Dining at the Taipei 101

It’s no secret.

We’re budget travelers.

Because we don’t swim in pools of money like Scrooge McDuck, it sort of comes with the territory of traveling long term.

A lot of the time, this means squatting at road sides eating meat of questionable origin with the locals, and even traveling overland (and sea) through the entire length of Philippines just so we don’t need to pay for airfares.

But once in a while, we let ourselves go and enjoy a (relatively) high brow meal (often pushing the limits of what our chosen restaurants consider as “acceptable” dress code).

And so while we were in Taipei, I was determined that no matter what the cost, we would have a meal at the top of Taipei 101, the (once) tallest building in the world.

One of the reasons why I wanted to eat at Taipei 101 is so that I can finally live out my King Kong dreams

Alright… the cost still mattered.

And that’s the reason why we eventually chose to have lunch at Shin Yeh (欣葉). It’s the cheapest out of the three options on the top of Taipei 101 (the other two options being Dingxian 101 and Diamond Tony).

Of course, lunch cost a lot less than dinner too.

And even though we chose the cheapest menu available (which meant we wouldn’t get a window seat), the staff were kind enough to upgrade us at no extra charge.

Not exactly making googly eyes at each other… but whatever works, right?

We may or may not have tried our hardest to look like we were on our honeymoon.

Needless to say… the view was crazy awesome!

Somewhere at the start of the first course of our eight-course lunch, I suddenly remembered the reason why we don’t normally eat at high end restaurants.

They leave me wanting for more… food.

The sinking feeling when you realize that you might have paid through your nose for eight courses of these literally BITE sized… tidbits

Thankfully, the rest of the courses were A LOT more substantial.

Good thing

We had abalone and bird’s nest, but the best thing was the last course of the day – a huge serving of fois gras fried rice to make sure that we would leave the place full!

I would go so far to say that at $35++ a pop, it was pretty good value for our money.

Special kudos have to be given to the staff at Shinyeh.

The service was impeccable. They were unflinchingly polite to the two shabbily dressed diners and did not even bat an eyelid when we were the only two people left in the restaurant.

It’s one of those good/bad things about traveling. We don’t need to abide by conventional meal times. This means that we are normally having lunch just as “working folks” are going back to their office at the end of the lunch hour.

The bad part is that we are normally the ones delaying the restaurant staff from taking their afternoon breaks after having to deal with the lunch hour madness. At some of the more dodgy places we go to, we make sure that we quadruple check our food for extra “ingredients”.

Anyway, if you are in the vicinity of Taipei 101, do check out this seriously gorgeous bookstore too.

Happiness is… wandering through an awesome bookstore after a fulfilling meal… I think this is about as good as it gets

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Slave to the Music

We have never really been what you would call party animals.

I know some of our friends would say otherwise, but who doesn’t have friends who have stories of them waking up in the middle of the Padang with foot long-gashes on their chins after a drunken night out?

My point is… we’ve been pretty sedate so far in our travels. We’ve had the occasional night of drinking, but because we are old, mature and responsible, we don’t do much of the clubbing thing anymore.

I actually mean that quite literally.

You see, back in the days (cough cough), we used to party to anthems from legends such as Guns and Roses, Bananarama, Belinda Carlisle, Bon Jovi and the Bee Gees. Nowadays, the travelers who invite us to party are mostly younger than some of the Bee Gees’ chest hair, which explains why, to me, the music they dance along to sounds more akin to rodents humping.

Enter Taipei and two of our friends who, for the sake of this story, I shall refer to as “Ruth” and “Anne” because their names are actually Ruth and Anne.

We met up with Ruth and Anne in Taipei… ok, not so much “met up with” so much as “we-rescued-them-from-a-night-in-the-boring-mountains-and-made-them-come-with-us-to-a-most-awesome-night-of-variety-show-recording“, but you must understand that I don’t really like to brag or exaggerate things.

The evening started off innocently enough with us wandering around Ximending (西門町) after a day of shopping (joy!).

We were supposed to be looking for music cafes (民歌餐厅) because we were under the impression that they must be really popular in Taiwan, given that so many of their recording artistes are “discovered” in such cafes.

We must’ve wandered up and down Ximending 10 times because of this “impression”, growing hungrier and grumpier by the minute, when we heard someone rapping around the corner.


(Video courtesy of blueskyx. Do do do watch the clip, I personally find that it is very inspiring… a bit “Lose Yourself”-ish, but still VERY inspiring)

I’ve never really been a big fan of Chinese rap because they always seemed kind of… “wrong” and pretentious to me, but I was blown away by this Husky (哈士奇) dude because he would take random words from the crowd and piece together a coherent, and often funny rap within seconds. It was pretty impressive.

Invigorated by the performance, we went on to terrorize shop assistants and random passers-by about where we could listen to live music (活音乐) (really!) to no avail.

Eventually, it took a really helpful girl at the Tourist Information Counter (who was working at 8pm on a Saturday night) in Ximending subway station to understand what we were talking about. As luck would have it, she had a friend who was playing at such a cafe on South Dunhua Road (敦化南路).

