Zhongli Xinming Night Market

So the sign technically says "tourist night market"...I dunno
So the sign technically says “tourist night market”…I dunno

This is the night market that foreigners mean when they say “the Zhongli night market.” Actually, there are lots of night markets in Zhongli, big and small, near and far, so better to refer to it as the Xinming Night Market to avoid any confusion.

I live riiiight next to this night market. When people hear that, they assume I go to the night market a lot for meals, but I don’t. The food is delicious in all the unhealthiest ways, and I can’t be eating grilled sausages and fried pancakes all the time. Continue reading “Zhongli Xinming Night Market”

Harvest Time

I hate myself when I get a sandwich at Harvest Time. The sandwiches are fine, not bad, and sometimes you’re in the mood for a sub and not another fried chicken lunchbox, and that’s cool.

But this sign. This f*&%ing sign right here. This sign is bullshit.

harvest time zhongli sign

This sign is a LIE. I like jalapenos on my sandwich, and these people will give you like one jalapeno for every three inches. That means out of your whole sandwich, you only get two bites with a jalapeno. WHERE IS THE BALANCE?

There is no fucking formula. There is only people being stingy. How about all the customers who don’t want jalapenos on their sandwiches? Can I have their jalapenos?

But there is no parking in front of the Subway by the movie theater…

Shrimp Fishing in Zhongli

My in-laws came to visit in the beginning of the summer. We took them to see Taipei 101 and the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall. We rode the gondola to the top of Maokong and had tea with a Taiwanese tea farmer. We walked around Danshuei and watched the sun set. We had Sichuan hot pot at Lao Sichuan. We visited the aboriginal town of Wulai. We spent hours digging around the ceramic shops of Yingge, looking for the perfect tea set.

And on the last day, when I was tired and burnt out, I took them shrimp fishing at the place down the street.

And these people turned to me and said, “This is the best thing we’ve done the whole time we’ve been in Taiwan.”

Oh, how we laughed and laughed…

Shrimp fishing in Taiwan is pretty interesting, though. I had never gone for the longest time because my Taiwanese friends were like ew gross there are chemicals in the water and we aren’t eating the shrimp. Then I tried to go once during Chinese New Year, but it turns out they don’t do the fishing when the water is too cold, which is good to know. (As long as it’s open, you can get some awesome shrimp cooked in every different way.)

I finally went this spring with my friends who are friends with the owners of a giant shrimp-fishing place out in Puxin. They set us up with rods and set us at the edge of the water and…nothing happened. For a whole ten minutes. And then we noticed that everyone who had stayed at the table was eating heaping plates of fried shrimp, and since that’s really the goal, isn’t it?, we gave up on fishing for our own shrimp and sat down to some delicious fried seafood that required no effort on our part to procure.

Eating our weight in shrimp
Eating our weight in shrimp

That night, we ate and drank there for hours, which gave us plenty of time to observe the shrimp-fishing crowd. I usually think of fishing as an activity enjoyed by people who want to spend time in nature and enjoy the tranquility of the early morning with only the sounds of the moving water, wind, birds, and insects to set the ambiance. But in the shrimp fishing place, there was a cover band playing and after they left, the owners blasted electronic dance remixes of the catchiest English and Chinese songs. It was as loud as any bar, but as bright as a hospital. The shrimp fishers were crowded shoulder-to-shoulder around the water in flimsy white plastic lawn chairs.

You could rent a rod and a net, but a lot of enthusiasts had their own tackle boxes. They were all aluminum boxes, about the size of briefcases, and as wildly colorful as Lisa Frank binders, but decorated with popular manga characters. In almost every way, it felt like the opposite of fishing, but everyone who was there was very happy to be there.

The beer helped, I’m sure. Isn’t that a fun way to spend the night, though? If you’re gonna go out drinking, why not add a little sport?

amateur vagrant things to do in zhongli shrimp fishing catching shrimp

After that experience, I felt confident enough to bring the fam to the place down the street. I wasn’t sure exactly how it would go, but the owner explained everything to us and helped us get set up before he went to the kitchen area and start prepping for dinner. We were discouraged at first just because we had no idea what to expect and it seemed like our bait kept disappearing without any indication that a shrimp had been near the hook. My brother-in-law caught the first shrimp, but we had no idea what to do with it. Thankfully our excited yelping and arm waving attracted the attention of some nice folks who knew what the deal was, and one man came over and showed us how to carefully take the shrimp off the hook. They’re huge–it was a little scary.

