For nearly a year, I’ve chewed on the idea of writing a series about my favorite cafes in Taipei. I’ve been hesitant in the name of ‘research,’ but the time has come.
Before I dive into the inaugural post of my Taipei Cafe series, I want to let ya’ll know that no one is paying me. I am doing this because a) I love cafes b) I want to write my experiences to reference in the future c) I want to share my experiences so others can potentially enjoy it as well.
I have walked past this place numerous times en route to Pica Pica (another favorite cafe that I will write about in the future) without giving it much thought. The exterior gives off an overpriced microwave meals vibe. I much prefer a lowkey, tea/coffee focused cafe with ample work space.
Some days, the charms of the unknown whims take over, and you find yourself in a place you had no intention of entering. The original plan was to complete a photo editing project at Pica Pica, but without hesitation, I walked into WildMii. It silently called me, and I obeyed.
Compared to the cold, spring rain, the warmly lit interior was immediately inviting. I asked for a teapot of Osmanthus Tea then sat down at a glossy, black-tiled table next to an outlet. This is a loose-leaf, caffeine-free tea that I typically order after work for a warm treat.
Once seated, I looked towards the entrance and saw an impressive shelving unit made from black iron forged into geometric shapes, with wooden squares nestled inside at intermittent intervals. Within those wooden cubes were, what I assumed, empty glass tanks. The shelves seemed like a cheap attempt at modern, Instagram-ready decor that I find lame.
Waiting for my tea to brew and procrastinating on starting my project, I stood next to a window to watch the rain when a dark, slow movement caught my attention. “What’s this?” I audibly gasped. “Turtles…HERE?!”
Recalling the name of the cafe, I skeptically walked back to the feature wall for a closer inspection. Inside the glass tanks were real, living, zoo animals!
A perched Chameleon, strongly resembling a disgruntled grandfather, refused to make eye contact with me. I walked past a deathly still tarantula. The disinterest was mutual. I continued past two sleeping sugar gliders cuddling with one another inside of a blue vase, and beyond them were waking mice, stretching and pushing one another. Each tank revealed animals more surprising than the last. A case with hiding hedgehogs, slumbering ground squirrels, a bored gecko!
I looked back at the three other customers focused on their computer screens and wanted to scream “STOP what you are doing! There are cute animals to admire!” Instead, I continued enjoying the zoo alone.
I was compelled to finally sit when the barista placed the tea set next to my laptop. Equipped with a 3-minute sand timer, he instructed me to pour the tea into a warming vessel, which can be refilled at no additional cost, once the last crimson grain falls.
The presentation and the tea were delightful!
The interior is 1930’s glitz meets toned down French patio, with a variety of ferns, wicker and iron chairs, taxidermy decor, and a projector showing a slideshow of watercolor portraits of young women and animals. There was plenty of seating with large work-friendly tables, multiple outlets on each wall, courtesy phone charging station, free wifi, and water. I can certainly see myself coming back here in the future to work and sketch the animals.
Last week, we had a four-day weekend, for a historical and tragic reason. 2-2-8 is a country-wide holiday to observe the massacre on February 28, 1947. This year it landed on a Thursday. In Taiwan, rather than getting one day off, the schedule changes to enable an extended weekend. Meaning, the previous Saturday (February 23) our school had class as usual. This allowed us to take off Friday (March 1) in addition to February 28, totaling a four-day weekend.
I love taking advantage of built in vacation, but I still felt burned out from the big trip to Australia. I wanted to see something new, but not at any large expense of money or time. Pete stepped up and planned our mini-weekend getaway, which was local, fun, and affordable.
Thursday – Wulai
Wulai is a nearby village south of Taipei, famous for its aboriginal culture, cuisine, and hot springs. It was convenient to access as the bus stop is in front of my apartment and the ride only lasts 30 minutes.
As soon as we stepped off the bus we didn’t stop walking for almost 7 hours. We walked through old street packed with aboriginal clothes, foods, and drinks. We walked across suspension bridges overlooking the slow-moving teal blue river. We walked through a forest trail lined with ferns and botany unbeknownst to us. We even saw a monkey sitting in the tree tops above us!
An hour shy of check-in into our AirBnb, we decided to rent a hot spring room for an hour and a half which only cost us each $12. Behind the door labeled “My Room” situated a queen size bed and an excessively large bathroom with a tiled Jacuzzi tub, television, toilet, and shower.
After adequately bathing off the sweat and sores from our walk, we packed up and walked down the street to our AirBnb, which was an even nicer hot spring hotel.
A cozy bed garbed in crimson comforter and a heart-shaped lamp greeted us as we entered the room. Across from the bed sat a flat screen tv, framed by the window which separated the bedroom and bathroom. Walking up two steps and past the toilet we entered the *spa*.
