My poor brother is back in Singapore sitting for his Chinese O Level exam on his 16th birthday while my dad and I, along with Hanying, are heading out for Taipei 101, ����� (Ximending) and beef noodles for dinner. Yesterday��s late afternoon rain marked the beginning of a four-day rainy period, and it��s drizzling rather heavily when we step out of the apartment complex. We take along an umbrella each because sharing is a pain. I take a brown checkered one that my mom apparently bought many years ago. Interesting.
The way to ��Ϫ (Dingxi) station is a flurry of opening and closing of the umbrella. It��s not always sheltered; the narrow stretches of road in between buildings do not have roofs over them. Since people are opening their umbrellas when walking across these areas, I do likewise, even if it��s only for a couple of seconds.
We alight at������ (Shizhenfu) and are dismayed to see that it��s pouring out there. I can��t remember the last time I was out when it��s raining so very heavily. Amazingly, Taipei-ers don��t seem to be deterred by the rain; there are still quite a number of people walking along the streets, holding all sorts of umbrellas over their heads.
We stop at Eslite first because Hanying and I thought my dad should see it for himself. There are plastic wraps placed outside for one��s wet umbrella, but more interestingly is this machine in which you slot your umbrella and pull it downwards and outwards to wrap it in thinner plastic. Hanying tries but is unsuccessful. I find the machine really fascinating and so I try too �C it works, and on my first try too! Hanying gives me a dirty look as I start laughing (at her) and gloating. Irked, she tries again, but is unsuccessful once again. How funny! A very kind salesgirl working at a store located at the entrance comes over and tries to help Hanying, but somehow the machine refuses to work for her. In the end she gives up and takes a plastic wrap.
We get out of Eslite pretty quickly because my dad only wants to look at the magazine section and Hanying and I were here only a few days ago. But we don��t leave before I get my daily dose of caffeine from Starbucks. I get an iced latte even though it��s really quite cold outside. When we are out my hand almost freezes from the combination of the cold wind and the cold from the ice in my cup. (Hanying, by the way, takes a very long time to drink a cup of coffee or bubble tea or whatever. She��d hold it in her hand and occasionally take a sip, so that I��d be done with mine and she��d only be halfway through.)
Taipei 101 is within walking distance, about three minutes away. We walk despite the rain and despite the availability of a free shuttle bus from ������ (Shizhenfu) station to Taipei 101. The legs of my dad��s pants are wet by the time we arrive.
We stop at Esprit first where my dad waits outside while Hanying and I look around. I discover that Esprit in Taiwan is slightly more expensive than Esprit in Singapore. I try on a couple of tops but find them too pricey and I leave empty-handed.
The main reason we��re at Taipei 101 is because I want to go to Page One to find my Satanic Verses a Marquis de Sade book. When I was here in 2004, I fell in love with Page One and stupidly left without buying a banned-in-Singapore book (i.e. a Marquis de Sade book). I saw Incest by Sade then and I see Incest by Sade now. I couldn��t forgive myself for being so stupid for a while after leaving Taipei the last time, and so this time I grab the book and go on to hunt for the Satanic Verses.
And what do you know! I find it amongst a whole row of Salman Rushdie books. The thing about Page One is that it��s way better than Borders, Kinokuniya and Eslite, because it carries virtually a writer��s entire body of work. I check out the poetry section and see books after books of poetry by Seamus Heaney. Even Julian Barnes has the honour of having all his books available for purchase. It was in Page One that I finally found Barnes��s A History of the World in Ten and a Half Chapters back in 2004, after hunting for it all over the major bookstores in Singapore and uncovering nothing. (The book eventually showed up in Kinokuniya a few months after I bought it, but it was a Picador edition with a boring white-based cover, while my copy is a colourful Vintage edition with a much more aesthetically-pleasing cover.)
The ironic thing about finding banned-in-Singapore books in Page One is that Page One is opened by a Singaporean or two. The Page One outlets in Singapore, if they still exist, sell a very limited range of books �C books mainly on design and architecture. At least, this was the case many years ago, when there was still a Page One in Marina Square (it was cool too, because the store was literally slanted to one side). I��m not sure it��s still there. Needless to say I haven��t seen Page One in Singapore for a very long time.
The other ironic thing about buying The Satanic Verses and Incest is that they are both books that I don��t know how I��m gonna read, the former because of Rushdie��s dense writing style and the latter because, well, it��s the fucking Marquis de Sade, which means the subject matter of the book is disturbing by default. Add to that the fact that it��s called Incest and you get me thinking I��m out of my mind. Nevertheless, I buy them both anyway. How often do I come to Taipei?
Okay, more often than normal, but whatever.