One we got a feel for it, it was super easy. We caught about ten shrimp, but because we had dinner plans, we just gave them to the guy that had helped us take the first one off the hook and left. Coincidentally, we went to a Japanese barbecue place for dinner and they had the same shrimp on the menu! We missed out on nothing.

This is at the Japanese barbecue place, not the shrimp place.
This is at the Japanese barbecue place, not the shrimp place.

The shrimp fishing didn’t start until 2:00 p.m. For like $600 for two hours, we got the rods, hooks (which we had to replace a couple of times), more than enough chicken liver and tiny shrimps for bait, and nets. The beer was NT$100 for a big bottle of the Taiwan Gold Medal, which is pretty standard. I think if you get to cook what you catch, it’s not a bad deal. It’s definitely a unique experience. Next time, I’ll take my guests from the U.S. there first instead of taking them to Taipei 101…

Here’s a very professional video of somebody else shrimp fishing in Taipei:

Sanmin Bat Cave and the Tuba Church

I’ve lived in Zhongli for about eight years in total, and while I’d be the first to admit that this isn’t a cultural hotspot, the nightlife is routine, and you have to search for trees and grass, I’d also have to say that it’s gotten way more convenient and comfortable to live here since I first arrived in 2004. It isn’t quite the wasteland you’d assume it was by its omission from all the guide books.

You do need a scooter and possibly a sense of adventure, though. Being able to speak some Chinese helps, and making friends with locals and with foreigners who have been here for a while will also increase your chances of having a good time.

The trip out to Sanmin Tuba  Church and the Sanmin Bat Cave is an easy forty-five minute scooter ride out of Zhongli. The drive up to Fuxing is always a pleasure as you watch the buildings turn to trees as the roads get narrower, curvier, and steeper. Riding my scooter through the mountains is one of my favorite things to do: concentrating on the road makes me forget about whatever else is stressing me out, and the fresh, fast-moving air is an excellent cure for a mild hangover.

The Tuba Church is named after the tribe of the people who worshiped there. (Sorry if you were looking forward to a marching band.)

It’s small and humble, but if you’ve gotten used to seeing elaborate red temples and shrines on every block, this little stone church with the cross on its steeple will seem like a refreshing incongruity. The fact is, a lot of the Taiwanese aboriginal people were pretty well-proselytized back in the day and many communities still maintain some forms of beliefs and practices derived from Christian ones.

This was the Sanmin Village Tuba tribe’s church for thirty years until 1992, when it became too small to hold all the community’s worshipers. Then they built a newer, bigger church that you can also see (it’s to the right of the gate in the picture below).

The entrance to the Sanmin Tuba Church.
The entrance to the Sanmin Tuba Church.

 

The front of the Sanmin Tuba Church.
The front of the Sanmin Tuba Church.

 

Sanmin Tuba Church
Sanmin Tuba Church

This is an interesting historical site, and when the weather is nice, it’s a great place to take some pictures.

If you cruise a little further down the road, you can visit the Sanmin Bat Cave. I think that sounds very badass and full of danger, but actually it’s a very pretty spot. And the cave is not so much like a series of tunnels leading you deeper into the belly of the earth as a giant lip of rock overhanging a picturesque scene with a little waterfall and lots of green ferns. The bats are sleeping–you won’t even know they’re there. But if you use your imagination just a little, you can picture dinosaurs grazing and drinking from the cool stream.

(Maybe that’s just me. I like to imagine dinosaurs roaming where we now walk.)

It’s interesting, too, because the stones used to build the Tuba Church came from the Sanmin Bat Cave. When I read that, I was about to commence with my marveling about the ingenuity of ancient peoples, but then I remembered the church was built in the early 1960s…

The path to the Sanmin Bat Cave from the parking lot is a very easy kilometer or less.
The path to the Sanmin Bat Cave from the parking lot is a very easy–very pretty–kilometer or less.

