Sunday, January 30, 2011

Travel: Flora Expo, Taipei ROC

When in Taipei, we were just in time for the city's biggest event ever held, the 2010 Taipei International Flora Exposition! Spreading over 4 park areas and hosting 8 themed pavilions, the expo is the results of 4 years of sweat and blood planning by the city government.

One of the first things that greeted us from the Yuanshan entrance was a magnificent sea of red and white, painstakingly planted by hands of gardeners and replaced entirely every 3 months. Simply breathtaking.

Within each park area, it is further broken down into gardens and sections, like how we stumbled upon this fruit garden..

And a section illustrating the scenes in a old Shanghainese neighbourhood. I just loved how much details they put into the chess players, right down to their eyes!

To be frank, I am never a fan of flowers. But the sheer volume and species of them in the expo is unbelievable, overwhelming, and just way too pretty to ignore!

There are also exhibits from different countries, such as the ones from Hong Kong, Malaysia and the Philippines.

And this, is downright disappointing. If I didn't show you that its from Singapore, you probably won't even take a second glance at it.

I might be wrong as i didn't do a 100% check, but the visible efforts (if any) I saw from our country was just that cheap red thing and this cluster of faunas that I genuinely mistaken for random roadside plantation. And we called ourselves a garden city with so much pride in our Vanda Miss Joaquim (which by the way, missing in action here). Sheesh.

One of the amazing things about the expo is how it wasn't entirely built from scratch, but incorporating existing infrastructures (stadiums and playgrounds), as well as shifting historical buildings from elsewhere into the parks, like these stone and brick villages. Pretty clouds eh?

I regret to say that out of the 8 pavilions, I only managed to visit Pavilion of Future which talks about incorporating greenery into our modern houses, as well as an amazing collection of cactus plants. Spot that sea turtle?

And more of them!

Cool, spiky dudes eh?

The Pavilion of Future also has rooftop access which besides holding huge solar panels, also offers a good view of the expo grounds and a clear sight of Taiwan's first 5-star hotel, the Grand Hotel (圆山大饭店).

Before I bore you with all the inedible stuffs, foodies will be glad to know that there is a food village to satisfy your growling tummies!

You will get to taste many representative snacks hailing from different parts of Taiwan, prepared by brands that are well-known among locals. Prices are slightly steeper than outside food, but still reasonable in my opinion.

The ever present 鲁肉饭, Meatball Soup, Fried Beehoon, Mee Sua

Good to go in a group so that you can try more things!

Beef Noodles

My only bowl of their famous noodles for the entire Taiwan trip. Clear, hearty stock with tender beef shin and al dente noodles. I'm satisfied!

Though a lot more smaller than the Shanghai World Expo, the flora expo grounds is still too vast to cover in my half day schedule and will probably require two full days for a good thorough tour. If you are banking on pavilions, do go really early and queue for the pre-allocated tickets to Pavilion of Dreams, which is dubbed as the most awesome pavilion among all. They don't accept walk-in for this one, strictly by appointments only!

The expo was definitely a visual treat with such beautiful landscaping and vibrant colours. If you are planning to visit Taipei soon, do set aside some time for this awesome event as it will run till April 25th this year. Not to be missed at all!

2010 Taipei International Flora Exposition
Click here for official website

Admission Price:
Adult - NT300
Student - NT200
Group discount available

There are a few entrances to the expo, but the most convenient one will be at the doorsteps of Yuanshan station (圆山站) along the red MRT line.

Taken with Nikon D70
Friday, January 28, 2011

华西街夜市: Taiwan's First Night Market!

Just a little walk down from 龙山寺 will bring you to the oldest night market of Taiwan, the Huaxi Street Night Market! (华西街夜市). With its long history, it was also the first to undergo government revamp and was then rebranded as a tourist night market. By the way, many scenes of the hit Taiwan gangster movie, Monga (艋舺), is shot onsite here and around 万华 district.

But before you think that I'm going to talk about all the foodie goodies in the street, I have to say that actually I ate nothing here. Well you see, the general appeal of the street is lacking. Overpriced tourist souvenirs, awkward fashion apparels and the most attractive meat on the menu: Snake.

Huaxi Street is also known as Snake Street due to large numbers of restaurants dedicated to the wild delicacy. Live snakes that are thicker and longer than three of me are displayed in tanks (No photography allowed) and any parts that you can (or can't)imagined to be eaten are soaked in yellowish-liquid jars. Well, I will pass that.

