Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Danshui, A Historic Seaport

During our five days in Taiwan we made one other excursion outside of Taipei to the town of Danshui, 淡水, (sometimes spelled Tamsui). We reached our destination fairly easily, as it is located at the end of one of the main subway lines, less than an hour from central Taipei. Danshui, located by the ocean, is a historical port that was settled by the Spanish and then subsequently the Dutch in the 1600s. 

Danshui, like Jiufen, has a famous "old street" with shops selling traditional foods and street food vendors. One food item that appeared over and over again was grilled squid - large whole pieces of squid with the tentacles and body intact. I didn't end up trying the squid, but I did try the famous iron egg.

Iron eggs are stewed for a long time in a mixture of spices and what tastes like soy sauce. Because of this method of cooking, they shrink in size and have a very chewy texture. They also turn really dark. Lots of shops sell these eggs in vacuum-sealed packages, as in the photo below. I was really tempted to buy a package to bring back to Singapore - the eggs are really good, despite their strange appearance!

I've noticed that a lot of Asian foods are dark or black (seaweed, black chicken, forbidden rice, etc), but you don't really see darker foods as part of the common Western palette. I wonder why this cultural difference exists. 

The shops are located near the oceanfront. There is a large green area between the buildings and the bay where people can walk around or sit and admire the view. Unfortunately the skies were a bit cloudy and gray the afternoon we visited. Right across the water sits a mountain, in a district known as Bali (different from the island in Indonesia!). Ferries go across the water to take travelers to Bali.  

One major attraction of Danshui is the Hongmao Castle, or Fort San Domingo, constructed by the Dutch several centuries ago. It later served as the British consulate. We trekked up a hill to reach the Fort. The photo below is not of the fort itself, but a brick building right next to the fort. I believe it used to be the residence of British officials while the consulate still operated.

From the top of the hill you get a lovely view of the sunset. The fort provides such a great vantage point of the water - no wonder the Dutch decided to build it here. 

Later as we walked through the streets to get back to the subway station I noticed this line of motorbikes on the side of the street. Motorbikes are so common in Taiwan and many people use them as a primary mode of travel. I've seen couples riding together on a bike, as well as parents and children. Motorbike drivers are quite skillful at weaving in between buses and cars. 

What's really amazing is that Taiwan is so safe, people do not bother to chain up the bikes or helmets. If you leave your motorbike parked by the road, you can almost be certain that it will be right where you left it when you come back. This security was definitely missing in New Haven - if a student leaves a bicycle chained by the sidewalk overnight, the next day the wheels will be missing. 

This safety and trust is another reason why Taiwan seems magical!

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