After we��re done at Page One, it��s 4-something and time for����� (Ximending). I��m going back there because I want to buy some interesting-looking candies for my friends, candies which I didn��t buy the first time I was there because I thought it was too soon, since I��d only be flying away a week later. Hanying brought me to this awesome candy store, Sophisca, that sells a lot of chocolates and strawberry-flavoured candies in the naughtiest packaging. The one I want? Marshmallows packaged as sanitary pads. Isn��t that the most hilarious thing ever? I think it is.
We wait close to twenty minutes for a shuttle bus (dad too tired to walk) after one left without us because it was too full. Someone behind me starts smoking and I almost choke to death on the stink-ass smoke. Some guy behind my dad starts giving me the eye but I coolly ignore him just because I can. The shuttle bus arrives and we��re the first to get on because we��re the first in line. Oh how good it feels to be able to choose where to sit, nevermind that the ride there is only five minutes! I take a few photos on the bus to make up for all the photos I didn��t take outside due to the heavy rain.
At����� (Ximending), we head towards Sophisca and stop in Adidas along the way to buy my brother an NBA-related shirt. They only have two Tracy McGrady designs. One of them has a faded print of his face on it and his signature below his face, and the other is just the letters ��T-Mac�� (Tracy McGrady �C get it?) in funky letterings. I don��t personally fancy wearing shirts with famous people��s faces on them (James Dean being an exception because he��s beautiful) but my dad and Hanying think that the first design is nicer. My dad pays for the shirt (NT$700-something after discount! Ouch) and off we go.
At Sophisca. The sanitary pad marshmallows were placed at the display window when I was here the other day. I don��t see a single one anywhere. I search inside the store and I still don��t see any. I ask Hanying if she sees it, but she doesn��t. She asks the salesgirl for me and the salesgirl informs us that it��s all sold out. What?! But I was only here two days ago!, I whine. Hanying jokes that someone must have bought them in batches of ten, and the salesgirl goes, Yeah, that��s exactly what happened.
I am dismayed. It was the perfect come-home-from-trip-that-everyone-knows-a
I buy a couple of items, Hanying buys some candies, and off we go.
I bail on the bubble tea because we��re eating dinner in a while and bubble tea fills you up quite quickly. Besides, the beef noodles come in huge-ass bowls; when we ate it in 2004, it was too early (dinner at 5-something p.m.?!) and I couldn��t finish it. I want to save my stomach for dinner.
We stop by a random boutique and I take a liking to a cutesy green-and-orange t-shirt. Hanying sees that I��m about to buy something and comes over to bargain for me, since I��m an innocent (read: dumb) Singaporean in Free For All Bargaining Taipei. The t-shirt costs NT$490; Hanying asks if it can be sold at a cheaper price. The salesgirl goes, Okay, I��ll sell it to you at NT$450. Hanying is silent and I mentally convert that to Singapore dollars and I think, S$20-something for a shirt is decent! So I say, Okay, I��ll take it.
After that, when we are outside, Hanying tells me that she was about to ask for NT$400 when I said I��ll take it.
I cannot bargain for nuts. I think I��m too nice. It��s bad. Or maybe I just spend money way too easily. Which is also super bad. I have lots to learn, indeed.
My dad loves the beef noodles semi-restaurant located at ���� (Taoyuan Street), so much so that he always eats there at least once whenever we��re in Taipei. The semi-restaurant (semi because it��s a simple two-storey shophouse and sells only beef noodles and two or three side dishes) is within walking distance from����� (Ximending). When we finally arrive I feel like my legs are about to break from the mild shopping and all the walking.
The first level of the eatery is full. The second level of the eatery is almost full. The shop attendant finds us a table. We sit on tiny stools �C a rectangle on four legs. At first I keep feeling like my butt would slide off the seat any minute but after a while I get used to it.
I don��t eat beef and so my dad orders a bowl of beef noodles without beef for me, spicy please. That costs NT$100 while the normal beef noodles cost NT$140. When my dad first started eating here one bowl of noodles cost NT$90. The noodles arrive and the bowls are just as big as I remember, and they are filled as close to the brim as humanly possible. Hanying takes a look at it and goes, Such a big bowl? She��s concerned with the food she eats landing straight in her butt. Personally I don��t see why she says she has a big butt because I just don��t see it.
The noodles are awesome. The soup is good (though a bit too dead cow-ish for me, but that only makes sense), the noodles are succulent �C so unlike Singapore noodles �C and the spiciness isn��t overbearing. The problem is, the utensils are in the form of plastic spoons and wooden chopsticks. My chopsticks skills are half-baked at best. I try very hard to pick up the noodles with my chopsticks without splashing soup everywhere, but it��s quite a feat because I can��t use chopsticks properly and the noodles are slippery and so they always threaten to slip out of my chopsticks. I circumvent this problem by picking up a few strands of noodles at a time and gingerly laying them down on my spoon, hence lengthening my already-slow eating pace. Oh well.
