Day 2 – Sustenance

Like most other humans I enjoy being a creature of habit. This is precisely why I started my second day with the exact same sequence of events as the first. After waking up at 5, working out, hanging out with Allie and stuffing my face at the breakfast buffet, I finally made my first deviation from the previous day’s events. I had learned that when we arrived at work the day before it was unusually early for most of the other employees, who typically didn’t come in until around 10 a.m. This pleased me, as it gave me some extra breathing room for taking it easy in the morning and a chance to locate a nearby bank and acquire cash monies for my eventual taxi ride into work.

The concierge at the hotel provided exactly the information that I needed, which was the location of the nearest ATM to accept American Express credit cards. Oddly enough, the majority of teller machines in Taiwan don’t support this rare brand of credit card (according to the locals and my own searching), which is surprising given their slogans that usually revolve around being accepted everywhere you go. Luckily, there was a China Trust Bank only a block away where I was able to acquire a few Taiwanese Dollars.

I was provided a business card the previous day in order to have my destination address in Chinese characters, so I waved a taxi down in front of the hotel, pointed to the address and off we went. In complete silence. The trip only took about 20 minutes, and once we got there I was able to find my way through the massive building to find the correct tower and head up to the eighth floor. The only problem was that since I had failed to acquire a temporary badge the day before, I was stuck outside the glass doors. It was also relatively early so there was not any traffic going in or out for me to tailgate, so I popped a squat against the wall, pulled out my laptop and grabbed the nearest wireless signal. Fortunately, my host Eason was onsite; however it took about 20 minutes for him to come open the door as when I told him I was “onsite”, he must have spent all of that time Googling/searching for that term before finally relenting and asking me what I meant.

The remainder of the day went fairly smoothly. Their manager took the TE team and myself out to lunch at a very nearby family restaurant that would be similar to a Perkins in the States, and offered a somewhat limited selection of dishes. I ordered a simple fried chicken dish that was certainly good tasting, but not exactly the kind of food that I had been looking forward to trying.

Later in the day, I chaired an education session that turned into a two-hour marathon meeting and extended until almost the end of the day, at which point it became a discussion about where we would go for dinner. The team eventually decided that we would do a hot pot, which was one of my favorite styles of food that I experienced while in China two years ago. The difference in this case was that many of the Taiwanese hot pots are all-you-can-eat and include an all-you-can-eat Ice Cream bar as well. I was extremely happy and excited to go to hot pot, and was even more thrilled when Eason came to me with a temporary badge that was actually working (as we had retrieved one earlier in the day that did not work whatsoever).

When we arrived at the restaurant there was some confusion on where we could sit since there was going to be ten of us in total, but we eventually settled on splitting between two booths right in the middle of the restaurant. The all-you-can-eat aspect of this particular hot pot establishment looked like it was contained within an old meat cooler that you see along the back wall of your favorite grocery store. It had large metal pans full of various food items and lots of ice both in the pans and beneath them. I really didn’t know what any of the items were except for a few of the obvious ones like shrimp and mushrooms, but there were also a number of things that just looked like blocks of various colors and textures.

One of the QE’s offered to just basically pick out a selection for me, which I gladly accepted and we headed back to the table with our plates of food. In the meantime, we also ordered our main meats from the server, of which we requested plates of rolled-up beef and lamb slices. Our table had two hot pots, each containing both a plain broth and a “spicy” broth, which were both quickly filled with an assortment of many different food items to cook.

The first item that I eventually tried was given to me without explanation and appeared to be some type of liver or dark tofu; however after taking my first bite it was revealed to be a hunk of congealed duck blood. The taste of the blood was fairly similar to the pig’s blood cake that I tried the night before, and the consistency was definitely easier to handle than I would imagine a congealed mass of blood to be. After I finished this first treat I was served a small helping of what was described as the joint of a cow. I can only imagine this was beef tendon, but I’m honestly not sure. In either case, it had the same taste as lean ground chuck with just a tougher almost jerky-like texture. It was very delicious and the toughness provided just enough of a unique eating experience that it easily became my favorite item of the night.

The remainder of the night was spent eating, listening to the local team converse among themselves in Mandarin and slowly sipping on my first and only Taiwan Beer, which was very light and crisp and tasted surprisingly like Coors Light. We must have spent a good three hours sitting there eating, and literally the entire time I was having food shoveled onto my plate by my generous hosts. At one point I had to simply declare that I could no longer eat any more, which was very disappointing for not only myself but all of my colleagues that I was sitting with.

I definitely discovered this night that my ability to overeat doesn’t even come close to the seemingly cavernous bellies of the Taiwanese. Eason told me that by the end of the night he was only about 80% full, and that he could have continued for a lot longer if he had found the food to be more “special”. Even after I had told them that I could no longer continue eating, I was still given a small cup of creme brulee and then guilted into going over and getting a dish of ice cream. I cheated and got myself barely a half-scoop of peanut-butter swirl ice cream, which I had to struggle to stuff down my gullet even though it was delicious.

In all, the night was certainly a humbling experience for me, and definitely put into perspective my ability to extend the walls of my stomach beyond their intended size, which must simply require more practice. I had no doubt at this point that the remainder of my three week trip would provide plenty of opportunity for this very task.