Chicken Soup For The Eye

This blog entry about the events of Saturday, April 24, 2010 was originally posted on April 26, 2010.

DAY 5:  Even though the Taiwanese switched from a six-day-work-week to a Western five-day one, that didn’t mean much to Elizabeth since her job at an English learning center had her come in on Saturdays anyway — which only meant that Sundays (and some Monday mornings) were her only day to go out excursioning.  Usually she goes daytripping with her friend Amanda, but Amanda was away with her father, leaving me to be Elizabeth’s daytripping partner for the day.  (Little did I know at the beginning of the day that it almost cost me an eye.)

“Road trip!” she said that morning on my house porch.

After skipping out on Chinese Corn Flakes and instead going out for a freshly-prepared Taiwanese breakfast of fried youtiao (“oil sticks”) in warm soy milk (photo unintentionally phallic), and Chinese paninis with egg, we hopped on Elizabeth’s scooter to get out of the city of Taipei

“I love that if you drive ten minutes in any direction, you see mountains,” she raved about her temporary residence.

Our goal was the mountain retreat of Wulai, about an hour south by motorbike, home of hot springs, hiking trails, waterfalls, street vendors selling food (for for consumption or to prepare at home), and above all else, aboriginal tribes like the Atayal as depicted in statues and wall murals that made them look like a combination of Bert and Ernie.

Getting there was a fairly straightforward ride as we cruised down county roads, passing by sport cyclists — something I was impressed to see.  Cycling is actually a recreational sport here, not just a crowded necessity as it is in China, I thought to myself.  Oh look, another 7-Eleven.  Daytripping cyclists saw the landscape change as we did, from urban to surburban and eventually to countryside as we crossed a river bridge.

“I always see all this and think, wait a minute, I live here,” Elizabeth raved.  “This is awesome.”

WULAI WAS OUR BASE OF OPERATIONS, where we parked the motorbike and hiked from there — and hiked more than we originally set out to do by day’s end.  We walked through the little touristy strip of town and continued up the hill at our leisure, stopping once to sample some local fermented millet wine (infused with different flowers), served to us by what I assumed was a descendent of the Atayal, with her Filipino-like rounder nose and darker skin. 

“Everyone’s probably wondering what that white girl’s doing with that Aboriginal dude,” I said.

The paved hiking path hugging the Nanshih River continued up a gradual incline, which was barely noticable with the intense green foliage filling my eyes and lungs with a sense of calm.  The trail led up to another little touristy strip of food vendors, souvenir stores, and photo spots (for kids and kids-at-heart to pose all goofy), clustered around the Wulai waterfall spewing freshwater down a mountain wall across the valley.  While the waterfall was impressive, Elizabeth couldn’t get enough of the cute stray puppies around.


We continued until we were back on a county road, convinced it wasn’t too much of a hike to Fushan, the next village of aboriginals, but we somehow got lost.  “Whatever, who cares if we get lost,” I said.

“Wherever we end up, this is pretty gorgeous,” Elizabeth added.

Some cyclists told us that Fushan was way too far to go on foot in a timely manner — still 10 kilometers away, but it didn’t matter; we found a sign to the Neidong Forest Recreation Area, a place that was on Elizabeth’s must-see list anyway.  We arrived just in time for a pitstop in squat toilet port-o-potties with funny signs in “Engrish”.

Rainforest vegetation lined the path to the highlight of Neidong Park, a three-tiered waterfall — the most spectacular in northern Taiwan according to Lonely Planet — which was rather impressive.  After seeing the first, bottom waterfall, we hiked up to an observation area to see the middle and upper tiers, where a little boy named Dickie who would go up to Elizabeth to greet her, but then shy away in embarrassment.

Thinking there was more to see, we followed an moderately steep hiking trail upwards, wary of poisonous snakes, only to find out that the alternative path back to the entrance was closed off.  Tired, yet satisfied from the long hike up, we scurried down with the energy from a sort of Taiwanese peanut brittle and bottles of water.  A suspension bridge took us back over the Nanshih River, and a smile-inducing little log train brought us back into the touristy strip in the center of Wulai.

WULAI’s ATAYAL ABORIGINAL CENTER museum was nearby so we checked that out.  No photography was allowed, but I will report that it had many interesting dioramas of all the mountain tribes of Taiwan.  One notable thing was that millet was a staple crop, and the locals, although miles away from Africa, had the same millet processes and tools as the people of Old Segou in Mali.

We were watching a holographic diorama when suddenly my eye started getting irritated.

“I need to take my contacts out,” I excused myself.  In the mirror, my left eye had gotten blood red — more red than I’ve ever seen it, except in the pupil area.  I also noticed that there was now a bump on my cornea, like a single piece of bubble wrap.

“Uh, what are the symptoms for pink eye?” I asked Elizabeth back outside. 

“[Oh my God, look at your eye!]”

I remembered that there was once a pink-eye outbreak in the office at home, and all the hypochondriacs thought they had it — until looking up the fact that you don’t have it unless you have uncontrollable discharge, which I didn’t.  All signs pointed to it being an insect bite; the bubble was growing, and every time I blinked my eyelid, it felt like I was trying to pull a window shade over a 9-month-pregnant woman standing at a window sill. 

