Monday, 16 December 2013

Taekwondo Time

I've been shamefully slack in my posting lately, due to illnesses interspersed with activities. In order to prevent this blog from slipping away into the shadows, I'm going to post as and when I can, rather than at regular intervals as I have been. Posts may be shorter and perhaps more focused on day to day life than previously. We shall see.

One of the activities taking up so much time has been my son's imminent Taekwondo black belt testing. His coach has insisted on attendance three times a week as preparation for this milestone test, so the pressure is on.

We recently travelled out of Taipei to a large school in Jilong County to take part in the black belt pre-testing event. To catch the bus taking us there, we had to leave home at 6 o'clock in the morning, when it was still dark. We ate breakfast on the way and arrived in plenty of time to join in the pre-testing practice. I was so glad I was one of the bleary-eyed audience and not a participant.
Still waking up

Feeling a little better with breakfast to hand.

The coach put the class through its paces before taking the test. I was very impressed with their coordination and discipline.

At least a hundred students took part.
The judges looked a little intimidating to me, but seemed friendly enough and very fair when the testing took place.

There were four tests in all: two assessing the sets of moves they must perform without error, one fighting match and one kicking performance.

 Needless to say, the students seemed to enjoy the fighting test most of all, and the audience enjoyed watching the fighting too. In all the fights I saw the girls were more fierce than the boys.

The kicks were also pretty exciting, especially the older students', because they had to break a board with a single well-placed kick.

Finally, the coveted certificate was achieved. Was it worth getting up at 5.30? Gah - I think so.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

I've Been to Bali Too

I misspent some of my youth in Australia, and now whenever I hear mention of Bali an old, typically satirical Australian pop song called I've Been to Bali Too plays through my mind.

The song refers, of course, to the Indonesian island Bali, but Taiwan has its own Bali, just a short ferry ride fromDanshui. Unlike its Indonesian namesake, Bali, New Taipei, has no tropical beaches, multi-storey hotels or package tours, but it  does have its own quiet attractions.

We visited Bali on one of our holidays to Taiwan before moving out here, and hired bikes at the rental shop near the ferry terminal to ride along the beach bike path. We also visited the Museum of Archaeology, which introduced us not only to interesting information about Taiwan's ancient settlements, but also the value of receipts.

After the Taiwanese Government introduced a receipt number lottery, to encourage shoppers to ask for receipts from      shopkeepers who would otherwise cook their books to avoid paying tax, receipts took on a special value. They could be worthless, or they could be worth anything up to millions of dollars, depending on whether they bore a lucky number.

On entering the Museum of Archaeology, we were told that the entry fee was three receipts each. Cue total confusion.   Did she say receipts? Yes, I'm sure she said receipts. Doesn't she mean they give you a receipt when you pay? And so on,   for a long, puzzling moment until a kindly Taiwanese lady helped us out by donating from her own carefully hoarded    stash.

We revisited Bali last weekend on a trip with my son's Taekwondo class and spent the day at the adventure centre. We   were there for the paintballing, but other visitors were taking part in more daring, high rise activities.
I was happy to catch up on some reading while the boys and men enjoyed fulfilling their basic instinct to fight each         other. First the older boys went off to do battle in an arena filled with oil barrels. Then the Taekwondo coaches made         themselves targets for the youngest team members to take their revenge upon.
Apparently those paintballs sting on impact, so understandably the coaches lurked at the back for a while before pride    overcame them and they ran forward to capture the flag. The littlest Taekwondo students showed no mercy and fired       heavily. So much payback was concentrated into just a few minutes of paintball fire. The coaches must be masochists as    well as sadists because them seemed to enjoy the pain as much as they enjoy inflicting it.

Later, the coaches and older students could pretend   they were really at war by battling in teams on rough   terrain. The appeal was evident from the excitement of all       the other students and parents who watched the fight. Okay, I'll come down from my detached,         ironic viewpoint and admit it was fun to watch.

