taiwan 2019: six – pingxi, jioufen, kavalan whiskey, 228, and postlude in south korea

lanterns, magical coastal staircases, whiskey, and quickie korea ::::

This is the last post chronicling our trip to Taiwan this summer! You can see the first post (jet lag in Taipei), second and third posts in Kaohsiung (Part 1 and Part 2), fourth post at our first night market (in Chiayi), and the fifth post back in Taipei (more temples, markets).


Day 12: Before we headed to Jioufen (九份) (see spoiler alert views in photo above) for the day, we picked up stacks of scallion pancakes (葱油饼; cong you bing which literally means ‘scallion oil pancake’) for breakfast. This is Eat’s uncle’s favorite place when he visits.

Scallion pancakes are made from dough not a batter, bits of chopped scallions mixed in. Frying it puffs up the layers of dough. These were particularly salty but still good.

Giddy up! We are goin’ up to the mountains! We headed to Jioufen (九份), an ancient gold mining town in the Riufen District of New Taipei, nestled near the coast and mountains. We took the Red Line train from Da’an Park to the CKS stop and transferred to the Blue Line to alight at the Xiamen station. Here, we hopped an hour-long shuttle/tour bus to Jioufen with a very chatty tour guide named Justus. (The horse below waited for us near the Shifen Waterfall.)

Here, Grub is contemplating 1) the physics of water; 2) candy; 3) candy and boba naicha. On the way to Jioufen, we stopped by the Shifen Waterfall (十分大瀑布) near Pingxi (平溪), walking on a suspension bridge over the  upper Keelung River (基隆河) around to this vista. This is the widest waterfall in Taiwan. Some tout it “The Niagara Falls of Taiwan” — it’s actually much smaller.

Here we are walking back over the suspension bridge.

The trees and statues on the land around the waterfall were draped in dozens of red ribbons near a shrine. Each ribbon had a message written in gold on it. People write their wishes, hang the ribbons near the shrine, and hope for the wishes to come true.

By this point, we were melting in the heat. We searched out the conveniently placed cold drink stands near the shrine and bridge. We aimed for ultra cool mango and lemon-kumquat slushies post-waterfall.

Look at the sign: they recycle coconuts. Hard core.

We hopped back on the bus for a short ride to Pingxi (平溪), an area famous for its Sky Lantern Festival. Here we are decorating our own paper lantern (天燈). Sky lanterns in this area of Taiwan symbolize a wish to give birth to boys. The Taiwanese Hokkien word for “putting more boys in the family” (添丁; tiām dīng) and the word for sky lantern (天燈; tī dīng) sound similar. To be clear though: you can wish for anything, not just boy babies. Our choice of a red lantern symbolizes health and peace.

These lantern magnets look like candies.

Thar she goes! A woman (taking the photo) helped us with strict instructions on how to hold the already-lit-with-fire lantern and when to release it. Basically, we were holding a large paper grocery bag turned upside down with fire inside of it. MAJOR FIRE HAZARD.

The lanterns stay in the sky for about 10 to 15 minutes then burn up to mostly ash. If there are bits left over (the wires/frame of the lantern shape), the local government pays money to citizens retrieving and returning the spent bits.

It was fun to watch other people do their releases too.

There was cheering and clapping for some groups.

Prolific are these fans in summer in Taiwan, small enough to hold in your hand or clip to strollers or walkers. Not that they help all that much, blowing hot, humid air back into our already hot, humid faces.

Then to Jioufen, the town of hundreds of stairs. “Jioufen” (九份) literally means “nine portions.” The village first housed nine families in the Qing Dynasty. Requests for supplies from the outside would go to these nine families.

Jioufen is not only famous for its gold mining history, but also parts of the downtown area being similar to locations in the anime movie Spirited Away (though the director denies this).

We climbed over 100 stairs to the Xiahai Chenghuang temple. Perching oneself on the third floor of this century-old temple shows the best views of the East China Sea in Jioufen. Chenghuang (城隍; characters for “wall” and “moat”) is the god of justice and protection.