“We need to get you to a hospital,” said a concerned Elizabeth over a dinner in town of fried little river fish, Chinese broccoli, noodles and mushrooms.

“I probably just need medicated eye drops,” I said.  “All they’re going to do is look at it, and give me eye drops.  We could find a pharmacy.  They’re medically trained too.”  All I had was my weak contact lens drops.  Taking off my contacts helped although my eye was still a bit red

Back on the scooter, we high-tailed it out of the small town; a decent pharmacy or clinic was still two towns away.  By nightfall we ended up in Xindian, asking around and walking for about forty minutes before we found a helpful one — and a really good place too: a clinic of Taiwan’s national socialized medicare system.  God bless Elizabeth and her Mandarin, for she got me the help I needed from a trained woman there, who simply got me some eye drops with antihistamines (picture above).  It seemed to do the trick.  (The woman said a little bug bite in the eye it wasn’t unheard of.)

And if that wasn’t enough, later that night, Elizabeth took me to a special soup restaurant in the ShiDa night market, that served chicken in broths for specific bodily ailments.  I fed myself Chicken Soup For The Eye:  wild grape broth with black-skin chicken.

As for the rest of our bodies, a well-deserved foot massage for a long-day of hiking was warranted.  A Taiwanese woman used reflexology on my feet as I did the manly thing of getting a foot massage while watching action flicks and controlling the remote.  (Elizabeth watched 27 Dresses.)

EXCURSIONS OUTSIDE THE CITY continued the next morning, as we sought off to at least get a glimpse of the ocean before Elizabeth had to go to work.  We had been ambitious the day before to do it all in one day, but with the eyeball incident, there was no time.  Perhaps — in an eerie there-are-no-coincidences kind-of-way — the eyeball incident was an ethereal preventative not to go, since we had seen on the news that there had been a landslide on the road to northeast coast that buried four cars.

“Wow, we might have been in that!”

Well probably not, but just stuck in all the traffic routed away from that buried freeway, since scooters are not allowed on them.  We kept our spirits up and continued on, on smaller county highways.

This time, Elizabeth let me drive, which as many of you know who’ve read this blog through the years, is something I love.  She trusted me enough from my past experience (Hanoi, Naxos, Penang, Croatia) that I knew what I was doing. 

“I’ve done all the mistakes already and have learned from them,” I assured her. 

Adjusting the rear-view mirror, I drove us out of the city.  She was impressed with my ability to drive her 12-yr-old scooter to speeds she hadn’t quite reached yet, weave through traffic safely, and abide by all the rules of scooter boxes.  She wondered about the kids riding with adults in awkward positions on other motorbikes, like this one kid hanging on for life.

Not surprisingly, we got lost a few times, but managed to make it to Bisha Harbor on the outskirts of Keelung, where apparently there’s a problem with cars falling into the water

“We made it to the ocean!” Elizabeth said.

“Okay, picture.”

We only had enough time for lunch before having to head back to Taipei for Elizabeth to get back to work, so we parked at the best-looking restaurant with fresh seafood, where fresh seafood was on display on ice and alive in tanks.  We picked spotted crabs, tropical (clawless) lobster, fresh fish, tiger prawns, and oysters.

“They’re as big as my head!” Elizabeth raved.  One oyster was so big that it had to be cut into four pieces to eat. 

“Raw seafood, ice, fresh vegetables,” Elizabeth noticed.  “It’s everything a traveler is not supposed to eat.”

It didn’t stop us; that lobster that was scooped from the tank and crawled on the floor was simply killed in the kitchen and served to us as raw as it could get without it still moving.  So good.  It only got better with the crab with a turtle-shaped mango garnish, the tiger prawns, the rest of the lobster, and the broiled fish — all of which were served with the natural delicacy of their own roe. 

However, one delicacy that every Asian or Anthony Bourdain fan knows, is that the delicacy in seafood is the juicy fish eyeball.

“Ooh, it’s pretty good,” said Elizabeth eating her share.

While my own eye had been healing, that fish’s eye wasn’t so fortunate.


Next entry: Life In Taipei 101

Previous entry: Pretty Fly For A White Girl

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Comments for “Chicken Soup For The Eye”

  • Um. I know you’re a good scooter driver, even if I did think you were trying to kill me all day long.
    And dude, a bug bite on your eye?! Holy hell. That sounds awful.
    Gotta look at the pics tomorrow. Yay!!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/26  at  09:01 AM

  • send back oysters pls.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/26  at  05:09 PM

  • Thats so nice that you let your “woman ride on the back.” Oh Croatia!  And Taiwan sounds just let Red Lobster! You even got to pick out your own lobster to eat!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/26  at  08:22 PM

  • STEPH: But how do they get red? Oh, Times Square… wink

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/26  at  11:26 PM

  • wow, insect bite in the eye.  yuck!  but the puppies sure are cute!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/28  at  01:33 AM

  • Thanks!
    Great web site. Than you for the information
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    Posted by Louis Vuitton handbags  on  07/28  at  12:12 PM

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This blog post is one of eighteen travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip: Chinese Leftovers And Other Asian Appetizers," which chronicled a trip to Shanghai and Huang Shan in China, as well as brief excursions to Manila, Taipei, and Seoul.

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