The Taipei Zoo

Thursday, January 05, 2012

View of the zoo from the shuttle train ... if you expand
the photo, you'll be able to see a giraffe painted on
the tower on the far right (the zoo).
My two Australian friends here are going home in late February, after two school semesters spent in Taipei, and they've made a pact that basically says they will not go home until nighttime every day it does not rain (which isn't often). One of those days, I happened to be with them when they decided they wanted to do something. They'd mentioned to me earlier that they wanted to go to the Taipei Zoo because admission is only $1 here, whereas in Sydney (where they're from), it's $80 Australian! So when this opportunity came up, I reminded them that they'd wanted to go to the zoo, and off we went.

I'm kind of biased, but having been to New York City's Bronx Zoo multiple times as well as the San Diego Zoo (which I was always under the impression was one of the most extensive zoos in the world), I didn't think I would see many animals I hadn't already seen. I don't think I ended up being wrong about this, but I can't say for sure!

The first thing we noticed upon entering the zoo (other than the throngs of families that were there, and little children ... this was early afternoon on a Wednesday or Thursday) was the zoo's infatuation with, of all things, turds.

One of various placards hanging outside the zoo's bathrooms
I don't think you can see it clearly in this photo, but above "Walls of Dung," it reads:
"Zoo Poo Poo ... All About Feces." Nice.


Another thing I noticed was that though virtually the entire park smelled of, well, dung, visitors were not at all afraid of eating within close range of the animals' play areas. I spied people eating McDonald's burgers, ice cream, waffles ... everything, while viewing elephants and hippos in their not-so-natural habitats.

Some animals ...

I can't recall if I've ever seen a panda before, but I think I did at the San Diego Zoo. The Taipei Zoo was gifted two pandas in 2008 as "a gesture of unity" (a.k.a. "return to us"). One is a male panda, the other is female, and their names are Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan. Apparently "Tuan Yuan" means "reunion." And (also) apparently, China tried to give Taiwan two pandas in 2005, but Taiwan turned the offer down. It wasn't until Taiwan had a shift in its government that Taiwan obliged. The pandas' names were voted on within Taiwan (not sure who voted, though). There has been controversy surrounding the gift of these pandas to Taiwan, and China's gifting of pandas to countries has been called "Panda Diplomacy," which I find absolutely hilarious ... and potentially troublesome.

I don't know if this is Tuan Tuan or Yuan Yuan, but the two pandas were separated when we saw them, and I was only able to get decent photos of this particular panda because the other one was being quite "antisocial" and sat facing away from the window. I don't really blame him/her ...

I was also able to see a couple types of lorises, including the slow loris. I was first introduced to this animal this summer by my friend Ashley, who shared this video with me:

They really do move incredibly slowly ... I watched as two slow lorises moved from their little hut-haven onto a tree branch ... in slow motion. One leg stretched outwards, touched the branch, grasped the branch, then an arm followed. Then the other arm. Then, finally, the rest of the body. And ... repeat, for the other slow loris. Too bad my photos of them are so blurry, even with them moving so slowly!

Elephant topiary ... I thought the behind was cuter than the front

The zoo was practically in the mountains

I was a little afraid, taking this photo. This is a cassowary, native to Australia, and is a killer bird. I was told by my Australian friends that if it makes eye contact with you, you must maintain eye contact while backing away very, very slowly. They have some sort of toe with a nail that can basically sever any body part it pleases, including diving right in for the heart. 

My Australian friends were concerned that so few precautions were taken to prevent an attack from happening (if you can see, only barbed wire surrounds the cassowary's habitat). I hopefully suggested that perhaps the zoo had dismantled its nail.

More Australian birds! Emus ...

And then we got a rest area, safely tucked away from the natural scents of the zoo animals. We helped ourselves to some "waffle trees." Coffee syrup was drizzled over mine:

Lastly, we visited the Arctic animals and were hugely disappointed. They made a big to-do about the penguin house, but there were only a few penguins, and not the tuxedo variety. The rest of the house contained North American animals, such as the brown and black bears.

We left the zoo and we met up with my other classmate at Shilin Night Market, one of the most famous night markets in Taipei. It was HUGE, with rows and rows of food carts and shops, and a mess of clothing and accessory stores. It put my mind in a tizzy, and we left after eating a little and shopping even less.

We had fried enoki mushrooms, which I wasn't too excited about, but they turned out to be absolutely delicious. We also had some fried stinky tofu at a hole-in-the-wall type of family-run place. I know how disgusting it sounds (and it really doesn't smell any better in person), but it actually tastes really, really good.

I've really enjoyed this dish since I was very little, so to know that I still enjoy it was a little bit of a relief. It's been over ten years since I've had this, and that was in New York City after discussing it extensively with my high school friends and bringing them to a place that served it (not common in New York). According to my friends who've been here longer than I have, Shilin has the best stinky tofu they've had and other night markets have stinky tofu that is downright awful. I'm not sure I trust their opinion, because I've never really had stinky tofu (fried, that is ... the boiled stuff I won't touch) that I disliked. And in the case of stinky tofu, the stinkier, the better!

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