Taiwan Day 5: Biking and Local Night Market

food, travel
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Takoyaki

On a relaxed morning, one of the school’s teacher drove her van up to the elementary school, handed us Taiwanese egg pancakes and soy milk for breakfast, and told us to wear tennis shoes and comfortable clothes for we were going on a bike ride. I quickly threw on a quick-dry shirt to fight off the scorching sun and sloppily tied my shoe laces. During our car ride, we obnoxiously sang Zootopia’s “Try Everything”, a catchy song that soon became annoying from overplaying on the radio. We arrived at our destination unknown, Houli Bikeway, which is an old railway that has now become roads, miles long for bikers only.

Among a selection of hundreds of bicycles, I selected one with a squishy seat that was also low enough for my rather short legs. Nobody wore helmets, so I placed my snapback on my head, giving just the feel of protection. We rode for about two hours, through an array of scenery that was all so breathtaking, and the most spectacular aspect about the bikeway was that within two hours, we saw farms, wineries, rushing river waters, industrial sites, and tunnels. It was all one pathway, but we saw much more than just one view, it was like riding through the city and countryside. For heat relief, there was an extended tunnel, dim with only a few lights installed, that was about 10 °C cooler than the outside. As I rode rapidly, a cool breeze glided through my hair and shirt to dry the sweat off my neck and armpits. The cool breeze was too good on my skin that I sped up to increase the breeze, only to crash on the bike in front of me and foolishly tumble onto the side of the tunnel. People nearby quickly hopped off their bikes to aid me, but truthfully I wanted to be left alone and get up on my own because I was too embarrassed from my unpleasant fall. Nonetheless, I thanked the unnecessary crowd of people around me and brushed off the bloody scrapes on the palms of my hands and knees. We rode back to the starting point of the trail, where the bike owners offered large bowls of chilled grass jelly soup (black gelatin in brown sugar water), which we thankfully devoured.

On the bridge

Taking a break on the bridge

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Biking in the tunnel

On the hour ride back to the school, nobody sang and instead snores were heard. For dinner, we drove 30 minutes to the Miaoli night market at around 8 PM, which was packed with only Miaoli residents because this night market is the only one in the vicinity. It is also so local and lowkey that it only runs on Saturdays, unlike all other night markets which operate every night. Due to this “rare” event, the night market was crowded with hungry locals and I instantly saw around ten students from the elementary school, accompanied by their family members. As if I were a celebrity, multiple schoolchildren charged towards me, yelling my name, and gave me hugs. Of course, I was introduced to several parents, and as I shook their hands, I peeped several strangers nearby with faces wondering who I was and why I was receiving such great attention. When all attention died down, I straightaway knew what I wanted to eat: stinky tofu, O-a zhen (a gooey oyster, egg pancake doused in red sauce), and takoyaki (octopus balls). These three dishes are the epitome of Taiwanese street food, and have been my favorite dishes ever since I was 8 years old. I purchased all three for an unbelievable price of 110 yuan (approximately $3.50), showing just how cheap Asian street food is. Spending only $3.50 felt too little, so the last thing I did was go on mini go carts, operated by the family of one of the school’s children. A tiny enclosed area was available for go-kart riders so I only got to drive in small circles, but the throwback of being a child was well worth 30 yuan. The night ended all in smiles at the night market and our wallets just slightly lighter.

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Stinky tofu and preserved cabbage

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Traditional street food

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Miaoli night market

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Preparation of oyster pancake

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Night market go kart

-Jamie

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