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Kaohsiung: Of Monkeys, Markets, and Madness

Monkeys

In Kaohsiung I was lucky enough to stay next door to my girlfriend’s uncle, who let me tag along  in a hike up Chai Mountain (柴山). This is a place where locals go to get some exercise and escape the dour concrete of the city for an hour or two.

Chai Mountain differed from the last mountain I climbed with Taiwanese pensioners in two major ways. One was the searing heat and tropical flora, which give the vague impression of exploring a jungle. The main path is littered with banyan trees and gigantic ferns, and on the side trails you’re hemmed in by thick walls of lush underbrush.

The other distinguishing characteristic is…

Monkeys!

Monkeys!

There are monkeys all over the place on Chai Mountain, grooming each other, swinging through the trees, picking fights with birds and other monkeys, launching coordinated sneak attacks on human picnics, and dotting the mountainside with cute (sorry it’s true) little monkey dumps.

Apparently the monkeys started out as wary and deferential towards hikers, but proximity has made them increasingly brazen. I saw one Tilley-hatted leisure seeker packing heat – a BB handgun – which was evidently to ensure that no monkey laid its filthy paws on his salted peanuts. Indeed my guide had suffered an attack earlier in the week when he was ambushed from behind. A monkey grabbed his bag of bananas and even clawed him on the chest when he tried to put up a fight.

We sat down for tea and snacks with some of my guide’s co-workers, and my eyes were incessantly scanning the trees overhead.  I imagined a coordinated monkey attack from all sides, ideally preceded by some kind of clever diversion. I even hoped for one, but sadly it wasn’t meant to be. Cups were emptied and fruit was passed around and gobbled up, all without simian incident.

Markets

Later on I decided to hit Kaohsiung’s night markets. It’s actually kind of shameful that I have manged to travel from Taipei to Kaohsiung without really visiting a night market, as they are somewhat of a defining social institution in Taiwan.

So Kaohsiung was going to be where I made my stand, and to make sure I didn’t just drift through the stalls to perfunctorily check ‘night markets’ from the list, I committed myself to eating five different things at each of Kaohsiung’s major night markets: Ruifeng and Liuhe.

Ruifeng was the less touristy of the two, with carnival games and shops along the periphery (both Ruifeng and Liuhe are very food-centric). It also seemed to be where all the hip teens hang out.

There I ate:

Ruifeng night market kaohsiung

A ham-like kebab with sauerkraut-like stuffing. Verdict: delicious.

Ruifeng night market Kaohsiung.

Barbecued squid. Verdict: delicious..

Kimchi pancake with mayonnaise ambush. Verdict: what have I done?

Kimchi pancake with a mayonnaise ambush. Verdict: what have I done?

In Ruifeng the ‘eat five things’ plan was scuttled by the sudden and forceful appearance of mayonnaise – further proof that in southern Taiwan one must assume that they’re going to put it on absolutely everything. I scraped off the sickly sweet white goo and ate the pancake’s grisly remains. It was an unsettling culinary experience to say the least, though not my first and surely not the last.

The next night I visited Liuhe night market, the largest in Kaohsiung. Liuhe was obviously the preferred night market of Chinese tour groups, and there were so many flag-waving mini mobs that I kinda wondered what Liuhe must have been like before cross-strait tourism was liberalized in the mid 2000s. It was either completely desolate or completely different — maybe even with a few locals in attendance. As a curious aside, this is also the only Taiwanese night market I have ever seen where beer was being hawked on the street by restaurant owners.

Liuhe is an all-food night market, and there I ate:

Savory beef pancake roll. Verdict: delicious.

Savory beef pancake roll. Verdict: delicious.

Danzai noodles (Tainan's specialty). Verdict: delicious.

Danzai noodles (Tainan’s specialty). Verdict: delicious.

Beef pepper bing (savory pancake). Verdict: delicious.

Beef pepper bing (savory pancake). Verdict: delicious.

Bitter melon juice. Verdict: maybe the best juice I've ever had.

Bitter melon juice. Verdict: like drinking a fruity coffee; maybe the best juice I’ve ever had.

And at that point I was so full that a fifth dish simply wasn’t an option. Even with such tantalizing possibilities as:

No thanks.

No thanks.

Madness

And when I stumbled across Kaohsiung Central Park, I took pictures of a bridge for over an hour. The fruits of my labor:

'Unicorns'

‘Unicorns’

'Pierre Trudeau'

‘Pierre Trudeau’

And my personal favorite:

'The Monk Fart'

‘The Monk Fart’

 

 

 

 

 

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