Thanksgiving in Taiwan
November 22nd & 23rd, 2014
November marked the fourth month of me being in Taiwan. It also marks one of the best holidays for eating: Thanksgiving. Now back in the states I would indulge myself on turkey, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin and pecan pie, like every foodie American should, so this would be my first Thanksgiving without any resemblance of Thanksgiving food. Feeling a bit bummed out about this prospect I was really glad when my friend, Nick, who lives in Banqiao, invited me to his Thanksgiving shindig and then asked me to cook. (I love love love cooking and I really miss having a kitchen)
I immediately talked to my friend Rachael about going to the hot springs before we went to help make dinner. Then I agreed to get on a train at almost 6:00am, that way by the time I got to Taipei we would have plenty of time in the Beitou hot springs. By Friday night I was thoroughly regretting this decision, but it had been made.
On Saturday morning I got on the train and was in Taipei before 8:30am. I wondered around for a bit until I finally figured out what section of the MRT I needed to be in and met Rachael at Starbucks for some much-needed morning coffee.
We then got onto the MRT and headed out to Beitou. Beitou is popular for its’ history of hot springs, so all the previous research I had done looking at maps wasn’t necessary as there were brown signs everywhere pointing us in the right direction. Beitou has a couple of options for hot springs. You can either go to a hotel and purchase a private hot spring, or you can pay to get into the public hot spring. Saving our money Rachael and I went to the public hot spring. It cost 40NT (1.33USD) to get in. I almost thought I had not heard the woman when she said 40NT, so cheap! Putting our things in a locker we realized we had no idea what we were doing.
The heat of the hot springs increases as you go up the steps, and the water baths on the right are the cold water baths. We walked right up to the top of the spring and almost stepped in before an old Taiwanese man stopped us and told us, “Too hot, too hot. Start at bottom.” We blushed and walked down to the bottom of the springs. Now I am not one for jacuzzis or anything that is really really hot. They say to get the full hot spring experience you should bathe for an hour or more. I kept thinking in my head how there was no way I was going to make it past 15 minutes if it was going to be this hot. After a few more feeble attempts of trying to change water temperatures the old man stopped us again and said, “hot, cold, more hot, cold, more hot, cold. Drink water.” These little helpful tips made all the difference. We finally hot spring-ed the Taiwanese way. Pouring a bucket of water over our feet we then stepped into the bath and remained as still as possible. Once we got too hot we switched to the cold bath, which was freezing, and sat there for a minute or two sitting as still as possible. After an hour we finished, rinsed off, changed, and kept walking up the street to the Beitou Thermal Valley.
We stopped at a small restaurant and ordered some beef noodles and bubble milk tea, and then were on our way again.
With enough time to kill we walked to Thermal Valley. Thermal Valley is the heat source for many of the Beitou hot springs with temperatures ranging from 80-100℃ (176-212F). It was apparent how hot this place was with the green color of the water and the sulfuric smell that was coming off the water.
It was then time for Rachael and I to go to Banqiao to help Nick with Thanksgiving food. This part really stressed me out because I wasn’t cooking in my own kitchen, and I don’t buy groceries because I don’t have a kitchen, so I had no idea where I needed to look in the store for ingredients or if the store would even have them. We went to a Mega City international grocery story and of course all the food was overpriced. I ended up paying 1,000NT (30USD) for a third of the groceries we bought. It was ridiculous.
Getting back to Nick’s from grocery shopping I was finally able to enjoy some time in the kitchen. Wow! What a small part of a home that can make all the difference. I made mashed potatoes & creamy cream cheese yellow corn with “bacon” (not really quite sure what my bacon actually was). They both turned out well. With people arriving and adding to the spread we had bread, fruit, chicken, a salad, and some drinks. It was a good, small Thanksgiving with friends.
With full bellies and aching stomachs from laughing so much Rachael and I went to the train station and took the train to Keelung. Having been a long day for me I immediately fell asleep.
Rachael and I woke up in the morning expecting to just have a chill day and see a couple of things. I think all of the energy we had had the first couple of months of being in Taiwan had worn off. Now we were just tired. Rachael made me some breakfast and then we got ready for the day. Since Rachael had a scooter now she scooted us to tourist locations in Keelung.
The first place was Fairy Cave. This cave is poorly lit and at one point in order to reach the small shrine in the cave you need to practically crawl. I am not claustrophobic, but I was very anxious walking/crouching through this small place almost sure that I was going to get stuck and start crying. Without any room to turn around all I could do was crouch/crawl forward. The inside of the cave was not that impressive with a really small space and a small shrine. I feel like it would have been more meaningful if I could read or speak Chinese. Crawling back through the cave it was very nice to be in the sunshine again.
Our next destination was The Hand of Buddha. We followed brown signs up a flight of steps at an intense incline only to discover at the top of the hill was a temple.
Realizing we were not by Buddha’s hand we had to walk back down the hill only to realize that the Hand of Buddha was in a cave near the Fairy Cave. We walked through the cave to reach the Hand of Buddha. No crouching was necessary.
We attempted to try to find a fort in Keelung, but the brown signs failed us in that department so Rachael drove me to see the Keelung sign instead. Since Keelung is in the northern part of Taiwan it can get very rainy in the winter. It was a beautiful day with a temperature of 80 degrees so we were loving every minute of it. Of course the view from the Keelung sign was spectacular.
By that point I was pretty hungry and Rachael guided us to a vegetarian place that serves a large order of Thai noodles for 120NT (4USD). It was very good and filling. We then went and relaxed for a little while at a cute coffee shop.
Before going back to Rachael’s apartment she showed me a temple and shrine that is at the top of one of Keelung’s hills. Zhongzheng Park actually starts at the bottom of the hill and you can walk up its path and see smaller temples along the way until you reach the top. Not really feeling like a hike I asked Rachael if she could just scooter us to the top. At the top we were able to ring the huge gong and then walk around the park looking at the shrines. We had to be careful though because there were families and kids running around having a grand old-time on their little motorized trucks.
Since my health still wasn’t 100% I was ready to just go home and relax. We laid around for the rest of the evening watching Despicable Me 2 and eating cupcakes. Rachael then dropped me off at the train station and I prepared myself for a 3 hour train with no seat. At one point I just sat on the floor in the storage area and chilled out until reaching Fengyuan.