As soon as the battle was over the younger boys             illegally slipped under the fence to collect unused        paintballs as trophies. We now have a small tub of        paintballs at home that will no doubt gather dust in a  corner for several years. My son had a whale of a time. 
Part of the day's package was a cook-your-own barbecue. You can imagine what happens when you let adolescents           loose with charcoal and firelighters. Needless to say, half an hour later we were still without any sign of a flame and the   assistants had to come to the rescue of our blackened, over-excited children with a butane torch before we finally had      our barbecue underway. When we had sampled the half burned black and half raw sausages the younger boys produced, we decided enough was enough and roped in some older teenagers to help out with the cooking. Once they stepped in, food was eaten as quickly as it was cooked and by the end of the day not a scrap remained. Even the food poisoning          sausages had disappeared.

Heading home, I found I must be turning Taiwanese because, like the rest of the coach, I fell fast asleep. Yes, I thought to myself as I drifted off, I've been to Bali too.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Groups, Clubs, Societies

I've been getting behind with my posting lately, not because we haven't been doing anything interesting to post about, but because we've been doing too much.

Despite the long working and studying days in Taiwanese society, locals and expats take part in many additional activities. We've recently become involved in the Red Room, which exists to give people an opportunity to share their talents in a non-judgmental environment. At a monthly event called Stage Time and Wine, participants can sign up for five minutes' performance time, or just be a part of the audience in a relaxed, informal setting. Recently, Stage Time and Wine gave birth to a younger version of itself, Stage Time and Juice. Children and teenagers have been entertaining their audiences with skits, stand up comedy, singing, playing instruments and putting on puppet shows. My son has performed a couple of times and also attends the drama classes on offer on Sunday mornings.

We were introduced to the Red Room through our involvement with The Awesome Playgroup News, an offshoot of the Taipei City Playgroup. The playgroup meets weekly to give expat parents with young children the chance to get together with other families, and also puts on Christmas, Easter and Halloween parties for the children. Although there are lots of single English teachers in Taiwan, there are still relatively few families, and without such groups some people would probably feel quite isolated.

Clubs for most activities are easily found, especially through sites such as Meetup, which lists societies for more interests than you've probably even thought of. I'm currently attending the Taipei City Writers' Group meetings. We meet every other Sunday evening at a cafe near Taipei Main Station and criticise each other's writing horribly (joking). Inspired by my involvement with this group, I'm participating in NaNoWriMo, so expect my bestseller on the bookshelves sometime next year.

Meanwhile, other groups are starting up so quickly it's difficult to keep track of them all. Becoming is a group offering creative workshops in subjects such as story-telling, Chinese painting and poetic dance. We attended one of their crowded open events.

Parents' Place, a meeting place and educational resource centre for English-speaking children, has been familiar to us for nearly two years. My son attends the English literacy classes for Elementary school children, but they also offer art, baby-signing, Kindermusik, infant massage, Mandarin for mums, prenatal exercise and many other classes. I'm happy to say I'm past needing most of those classes now (except maybe the Mandarin).

Finally, with Christmas drawing near, I must tell you about Radio Redux. Performing plays as if via a live radio broadcast, Radio Redux's most recent offering was Dracula.
We saw the final performance, blood-curdling screams and all. It was scary - in a good way.

Radio Redux are now rehearsing for their forthcoming production, A Christmas Carol.
Our involvement with this organisation has deepened, however. Another reason we've been so busy lately is because we're taking part in the production. My son is playing Tiny Tim and I'm Mrs. Cratchitt. I'm not sure how this has happened, but there you are. Extra-curricular life in Taipei just sucks you in.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

School Trip to Feitsui Reservoir

Taiwanese public schools run two trips a year per class, and I tag along on my son's trips whenever the opportunity arises. In his first year we managed to do three because he moved classes, so he went on one class trip, then moved to another class and went on his new class's excursion, too.

