotel was an impressive lunch spot our last time here, but we eat so much on board, we’re glad our tour did not include food.
Instead we took a mostly walking tour to Chiufen, a mountain town that came into existence when gold was discovered in “them thar hills.” The gold rush didn’t last long because the supply of gold didn’t last long, so Chiufen was off the beaten track until its quaint appearance was discovered by movie makers. We found the town incredibly crowded with Asian looking tourists, but our guide said that tomorrow, Saturday of a holiday weekend would be far worse. The town would have also been more picturesque in bright sunshine, but our guide said that it rains here 250 days a year and we were suddenly quite content with the heavily overcast skies.
The Food Channel should create a special program in Chiufen. We have never seen so many unique food vendors, each cooking, steaming, cutting, wrapping, out in the open in the front of their stores for all passers by to see. The food prep was very hygenic. The cooks wore latex gloves, fish and meats were refrigerated, and items were wrapped. We wanted to give something a try, but had absolutely no idea what we were looking at. It’s pretty sad when you can’t tell a sweet from a soup from a dumpling from a vegetable. But the food vendors didn’t need our patronage. They were doing a land office business selling to the other tourists who slurped and smacked and sampled up and down the steep, narrow lanes. Strolling those lanes was a bit more exciting than it needed to be, because every so often a motor scooter would pass through, dividing the munching crowds.
Our tour included a visit to a tea shop where we were served the steaming brew in cups the size of thimbles. Appetizers also served were all manner of dried vegetables, pretty tasty. Tea is a big deal here. There were many other tea shops in Chiufen as well as shops selling all the accessories that go along with preparing and serving this most important beverage.
As we waited on a corner to catch the bus, we were almost incinerated by a shop keeper who was burning paper replicas of money in a bin outside his store. The smoke swirled around us and I was ready to get out some marshmallows. Superstitious Chinese merchants do this every day to lure the gods to sending more real money their way.
The drive back to the ship passed a rocky shore that would have fit in fine with the famed Pacific Coast Highway 101 drive in our country. The rocks were eroded and carved by the waves into fanciful shapes and some had almost unnatural hues. Again the coast drive and a detour to a small colorful waterfall would have been even more spectacular if it didn’t look like it would rain any second. And then it did.
As always on trips like this, we have been struggling with getting on the internet without paying ransom fees. The ship’s internet is fine for e-mail, but Ken had the RV Navigator podcast to upload and I had a New Yorker to download and that was never going to happen on board. We were glad to discover a 7-11 store a few yards outside the ship dock area where we were allowed to use their fast connection for free. We wanted to buy something from them to show our gratitude, but once again had no idea what they were selling. So after an exhausting three days of touring, touring, touring, we look forward to two days at sea catching up on all the podcasts and magazines we have secured for free. Chi chi (thank you) 7-11.