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Travel and Tourism

Taiwanathon

- RJ Ledesma - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Welcome to Taiwan, Home to Taipei 101 — the tallest building in the… oops, the second tallest… oh wait, the third tallest building in the world; Taroko Gorge, an impressive marble-walled canyon made up of marble; the world-famous Hualien Farglory Ocean Park, where you can enjoy “Limited experience each day!” And — as far as my mom is concerned — the nougat Shangri-la of the Far East. Nougat appears to be so insanely popular in Taiwan that they actually have their own Nougat Museum. I should know. My mom sent me their in homage.

Yup, nougat is the new salt. So when I recently visited Taiwan for a media familiarization tour, my mom — knower and purveyor of all things nougat — insisted that I take her refrigerator-sized, flaming-red maleta slash bomb shelter so that I could hoard as much nougat as was legally obtainable (lest she make me suffer with her mutant power of maternal guilt when I returned home). Unfortunately, because I had to reserve space for 800 pounds of nougat in my maleta, I couldn’t sneak Yaya along for this trip. 

To make up for the lack of Yaya, I was relieved that there were two media personalities whom I could hang out with on this trip and count on to help stuff a bimpo down the back of my shirt: popular food and travel blogger Anton Diaz of www.ourawesomeplanet who also happens to be my heterosexual life partner in the Mercato Centrale weekend food market; and the woman who inspired me to write a column (her vehement pubic denials notwithstanding), fellow STAR columnist and world dominatrix Jessica Zafra. Finally, I could hang around my writing idol’s personal space continuously over the next three days because the temporary restraining order would not be applicable in Taiwan!

(But if Jessica had a good breaststroke, she could take comfort in the knowledge that Taiwan is relatively close to the Philippines. In fact, Bataan is only about 144 kilometers away from Taiwan. On a clear day, a person from Taiwan can wave to a person over in Bataan and the person in Bataan will wave back if his view is not obscured by Chinese warships.)

After Jessica asked the Taiwanese security to provide her with a security cordon, the media group proceeded to the Shilin Night Market — the largest and most famous night market in Taipei populated by roadside eateries, clothing and abubut tiangges, mahjong stands, video arcades and the walang kamatayang karaoke stores. Since Jessica’s security detail would Taser me whenever I woud approach within 15 feet of her, I circled the market with my heterosexual partner Anton who was photobombing every street food delicacy he encountered. And consuming them as well (I suspect that Anton has a black hole where his stomach used to be). For an ovo-lacto vegetarian like myself, all the stuff that he ingested sounded lovely — cuttlefish garlic bread, black chicken soup with feet (hopefully, it was the chicken’s foot), black, chewy iron eggs, frog eggs and fungus gulaman — especially if I was on hallucinogens.

Of course Anton did not want me to be left out of the gustatory action. “Partner,” he said while licking his lips, “I want you to try (dramatic pause) stinky tofu.” He snickered snickeringly. “I hear it smells like an imburnal.”

I shook my head and thought, “Anton, do you realize that you are putting our heterosexual relationship on the line?”

“But the smellier, the better!” he replied while rubbing his hands together (I tried not make the first witty comeback that came to mind with his reply lest this column not be printed).

So we were off to search for urban legendary stinky tofu — a dish that is prepared by soaking tofu in a brine made from fermented milk, vegetables, amaranth greens, mustard greens, bamboo shoots, Chinese herbs and — que horror — dried shrimp and meat (may the vegetarian gods have mercy on me! I only found this out while researching about stinky tofu while writing this column. Please don’t take away my existential privileges!). After mistaking several imburnals for hole-in-the-wall diners, we finally found the most foul-smelling stinky tofu in all of Taipei. You could tell it was the stinkiest because of the full-body radiation hazmat suits that were worn by the cooks and waitstaff.

After Anton pinned me to the ground, he ordered a generous serving of stinky deep-fried tofu with a heaping of sweet and sour pickled vegetables (their local version of atsara), sprinkled it with hot sauce and shoveled it down my second favorite orifice.

And you know what? After you regurgitate the tofu the first 37 times, it is not bad at all. Ang hype talaga naman, no? Those warning signs from Taiwan’s Deaprtment of Health outside of the restaurant were overrated. Especially since they were written in Chinese.