The destinations seem to depend on the wealth of the majority of the parents. At my son's previous school the parents were lecturers, business owners and professionals of various kinds, and the trips entailed some cost, such as our trip to Baby Boss. This is a venue where children dress up and act out a work role, such as a doctor, dentist, pilot, nurse etc. After their working day of half an hour is over, they receive wages, which they can then spend in the shop. This is very popular among parents of younger children but I have to say we won't be returning to Baby Boss in a hurry. It was so crowded that we spent hours queueing for about one hour of entertainment. And the division of work roles between the sexes - such as the assumption that  girls want to be flight attendants and boys want to be pilots - was depressing.

Another trip we took was to Pingxi Mining Museum and the nearby Shifen. This was far more interesting as it was an introduction to the history of ordinary Taiwanese people, the poor, hard-working mining families of the area. It was also an opportunity to get into the mountains on a beautiful, warm day. What more could I ask for?

At my son's current school the trips have been less ambitious and entirely free, if you don't count Easycard use on public transport. This is probably because the parents at this school are shopkeepers, labourers and other poorly paid professions. Volunteers and English speakers are also far fewer than at the previous school. It's an interesting insight into different aspects of Taiwanese society for me.

From our perspective the school suits our needs well. Previously, my son knew lots of children who spoke enough English to translate for him, and who also liked practising their English with him. Now, he has to speak Chinese if he wants to be understood. And because the school is small, which isn't popular amongst most Taiwanese people, he can get lots more attention from the teacher. As far as I can tell there's also less academic pressure. In fact, after hearing tales from parents whose children are inner city schools, I'm sure this is the case.

Trips with our current school have included the Children's Recreation Center, the Fine Art Museum and the Lin Family Mansion followed by nearby Xinsheng Park. I find it enjoyable being out with the children my son talks about all the time. He refers to them in terms of their class number, which seems to be standard terminology for talking about your classmates. For example, he was telling me today that number 4 got told off for running in the corridors, so he said it wasn't him, it was number 8.

Our most recent trip was to Feitsui Reservoir. We had bad luck because it rained heavily all the way there, during our visit, and all the way back. The days before and after were fine and sunny. Instead of walking around the beautiful emerald waters of the reservoir, we spent most of the time sitting in a lecture hall listening to an entertaining presentation of a member of staff and watching a film about the flora and fauna in the area. We braved the rain for twenty minutes or so before we returned to school.
The reservoir received plenty more water the day we visited.

The water on the left retained the typical emerald color.
As well as the beautiful scenery, a Taiwanese friend was telling me today you can buy some kind of delicious ice treat near Feitsui Reservoir, and the stories of all the wildlife and insect life in the area were intriguing. Another place in Taiwan we must visit again!

Monday, 21 October 2013

Qingnian Park

We are spoiled for parks and easy access to the mountains here in east Taipei. Both apartments we've occupied have had green views and if we ever feel like a hike in the fresh mountain air we only have to go a few stops on the MRT. West Taipei is flatter, busier, less planned and more noisy but it has its share of green areas too, as we found out yesterday when we went to the Wonderland of Animals and Insects in Taiwan outdoor exhibition in Qingnian Park, Zhongzheng District.

Although the park is difficult to get to by MRT, with no stations within easy walking distance, our journey wasn't too difficult in the end. We caught a taxi from Guting Station, and the driver not only understood where we wanted to go, he even took us to the correct entrance for the exhibition, knowing why we were going too.

Known as the Youth Park in English, the area is easily large enough to accommodate the many giant models of insects and animals of the exhibition, including a 63 metre whale. There are a baseball stadium, golf driving range and water park on site, as well as large hothouses (oddly enough it might seem, but they house cacti and other plants that can't tolerate the heavy rain). We also saw a playground and small ornamental lake, and, looking at the map, Qingnian Park adjoins the riverpark, giving more options for walks in green areas and cycling with rented bikes.

The highlight of our visit was walking through the huge model of a whale. We had to queue for about twenty minutes but it was worth it. I'd been expecting just a blue tunnel through the interior until we were, as my son put it 'pooped out the back end'. But we found instead that the whale was full of models of things you might, or might not, expect to find in a whale's stomach.

Huge jellyfish and squid were standard whale fare, we thought.

