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Sunday, 21 September, 2014

Taipei, Taiwan

This week I was joined by my family and we kick started their tour of Taiwan with a trip to the night market. It’s got everything you could possibly desire – clothes, accessories, fairground games – but for the love of God, stay far, far away from their fruit! They price mangoes at four pound!

That happened to me seven months ago and it’s still having an impact on my daily life. I’ve been taking 55p out of my monthly budget ever since to recover the loses – we’re getting there, slowly but surely.

As we were nonchalantly floating our way along the stalls of sausages and teriyaki, that sneaky stinky tofu crept up on us with a nostril attack – the whiff nearly knocked my mother and sister out, but apparently became a mouth-watering challenge in my dad’s eyes.

So, there we were on night one of their visit, eating the very food I had manage to avoid for seven months – the magician somehow managed to talk everybody into having a crack at the meal too.

Usually when you smell stinky tofu cooking, you keep it moving – increase your pace, in fact. Sadly, when you’re the reason the snack is frying, you can’t really exit the scene. Furthermore, our order was starting to bother those around us – I even saw an entire family covering their noses with their shirts. We were now the stinky part of the night market. Not the best way for my family to make friends on their first day.

Even after tasting the dish, I cannot get my head around the appeal – to me, it tasted like morning breath – have you ever snogged somebody with morning breath? Wasn’t nice, was it? Well, if that before breakfast romance wasn’t for you, then you can go through life without stinky tofu.

Taiwan, seriously. Your country is incredibly beautiful, and frankly, the stench of stinky tofu is dragging you down. You should just drop it entirely, and instead, promote something else, like, say, the tea you make and sell. The place has lovely tea.

I also took them to drink some of that too, after all, they would need to wash away the taste of morning breath – being British, I decided that tea was the logical solution.

Maokong is a mountain area famous for brewing tea, so I decided to take them there via a gondola. Gondola, what? But I thought that was an over-priced Venice boat that looks like Aladdin’s shoe – not in Taiwan, apparently. Here a gondola is a cable car – yep, work that one out.

On arriving at the Maokong Gondolas we soon discovered that the area had been converted into a Hello Kitty theme park. The human-cat thing was everywhere, in fact, Hello Kitty was even used as the toilet sign in place of the usual stick people you see (boys had a blue cat, girls was pink).

I wonder if the urinals had been built to resemble Hello Kitty’s face. I kind of regret not checking now – but, it’s weird to go into the toilet when you don’t actually need to go. Although, if I did need the bog, I would have felt a bit uneasy about peeing all over a beloved cartoon character’s face, I reckon.

After entering our Hello Kitty gondola it soon became fairly clear that our view would be obscured quite dramatically by Kitty’s big, fat head which had been ironed onto the inside window. That was a bit annoying. It shows a difference in class, to be honest – here I am, saying I wouldn’t want to pee on her face. All the while, she will just so rudely block out the view of the city.

The ride itself was pretty slow, but the gaps at either side of a big, happy cat showcased some decent sights. The trip takes you above a greener, more tropical side of the country’s capital – with views of forests, various temples, and Taipei 101 along the way.

Once in the mountains, we had a selection of great tea houses to choose from – the majority of which came with a cracking view overlooking the city. A gentleman of a man stood by our table and brewed the tea, allowing us to see the whole procedure – it was pretty fancy.

There was certainly more to it than applying hot water and dabbing a teabag against the inside of a cup with a spoon. However, there was no chocolate biscuit to dunk – which makes me question if this was even tea at all.

It was really nice, to be fair, and a traditional tea house was on my mum’s must-do list – so, I was already two for two.

hello kitty

Our journey back was much more entertaining than the ride up – which had nothing to do with the view, by the way; fat-head the cat was still preventing us from seeing our surroundings. Instead, the show was coming from the other bench of the gondola. We were joined by a bloke (and his girlfriend) who was scared of heights.

The man’s partner also chose a gondola with a see-through bottom, too – which is a bit harsh considering she’s travelling beside a man with a phobia, but her selfishness birthed his dramatics – so, thumbs up for egocentricity.

This lad took a mundane ride and turned it into a theatre production. He kept aggressively tapping his foot, closing his eyes, and declaring that he was going to die.

I assumed he was suggesting that the end was going to occur in that very moment, rather than just stating the inevitable. Thankfully, he was wrong. I mean, if he were to die on that journey, then I suspect that my family and I would have also been done for – and I’d be pretty pissed off if our lives were cut short for a cup of tea that didn’t even have a chocolate biscuit on the side.

He then started shaking the door to indicate that he wanted to get out – which quite frankly, was not enhancing anybody’s odds of surviving the trip. We were, after all, so high in the sky that the trees below us looked like broccoli.

He did eventually simmer down the stage show and rested his face into his girlfriend’s shoulder around the midway mark – I even think he fell asleep towards the end. There is definitely a part of me that believes that she may have injected him with a tranquilizer when we were not looking. That’s the only way to explain how he became so calm, after trying to climb out the door in the middle of the sky.

Annoyingly, my family are now on their way to Hong Kong to enjoy more holiday, while I’m back at work. It was great to catch up – enjoy finding Hong Kong’s smelly food and traditional tea.

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