After our third serving, Anton and I found something that was even more challenging than devouring rotten carcass-smelling tokwa. In a brightly lit-stall in the middle of the market, we saw marketgoers queueing for freshly-baked cream-filled pastries that were shaped like male genitalia. For only 60 Taiwanese dollars (about P72,000), you could get your pastry dipped into chocolate, strawberry, vanilla or weird alien green goo-type frosting. But if you wanted a more hearty meal, you could replace the cream with a sausage (that may or may not be anatomically correct). As I saw the each customer bite down on their pastry, the thought that ran though my mind was: “Who did they use as a model for the pastry mold?” I held on to that thought as Anton and I held on to our respective crotches on the way to our hotel.

The urban legendary deep-fried stinkty tofu of Taiwan, which reeks like an imburnal. But the smellier, the better.

We were billeted in a swank Renaissance-inspired hotel called Hotel Palais de Chine (everything sounds swanky when it’s in French). I would have wanted to share a hotel room with Jessica but I was prevented because of humanitarian reasons (she was conducting human sacrifices in her room), so it looked like it would be me and my heterosexual life partner Anton sharing the room. It also looked to me that we would be sharing more than we expected because there was no partition between the bedroom and bathroom. And that there was no shower curtain as well. This meant that Anton and I might be exposed to each other’s awesome planets unless we fogged up the shower’s glass door while taking our turns at the bath.

But let’s not talk about this again without copious amounts of rubbing alcohol. Anyway, the best place to pay a visit to after an all-night eat out in a food market is the toilet bowl. And I was quite elated to see that the hotel had one of those high-tech push button toilet bowls. I was not that elated when I saw that the instructions were in Chinese. Just by staring at the console beside the toilet bowl, I was afraid that I might need an engineering degree to operate it. It took me a good 15 minutes to figure out how to sit on the toilet bowl. I was very cautious about pressing the buttons on the console because the toilet might either wash my behind or give me an anal probe (at this point, let’s just say that I am glad that Anton has an engineering degree. And yes, stinky tofu does live up to its reputation).

After spending several productive hours in the banyo, the group departed the following day for Yulin county to experience the Su-Ao Cold Spring Resort. According to the resort’s pamphlet, Japanese researchers discovered that the spring contains carbonic ion concentrations of 68ppm, making the cold spring the only calcium hydroxy carbonic spring in Taiwan. That left me both excited and hopelessly perplexed at the same time. But for non-Japanese researcher types like me, it just meant the water comes from an underground spring that contains so much carbon dioxide that swimming in the water is like swimming in carbonated soda. (They have even used the spring water here to make a bubble-gum flavored softdrink called Taiwan Sham Chin Ice Cream Soda Pop. Really.)

The pamphlet further explained the curative powers of the cold spring which included (and I quote): stomach troubles, pains in the loins and back, chronic pneumonia, kidney stones, cyolith, gout, diabetes, skin diseases, all types of chronic obesity, to improve health and beauty, and to improve immunity. My goodness, I thought, if I bathe in the spring water long enough, I may just elevate to the next plane of existence (or maybe not, if the vegetarian gods are still pissed off at me for eating the stinky tofu).

However, the true challenge to my ascension would be if I could actually dip myself into cold spring water that was 22 degree Celsius. Just how cold is 22 degrees Celsius? My pink parts were about to find out. It’s a good thing that there were private spring rooms where you could appreciate the benefits of the spring water au naturel and not have to appreciate the private parts of others.

Here are pictures of the cream-filled pastries shaped like male genitalia. And if you don’t want the cream, you can replace it with sausages. 

I took deep breaths as I gingerly immersed myself and my pink parts into the cold spring water. However, I was just not feeling the vaunted curative powers of the spring. So after three hours of standing ankle deep in the water, I finally took the plunge. 

Now I know why the Taiwanese pop music was blaring loudly in every private spa room. It is to drown out the screams as you submerge yourself in the cold spring water and your testicles violently retract to the pit of your stomach. (That, my three female readers, is what 22 degrees Celsius feels like.)