And a sunken ship was also a reasonable guess at what you might find inside a whale.

But the volcanoes were stretching it just a tad.

The rest of the exhibit was fun, too, though for the older child visitor I would say there needed to be more things to actually do. It was mostly just a look-see kind of exhibition. We loved the sense of humour, though.
 This giant mosquito was dressed as a nurse, giving an 'injection'. If only real mosquito bites were beneficial.

And this praying mantis was wrestling a truck.

The place was packed the day we went, which was to be the final day, but I read recently that the event will run for another week.

Outside the exhibition area the park itself was a pleasant environment to enjoy. My son had fun getting dizzy and dirty rolling down a hill seemingly built for that exact purpose.
Although Qingnian Park is a little out of the way for us, we'll definitely return, probably in the late spring next year when the water park re-opens. With the river park nearby, playground and plenty of open space, it's healthy, open air entertainment for a whole day.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Cycling in Fulong

The last time we went to Fulong, a rogue wave (okay, it was about 6 inches high) drowned my towel, my book and me, and my son got stung by a jellyfish. So this time we thought it was safer to stick to cycling.

Just outside Fulong station there are two bicycle hire shops, where you can rent a bike for as little as NT$100 (about £2) a day. The bikes are reasonably good quality, and children's and tandem bikes are available too.

Bike tracks run along the beach to the temple (to the right as you stand with your back to Fulong Station), adjacent eating areas and beyond, and as far as I could tell, to the left as well.
The temple side of the beach is signed as unsafe for swimming, due to undertows. But it's is free to enter and there are toilets and changing areas, so it's popular.
This was taken towards the end of the day
We didn't go to either beach in the end because we spent most of the day cycling, but I think I would take the advice of my friends, who are trained lifeguards, and use the left hand beach. There's a small entry fee, but the water is safe for swimming and the sand is fine and clean.

As well as the bike tracks that run along the beach, there's a track leading from the road directly outside Fulong Station. After a couple of kilometres it enters Caoling Tunnel, which takes about 20 minutes to pass through.

At the end of the tunnel, those with more time and energy can continue along the Fulong Coast bike path and all around the Northeast Cape.

On our way back, I realised that spider season is with us again.
But this one wasn't quite as wide as my hand, so nothing too much to worry about. I must be getting used to living in Taiwan.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Balcony Gardening

Typhoon Usagi neatly coincided with the Moon Festival holiday weekend just gone, thwarting many outdoor celebration plans, no doubt, though we did see a few die-hards determined to have their pavement barbecue despite the fierce winds and driving rain. Good for them. Personally, I was content to work on my balcony garden.

A recurring theme of walks around Taipei and northern Taiwan, whether through back streets, neglected patches of ground, or overgrown, disused mountain tracks, is opportunistic vegetable growing. You can be - apparently - far from any human habitation, scrambling up narrow, crumbling forest trails, without sight or sound of another human being for miles, only to find that the single tiny spot of flat earth on the mountain has been turned into a makeshift allotment patch, and is supporting bamboo shoots, bananas and rambling gourds.

In Wanlong the pedestrian shortcut we used to take to the main road, was lined with a market garden growing entirely in polystyrene boxes, until someone must have told the authorities, because one morning it was all swept away. Riding the brown MRT line, it's possible to see several impromptu fruit and vegetable plots growing on the no man's land next to the tracks.

Basically, in Taiwan, if an area of land isn't covered with concrete and is reasonably flat, and no one much cares what happens to it, someone will grow something on it.

Such sights bring back fond memories of my garden in the UK, which was large even by British standards. I was bitten by the gardening bug many years ago and have never managed to shake my addiction. I miss my patch of earth, even though it was a terrible time sink. Living in an apartment has put an end to most of my gardening shenanigans, but we do have one balcony that receives a reasonable amount of sunlight,
An early morning view from our living room balcony
so it was inevitable that I would start to gradually fill it with plants.

