the plan for today was to take the train down to taichung, which is a city maybe 150km or so from taipei. feeling we probably needed to get an earlier start on the day, ash came over and brought taiwanese breakfast. which was sort of an omelette-ish sort of thing with something sort of like maybe spinach or something in the egg, as well as maybe rice paste...i don't know. it was good.
we packed our stuff for a one or two day stay, then went by and picked up a friend of ash's named candy (who is the girl who cooked supper the first full day i was here). we all went on the mrt (subway) to taipei main station, where we then bought tickets to take the high speed rail to taichung. you can take a normal train or the high speed, the high speed is about twice the price but half the time (and has only assigned seating). i'd never been on a high speed rail before. in addition to riding high speed rail, it also gave me a chance to see some of the land outside of taipei. the area the train travelled was somewhat hilly/mountainous, and also some tributaries/rivers with water running toward the ocean (we were traveling on the west side of the island).
we got to taichung and were picked up by two guys in a toyota suv. the driver is a friend of a classmate of ash's, and is currently a student of ash as ash is teaching him english. they drove us to a place to eat in taichung. i had some meat that's wrapped in a thick ball of rice paste and boiled, then when you order it they drop it in a bowl and cut an "x" in the top. i also had some rice noodle soup with meat. i didn't eat the stuffed intestines. but i did eat some sausage, which has a casing made of intestinal lining. from there they took us by the hotel we'd be staying at. we checked it out and said "ok". there were always several employees in the lobby of the hotel, and every time you walked in or our or whatever, they'd bow over and over and say "you good?" and "thanks" (in mandarin). it seemed more like japanese style to me than what i'd seen in taiwan. then they took us to get some bubble tea. usually i'll get fruit smoothie or milk tea with bubbles (tapioca "pearls"), but this time they also had me add...it was a kind of clear jelly without much taste in long thick rope shape. i described them as clear snot worms. they were ok, but it's kind of weird sucking on the straw and suddenly sucking something that keeps coming through the straw for longer than you're used to. we went by a place where you get a traditional food item of taichung, which is the sun cake. but they were sold out.
as we were moving on, ash talked to them about beetle nut and me, so they stopped at a beetle nut shop. we were outside taipei, so the beetle nut shops had beetle nut girls. in other words, there was a very scantily clad girl in each beetle nut shop selling the beetle nut. we bought some and ash's friend showed me how to eat it: you bite the top of the nut off and spit it out, then you pop the rest in your mouth and chew. the first time i spit it was a sickly yellow, sort of like bird vomit. the second time i spit it was a dark red, which is what it continued to be. within a minute or two it felt warm, and it wasn't too long later i got lightheaded. before we drove off i spit it out, but i continued to have a buzz from it for awhile.
we drove to a mall and went to some place whose name i forget. it was a microbrewery with a mixture of typical bar/pub food and asian food. i had a large dunkel beer, plus i had some fries and a german sausage variety platter. when it came time to pay, they put the bill near me, so i put money to pay it all in and handed it to ash. well, one of the guys taking us around told the waitress in taiwanese (which none of us whities spoke, ash knowing a little) to leave our money and pay with theirs. when i figured out the ruse, i told ash that they shouldn't have to, because i wanted to thank them for picking us up and driving us around. continuing my explanation because it wasn't accepted, i told ash this was a type of service you'd pay for, and ash immediately gave me the smack down. you see, in most asian culture everything is about "face" -- gaining face, losing face, etc. (it's similar to concepts of honor in european cultures i guess, but a lot of that in the u.s. has become less pervasive than it used to be...remember duels?) so there are all kinds of expectations and ways of interacting and such. since ash was his teacher, and you are supposed to have ultimate respect for your teacher, he wanted to pay. ash said the rest of us weren't his teacher, but he said they were friends of his teacher. plus if i paid he/they were losing face, and if he/they paid they were gaining face. anyway, being polite is different. so i felt stupid and like i'd done something wrong and there was no way i could talk my way out of it, even though i didn't know what i was doing at the time.
we left there and wandering around a bit in the mall, then we headed over to a bar called "amuse". they dropped us off there and left. you could order drinks individually, or you could pay 500nt and drink as many as you wanted off a set list. we did that. the drinks were okay, but they were pretty weak. while we were there a band showed up and started playing all kinds of songs, some asian and a lot of u.s. hits. they played modern pop stuff as well as older hits (like nirvana, lady gaga, etc.). we stayed there a few hours, then we got a cab back to the hotel.
the hotel was okay, but it didn't have any heat. and as i said before, it's been cold and raining all the time. it was down there too. and the hotel had no heat. the bed was hard and cold, but the comforter was good and the bed warmed up pretty fast. ash had decided he wanted something to eat, so he'd gone to walk to a 7-11 while tim and i went up to the hotel room. once tim and i got into bed and gotten warm, neither of us really wanted to get out to let ash in. so i said we could play "rock, paper, scissors" for it. tim immediately went to sleep. so i watched tv to wait for ash. and i waited. and waited. and waited. eventually i started falling asleep, then ash came in. (he just explained to me the desk lady let him in.) turns out he'd gotten lost for awhile.