When we last left our free range engineer, he was traveling in the urban landscape of Taipei … enjoying street side meals, local bars and late evenings with his co-worker’s friends. This brings us to Saturday morning, where Brian will rise to meet a sunny day in Taiwan and explore the wonders of the city.
But first, Brian has to stumble to the bathroom. That wonderful local seafood dinner didn’t agree with the hero of our story.
Local dining in Asia typically doesn’t bother me. Then again, I’m not usually putting street vendor food on a jet-lagged stomach and then piling an entire evening’s worth of drinks on top of it. Most of the day I built into the trip as “jet lag recovery” turned into checking e-mail and watching TV while a light lunch eased me back into the world of the living. This wasn’t a hangover, since dehydration and headache didn’t come along for the ride. I was one of the more sober members of last night’s bar raiding party, but definitely the only one not acclimated to local time zones.
The choice of English-speaking TV channels in a foreign hotel should be studied by sociologists as a window into what other cultures think American’s want as “comfort TV” while we’re abroad. HBO makes sense, but Fox News seemed odd. I’m used to CNN International (vapid crap) or BBD World News (awesome journalism) on foreign television, but watching Fox News in a Taipei hotel room is just wacky. Trust me, O’Reilly is *not* what you want to see when recovering from a stomach ache. Since Fox News doesn’t have an international feed, I get to watch whatever the US is seeing … so my 3:00pm programming is “Red Eye”, a great late-night show on at 3:00am in New York.
Eventually I caught up with C and made dinner plans. New night, new restaurant, new set of local females. We set off for hot-pot with C, Nancy and three of her pals. Hot pot (huo guo in Chinese and shabu shabu in Japanese) is a great social meal, since everybody ends up tending to the soup dishes on the fire. It’s less formal and not as intimate as fondue in the US, more of a group meal than a dinner date. It gives us a chance to chat … which is mostly ducking questions about the upcoming American election and playfully picking on the lone vegetarian at the table. Apparently C has playfully challenged the ethics of his friend’s vegetarian lifestyle in a previous conversation, which I have a little fun with as they steer away from the topic.
“Yeah, vegetarians are cruel. They eat food raw, so it’s not even dead as they chew it. And baby carrots … isn’t that like the veal of carrots?”
Dinner rolls on, foods are cooked, conversation is made. Nancy’s friends head home after dinner, since they stayed out as late as we did and need the rest. C, Nancy & I then start making plans to explore more of the area nightlife.
First stop is Bliss, a Dutch owned bar with good beer and a darts board that is uncomfortably close to the front door … one drunken toss and some unsuspecting patron is off to the hospital. C knows the owner, becoming friends after fixing his laptop while at the bar one day. The owner’s going back home, so tonight is a going away party of sorts … and it’s packed. Between the crowd and the potential of intoxicated impalement via dart, we quickly decide another establishment is in order.
That establishment turns out to be Mint, a higher end club at the base of Taipei 101. We’re in the land of cover charges and posh seating, watching the club’s resident dancers move on and off the floor as we hide in a quiet corner for drinks & conversation. C, Nancy and I chat about everything from her work in the fashion world to my personal philosophy on martial arts. After parting ways at the Grand Hyatt’s lobby (a good place to catch a cab anytime of the night), it looks like I’ll turn in at a respectable 1:30am …
… except when C’s cell phone goes off. He’s promised a good cigar by the doorman at Carnegie’s if he gets there by 2:00am. Looks like I can stay up for a little while longer.
If I’m going to be a bit of a tourist in another country, then it’s easier for me to a be a tourist in this late-night lifestyle. If I decide to have drinks with friends on home turf, then it’s typically done at someone’s home … drinks are cheaper, all of the company in the room is a known quantity and at the end of the evening a friend sleeping on my couch is not a bad thing. In Taipei most of the people are unknown and the drinks cost a bit more, but the taxi can get me back to my hotel room in fairly short order. It’s a very “when in Rome” attitude, without any actual risk of Nero pulling out the fiddle and a Zippo.
Carnegie’s is … well, Carnegie’s … dancing, drinks, loud music and that cigar the doorman promised C upon arrival. C also knows a few people in the bar, including a local producer for Reuters news. We talk video production for a good 30 minutes, then eventually we run into Victoria. I’m not clear how C and Victoria know each other, but she’s one of the few not-so-foreign foreigners he knows here. Victoria is a Chinese translator with a pretty diverse family history. She looks like any old expat hanging out at the bar, but she seems more local than some of the locals.
Eventually the three of us head for a pre-dawn breakfast, grabbing eggs and steamed buns in a place that’s many decibels quieter than Carnegie’s. We chat about local living, religion and manage to dodge any serious discussion of the election (I’ll post my thoughts on that later). Victoria also gets to learn about my inability to remember someone’s name that I’ve just met … a point she’ll exploit in an upcoming story.
At some point we realize we’re dangerously close to watching sunrise from the restaurant, and disperse via cab to our various sleeping posts. Day two in Taipei ends with another late night, another new set of friends and another evening living in a different life.
Next comes Sunday, a day where I actually get some work done. Here’s hoping I get some sleep.