Just as the Taiwanese spirit abhors a disused piece of ground that could be put to good use growing something to eat, Taiwanese balconies are frequently brimming with vegetation that cascades down the sides of buildings. In spring and summer bougainvillea decorates the dingiest alleyways in shocking pink, and other tropical flowers I can't name add their exotic touches to the displays.

Gardening on balconies here is challenging, despite the warm climate and frequent rain showers. Balconies tend to be very hot and exposed, or in constant shadow from surrounding apartments. Our balcony is enclosed, so it heats up very quickly during the few hours of direct sunlight it receives, and I've tried to use this information to guide me when buying plants.

Our cats put paid to my first attempt at growing something on the balcony. I thought a small cactus garden in a ceramic tray was a safe bet, and pretty indestructible. But our cats thought it was just another, albeit inexplicably prickly, litter tray.

Since then I've collected a range of plants, known and unknown, and am currently waiting to see what survives. A fig tree seemed a good idea. I thought it could probably take the heat, and it's doing okay so far, having overcome being grown in compacted garden soil that was impenetrable to water. It's now putting out new leaves and I'm hoping for fresh figs next year, although as you rarely see figs for sale, I think the climate may be too humid for them. Other plants include a gardenia (I think), a dancing lady orchid, a begonia, more - larger - cacti, a plant called mother-in-law's tongue in the UK (I think, again) and an attractive shrub that I've never seen before.

Next year I'll start growing tomatoes, peppers, melons and, frankly, who knows what else. My little balcony might be a lot smaller than my old garden, but I've learned that if there's empty space in Taiwan, plants must grow there.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Taroko Gorge Days Two and Three

The only noise you can hear in the early morning in Taroko Gorge is the sound of frogs, birds and insects. Here in Taipei we're currently enduring our upstairs neighbours' renovations, so I recall our time there with some fondness. The second day of our visit was best of the three.

Day Two

We had a full breakfast at Leader Village and set off early to catch the tourist shuttle bus at Bulowan, a short walk from the hotel. It was lucky we got to the bus stop early because the bus arrived ahead of schedule and quickly departed. As far as I could tell the driver made little attempt to stick to the advertised timetable for the rest of our journey.

Tianxiang is the final stop on the bus route, a small collection of shops in the centre of Taroko and also the site of the Silks Palace Hotel and Taroko Catholic Hostel. We didn't enter either (in fact, we didn't spot the hostel) but I was surprised the hotel was a 5 star because it looked unimpressive from the outside. There's also a tiny information office advertised as a service station. It's staffed, though I'm not sure if the employees speak English, and has a few leaflets.

As far as we could tell, the only trail within walking distance of Tianxiang is to the Baiyang Waterfall. To get there, we walked up the main road and entered the trail from within a tunnel. We had a torch, which came in handy, and was fun for my son to use, but you could probably manage without one, even though there are several tunnels to negotiate on the route.

On the way to Tianxiang the views from the bus had given us a taste of what to expect once we started to truly explore Taroko and the trail to Baiyang didn't disappoint. Sheer mountain slopes rose around us, their interesting rock folds and other formations often completely clear of vegetation. Below, a river wound along the bottom of the gorge, sometimes milky blue and gentle, sometimes grey-white and roaring.

The trail was flat and wide all the way along, which made the going easy despite the blistering heat.

Once we reached the waterfall, after about 45 minutes' to an hour's walk, we found you had to cross the Gorge on a wooden suspended bridge, to get the best view. I managed to accomplish this through not ever looking down.

The view was worth it.

After filling our senses with the sight and sounds of the waterfall for some time, we headed back. There were only three buses a day that stopped at Bulowan on their return journey, so we caught the two o'clock bus, rather than waiting for the last one of the day. I didn't want to rely on catching the last bus in case it was too full, left early, or didn't arrive at all. My confidence in the service's reliability wasn't strong after our earlier experience.

Back at Leader Village we took a stroll around the short bamboo walk at the back of the site, and relaxed the rest of the day.