This bird sat balanced and chirping angrily on one of the wiry flairs of the intricate dragon atop. I’m like, Damn Bird, what are you so annoyed about? You look at unobstructed views of the ocean everyday, poop on tourists, and fly.

After all those stairs and getting some street snacks for dinner, it was time for more drinks. The kids got soda flavor (which is almost always neon blue — fruity and a little fizzy) with homemade jelly (a large pink ball of agar agar floating in each cup which they proceeded to handle, lick, bite, one ending up on the ground covered in sticks and dirt).

Eat and I got the brown sugar boba milk tea (珍珠奶茶). They used a blowtorch to burn the sugar crust on top. So good! This was probably one of our favorite drinks on the trip.

As the sun went down, we headed down the stairs.

It appears to cool and lush. It was still oppressively humid but cooling off a little in the setting sun.

Here’s a taste of the humidity: it’s not windy but my hair looks windblown. That’s the wreck of humidity on fine hair even when pulled back in a ponytail. I looked like this on most of the trip, hair every which way. Cute: not really. Add in sticky sweat-salt on the skin.

The shuttle dropped us back off in Taipei, food scents leading us to this Korean-style hot pot place.

We basically ate, took the train home, showered, and immediately rolled into bed.


Day 13: Fruit! We stopped by this market to buy fruit to bring to Eat’s grand-uncle Shi-Gik-Gong-ah (literally “fourth brother of grandfather” in Taiwanese), his wife (great-aunt Shi-Jim-bo-ah), and their daughter (Be-Houn-aiee). Eat hadn’t seen them in over 20 years so it was a nice reunion. Shi-Gik-Gong-ah is a jovial man who obviously loved the conversation and catching up.

Afterwards, the kids stayed at home and Eat and I walked around Ah-ma’s neighborhood. We found the Pat Me Catfé (陪我猫啡) at No. 133號, Rui-an Street, Da’an District, Taipei City, Taiwan 106, for coffee and desserts. It also had two cats roaming around. Pika was mildly interested in us, then decided some dude with a laptop had a better lap.

I ordered tea and a pile of waffles with maple syrup, peanut butter, and vanilla ice cream. Because lactose tolerance.

We hardly walked off that pile of delicious fat and dairy before we had to figure our dinner plans. We headed to KaoChi (高記) in the Da’an District (we walked from the house), a Shanghaiese restaurant at No. 150號, Section 1, Fuxing South Road, Da’an District, Taipei City, Taiwan 106. Shanghaiese food emphasizes retaining the flavors of the raw ingredients cooked in the dishes and accentuating flavors with condiments.

Drunken chicken and shrimp wraps– yay!

I saw “tree hedgehog” on the menu and thought “Cool! Some tree animal I’ve never tasted!” It was a mushroom. Still good.

Pork belly buns (割包 or 刈包; gua bao) – like eating umami butter:

Fried xiao long bao: these have thicker skins and crispy undersides, different than the more delicate ones we had at Din Tai Fung.

Sichuan dandan noodles (担担面擔擔麵; dandan mian): spicy-sauced noodles with minced pork, preserved vegetables, chili oil, and scallions:

Here’s the Grub shoving some into his mouth:

Sky-Girl is making a pork-mouth target:

And Peach is trying to convince us that we need a huge dessert even though she is full.

We went to the popular shaved ice place called Ice Monster (冰品系列) nearby at No. 297, Section 4, Zhongxiao East Road, Taipei 106. The menu includes unicorn snowflake shaved ice: fruit flavor with yellow pop rocks and a side of boba.

Eat and Peach opted for the black sesame/almond and Thai iced tea flavors, respectively. The almond shaved ice was WAAAAAAY too almondy (and I love almond flavors). It was like drinking a bottle of almond extract.


Day 14: Back to Da’an Park for our almost daily runs (where more often than not, I crumpled in the 90+ degree heat and mostly walked).