In the end I get a few dots of soup on my shirt. I consider this a success.
My dad eats his noodles in silent appreciation. I��m happy that he��s happy. I take pictures of the food to email to my mother at night, just to spite her, because I��m retarded like that (she loves the noodles here too).
There is a shopping mall three minutes away and we proceed there after we��re all done. FE21. I think FE stands for Far Eastern because it��s called Զ�� in Chinese. As we approach we hear snatches of pounding drums and a male voice singing/shouting a song. Hanying thinks that it could be some singer launching an album at ����� (Ximending) (as always is the case). We cross the road and discover that the music/noise (depending on which side of the fence you��re on) is coming from a band playing right at the entrance to the shopping mall to an audience of five. How interesting.
The same plastic wrap and plastic wrap machine are placed at the entrance. I find the machine highly amusing and so I stick my umbrella in. I pull it out and it��s wrapped in a nice layer of plastic. Hanying decides to try again and for some reason she fails again. I bob my head to the music as she yells at the machine and resorts to taking a plastic wrap for her wet umbrella.
We split up and agree to meet at the entrance at 8, half an hour from now. I walk around the third (I think) level that purports to sell fashion for young ladies or whatever. The clothes are fucking awesome and I try on a skirt that��s 50% off. I have a hard time buttoning up and it feels too tight around the upper thighs. I give it back to the salesgirl and thank her. In return she says thank you and see you again.
Service in Taipei is fantastic. Walk into virtually any store and you��d be greeted by the service staff. Unlike the sales people in Singapore, those in Taipei won��t sulk and put on an irritating black face when you try on clothes without buying them, and when they compliment you in order to get you to buy the piece of clothing it doesn��t come off as forceful or manipulative, or just plain fake. I actually feel like a customer and not an irritant wasting the sales person��s time when I��m shopping in Taipei. Ah, I love it here for so many reasons.
Anyway, I stumble across a brand called Free which my mom likes. She told me to buy her a shirt if I see it because she likes the softness of their t-shirts. T-shirts, as a general rule, should come cheap, but I should not have forgotten even for a second that I��m shopping in a Taipei mall. The t-shirts cost at least NT$1100 �C that��s S$55. I almost faint in shock when I look at the price tags. Nevertheless, I pick out a bright red shirt that I thought my mom would like; unfortunately, the L��s are sold out and M is too small and so I don��t buy it.
At 7.45 p.m. I run into Hanying and she tells me that my dad cannot take it anymore. Take what? I ask.
Waiting for us, she says. This whole shopping thing.
Indeed, I see my dad walking towards us, shaking his head. I whine a little about how I��ve only seen two brands, one of which was for my mom. Secretly I��m fine with leaving now because the stuff are bloody expensive; nothing that I��ve seen so far is below NT$1100 before discount, and the skirts I find pretty are over NT$2000 (S$100!). Craziness, indeed. So we decide to leave and I say nothing further.
The band is still lingering around the entrance. They��ve stopped playing and they��ve put on Avril Lavigne��s Skater Boy (I refuse to emulate her stupid deliberate misspelling). I walk out of the mall with my hands in the pockets of the white-and-pink sweater Hanying lent me (because it��s soooo cold). I look around randomly and then I see a hot guy in emo glasses looking at me. He��s from the band and he must be psychic because I��ve always wanted to date a rock band member. I��m not good with the flirting thing so I look away, just to look back two seconds later and see him still looking at me. Oh, how fate fucks with my head! If my circumstances were different I may consider doing something about it, but since Taipei is a fleeting dream and nothing more, I walk away smiling to myself.
Another stab of wistful wondering of how things might be different, if only. Imagine all the hot guys I might have gone out with. It��s still strange that my mom��s decision to move us to Singapore so many years ago had the power to rob me of��all of this. The Taipei experience. Living and breathing Taipei, eating Taipei, loving Taipei. All the possibilities of such a life are enough to make my head spin.
I go to bed wishing we��d never left. And somehow, I��m able to con myself into believing that we never did. For a while, I think I finally remember how it feels to be truly, truly alive.
1. The first level of the Eslite building. Those are actual lights. Pretty, isn't it?
2. The English/World Literature section of Eslite bookstore. It's on the third level, if memory serves.
3. Page One at Taipei 101. I love this place.
4. Random shot taken on the shuttle bus from Taipei 101 to the Metro station.
5. Um, me, on the shuttle bus, bored.
6. Hanying and I.
7. Ximending. An Edison Chen billboard! (Advertising Jolin Tsai's latest album, unfortunately.) The first thing I saw when I got out of the underground Metro station.
8. Another part of Ximending.
9. My beef noodles without beef.
10. The regular beef noodles.
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