Wednesday started off melancholy for me. It was my last day in Taipei, my last day of work in the office at Taipei 101. My last night in the only other city in the world that feels like home. Tomorrow I would have to get up, shuffle off to Taoyuan International Airport and start a long, arduous journey home and start getting used to life in the United States again. Sure, I was eager to get home to my family, my dogs, my own bed; but I was also saddened to be leaving a place that makes me feel at peace and happy. Awaiting me at the end of my travels were familiar smells and sights, but as it would turn out, they weren’t so familiar, however that’s for a the next post.
The office manager and a few others took me out for a delicious lunch. We ate at a place called Very Thai in the Neo 19 building, which houses several night clubs and restaurants just around the corner from Taipei 101. The food was, as I’ve come to expect, excellent. It’s served family style, with all you can eat rice. Each person orders a dish and everyone can sample and share. The pork in Thai sauce was tender and perfectly cooked. The shrimps were steamed and came with a tangy sauce that had a hint of orange. The spring rolls were crunchy and bursting with a cacophony of flavors. It was an excellent meal, Thai done right.
The rest of my work day was spent cleaning up my mess. Returning bits and bobs to the lab, finishing up test work, writing up my reports, submitting requests, and so forth. My goal was to make sure I had everything wrapped up and didn’t leave anything unfinished before I finally headed out. Then, faster than I had thought it would come, it was time to leave. I had hoped for dinner out with my friends, but Yung needed to get back to work to finish up something he had been in the middle of and Tim was off to his Wednesday night game of Badminton, a sport that the Taiwanese take to an entire different level than the typical over-weight and out of shape American Pic-Nic’er does. So sadly, feeling pangs of loss, I walked through the doors of Taipei 101 one last time to start my voyage home.
I was on the hunt for my last dinner in Taipei and I’d walked past this one place every day for a month, so on that last night, I stopped at 356 Beef Noodle, tucked in behind an office building and got my last bowl of Taipei Beef Noodles. Since it was my last dinner out, I rounded out the meal with some delicious tofu, flattened and coated in a sweet soy glaze and, of course, dumplings which were made fresh and steamed just for me. It was another of those ubiquitous family-owned hole-in-the-wall restaurants that are impossible to miss in Taipei and the food was incredibly good. The noodles were perfectly al dente, the broth flavorful but not overpowering. The beef was tender with just enough fat and seemed as though it melted in my mouth. The warm, soft combination of braised beef and tender noodle was accented by cool, crunchy cucumber slices and bean sprouts, making a full palette of flavor and texture that most American restaurants struggle to match, yet these inexpensive restaurants do it expertly every day for only a small amount of money. My dinner was 120TWD, or just a few cents over $3.00 US. In America, that same meal would have easily been $20.00 and probably not have tasted as good.
Dinner done, I walked the long way back to the Pacific Business Center Hotel, taking in the sights, the sounds and smells one last time. Walking dark alleys and brightly lit streets, window shopping as I strolled, I walked a lonely road.
And so there I was, on the dark streets of Taipei; a beautiful, real city, vibrant and alive, full of laughter, love, hope and friendship. A place of amazing food, warm and wonderful people, rich history and culture, beautiful art and artisans, insane scooters buzzing like bees and darting around far larger vehicles like tiny fish amidst a school of larger creatures. And there, as I walked, lonely and alone, Taipei wept for me. For the first time in my month abroad, she shed gossamer tears from a dark sky, bathing me in droplets that met my mood. Taipei wept that evening, and I felt as though she wept for me.