And you know what? Even though it has taken several months for my testicles to return to their rightful place, the cold spring water was not that bad after all. Ang hype talaga naman, no? At one point, my body was even enveloped in so many carbonated bubbles that I could have reclaimed my throne as Royal Tru-Orange endorser. By the time I emerged from the pool three minutes later, I daresay that I was a man who was more aesthetically pleasing, a man who was potentially immune to the enterovirus 71 and a man whose voice was now two octaves higher.

But for the sake of human civilization, I say that no trip to Taiwan is complete without paying a visit to the Museum of Alien Studies, which is tucked into an inconspicuous building in the Shilin market. According to their website, the museum is here on earth “To assist humanity — to assist human evolution of body, mind and spirit. To assist aliens — to conserve the extraterrestrial genetic pool and help extraterrestrials learn new methods of doing things.”

But this raises the question: Why is the Museum of Alien Studies specifically in the Taichung, Taiwan district, an area that is proximate to hundreds of life-threatening stinky tofu stands? Simple. It’s because “The Feng Jia District in Taichung, Taiwan is home to the central axis of many galactic extraterrestrial energy streams. It is also the central headquarters for extraterrestrial ascension.  On Earth, 10 percent of the population is of extraterrestrial origin; they have alien souls that incarnate into bodies because of fate, body-soul connections, soul activation and guidance and training.”

(Imaginary Tom Cruise: You see, Katie!? Didn’t I tell you all about this?)

“In the future, school education, societal education, even national and governmental education will need to be a space age education, outer space education, and even alien education in order to keep up with contemporary educational needs and face and solve contemporary problems,” the museum’s pamphlet reads.

And finally, why do we need to pay an entrance fee to the museum if it is for the benefit of the human race? “Therefore the Museum of Alien ‘Extreme Species Evolution Theory’ exceeds Earth’s ‘Natural Species Evolution Theory’ 100 to 1,000 times and above in terms of wisdom and ability to solve various problems in humanity’s existence, and understand various unusual and mysterious phenomena.”

So given all this, what is the best way to introduce the next step in human evolution and human-alien peaceful co-existence? By welcoming visitors with an Alien Knife Massage.

The latest in advanced alien technology: The Alien Knife Massage. The massive chopping motions over a cloth-covered victim, er, customer.

The Alien Knife Massage Therapy is touted as “a unique skill and the power of advanced alien technologies in practice.” This advanced alien technology involves a woman wielding a pair of butcher’s knives and chopping away at the client’s head, back and shoulders. But before any chopping takes place, the client is draped with a thin sheet of cloth presumably for sanitary purposes (Say, for example, when the client spurts blood, at least he will not spurt blood all over the upholstery). But incredulously enough, nary a mark was left on the client after the treatment session. According to the therapist, many clients even describe this as a “very unique and relaxing experience.” Of course it is. If an advanced scout for an alien invasion is sent to Earth to check on what is the meatiest part of the human anatomy, I’m sure at the very least they would like to provide us with a “very unique and relaxing experience.” And what is the cost of this advanced alien technology, you may ask? A measly hundred Taiwanese dollars (about a gajillion pesos). For about 10 minutes.

When Jessica saw the Alien Knife Massage, she broke off from the security cordon and gladly volunteered me for a trial massage. She also volunteered to do the chopping. Unfortunately, I couldn’t remember much of what happened during my trial massage since I passed out 30 seconds after I started screaming. However, I think all my major body parts appear to be intact. Although I might have inadvertently left a little piece of meat, este, me for posterity purposes in that Alien Museum in Taiwan. But I also did take home illegal amounts of nougat to the Philippines. So I guess that was a fair exchange.

Postscript: Jessica’s temporary restraining order was immediately reinforced once landing on Philippine soil. I don’t think Anton will be writing about his experience with the male genitalia-shaped pastries in his food and travel blog. And I am waiting to be beamed back up to the mothership. Really.

* * *

For comments, suggestions or a pastry, e-mail [email protected] or visit www.rjledesma.net. Follow @rjled on Twitter.

Thanks to Chal Lontoc-del Rosario of Jeron Travel (www.jerontravel.com).

ALIEN

ALIEN KNIFE MASSAGE

ANTON

MDASH

SPRING

TAIWAN

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