Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Shilin Night Market

I pass by Shilin every night on my way home from work, so I stop at the night market there about once a week.

I don't always get the same thing there--recently I have branched out somewhat--but generally after a week, I am ready to eat it again.

What is it? Well, oddly enough, the first thing I get is the first thing that caught my eye, right near the entrance, when I started to go to the Shilin Night Market on my way home from work.

Spicy Cold Noodles (Mala Liangmian麻辣涼麵). It's just some spaghetti-like noodles with a few pieces of cucumber and carrot in a spicy, delicious sauce, but once I start eating it I lose control. Within moments I start slurping it down, and its so spicy that I can't stop. I can bear the spice, but it propells me along. It's intense, man! Wow!

And as I'm sitting there scooping it into my mouth, my eyes glance over at the fruit juice dealer a few paces away. She can read my innermost thoughts and second-guesses my need for the relief that only a cup of juice can provide.

She sends over a friendly smile. My mind is already made up.

After forking over my 35 NT dollars I rise like an automaton and march in step over to the juice stand. As I look over the menu, before an idea can even form in my mind, she asks: "Mango juice?"

I say, ", dui, dui, yeah!"

Before long, the juicemaker hands me the freshly-blended mango madness, bows, and I walk on content.

Next, the question, "Was that enough to eat or do I need a little protein?" Of course, I choose the latter. I skip the many oyster omlette stands and teppenyaki (which I get on occasion) and the Stinky Tofu and everything else until I come to the lady with the Peking Duck--well, sort of. You order by the pancake and she wraps it for you.

There is a couple in front of me, who are chatting with her as she prepares three Duck rolls for them. I hear one of them ask her: "How long have you lived in Taiwan?"

This surprises me because I always thought she was Taiwanese; I thought everyone with stands there was Taiwanese.

Then it is my turn. I walk up, smile, and order one roll. I am thinking about whether or not to ask her if they just asked her how long she has been in Taiwan. We don't usually talk much--the roll is wrapped before much of a conversation can come to fruition. But this time she asks me: "Do you work near here? I see you here a lot."

"Yeah, I work near the Grand Hotel and live in Beitou, so I pass by here on the Metro." Then I ask: "Did I just hear them ask you how long you've been in Taiwan?"

She laughs: "Yes."

"Where are you from?"

"The Mainland. You can hear it in my pronunciation. I'm from Fujian."

That's from where the majority of Taiwan's pre-1949 Chinese inhabitants came, so I ask if she came from Quanzhou or Zhengzhou in Fujian.

"Closer to Xiamen," which is only a few miles from Taiwan's outlying islands, Kinmen and Matsu.

"How do you like Taiwan?" I ask.

"Horse horse tiger tiger," which is like saying, "It's alright."

I think to ask her what brought her to Taiwan, but before I know it, she is handing me my treat, and I am walking away with duck roll in one hand and mango juice in the other. I walk out into the neon night. Myriad flavors mingle in my mouth. I wipe my face and return home.


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