When I went on the Taiwanese Love Boat, I lived right in Jian Tan, which is the home of the world famous Shilin Night Market of Taipei, Taiwan. I’m sure there’s night market culture in a lot of different places, but somehow it’s become such a “thing” in Taiwan. It’s somewhere between a farmer’s market, a mall, and a outdoor food court all wrapped into one. There is always one or more flourishing night markets in every neighborhood all across the island. Some run all day, transforming from a morning market to an evening night life hub.
The main attractions of a night market are really the shopping and the food. For shopping, there’s so much available at low prices, and bargaining is just part of the culture, although I’m not much of a bargainer myself. A favorite shopping activity I enjoy at these night markets is finding random items with really crazy Engrish on them. One time I found a metallic keychain with a picture of “Snoopy” but his name was spelled “Snoppy”. I didn’t buy it and have regretted it ever since. Cocaine and caviar anyone?
The food truck craze has got nothing on the Taiwanese food carts. Every night market has its signature specialty, but the variety is always staggering, although so is the lack of hygiene in the food preparation. Nevertheless, the food is definitely unique. My favorites are usually mochi hand beaten by old ladies, pork’s blood, chicken hearts on a stick, spring rolls, and tanghulu (sugared fruits on a stick, the kind they always sell in those old kung fu movies).
Taiwan overall is really very safe. I remember when I studied Mandarin Chinese there one summer, I got home kind of late form a bowling session with friends, but as I walked warily to my studio apartment alone in the dark at midnight, I found myself in the company of obaasans and ojiisans (grandmas and grandpas) hanging out with their toddler grandchildren outside. Yeah, I probably was a greater threat to them than they were to me.
However, when you are in the night markets, you do need to look out for vendors who try to charge foreigners really high prices and also tons of pick-pockets. In one of my many wanderings through Shilin Night Market when I lived there, I had an empty backpack on just in case I needed to fill it with stuff I bought. Luckily, I had kept my wallet in my front pocket because by the time we were leaving the market, my friend said, “Hey, your backpack’s completely unzipped!” I took it off to examine it and sure enough, literally every single zipper in the entire bag was undone and the whole thing was hanging open and loose. I realized some hapless pick-pocket had tried to steal something from me, but the poor thing had spend a lot of time quietly following me and painstakingly unzipping everything only to come up completely empty-handed. Gotta give the culprit an A for effort.
Next up, Taipei 101.