Day Three

With only the morning of our final day to spare, we hesitated between a standard half day tour or a particularly enticing place I'd read about, Wenshan Spring, where apparently you can relax in hot spring water then cool off in the river. According to what I'd read, it was easily accessible, though whether the site was actually open after a fatal rockfall had closed it some time ago, wasn't clear. We did plump for the spring in the end, but never got to find out whether it was operational.

Without a car or scooter, it's very difficult to get around Taroko. It's a long walk from one area to the next and public transportation is scarce. Walking the single narrow road also feels unsafe because walkers share it with large tourist coaches. There's no pedestrian pathway. Most people either use their own transportation, take a tour or hire a taxi for the day. To get to Wenshan Spring our only option was to hire a driver through the hotel, have him drop us off, then return later to pick us up. Which would had been fine had our driver known where Wenshan Spring was.

He dropped us at a sign stating it was the beginning of the Wenshan Lushui trail and left, after assuring my dubious face that this was where the hot springs were. I spent 5 minutes scouting around until I was pretty sure he'd taken us to the wrong place, then phoned the hotel. The driver reappeared after 20 minutes. He repeated his assurances that we were in the right place and took us for a half hour scramble along a narrow and arduous trail. I wouldn't have minded quite so much if the trail hadn't clearly been unsuitable for my son. It was littered with loose stones and earth, and so steep and difficult in parts there were ropes and chains installed as climbing aids.

Finally realising there was, as I'd said, no spring, we turned round and scrambled back for another half an hour. On returning to the car, we walked past the spring, directly off the main road, that the driver had failed to spot when he'd parked the car to return to us. He was relieved and happy. I was not as we no longer had any time to spare and had to return the hotel to collect our bags.

Leader Village did refund the fee we'd paid but of course they couldn't return the time we'd wasted, which was far more precious to me.

Despite a disappointing final day, we'll be back. I love Taroko Gorge, but I'd love it more if it were a little better organised.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Taroko Gorge Day One

Taroko Gorge must be one of the top three tourist attractions in Taiwan. Formed by the tectonic plate movement that gives Taiwan its frequent earthquakes, hot springs and fumeroles, the Gorge is a magnificent, shifting landscape of marbled mountains, dizzying precipices, richly-colored rivers, and abundant plant and animal life. It is also home to aboriginal tribes who strive to maintain their traditions, pass them on to their children, and share them with visitors.

Taroko's dynamic nature makes it prone frequent rockfalls when rainstorms and earthquakes loose boulders, rocks and earth down the mountainsides, closing roads and tourist attractions for weeks or months at a time. We found this out to our cost in May when we first attempted to spend a weekend at the Gorge. We found rockfalls had closed the park entirely and we had to find somewhere else to stay at no notice.

This time we were luckier but our trip was still marred by unfortunate events.

Surprisingly for a top tourist attraction, Taroko Gorge is a little difficult to access. The express train from Taipei bypasses the local station, Xincheng, and travellers are taken on to the nearest small city, Hualien. From there, visitors must double back and either take a taxi, local bus, private tour bus or a tourist shuttle bus to the park. Taroko is about an hour's drive from Hualien. All day and two-day passes for the tourist shuttle bus, which stops at the main sites, are only available from the bus station and visitor centre in Hualien, so anyone who doesn't go to Hualien first can't buy one. Single trip tickets are sold on the bus, but you must have the exact change and the drivers don't speak any English (we can cope in Chinese now but this was a problem for other tourists).

We flew from Songshan airport, which is inexpensive and takes only 35 minute flight, so is much faster than the train. We arranged for our hotel, Leader Village, to pick us up and drop us off. Otherwise, I think the only way to get from the airport to Taroko would be by taxi. 

Day One

Leader Village is a wonderful place to stay. Run by local tribespeople who do their best to make your stay relaxed, enjoyable and educational, it's set in an area of flat ground amid the mountains, giving wonderful views from the cabins, and the constant sounds of birds, frogs and insects in the background. 
Butterflies swarm the landscaped areas and we also spotted iridescent blue, green and bronze lizards basking on the paths, though we didn't manage to get a photo.