 

There's a few picnic tables, so bring a lunch and spend a few hours here.
There are a few picnic tables, so bring a lunch and spend a few hours here.

 

The view from the "cave" looking out over the water. It feels like a very secret spot.
The view from the “cave” looking out over the water. It feels like a very secret spot.

Go check it out!

Further reading:

Paris Bar Zhongli, Taiwan

Three amigos: magic bartenders
Three amigos: magic bartenders

My bartending buddies Roy and Taryi, formerly of The River, have combined forces to take over Paris. Lucky for us, it’s right in our neighborhood where there aren’t many other bars. Now it’s one of our favorite places to go.

The cocktails are not cheap: they are made with fresh, quality ingredients and a lot of style. Taryi and Roy bartend professionally and competitively, collaborating on developing new drink recipes with surprising ingredients like ginger and green tea.

We love the mojitos made with fresh mint and grapefruit juice. Ask for their Cosmos Duck if you want to try a Paris-original that tastes like a juicy twist on boozy ginger duck broth.

Grapefruit mojitos with fresh blueberry garnish
Grapefruit mojitos with fresh blueberry garnish

Watching them make a drink is like foreplay for drinking.

You can always get a Heineken or a Corona if you have other financial priorities.

The music is very good. When they are on their best behavior, soft jazz transforms this warm-blue space into the background for scenes from 1920s Paris. When the place is full of friends, you might be bobbing your head to some nineties hip-hop.

No matter what the music, though, the vibe here is chill and drama-free. There’s no room to dance and no walls to flower upon. It’s an intimate space for being with your favorite people.

amateur vagrant paris bar zhongli taiwan vodka tonic
A very special vodka tonic

味家香 Wei Jia Xiang Crispy Skin Roast Duck Zhongli, Taiwan

This is one of the oldest duck restaurants in Zhongli, or so I’ve heard. It’s the only restaurant we go to when we are craving sweet and tangy roast duck.

For you Zhongli locals, it’s right by the park, diagonally across from the “Department of Motor Vehicles”, just around the corner from the River, and right next to the “Park Seafood” restaurant.

I think the name is Wei Jia Xiang Crispy Skin Roast Duck. I definitely just call it “the duck place” because for us, there is nowhere else.

Why? Just because it’s delicious. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

It’s like NT$550 for one whole roasted duck, to-go. That will get you a plate of the breast meat with the crispy skin and a big stir fry of all the other bits (with basil, garlic, and optional chilis). They’ll also give you some pancakes, sauce, and spring onions, but if you’re like us, you’ll want to pay a little extra for some extra pancake fixings.

I went one day and had the very good luck of being the only person there just before lunch time. I am usually too shy to take pictures when there’s an audience, but that day I had the perfect situation. I asked the guys if I could take a few photos and they said yes. I was also glad to finally get this video of one of the guys carving up a duck. Their knives are so sharp and they move so fast!

amateur vagrant wei jia xiang duck restaurant zhongli taiwan in the kitchen

amateaur vagrant wei jia xiang roast duck zhongli taiwan preparing the order

amateur vagrant wei jia xiang zhongli taiwan duck restaurant kitchen

amateur vagrant wei jia xiang roast duck zhongli taiwan making pancakes

amateur vagrant wei jia xiang roast duck zhongli taiwan giant wok of sauce

Bonus: if you go on a hot day when it’s busy, there are always a bunch of cute tattooed guys in tank tops cooking and carving ducks.

This guy is very good with his hands!

All the parts besides the breast, they chop up and stir fry with sauce and basil leaves. It’s so delicious.

And when we get home, this is what we get to eat:

amateur vagrant duck breast from wei jia xiang crispy skin roast duck in zhongli taiwan

amateur vagrant stir-fried duck meat from wei jia xiang crispy skin roast duck restaurant in zhongli taiwan

 

I should have taken a picture of the pancakes, too, but we started eating and everything else was forgotten. This is good stuff!