Thursday, May 7, 2009

Night Market

This evening I decided to take a little bike ride around Kaohsiung, to check out the town, explore my turf. I happened upon a night market. Asia (at least Thailand and Taiwan) has night markets. They are pretty much what they sound like: markets at night. They are busy, electric and ecclectic places. Mostly, this one had food - fresh produce, died food, green tea, raw and cooked meats and seafood, sushi, this weird colorful gelatin stuff, seaweed, "thousand year old eggs", all the classic asian goodies. The night markets also have lots of clothes, cheap sunglasses, and a few other odds and ends... The great thing abuot this market is that they have little trays out filled with little bits of whatever they're selling so you can sample them. I took this opportunity to try some of the things I've been eyeballing from afar for over a month now and still hadn't tried.

This is a picture of a thousand year old egg. I don't actually know how many years old they are, but tonight was the night that I decided to find out what they tasted like. As a matter of fact, they're quite good. I only had a tiny little piece of one small enough to be eaten off a toothpick, but it didn't seem nearly as bad as they look. It tastes like egg yolk that's been sitting around outside, and...well... it's like a good aged cheese - but egg - and very different tasting than cheese... Anyway... Oh, and they are goose eggs.

I had some other interesting things while I was there, but my favorite moment of my night market experience tonight was at the dried goods stall. I slowly walked by the old man's stand, eyeing the spread of dried fruits, roots and beans in front of him. He called out to me in Chinese, pointing to the dried black berries sitting atop the sampling pedestal in the middle of his table. He had a big grin on his face and kept pointing, until I tried one. It was delicious. He kept talking to me and pointing, inviting to me to sample each thing he had prepared for sampling, and I did. I wish I could tell you all the things I tried, but I have no clue what they are. He told me what each one is called - that's not the problem. It's just that he was speaking Chinese. It was marvelous. I had no idea what I was eating, and NO idea what the vendor was saying, but I still wanted to hear it, and he happily persisted in speaking to me in his native tongue. I even tried to ask him questions, and he would answer them - or try to - in Chinese. You might think this sounds like an incredibly frustrating experience, but I sincerely appreiciate this man's approach. Instead of changing they way he does business in order to compensate for me, he just went alond doing what he always does, and I was the one who had to play catch-up.

One of the things I love most about Taiwan so far is that it is a real place. What I mean by "real" is that it doesn't need me, the foreigner, the westerner, to be here in order to thrive. It's not like Thailand, heavily dependent on their tourism industry and all the white people who come there to spend their money. In Thailand, even the street vendors selling local handicrafts, knockoff sunglasses and Beer Chang t-shirts know enough english to lure you in: "You like? Special price, just for you. Good price for you. How much you pay?" You wonder what would the vendors, the thousands of hotel employees, the tuk tuk (Thai taxi) drivers be doing if there weren't all the tourists? Would they still be harassing the locals? "Tuk tuk? Tuk tuk? Tuk tuk!!" (God, they are annoying!) You wonder what Thailand was like - or would be like - if it were just being Thailand for the sake of Thailand, not Thailand for the sake of tourists. All I'm saying is at times it feels fake.

In this respect, Taiwan is completely the opposite; it is completely "real". There is virtually no English to be found and the city, except on the major street signs, under the Chinese characters. When you buy something in a store, the cashier will tell you the amount you owe in Chinese without batting an eye. (I either peak at the digital screen to find out how much to pay, or just hand over a couple hundred NT and see what happens). No one hassles you to buy their stuff or take their tuk tuk. Taiwan doesn't care that you are there, and I love that!

Standing at the dried goods stall, I didn't feel hassled, pressured, rich or special. If anything, I felt a little bit silly, like a child pointing and asking questions at anything and everything new. I ended up buying a bag of chinese herbal remedy lozenges. I thought it was some very exotic fruit chopped up. Its this herbal mixture that's formed into a chewy paste with dried orange peel on the outside, and it's chopped into bite-size pieces. It's got a nice menthol effect when you chew it and it's supposed to be good for your throat when you are sick.

At another stall I got a big bottle of freshly blended up guava. Just guava. Where else can you get that? I love Taiwan.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Lila! Nice post! I really like your blog and I'm totally going to add it to my faves!
    I'm so glad to hear that you're loving Taiwan and that it seems real unlike Thailand (I totally get you - I don't think I'd want to go back there other than maybe Pai, oh Pai...). I hope you fall in love with Taiwan every bit as much as I did with Japan! I miss my travels already :(
    ...hmm...maybe you'll be seeing me again in Asia sooner than we both thought! ;D
    Keep up the blogging!
    - Ali