The only problem was that it was not so much a cafe as it was a restaurant. A restaurant that required us to spend at least 600 TWD each before they would allow us entry. By then, we’d invested too much energy and time (three hours) (I’m not kidding) to give up so we took the four subway stops to Dunhua and stormed into the restaurant.

Best.Decision.Ever.

Zee Restaurant (主婦之家) is an odd patchwork of a restaurant. Visualize a restaurant with faux-grand European interior decor that serves a “Western” menu, yet has live singers singing acoustic Mandopop numbers and in between sets, a DJ will blast Justin Bieber over the speakers.

IN SPITE of all this (and the hefty cover charge), they are normally crowded to capacity simply because they have a stable of some of the most talented musicians in Taiwan.

Somewhere during the performances, we learnt that Luxy, one of the top nightclubs (夜店) in Taiwan was just around the corner. Totally pumped from 2400 TWD of liquor and bar snacks, we decided (why not) to go for it. The girls thought they might be able to catch a glimpse of Jay Chou and I thought I could become famous by provoking Jay Chou into punching me.

They weren’t joking when they said “top nightclub in Taiwan”.

It was THE place to be.

We knew we were nearing the club when we saw the cars parked at the side of the roads getting progressively smaller/louder/more expensive and the concentration of Ridiculously Good Lookers (RGL) around us increasing with every step we took.

And the best part? All these RGLs were staring at US.

I need to be clear. We are talking about girls in 10-inch tall stilettos and wearing one piece dresses that were smaller than my handkerchief. (the dresses were smaller than my handkerchief, the girls were regularly sized)

They were staring at us.

The reason was simple.

It’s because ONE OF US decided to wear her Crocs out for the night. The stern-faced bouncer (also RGL) took one look at us and miraculously managed to scowl even more.

Undeterred, we tried devising means to sneak somebody into the club and at one point in time, Ruth actually went toe-to-toe with the bouncer who was probably three times her size.

After a while, we figured this wasn’t worth the trouble and took a taxi to Room 18, another club loaded with RGLs, but with a less strict dress code.

You won’t be able to see blood on THIS dance floor. It’s too crowded

Clubbing photos courtesy of Anne. I was too busy covering my ears to stop my brains from being liquidated by the sound system to take any photos

Great times!

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Update from Argentina:

I know, some of you had probably already heard, I got my pocket picked on a subway. I’ll tell the full story some day when it will (probably) seem a bit funnier to me. For now, I am just thankful for the fact that the loss was not THAT much (the thieves actually very considerately left me all my credit cards) and the insurance can probably cover the cost of replacing everything that was taken.

So, this little blurb is to say that we are safe and thank you to everyone for all your kind words and your offers of help.

Now, I’ll know who to look for when I need money (Ruth and Anne) (kidding, kidding….) (maybe?)

Guessing Games

One of the items that was very high up on our to-do list in Taipei was to attend the recording for one of the Taiwanese variety shows.

The thing about the average Taiwanese game show is that they are not as “out there” as their Thai or Japanese counterparts. Instead they rely on the wit of the host to carry them.

Using a combination method of dogged email hounding and blatant lying (that we were HUGE fans of the show), we were fortunate enough to secure seats for the recording of “You Guess” (你猜你猜你猜猜猜) which is hosted by the supposed King of Taiwanese game shows Jacky Wu (吴宗宪).

That’s actually the extent of our knowledge for the night’s entertainment. Having not watched the show for the last five years or so, I had no idea who his co-host was or who any of the “special guests” were.

That’s why my “miffed”ness quotient was raised the moment we entered the studio and we were told that we had to sit on… the rather shoddy and dirty looking floor of the studio.

On set with Ruth and Anne. More about Ruth and Anne in the next post

This miffed-ness was increased when we saw the guest list on the producer’s board. The “guest stars” included people named (I cannot make this shit up) Sister Pudding (布丁姐姐) and Ding Dang (丁当) (which incidentally sounds like the Chinese name of Doraemon)

I was pretty much prepared to cringe and choke-to-death on “acts of cuteness” at this point in time.

However, it turned out that Ding Dang was a Celebrity. I can tell because she was the only one with fans in the studio. Fans who were carrying posters. Posters that were handed out by her marketing executive.

Ding Dang Ding Dang

Close Encounter of the Rock Star kind… she literally had us wallowing at her feet

That aside, Ding Dang is actually a pretty darn good singer.

Through the four hours of recording, we were treated to performances after performances, as well as some behind the scenes look at how a variety show is put together.

A look behind the scenes… not a peek… a full blown voyeuristic look

There was even a segment that we could participate in by voting for participants of a “talent show”.

Audience Participation

Of course, the real stars of the show were definitely Jacky and Whatshername.

They did an outstanding job cracking wise and ad-libbing through the entire show. The amazing part was that they managed to do all this improvisation in only one take.

The only retakes during the entire night of filming were by two of the performers who fumbled during their segments.

The real stars

The two hosts took the down time in stride and continued to entertain the audiences off camera. They sang, they joked, they laughed, totally brushing aside the fact that this was their second four-hour recording for the day.

