The final four days in Taiwan were a complete whirlwind tour of the Southern Mountains, Kaohshiung, and Taipei. On Saturday, Matjaz G., Ren Chun, Klemen, Jagoba and I ventured into the field to collect. During the day we worked on a project looking at the kleptoparasites (spiders that steal food from a larger host spider’s web) found in Nephila (golden orb weaver), Argiope or Cyrtophora webs.
Saturday night we went night collecting, which was awesome. We went about halfway up the mountain to a site that we later discovered had a small trail into the forest. The roadside was not super exciting, although I did find two perhaps baby snakes that were smaller than a blade of grass. But once we got into the patch of forest, I found Deinopis (so cool!), Ariamnes (a spider that specializes in eating other spiders), some sparassids, and many other fantastic arachnids.
We stayed at a drive in motel where each room had its own garage and awesome stained glass window into the bathroom.
We collected again on Sunday (June 30th) and it was hot and humid and the middle of the day. We found quite a few Nephila with kleptos and drove up the mountain which led to a panoramic view along the western coast of the island. We then headed into Kaoshiung so that I could get dropped off on the high speed rail the next morning.
That night we stayed at an army hotel in a room that had 6 beds on the floor (mattress pads, really). The accommodations were fine, but what was fantastic was dinner: we ate at a place that did Hot Pot. Ren Chun explained that this is a traditional winter meal in Taiwan. It is similar to fondue in that you cook things in a large, communal pot, but instead of cheese or chocolate you have amazing soup broths. I got my own pot with vegetarian broth. The broth itself was nothing special but two spices that came with it were fantastic. Perhaps 4 kinds of tofu, 6 kinds of mushrooms and more vegetables than one very hungry vegetarian can tackle on her own. We also got chilled plum drinking vinegar as a palate cleanser and mango custard as dessert which were both fantastic.
On Monday I took the morning High Speed train to Taipei, a taxi to the hotel and met up with Jeremy Miller (a colleague of Ingi’s) to visit the National Museum of Taiwan. We had dim sum for lunch, also awesome. Got to see the calligraphy and bronze collections as well as the jade cabbage which is apparently world famous and originally part of a woman’s dowry. It has two cicadas or perhaps a cicada and a cricket in the leaves and the coloring is natural.
We also had afternoon tea on the 4th floor which was cool because we could see the whole valley.
Visiting the museum with Jeremy was great because he has significantly more background that I do on Chinese/Taiwanese history so it was great to get some context on the many dynasties that were mentioned throughout the audio tour. Saw some paper that was from the year 700 with nature paintings and calligraphy on it— pretty neat stuff.
After the museum I went to vegetarian dinner with Ronald. Ronald is also vegetarian and from Taipei so it was really fun to go eat and learn more about the food culture/Taipei in general. We ventured into a basement food court in a mall and went to a vegetarian-only restaurant. The fried spicy tofu and seitan were excellent and all of the appetizers were also amazing. He also had some excellent advice about sights to see the next day. We also visited a night market near his house and explored some fried desert items and the many stalls contained therein. There was a small temple in the night market and lots of children playing carnival games all over the place.
On Tuesday, I got up reasonably early and headed for Taipei 101, which was the world’s tallest building from 2004 to 2008. I paid the admission and took the elevator to the top to check it out and boy was it cool to be above every other building in the city by at least 50 stories! Took lots of photos and then ventured into the basement food court. Had amazing indian food for lunch and then headed back out to check out the Longshan temple and Maokong Gondola. I ran into some Austrailian expats who pointed out that the Gondola shuts down in a thunderstorm so with the gathering clouds behind me I headed there. The gondola was really cool– it ventures up into the hills east of Taipei to tea plantations and tea houses and many different temples. I wish I had had more time to explore. I got to the top of the Gondola about 15 minutes before the rain started, enjoyed some tie guan yin tea and then took a cab down because the line for the bus was more than 2 hours. While I was enjoying my tea I was also watching lightening strike throughout the nearby mountains which was scenic but also a bit concerning.
I hopped back on the metro and headed straight for the Longshan Temple, one of the oldest in Taipei. It was right at prayer time, so the place was completely packed with people chanting Buddhist chants which was a completely novel experience for me. I wandered around and took some photographs and generally looked out of place and met a man who spoke english and took me on a tour, explaining the basic principles of Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism. I remember less of these details than I should, unfortunately, but it was very informative and helped make some sense of the whole experience.
Ingi and Matjaz and I went to dinner and dessert that night and had lovely food and mango shaved ice which is awesome.
I went to the Shihlin night market with Jesse Schouboe who is a friend of mine from Lewis and Clark who was just finishing a year stint in Taiwan teaching English. He has gotten back into climbing so we discussed this and other things while winding through one of the largest night markets in Taiwan and I then made it back to my hotel in time to sleep for a few hours before my very long and thankfully not terribly delayed series of flights home.