But does that mean the area isn't worth a visit at all? No way! You see, adjacent to and at the entrance of Huaxi Street is Guangzhou Street (广州街), a stretch of open-air night market that I am more comfortable with. With push carts in the middle and shops at the side, there's quite a fair bit of things to eat and see here!

For this Taiwan trip, our habit was to find a sit-down place for abit of staple food, before moving on to portable street snacks. And when I see the 鲁肉饭 specialty store beaming at me, I was drawn like a fly to a light!

鲁肉饭 (Large, NT35 ~ SGD 1.60), 鲁肉板条 (NT 35)

If you still don't know what is this, you should read more of my Taiwan entries already! They added fish floss for an extra fluffy dimension, and the meat here is even more melt-in-your-mouth with minimal lean bits, though I'm sure not everyone welcomes that.

The 板条 noodle was much like a thick kway teow with its smooth and chewy texture. Another nice carbo alternative!

炸黑轮 (NT10 ~ SGD 0.45)

With a heavy Japanese influence, Taiwanese really liked their street snacks on wooden skewers, regardless of meat, fishcake-like stuffs or vegetables. The one here is basically fish paste that is rolled with hard-boiled eggs slices, coated in a thick batter and then deep-fried. A real crispy hot snack!

There were also seafood vendors with tables on the side walk, reminding me of old-styled 大牌档 in Hong Kong. Prawns, fishes, or oysters, steamed, fried or baked. Take your pick!

One of my favourite street dessert is a make-to-order ice cream roll that is topped with freshly-grounded peanut bits. That huge block of candied peanuts looked good enough to gnaw on its own, releasing mouth-watering peanut fragrance as the shaver goes over it.

花生卷 (NT30 ~ SGD 1.40)

Using a thin popiah-like skin, scoops of yam, pineapple and peanut ice cream are added alongside the toppings. Rolling it up and biting off a huge chunk, the delicate skin works wonder with the ice cream (much like our traditional bread and ice cream), while the sweet crunchy peanut bits are surprisingly well balanced by refreshing doses of coriander leaves (I don't usually like this on its own). Perfect!

Maybe I'm wrong about Huaxi Street as I didn't complete walking it (lost interest halfway), but its old world charm and the bustling Guangzhou Street is still worth a night of visit!

Huaxi Street Night Market
Same as Longshan temple. With your back facing the temple, turn right and walk down Guangzhou street for about 2 minutes, you will see the pedestrian-only stretch pretty soon. Another 5 - 10 minutes walk will bring you to the entrance of Huaxi Street on your right.

Taken with Nikon D70
Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Travel: 龙山寺, Taipei ROC

On one of the mornings, I borught the girlfriend's Buddhist parents to Taipei's most well-known Chinese temple, 龙山寺.

According to some history I read, 万华 district is one of the earliest settlement area that Taipei developed from, which eventually lead to the concentration of Taiwan's first night market.

With the settlement comes the need of praying by the folks. The temple itself has a rather rich history as well, undergoing multiple renovations over the years, and is now in a pretty well maintained state with its own impressive mini-waterfall near the entrance.

I am always amazed by the amount of details put into the construction of these temples. All the religious figures that are so skillfully carved onto the rooftops, and that dragon and phoenix seem to be racing to the sky eh?

The temple had a good number of visitors despite being a drizzling weekday morning, most bringing their own offerings for the gods. As a free-thinker myself, I am honestly clueless with all the procedures and I wasn't sure if it was appropriate to take photos within, so I checked with the in-charge before snapping away.

One interesting thing I noted was that although there is a main goddess (观音), there are plenty of back chambers hosting other gods, each erm, specialising in a certain field; health, academic etc. And guess which of these gods is a hot favourite?

Walking around for a good half hour, I really liked the mix of bustling and tranquility of this place, the systematic knocks of wooden equipments and soft whispers of prayers, and how everyone came with their own agenda and acknowledged each other with simple nods and smiles. Perhaps a little faith does bring you a long way?

Next up, exploring the oldest night market in Taiwan, 华西街夜市!

Take the MRT Blue line to 龙山寺 station, make a U-turn from Exit 1 and walk across the small park. It will be right opposite the road from the park.
For more information on the temple, do visit their website.

Taken with Nikon D70