Beitou Springs and Daan Park

As my first week in Taiwan came to a close, I decided to soak up the famous Beitou hot springs. Beitou intrigued me since I first read about it in my guide book. Upon departing from the MRT station, I followed the stream that cut through the town. I walked past a number of public hot springs where people were bathing. It is a truly peaceful experience to follow the burbling stream and marvel at the clear waters below. Sadly, most of my photos were lost on my phone so I only have a few to share. I wandered to the Beitou Thermal Valley, otherwise known as Hell Valley. Choking clouds of steam rose from the water's surface as I walked along the edge of the sulfurous pit. It's easy to see why the natives once thought strange magic caused this phenomenon and thus named the valley "Patauw," meaning "sorceress."

I followed the narrow winding streets to the Grand View Resort, which garnered much praise for its hot springs experience. I failed to realize I should reserve a hot spring in advance, though! The only option available to me was the public hot springs so I decided to book a few hours there. I was led to a locker room where I stashed my belongings and proceeded to shower before entering the room. The spacious chamber had just the right balance of aesthetics without being too gaudy. I also liked how it incorporated elements of nature, allowing sunlight to stream through the roof over the sunbathing platform. There was also foliage crawling up the walls in one area. I had four pools to choose from, three of which were varying degrees of hot. An ice cold bath was also available, and I only dipped my toes in before scurrying off to the warmer one.

It was a truly soothing experience. There were only two other people in the rooom besides myself, so it was almost as if I had my private hot spring. After spending an hour in the mineral water, I dried off in the sun and collected my belongings. The staff was incredibly gracious and gave me a free ride back to the Beitou MRT station. While I was waiting, one of the staffers brought me some rejuvenating tea to enjoy. Time and again I am stunned by the people's hospitality here.

On Saturday, I journeyed to the Daan District, which is a cultural oasis with schools, markets, and residences. Before I even left the MRT station, I was marveling at the fountains there. I was impressed with the variety of trees in Daan Forest Park. This was also my first time seeing bamboo in person.

Daan Forest Park is considerably large and strikes me as the perfect setting for a picnic on a warm, summer day. There was a Christmas-themed event taking place in area but I didn't stay long to observe it. I was more interested in exploring this lush landscape and the secrets it concealed. There were trees here that I've never seen before and I felt as though I was traversing an exotic paradise. There are plenty of locals jogging or walking their dogs in the park, and I also saw someone practicing martial arts. It's easy to live an active lifestyle in Taipei when everything is accessible by walking and there are so many gorgeous parks to enjoy.

After snapping a few more photos of statues and trees in the park, I spotted Taipei's Grand Mosque across the street. I've only stepped inside a mosque once, and that was many years ago in East Lansing with my friend Hassan. The exterior was lovely to behold and features rich designs. I felt a little out of place because, first of all, I'm a white man among millions of Chinese and Taiwanese in a foreign country. Second, I wasn't Muslim and wearing the traditional attire, so I felt like I would draw curious glances or stares when I was walking through the mosque. Nonetheless, I shrugged it off because my best friend is a Muslim. There wasn't much to see within the Grand Mosque itself, but I appreciated the experience. It has a fairly simple prayer chamber and separate rooms for men and women on opposing sides of the mosque.

My last stop for the day was the Jianguo Jade Market, which is only open for business on Saturday and Sunday. The Flower Market and Artist's Corner are also situated nearby. The jade market is an enclosed area filled with tables stocked with all manner of jade, jewelry, figurines, and gems. It is crowded and best to keep a brisk pace so you don't hold up people behind you. I quickly learned if I linger too long at a table, the vendor will try to interest me in a product and start lowering the price until I buy it. I had to explain several times I'm just looking and not planning on making a purchase yet. I did end up buying an exquisite jade ring for myself, a jade bunny for Dad, and a jade necklace for Kayla. I probably spent close to $200 USD there.

A marvelous jade bangle caught my eye that featured shades of green, orange, and white. When I inquired about the price, I found that it cost millions in NTD. Oh well! I saw jade products of almost every color, including green, purple, pink, orange, white, and so forth. Needless to say, it is immensely popular here. My brother-in-law, Albert, explained that jade is reputed to have qualities that purge harmful elements from the body, thus it can change color over time. There are so many vendors and products crowded in the Jianguo Jade Market that it would take hours to fully appreciate everything.

But my wallet was feeling light and I decided it was time to leave Daan.

Later that evening, I met my penpal, Wendy, at the Daft House, a small bar in the Zhongshan District. I remember ordering a Vesper martini inspired by one of my favorite James Bond films, Casino Royale. How could I not order that? It had a bit too much vodka, though, and I ended up sipping it every now and then while Wendy and I discussed my recent adventures in Taiwan. We had an interesting conversation about dating in Taiwan and how it differs from America. We also talked about school, what I could expect from life as an expat, and how much I already loved this country.