Tai-Bae 2018 – Reigning Semi-Independent

Note: bae (beɪ/) – a person’s boyfriend or girlfriend (often as a form of address).

Capitalising on the Chinese New Year long weekend holiday and escaping to Taipei probably wasn’t the smartest idea I’ve made. After all, they are a country that celebrates Chinese New Year. As a result, this translated into jam-packed streets and suffocating train rides. Genius, Tish.

Disclaimer: Long, face-palming Taipei recount up ahead. Proceed at own risk time.

Things I did enjoy (ranked):

1. INDEPENDENCE

Mommy and daddy weren’t there to doll out the daily allowances I’d been so accustomed to on my holidays, but nothing beats having your own itinerary and getting (most) of your way in terms of where to stay, places to go, and having regular meals when and where you want it.

Do I miss extending my palm and receiving crisp notes? Yes, but I  do believe it’s a fair swap – Money for ‘making-your-own-way-in-the-world’ freedom. Hey, I get to sleep next to the person I l absolutely adore till 10am on most holi-days, instead of having my little sister wake me up by kicking me in the crotch. I ain’t complaining.

(Another example of my unabashed independence was at my first ever business trip to Chengdu, China this January – Check out my top business trip tips here.)

2. NOT GETTING MY WAY

On the rare occasion where Aaron (my beau) does get his way in planning a fraction of the day’s itinerary, I find myself rarely hating it. During our trip to Taipei, I got to do most of my night market shopping and completed our Top 3 sights-to-see (Nanya Rock Formations, Sun Moon Lake, and CingJing Farm).

Aaron, being the loving boyfriend he is, only requested us visit one place: The gym. If I were to be brutally honest, I would gladly give up my citizenship and migrate to Taipei – Just for their beautiful gyms. I hacked out an entire post about it here. Honestly, there’s no competition – Taipei gyms are hands down, the best I’ve ever been to. Singapore really needs to up their game.

3. UNLIMITED HUJIAOBINGS (胡椒餅)

Basically, they’re pepper pork scallion buns, fist-sized dumplings of heavenly happiness. It’s a hard and crispy bread-like thing on the outside, with a moist, peppery meat dumpling wedged on the inside – made out of minced pork, chopped spring onion, scallions, and lots of pepper. The bun itself is then stuck in a tandoor oven – it looks like a long cylindrical oven about 3/4 the size of an average human being, with the buns stuck to the circumference of the pot, baking like the little delicious alien eggs they are.

As our hotel was right behind Raohe Night Market, home to Taiwan’s best 胡椒餅 makers (located at the mouth of the market), we basically had one every morning – Which makes what I’m about to recount next, particularly painful.

Things that share my special hatred:

MAKING BAD DECISIONS

I need to tell you about the mountain trip I convinced Aaron to take with me. Basically, we checked out from our plush, comfy hotel in central Taipei (which I instantly regretted as I’d be missing out on my morning 胡椒餅) and had a private driver take us from Sun Moon Lake, and up the freezing mountains at Nantou Country, Re’nai, where I wanted to shear friendly sheep at the CingJing Farm.

1. I DID NOT GET TO SHEAR THE SHEEP

Apparently, the sheep shearing schedule isn’t made public knowledge, and is only performed on particular days at the farm. The horses weren’t available either. Turns out, all the farm animals were sick or something. Talk about being inauspicious. So we ended up touring the farm, which as you know, is located on the mountain – Four hours of cardio that I can never take back.

But hey, we did manage to feed the sheep (Aaron was ecstatic at their human-like teeth) and I even got two of them to start fighting. Talk about being a top instigator.

2. OUR MINSU (HOMESTAY) WAS PERCHED ATOP THE HIGHEST PEAK OF THE MOUNTAIN

As a result, Tish ain’t the smartest bulb in the tanning bed when it comes to holiday planning. I actually thought that the route up the mountain would be a straight vertical taking us to the top, a la cablecar. Forget the journey up mother nature’s beautiful creations, this was a winding road up to hell comprising of sharp turns, sudden jerks, dizzying round-about turns and vomit-inducing braking (thanks Taxi Uncle!).

Add altitude sickness into the mix, and we had ourselves a real party.

Fortunately, Aaron is blessed (not only with his nice butt) but also with the luxury of having zero motion sickness, neither unaffected by airplanes nor small shaky boats or crazy taxis. He was my primary taxi caregiver slash navigator, whereas I resorted to moaning and complaining about the journey 100% of the time.

Our Minsu – homestay – also looked nothing like the pictures on Booking.com. As I had no idea that our Minsu wasn’t designed as a hotel layout with all the rooms under one main roof (but instead spread out in little cabins over a couple of acres down the mountain), I had requested online for the quietest, most isolated ROOM the owners could provide us.

What I thought I was booking (above), versus what I got (below).

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The owners lived up to their promises, and gave us the quietest, most isolated CABIN they had. It was all the way down the mountain requiring 7 flights of stairs to reach the bottom, with no lights whatsoever guiding us to our cabin after-hours (the sun sets at 5.30pm in Taiwan). Also, as our hosts so delightfully reminded us, our neighbouring cabins were creepily empty (as requested), and the phones only worked when calling the main house (which were unmanned after 10pm). Mental images of The Strangers and The Last House on the Left came to mind. I have to admit, it made cabin romance a challenge.

Also it’d be good to note that breakfast was served at 7 to 9am every morning at the main house. Needless to say, I never climbed the 7 flights up to breakfast, but had my handy man-in-waiting to do the honours. I have to hand it to Aaron – He was an absolute darling, and got plates of breakfast for me each morning, complain-free. #boyfriendjackpot. 

3. I STUPIDLY FORGOT TO ACTIVATE MY DEBIT CARD FOR OVERSEAS WITHDRAWALS

Though I may have seemed over prepared at the time – what with activating my Credit Card as most ‘smart girls’ would, packing extra socks and underwear, spare long johns and wearing comfy shoes – it can only be Tish, who forgets that most roadside stalls up tall cloud-reaching mountains are not credit-card friendly, and only accept cash. Heck, most of them have never even seen a credit card terminal.

With our only point of holiday reference being our first trip to Hanoi last October – where currency was smaller, items cheaper and our most expensive 2km-long cab ride being a flat S$10 (US$7.50) – we’ve never known how fast money moves, especially when it came to sight-seeing and paying for cab rides.

As a result, Aaron and I burned through our cash fairly quickly, and panicked mid-trip when we realised that unlike Singapore – with money changers and cash converters at every corner stall, hotel and bank on our small island – Taipei was structured a little differently. To eliminate the possibility of money laundering and fraud, the only places that we could swap our Singapore currency for New Taiwan Dollars (NTD) were certified banks (all closed during the Chinese New Year season we were there, may I remind you) and airports (two of which located on opposite sites of Taiwan – Songshan and Taoyuan).

Unfortunately, we only realised of our depleting NTD cash flow the night before we were to leave for the mountains (8am wakeup call), in the middle of a bustling (read: jam-packed) night market. At 9.30pm, we took two trains and rushed over to the Songshan airport (the small, under-utilised one since the newer Taoyuan Terminal 2 opened in 2000) and prayed that the money changers were still open. They were, crisis averted. But pit stains and a near heart attack – not fun.


All in all, it was a fun trip – bad decisions notwithstanding. I’m in my mid-twenties on my second-ever independent trip, give me a break!

And hey, I’ve heard more disastrous stories from my SIA-Crew parents when they started their jobs in the 80’s. Something about losing their way to the hotel and getting tricked into drinking snake blood that made their noses bleed. Ah well, all in a decade’s work. #20sHereICome