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Saturday, August 25, 2012

Night Moves

Imagine your typical street fair. Ok? Now make it ten times as crowded. So crowded you can barely move forward.

Add about three times the number of stalls in a block. Now, instead of it going for five or six blocks, imagine it going for about a square mile.

Oh, and add a fierce powerful stink.

Now add a man with no left hand banging his head on the ground and people paying to get knives swung at them.

Welcome to the Shilin Night Market in Taipei!

Taipei is known for its night markets. They are everywhere, and you can get just about anything at them. And I mean anything. Hundreds of vendors sell clothes, toys, food, shoes, bags, music and other services.

Check it out! Shin Chan boxer shorts! $3 US in the market. If you know the cartoon, you can sing the Man Song with me. 

Like massages.

No, not full release. Unless the "release" is your arm from your shoulder because the knife massager got a little frisky.

Yes, knife massage. One of the booth offered "Alien Knife Massage." Their banner claimed (in English) that "Aliens were at the Shilin Night Market!"Apparently offering massages.

You sat in a massage chair, putting your face against the headrest. Someone would stand behind you and then whack the sharp edge of a knife against your back. I guess the aliens knew just how much force to use so it would loosen you muscles, but not cleave them off your back. And they were doing a good business, too!

Across the way there was another massage booth. In this one, they wrapped a towel around your head and then whacked at you with what looked like a bundle of kitchen matches. Okay.

Each market is known for something, and Shilin is known for the variety of food it sells. Unfortunately, to my western nose, it smelled quite awful. Honestly, it smelled like deep fried vomit. (My Lovely Wife told me that it was likely the stinky tofu I walked by. Truth in advertising.)

Look, I'm sorry to be the ugly American. I was born near Philadelphia, land of scrapple. I am not one to talk. But, wow, the smell was unappealing. And not recognizable. So many stalls had odd looking cuts of meat and I had no idea what they were,

Most of the signs in Taipei are in Chinese and English. Not in the market. Most of the food stalls were Chinese only. So, the odd looking chunks of meat remained a mystery. I took that as a sign. If they didn't want the foreign devil to know what he was eating, the foreign devil was not about to find out the hard way. (I walked through a dried good market the next day that had a barrel of big, dried, caterpillars. Thank you, no.)

Mmmm... Caterpillars...

So, I stuck with my tapioca pearl bubble tea. ($1 US!)

The place as a whole is quite ovewhelming. The noise is constant. The smell is everywhere. The people  crush against you. And you can see some disturbing things.

One night as I walked in there was a man banging his head on the ground, very rapidly and without stop. He had no left hand. I'm not sure if it had been amputated or if it was congenital. He had a bowl in front of him, so I guess he was abasing himself and begging. He didn't say anything, just beat his head on the pavement. It was sad and disturbing. And not something you'd see in Times Square. At least not on a Monday.

Nothing quite like the night market.

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