Song segments like these were abundant on and off camera, and almost always at the whims of Jacky. That’s why we were deeply impressed by musical depth of the one-man-band who single-handedly supplied the soundtrack for the entire show.

The Music Man can…

So, if you can understand a smidgen of Mandarin, I HIGHLY recommend spending a night going for one of these recordings.

It’s highly entertaining and makes for a great night out… also, you could end up like me, falling in love with a girl you don’t even know the name of.

No disrespect to Jo, but I think I’m in Love

Information for “You Guess” can be found on their Facebook page here.

I personally prefer the time honored method of hounding them via email in broken Mandarin until they crack. The very friendly production assistant can be reached at youguess3@gmail.com

Weird Science

After our escapades with “modern art”, I decided we should neutralise the bullshitness by going to… I kid you not… the National Taiwan Science Education Centre.

Before random Singaporeans start getting their lab coats in a bunch, I know that we have a perfectly fine Science Centre back home… or so I’ve heard.

It’s just that it’s not a place we would’ve visited on our own because let’s face it:

a) We don’t have kids

b) We don’t behave like kids… some of the time

c) It’s SCIENCE

We don’t have a beef against Science. It’s just that we’ve got a mental defect which scientists have taken to term “the brains of an Arts Major” which renders us incapable of understanding scientific concepts more difficult than the reason plants turn red when they are soaked in a beaker of red water is because they are bleeding.

In spite of that crippling deficiency, we had a pretty fun time at the Science Centre taking silly shots of ourselves with random science things like a cat’s head and a bicycle with square wheels (both very important discovery tools in the modern scientist’s arsenal).

Rule No. 1: You see a cat mask, you put your head in it

Apparently you CAN ride on a bike with square wheels

I know the Science Education Centre’s aim is to allow the public to learn science in a fun way… We tried our best, we really did, but EVERYTHING was in Mandarin. Between the two of us, I think we have quite a decent grasp of the language (she can understand half of it, and me the other half, but it might not be at the same time), but even we were having trouble grasping some of these…

Nope, we have no idea what that means too

So we continued to take stupid photos with the exhibits instead.

Easily the second most fun display in the science centre

I mean… if there’s an exhibit that takes you through the body’s digestive system from the mouth to the tee hee hee, who were we to not take that awesome journey?

The most fun exhibit… for obvious (?) reasons

So I guess traveling not only allows us to try new and wonderful things, it also allows us a chance to experience things available back home that we never felt like trying before…. such as peeping out from the behind of a butt cheek.

Everybody’s a Critic

Modern Art.

It’s not for everyone.

Naysayers and unsophisticated louts might even go so far as to say that it’s a crock’s game cooked up by snotty wannabes.

I am one of those louts.

Call me old fashioned, but I prefer art that I can understand, or at the very least it needs to be aesthetically pleasing. For example Michelangelo’s Pietà. I fell in love with it the first time we saw it in Rome. Mike sculpted Pietà from marble and I can see that it took a lot of skill (that I cannot even dream of possessing) and craftsmanship. More importantly the figures look like actual humanoids instead of random blocks of nothingness.

That’s why I was not terribly thrilled when Jo wanted to go to the Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA) in Taipei.

Right off the bat, the first piece we saw was not very… encouraging.

In a parallel universe, the artist would probably have gotten committed for cutting the hands off mannequins

Of course, it’s not all bad. There were some installations that I actually enjoyed, such as this one of chocolate-ised machines of war.

Chocolate Warships

I don’t mean to brag, but I actually tried sculpting with chocolates before too. I cut them up into little pieces with my teeth before swallowing them. That’s why I can tell that the artists needed a lot of skill (and probably willpower) to finish their work. To top it off, the chocolate pieces look like actual weapons. Like I said, I don’t want to brag about my artistic knowledge, but I’m pretty sure there’s a central “No War” theme behind the whole display. It’s not terribly complicated and that’s why it is art I can appreciate.

The end of weapons?

But that’s probably the only provision in the museum for a lout like me.

It seemed that the arty farty curators of the museum felt that the chocolate pieces were the only compromise they were willing to make for the uneducated “public”.

Other notable pieces in the museum include stairwells covered in shrink wrap and bubble wraps, a neverending looping video of a girl getting her face smeared with cream (get your mind out of the gutter), and a room with steel girdles and other construction thingies strewn haphazardly all across it.

To be fair, all these pieces have that very endearing quality that art snobs all over look out for: nobody else would possibly ever mistake them for art. Any right thinking mums, confronted with the construction room would probably have very strong words with whoever’s in charge so that they don’t leave their dangerous toys lying around where people could get hurt.

That’s why I don’t think we can be blamed for leaving the museum after an hour or so. That’s about my quota for “modern art” for the decade.

Also, there are some real “art” (or at least I consider them to be) scattered just outside the museum.

Pieces such as this too-awesome-to-be-true Robot Speakers! You can plug in your smart phone/ipod into the central robot and the little robot at the side will play out the soundtrack from your phone.

Art that we can appreciate

It’s great fun… until someone decide to pump out Justin Bieber’s “Baby”.

Speaking of Bieber, we saw this really cute piece of art in a window display too…

How many celebrities can you name?