This room had a strikingly woodsy yet whimsy atmosphere that really captured my heart. The floor was a well oiled honey-brown wood that slightly warmed our toes. Next to the sink sat two deep obsidian hot tubs. The larger tub had a seat and could comfortably fit four people. The smaller rectangular tub had no seat so you could really submerge in the water. The view beyond the hot tub was a low-lying window that outlined the surrounding forest and river. A wooden canopy blocked the sun and rain, but left an opening where the breeze, the sound of croaking frogs, and the moving river could join us.
For hours we sipped on rice wine, watched a movie, refilled the tub with scalding hot water, dipped our toes into the cold tub, and laughed and laughed. I’m already looking forward to my next visit.
Friday – Taipei
The following morning, we returned to Taipei early to work on personal projects and have a stay-at-home day. Sadly, I didn’t take any pictures of our meals that day.
Peter is the luckiest person I know. All week the grey skies promised rain and cold winds. Except for his birthday. There were no clouds, there was no chance of rain, and the sun shone with enough force that only a small sweater was required.
We paid $100 NT ($3 USD) for a bus from Daplingling Station (a block away from my apartment) to Luodong, a rural city east of Taipei. From there, we took the TRA one stop south to Dongshan . A bike rental shop located outside the station was swarmed by weekend riders wanting to be outside on this perfect day.
We rented two bicycles for 4 hours which cost $250 NT ($8 USD) each, then we set off on the river side trail. The paved road was narrow for only two parallel riders at a time. It cut through quaint farmland and bustling, colorful parks. We shared the trail with families walking, couples on tandem bikes, and groups sharing bicycle carriages. The trail led us past the small farms all the way to the shore.
The smooth, charcoal colored sand felt so refreshing on our hot feet. The waves hit the shore fiercely making it quite dangerous to swim. We rolled up our pants and waddled knee-deep, challenging the ocean to a speed test…We quickly got splashed to the butt.
The sand did have a quick-sand quality, where areas were exceptionally deep. If we jumped down with enough force, our legs submerged up to our calves.
After returning our bikes, we traveled back to Luodong to explore the night market. This market is situated alongside a large park, with ample seating. We watched a live band perform Taiwanese hits that had the crowd singing along, and a few interesting songs from Maroon 5.
Sunday – Lazy Day
Not much to report here, besides a good ol’ day of doing nothing! A classic way to end a fun weekend.
I’ve always struggled during periods of transition. Regardless of the magnitude of change – new job, haircut, moving, my favorite Chick-fil-A closing, graduation – it is an emotional upheaval that prods the anxious monster in my brain.
The worst-case-scenario happened in June: I resigned from DaZhu AND I didn’t get the desired writing position. I cursed myself for my zealous and foolish decisions. After a couple of frustration-filled crying sessions, I resigned to the outcomeand focused on finding a teaching position in Taipei.
Within a week my recruiter lined up an interview with a private middle school close to the Taipei zoo. Typically, schools ask interviewees to create and present a 10-30 minute long lesson plan of their choice. This school provided lesson content the day-of and allotted 40 minutes to prepare a 20 minute lesson.
Using my laptop, a notebook filled with past lessons, and provided textbook, I struggled to create an interesting and fun lesson plan in the designated time, but I ended up making a shoddy six-page PowerPoint outlining grammar rules, and one boring activity. After 45 minutes of hectic planning, I presented to the Director of foreign English teachers (a young Taiwanese woman), a current English teacher (a young South African man), and my coordinator (a Taiwanese man) in only 7 minutes. Both the coordinator and Director asked “that’s it?” when I ended, but the Director added “nice and efficient I like it.” The interview portion left me feeling confident because I connected with the Director about being women in education, and she mentioned “students love young, female teachers but they’re hard to come by.”
As I walked to the bus stop with my coordinator, he assured me I handled the interview portion better than two other candidates, but they have more experience than me so it’s hard to tell who the school will choose. I held back disappointed tears on the bus ride home.
2 days later an email from my recruiter popped up on my phone and my eyes widened as I read they offered me a position starting on August 27. My immediate response, “WOW!!!!!!!! I AM SO HAPPY!!!!”
Though the school is located further from the city than I anticipated, I will work with my desired age range (7th-12th grade students) and receive a sizable raise (more than my previous teaching position & the rejected writing job).
Eager to begin my life in Taipei, I ended my apartment lease on July 31, completed my teaching contract the same day, and found an apartment with a move-in date on August 1.
My agenda was filled with a long to-do list for two weeks. While teaching summer camp, I filed a police background check, completed a medical exam, opened a bank account, toured potential apartments, and ate multiple goodbye lunches with co-workers.
