Monday, January 19, 2015

Taipei Personalities, and then some; A.K.A. 'Boris's Grand Day Out'

Sunday was a play-day, and boy howdy!

We met up outside Mission Control a little bit after noon with Boris, our local connection. Let me tell you a bit about Boris.

Boris is tall and gaunt with a ready smile, a quick wit and an encyclopedic knowledge of pop culture in several cultures. Standing a full six inches above the typical B.I. crowds with a shaved head and classic Slavic looks, he makes a uniquely distinctive tour guide, looking in his grey hoodie and shades like a cross between a Bond Villain, a video game assassin, and the Unibomber (on a good day).

Boris leads us briskly to the subway like a duck with ducklings, and in short order has equipped each of us with farecards. We wade into the crowds and are quickly on our way to lunch. We ride a few stops, change train lines, ride some more, and exit the Metro to dog knows where; we are in Boris's hands now.

The five of us—Boris, Capstone Killer, XO Diva Enforcer, MD Adrenaline and MoC—move deliberately and with purpose along the crowded sidewalks. At some point, MD Adrenaline was bitten by a radioactive spider and is developing the superpower of reading and speaking Mandarin. But like all superpowers, it seems to have its limits, and comes and goes.

We turn down a tiny side street packed with market stalls and scooter moving with a casual disregard for...well, pretty much anything stationary. We dodge and weave for several blocks until we finally come to a place I'm pretty sure we never would have even noticed without Boris's help. It is the best beef noodle soup joint in town. It is across from the Accordion Studio in case you want to check it out.

We scrunch ourselves into a tiny table while Boris orders for us. In five years, he has picked up a fair amount of Chinese, and seems at ease everywhere. Shortly, we are brought a small dish of slaw in apology for a delay we had not noticed, followed by huge steaming bowls of what you might call Pho, but B.I. style. Thick, hand made and hand cut noodles, dark bone broth,
generous chunks of several kinds of meat...Boris has nailed it. It is Sunday afternoon, the day for family things in B.I., and the tiny space is packed with families of all descriptions enjoying their time together. And our little ad-hoc family is one of them.

After lunch, we retrace our steps to the main road, pausing at market stands to browse and take in the sights ans smells. M.D.A. buys some fruit to take back to the hotel, and we are offered samples of Taiwanese Guava. It is reminiscent of a slightly underripe pear, but a dusting of plum powder brings the flavor to life. It is very refreshing; good fresh fruit is always a treat.

Boris leads his flock onward with the promise of good coffee. We walk for a few minutes, to a hipster coffee bar which would be unremarkable IN MY COUNTRY (hey, it's no Java Shack...) but that's a trend that hasn't yet quite caught on here* on B.I. It's small, open to the flood of scooter noise from the major intersection outside, and pounding with vaguely familiar metal music. But

Two hours, several subway rides, two repasts, a few miles of walking. We're just getting started.
We walk some more, making our way towards the Big Kahuna. Boris maintains a running commentary, touching on the sublime and ridiculous, sacred and profane. We try and keep up, physically and mentally.

The Big Kahuna is even bigger IRL than you could imagine. Its environs are full with tourists of all shapes and sizes (okay, the sizes are mostly in the medium-and-small range, except for us) and it does not seem like a good prospect for today. So we move along towards we're not sure what, but, you know...Boris.

We do the touristy thing, and soon we are joined by Ava, Boris's delightful wife of several weeks who is a B.I. native. Again driven by coffee, we wander a bit, and Ava recalls a coffee destination on a lower floor of the Big Kahuna, so we retrace our steps through a dazzling throng of shoppers and Sunday Strollers. It is amazing.

Well, our coffee destination—a Starbucks—requires a reservation a day in advance. But now we are in the belly of the beast, so we really have no choice but to go full Tourist. And in short order, the six of us are hurtling skyward in a World-record holding elevator.

Once again, we have managed to hit the jackpot. Sunday was bookended by hazy grey days with terrible visibility; today is overcast but the air is clear. It is spectacular.

I'm just gonna throw these pics up here. You can figure them out.

This is the Omega 13. It serves as the 'Warp Core,' if you will, of the Big Kahuna. It has the power to reshape the space-time continuum, at least I think that's what the sign implied. I really wasn't paying attention. 


We seem to have gotten into this weird feedback loop where it's obvious the only option is to keep doing stuff.  (Did I mention the liquid nitrogen mango chunk ice cream we ate at the top? No, I did not, But let me tell you, if you are going to have  brain freeze, a liquid nitrogen brain freeze is the only way to go. Also, when you walk the two flights up and go out on the outside observation deck, the wind is literally shrieking through the railings. It is an unbelievably eerie sound.)

Dinner? How about dinner? Boris shifts back into subway guide mode, ably assisted by Ava (might have been the other ways around actually, but whatever) and again, we are being deliberately driven off the beaten path from main street to cross street to side street to alley, and there we find the most extraordinary little restaurant. You know, the kind of place where the locals eat, but the tourists only find out about if they happen to have guides like Boris and Ava? Yeah, like that.

Ava begins to order food rapid-fire (I assume it was rapid fire, because the whole transaction was 100% English free, except for maybe 'Beer.') And just like with our magic lunch, food begins arriving little white plate by little white plate, kind of 'Sorcerer's Apprentice' style until we have no more room on the table.
We drink big green bottles of B.I beer from little glasses, toasting our new friends and passing plates until we can neither eat nor drink another thing. Ava marks up a menu for us in case we want to come back again before we leave...which we definitely do.

At this point, we are beginning to run out of steam. But the six of us start walking back in the general direction of Mission Control, and a few blocks short we part ways with our wonderful guides, hosts and new-found friends.

We are full, we are tired, our feet hurt, and we have smiles on our faces.

*It totally has caught on here. I was just looking in the wrong places.

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