The contrast of the green against the blood red dirt and a lone woman walking with an umbrella — inspiration for a painting, poem, or novel.

Leaving the kids at home, Eat and I decided to explore a bit. This is the Dadaocheng circle air defense cistern, one of Taipei’s heritage sites. Once standing at 2.2 meters high with a 11 meter diameter, it is the largest of its kind in Taipei. The area was first used as a recreational park to a night market site. In 1943, an air defense cistern was built in the middle of this circle to supply water to fires started from air raids. After the war, the cistern was filled in and it was restored to a night market site for the area. A 2001 excavation revealed the red brick walls and it was later marked as a heritage site.

We stopped at the cistern on our way to the 228 Incident site. More details on the history of this important landmark are in my first post and fifth post on this series of Taiwan posts. Eat humored me and accompanied me on my quest to find the 228 Incident site memorial plaque (which was hard to find when I messed up the address the first time) and the former Tianma Teahouse (天馬茶房; Tianma literally means “sky horse” or “pegasus”), the location where widow Lin Jiang-mai (林江邁) sold cigarettes, an act that angered the KMT and resulted in her beating and bullet fired into a crowd.

Very hard to read but gives a summary of the event that lead to the cascade of death and fear for the next few decades after WW2.

On the way home, Eat and I trained over to the Kavalan whiskey store (金車噶瑪蘭威士忌安和展售中心) to buy some gifts. (No. 57號, Lane 81, Section 2, Dunhua South Road, Da’an District, Taipei.)

We found the motherlode.

Don’t ask me how much we spent. But this bottle below: WORTH IT. Much more expensive in the U.S. We toted a lot of liquids home.

We tasted a couple of other ones but they weren’t nearly as good. Good bye, Taiwan! We’re leaving with a stockpile of whiskey!

Day 15: To South Korea! We routed our trip home to spend a night in South Korea close to Seoul. In retrospect, it was actually too quick of a trip to really have a good tour of the city. But, food.

Me and Eat: Come on, let’s get to the gates.


It’s like they’re praying over it.

Our first stop after flying in to Icheon: drop off luggage and get dinner. Spicy banchon all the way with a cloudy rice wine (막걸리; makgeolli) served in bowls. It was sweet and bitter with a little fizz.

We love Korean seafood pancakes. And look at the chunks of raw garlic in the condiment bowls: hard core.

These tiny spiraled octopus legs inspired some interesting poetry. And the hot sauce! It was like eating a spicy, hot popsicle.

Mandatory selfie. We wandered around these streets for a bit. Grub was still hungry and he got a hamburger at a place called Loteria. We ended up at an American-style ice cream place for dessert.

Prepping for the looooong flight home in the morning by walking as much as possible. I hate sitting on planes.

Day 16: Airport bound, this is how I usually imagine Korea: cloudy, bright, understated in environment. The food gives you pops of color and heat.

See that? We are routed across South Korea to avoid any North Korean airspace.

After 12 hours on a plane, 6 of the hours filled with mind-numbing movies, and a 12 hour time change, this is the look of absolute exhaustion. Good night/morning!

My next post will drive away from Taiwan and to GRUB’S NINTH BIRTHDAY!


One year ago: key lime pie (Grub’s eighth birthday)

Two years ago: vegan mushroom bolognese sauce

Three years ago: vanilla cake with pandan frosting (Grub’s sixth birthday)

Four years ago: mango strawberry coconut balls

Five years ago: oatmeal brown sugar cookies

Six years ago: iced tea with plums and thyme recipe and watermelon-feta salad recipe

Seven years ago: vegan curried pumpkin soup

Eight years ago: persian-style iced tea with rosewater and watermelon granita


Our Japan trip in 2017:

One: Tokyo and Mount Fiji

Two: Mount Fuji, Sky-Girl’s 4th birthday, and Nabari/Iga

Three: Hiroshima and Kyoto

Four: Tokyo and home

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story of a kitchen