Walking along Snake Alley

After I dropped off Chris at the airport bus terminal, I wandered around Taipei Main Station…but then I decided to go to one of the most classic night markets in Taipei. Also known as Snake Alley (as I learned later).

On arrival, I let myself wander into the Longshan Temple. In the rain, its classical Chinese red reflected against the yellow streetlights and the rushing waters of a fake manmade waterfall. Modestly, darting between devout visitors, I followed other tourists, attaching myself to a group of Japanese middle-aged travelers who laughed when their guide pointed out a well spilling out smoke. They followed suit and went to the well, waving some of the smoke toward themselves. I scooted to the well and glanced in…nothing particular. Evident that the guide mentioned something amusing, yet beneficial.

Losing interest, I slipped out of the temple and headed toward the nightmarket.

Overwhelmed suddenly by the idea that I was a stranger in a strange land…I convinced myself that I needed to eat. But the feeling of being trapped was so high. The menus that I could not read (beyond the words of small and big). The language that I could not speak (not even my Cantonese could help me). And an annoying self-awareness that I looked like a local, but inside I was so very American.

Then I realized—come on, I looked like an Asian tourist. Someone from Hong Kong, obviously. Someone from Korea, Japan, Vietnam…anywhere else…where they could not read or speak either. I had the benefit of speaking English fluently and clearly. Yet unlike most tourists, I am a single female traveler, traversing on my own.

I spotted an Asian girl with clearly a male Caucasian. Immediately critical, I had a negative reaction to the couple—the Asian girl was obviously from Taiwan. Was she seeking someone of a “superior” race? Was it only attraction? Was it real? To her, was she moving up?

Eventually, I found a stand with fishy type stuff in rich intense sauce. Then I ate cake wheels with cream and taro inside. I passed around a stand with snakes, passing Cantonese speakers…which to my relief, they were somewhat disgusted as I was.

And so then, that ended my journey through Snake Alley. It being nearly uninhabited and empty due to the rain.

And so begins my Asia trip…

Two weeks ago, I landed in Manila.

“Please ma’am, I am very good tour guide,” he texted me.

Two days prior, he man made eye contact with me as I wandered lost around Intramuros—the historical enclave of Manila, Philippines filled with stories of War War II and colonial influences. Having just arrived to my hotel after a 16 hour flight, I felt dizzy with the humid bright light. The hotel front desk demanded payment for my stay and I reluctantly went outside in search of an ATM. Around and around the cobblestone streets, I walked passing locals, tending to grilling sisig and selling prepaid phone cards. Exhaustion dug at me as I walked around the block and the man on a pedicab yelled out, “Tour?! I show you Intramuros.”

I waved him off, “I am looking for an ATM.”

Insistent, he followed me, “I do a great tour!”

I walked back to the hotel and went inside to negotiate, “I have to an appointment at the Mall of Asia at 4 pm. Can I pay later?”

“Ok, I give you until 9 pm,” she said.

With relief, I turned and went back outside. The man was still there and waved his hands in the air, repeating, “Intramuros intramuros!”

“Can you take me to the Mall of Asia?” I asked.