In the mornings and evenings cloud descends over the mountaintops.

Leader Village is about half way between the entrance to Taroko National Park and the central village, Tianxiang. Only one site is within walking distance - Swallow Grotto, so this was to be our destination on the afternoon of our arrival. Sadly, after twenty minutes or so of climbing down the mountain stairs and walking another ten minutes up the road, we found that we needed a permit to enter the trail to the grotto. Permits aren't available at the site and the information isn't available on any English language website, so that was disappointing. 

We stopped at Bulowan on our way back to Leader Village. Bulowan is described as a village but it's actually a tourist village: a collection of small museums, a cafe and a shop selling items crafted by tribespeople.

The day was saved by a set dinner and tribal show, which was interesting and entertaining. 

Wild boar ribs on the bottom left, bean soup, steamed rice in a hollow bamboo stem, wild boar skin (top right), tomato and coriander salsa bottom right, mushrooms and mountain vegetable, chillies and roast sweet potato in the centre.

My son sent me a look of deep affection for volunteering him for the tribal dance.

We went to bed late, tired from our first day of walking up and down mountains and in hopeful anticipation of more successful visits to Taroko's sites the following day.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Food Addiction

Information on good places to visit comes from diverse sources in Taiwan. Government websites are sometimes useful if you know what you're looking for, and friends frequently recommend places or suggest trips. Another useful source is Centered On Taipei magazine, a production of the Community Services Center, which serves the English-speaking community, temporary and permanent residents alike.

Centered on Taipei put me on to Addiction Aquatic Development, an aptly-named fish and gourmet food market, containing indoor and outdoor restaurants. It's at No. 18, Alley 2, Ln 410, Minzu E Rd 台北市民族東路410巷2弄18號

Vegetarians should look away now.

Addiction is one of those places where you can choose your meal while it's still alive, and have it cooked and brought to your table steamed, fried, barbecued, made into soup, or however you want to eat it. Addiction also has shelves groaning with very fresh, high quality sushi, sashimi, raw fish and meat, imported delicacies and lots of booze.

With the tail end of a tropical storm system still hanging over Taipei yesterday, we sought and found sanctuary from the rain at Addiction. We got a taxi from Zhongshan Junior High School MRT station on the brown line. There are a few buses that pass nearby but taxis aren't that much more expensive and deliver you to your destination reasonably dry.

One of the advantages of living in Asia is that you can drink fresh coconut milk straight from the nut. It's a subtle taste but your stomach sends back signals of great contentment after drinking it. I first encountered fresh coconut milk many years ago and am always ready to become re-acquainted. My son is also becoming a big fan. This is just one of the drinks on offer at Addiction.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Tanks of huge crabs, lobsters and other shellfish greet visitors on their arrival. Assistants spray your hands with sanitiser before you're allowed inside, and it's easy to see why because the temptation to touch is irresistible. We toured the poor, doomed creatures before going into the shop area.

I don't know what these are. My husband thought of a name but I'd better not repeat it on a site open to the general public.
We saw at least three places to eat: a stand up sushi joint, an upstairs hot pot restaurant, and an outdoor barbecue area. There may be more but the place was so packed it was difficult to manoeuvre and explore. We settled on the outdoor area as it was marginally less full than the others, and enjoyed a beer while waiting for a table.

The creme-whip topping is actually some kind of crushed ice, as far as I could tell. Not unpleasant but, as someone more used to room temperature bitter, slightly bizarre.

Ordering is a little unusual too. There is a single wooden menu to read as you're waiting, but guests survey the display of (already dead) items on display to order.

We had green pepper, mushroom, rice balls and skewers of meat and fish, but a crab leg and scallops were the highlights of the meal for me.
The crab legs were about a foot long. Here's ours resting on the ceramic hot plate where wait staff deposit your food as it arrives. 

The aftermath.

The scallops were huge and delicious too.

The wait staff were dressed as sailors, bless 'em.

After a couple of hours we emerged extremely full and a little poorer. It would be easy to become addicted to food if you frequently ate at Addiction.