A day in Hong Kong with Hello Kitty

In October we made a flash visit from Taipei to Hong Kong. It turned out to be a big Hello Kitty day, starting with Taiwan airport’s decoration and ending with the Kitty-themed Eva Air flight back.

Hong Kong is definitely a unique place: high-rise, crowded, diverse and western-influenced. For a moment there I thought I was in New York; a feeling you never get in Taipei even when surrounded by colorful electronic billboards. While we didn’t have much time to sample the food in such a short visit, we did get enough time to be impressed by the modern sights.

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Check this Flickr album for the full photo report!

Shrimp Fishing

Shrimp fishing is both a way to pass time and to prepare the next meal. There are indoor tanks in Taipei open 24 hours a day! The shrimp (more precisely, the king prawn) is brought in from the sea and thrown into a water tank where people can fish it. The waters are opaque so we can’t easily see where they are, as if we were fishing in the sea or river.

Now, given the choice of a good vegetarian meal versus meat or fish, I usually go for the first one, for many reasons. Shrimp, for example, is a bit controversial due to the high percentage of bycatch in industrial fishery. That aside, going fishing is definitely an interesting experience, even in hard ground. There’s more nature contact in the wild waters, but in turn the tanks provide a social atmosphere. We got the help of a few people and even doubled our prawn-count thanks to a friendly and generous couple that was fishing beside us.

Though we weren’t fishing directly at the natural hangout place of these prawns, it was still interesting to make that effort for a meal, an effort that goes beyond paying for something pre-hunted and sold at a supermarket or restaurant. It enables a connection that has been lost with the modern food industry, not only because we get to hunt but also because we have to kill our own food before eating. But I have to say, from a shrimp perspective, there are better ways to die than being shoved on a stick; suddenly, boiling water seems more attractive!


All in all, it was a very relaxing and enjoyable evening… and most importantly we survived it! Just today I came across this article in the news: “Escaping shrimp infects woman, causes death.” Yikes.

From Alien to Local

Good news: I don’t feel like an alien anymore.

Some places are now familiar, and working outside the house becomes easier as you discover more comfy coffee places. Cafés in Taiwan don’t necessarily open early, but I like to leave the house in the morning. The only good spot open before 10am is the Starbucks second-floor balcony by the river. By the afternoon, I’m usually at a nearby gourmet burger bar with an even better balcony.

So what were the highlights of my second week in Taipei?

Certainly making the first Taiwanese friends, improving my status of worst bowling player in the history of humanity, and trying many more food delicacies such as bubble tea and tempura-style squid! You can also find a local version of the Portuguese Pastel de Nata in some places, but it pales in comparison… The local ice-cream is a more intriguing choice: it’s actually not cream, but real ice bits with your choice of topping. You can see a cup of it among the pictures below where I mixed almost all toppings:

First impressions of Taipei City

When Portuguese navigators came upon the island of Taiwan in 1590, they were struck by the tremendous beauty of its green mountains, which rise steeply out of the cobalt waters of the Pacific. The Portuguese navigator named the island “Ilha Formosa,” meaning “beautiful isle,” and under this name Taiwan was introduced to the Western world. — in History – Overseas Office Republic Of China ( Taiwan ) 

 

This week was my first in Taipei City. When I’m feeling adventurous, I see myself as a Portuguese Quality Assurance Officer: back to the far east to check if the “beautiful isle” still deserves its name. Most of the time though, I’m just another foreigner struggling to adapt to a crowded fast-paced city; its streets filled with a thousand scooters, food stalls, unreadable colorful signs, and the in-shop cuteness of pets and toys. Angry Birds are a huge hit here, of course.

Most streets and buildings would look similar to South America if not for the flashy, colorful street signs everywhere. But with no knowledge of Mandarin, I do feel like an alien: there is nothing to hold on to, except for sign language and kindness. Fortunately the Taiwanese are indeed kind people. They generally seem happy to see westerners and don’t overcharge you. I even got spontaneous discounts and funny appraisal. Coming from a 50-year-old man, “handsome boy!” wasn’t an awkward thing to hear, just a funny and earnest social action.

What the pictures don’t tell you is how hot it is; constantly around 30 degrees celsius with high humidity. Clouds are frequent now that the summer is ending, and some days the wind throws a fit. It’s not the awesome weather of Portugal but, after 4 years in Ireland, I can’t complain!