We were picked up first thing in the morning by Jennifer and Julien, who have been our near-constant hosts throughout our Taipei adventures. Between the two of them they speak enough english that they can have brief conversations with me, but for the most part A.Lee has been serving as general-purpose interpreter.
We drove to a different city within the Taipei sprawl, Banqiao, one of the old city-centers. There we spent a few hours exploring the Lin Family Gardens, a beautiful old set of Chinese gardens. The Lin Family was the richest in Taiwan for several generations, and the gardens stood as a testament to their love of arts and culture. We wandered through beautiful corridors and courtyards, explored studies and floating stages, and even wove our way through a tiny cave. All of it was perfectly designed for maximum fang shui, and every piece had its art. Even the smallest wooden sidings on buildings had beautiful paintings or carvings on them.
From there we went to a "European Cuisine" restaurant, which was a lot of fun. For the most part it was about what one might expect from an upscale restaurant in America, but with a few interesting Taiwanese touches. The drinking water was warm, for example--it's winter, after all. Orange juice was served as a dessert all its own, and came in a tall champagne flute.
In the afternoon, we drove out of the city in a different direction, and A.Lee and I were dropped off at the National Palace Museum. The National Palace Museum contains most of the artifacts brought over during the Chinese Civil War. As such, it has a vast and sprawling set of collections, which were delightfully fun to explore. There were beautiful scrolls, elegant jade carvings, ancient bronze daggers, and so on. Also, thousands of Japanese tourists. The place was packed with them, and A.Lee and I spent a fair bit of time dodging and ducking between dense tour groups.
We took the MRT back to the room and relaxed for a little bit, as we were both feeling fairly jet-lagged, and then we struck out for the night market. Taiwan is known for its exciting and fun night markets, and this certainly did not let down. It took us a little bit of finding, as it was tucked away amongst the myriad side-streets near one of Taipei's main universities, but we did eventually stumble across it.
It was very different from what I had been expecting. It was nothing like the indoor markets from the day before--this was upscale and classy. Part of that was probably the clientele, who were clearly mostly students from the university. The narrow streets were jam-packed with Taiwanese hipsters, chatting amiably on their cell phones, buying clothes at the trendy boutique stands, and munching on sweet bao and steamed vegetables. There were also quite a few foreigners, so I didn't attract much attention.
For dinner we stopped into a little restaurant and had some fun trying to decipher the menu (A.Lee's character-reading skills are a bit spotty, which is understandable given the vast library of Chinese characters). After ordering some noodles and fried rice, A.Lee realized it was a place specializing in hand-shaved noodles, which turned out to be quite delicious. My beef fried rice was probably the best fried rice I've ever had.
Dessert came in the form of some street xiao long bao, served from a tiny cart. I watched them make and roll the tiny buns, churning them out one every second or two. They were thrown in one of two giant pans, covered with a bit of water, and steamed fresh. We were handed two for 16NT$, about fifty cents. They were, of course, extremely delicious. (We later discovered that we had accidentally stumbled upon an extremely famous stand, that often has a long line, purely by chance.)
Satisfied with our day's adventures and culinary delights, we retreated to the room to pass out for the night.