Once I completed the pre-employment check-list and signed my teaching and apartment contracts, I relaxed and began looking at Luzhu through a lens of lasts.
Below are photos and captions taken in Luzhu to commemorate my 7 month stay and appreciate everything that happened.
One afternoon shortly after work, I ventured on bike ride around Luzhu to capture idyllic snaps of the Taiwanese countryside. Here are the results:
Once a week since February, I ate dinner with Phillip and his family. I met Phillip while playing tennis at DaZhu, and he quickly became a great friend of mine. Originally, our dinners included a language exchange, but we all tired of this due to our busy schedules. We agreed to simply eat dinner, catch up, and spend time together like a family. I watched movies, talked about politics, and learned about Taiwanese cuisine and history. Phillip and Grace supported my decision to find work in Taipei and I am very grateful for their friendship!
*Note: I typed this blog post in March, but did not publish until June. It takes a while to get organized, people!*
Yesterday, a rare thing happened. Peter and I awoke and left the room by 10 am. WOW! With all of this extra morning-time, we had a full day of Taipei exploration.
Elephant Mountain 象山
After breakfast, we hopped on the Red line to Xiangshan station, which spat us out at Xiangshan Park. A 10 minute walk from here are the steps to the Elephant Mountain hiking trail.
This hike is short and rather easy, which is fortunate because I was still nursing a mild cold. What lacked in difficulty was made up by amount of funny things we witnessed. For example, this man crawling backwards up the mountain.
Immediately after I finished recording that clip, another man ran down mountain backwards. For a brief moment, the two backwards-moving men crossed paths and it was amazing and confusing. We stood there in shock, then laughed uncontrollably. I am still scolding myself for not recording that moment.
We also saw many elderly men and women walking up and down the mountain with canes. Not necessarily a funny sight, but an impressive one. I turned to Peter and confessed, “I don’t think Meme could ever do this walk, yet there are people older than her walking faster than me. What the heck.”
During the hike, Peter befriended a Mormon man with 5 children. (I think his big “TX” shirt screamed “talk to me I’m foreign and friendly!”). The family ended up becoming our low-key hiking buddies. I tried to scare his children while Peter spoke to him about travelling in Asia. That man took this picture of Peter and I.
The view from the top of the trail is worth the steep hike. There are a few giant rocks that people climbed atop of to take pictures in front of Taipei 101. It was a long line that I didn’t want to wait in. Instead, we scaled up even bigger rocks – and impressed onlookers while doing it – to take our own pictures of Taipei 101 and surrounding foliage. Here are the results.
After climbing down the mountain, Peter and I hopped on u-bikes and headed to Taipei 101. In all honesty, it’s boring. It’s just an expensive mall with a food court. It’s sort of lame, but beautiful to look at. After taking this picture and a quick walk through the building, we continued on our journey.
Huanshan 1914 Creative Park 華山1914文化創意產業園區
Huanshan 1914 Creative Park is a really cool, trendy, exciting creative art space. We happened across an aboriginal festival, filled with live music and food stands. As we ventured further into the park, we saw some even more artsy/hipster shops selling clothing & knick knacks, Cartoon Network pop-up shop, restaurants, cafes, and a movie theater. I was taken aback by how much there is to do here, and a majority of it is FREE!
Being a bit of an impetus individual, I decided to walk into a building with this lantern hanging outside. It just looked so welcoming.
The result of an impetuous decision: walking through “Super Cookie Land,” a “dark and weird comedy exhibit.” The artist, I believe named Cookie, is from Japan and he creates some wacky, scary, funny art. I had a blast experiencing his twisted, hilarious art. I even bought two stickers because I had to take home some of his vision.
After the exhibit, we continued to stroll around the park and see everything it had to offer. The atmosphere is so pleasant here. People sat in cafes talking and listening to multiple musicians strum their guitars and lure crowds.
Guanghua Digital Plaza Computer Market 光華商場
As we were trying find a place to eat, we came across this building and I had to check it out. I mean, look at it. The Guanghua Digital Plaza is the go-to place if you’re interested in computers, electronics, and video games. After a quick walk-through, we then ate dinner at an Indian restaurant (not pictured).
End of the Day
Peter and I ended our day at a hilariously horrible foreigner bar. Think Taco Mac in Taipei. To make up for how much it sucked, we split a pitcher of Tai P.A. from Redpoint Brewing. As the pitcher dwindled, Peter and I drew worse and worse caricatures of each other in “The Simpsons style.” I think the beer gave us enough energy for one last stop: a night market. I don’t remember which night market we went to, but we weren’t there for long. 8 minutes after our arrival Peter looked at me and said, “you’re tired, let’s go home now.”
We had such an eventful 12 hours. I’ve definitely learned how much we can accomplish by waking up 1-2 hours earlier!