I don’t know which continues to surprise me more: Taipei, or one of the city’s foremost flâneurs. The other day, the Inveterate Bede promised a surprise for lunch and delivered. We were meeting to sign some application forms for a challenging day trek up and down Yushan in December. (My signature has me acknowledging the old rogue as “Leader” of the trip, the alternative – “Guide” – having been scrubbed out.)
Taipei Post Office (台北郵局), also known as Taipei Beimen Post Office (台北北門郵局) was the agreed-upon spot and as I had some document signing and mailing of my own to conduct, there was nothing particulalry out of the ordinary about this location as a rendezvous.
Once we were done, Bede whisked me around the corner from the entrance on Boai Rd (博愛路) and under the arches on Zhongxiao (忠孝). It was only then I realised we were going to dine inside the post office itself. Bravo! To enter, we had to leave our ARC cards with the security guard, though Bede says this was not required on his previous visit (yes – he’s something of regular). Almost as wide as he was high, the custodian grunted what I think was approval as we handed over the ID cards.
We made our way across the parking lot and past the loading area, then down into the canteen, where about a dozen employees sat at tables, eyes flitting between their plates and several large TV monitors on the walls of both sides of the hall. A couple of faces tilted in our direction, something approaching mild bewilderment flickering across them before they turned back to more important matters on the afternoon news.
Let’s make no bones about it – something that cannot be said of the chef behind the rather unmeaty meat portion in my meal – Chunghwa Post won’t be winning Michelin stars any time soon – but at NT$50 for three vegetable portions and one meat, you’d be a bit cheeky to grumble. Plus there’s unlimited soup (miso when we there) and rice – white and the healthier purple grain stuff. Next time I’d plump for the fried chicken breast rather than the sweet-and-sour pork (nice sauce but, as I said, feeble).
But the level of grub on offer is beside the point. While pensioners, labourers and those trying to scrimp and save take advantage of the canteen out of pecuniary considerations, we were just loving the unmistakably Taiwanese quirkiness of it all.
Maybe Bede and I have just spend way too much time in one another’s company but he seems to know exactly the kind of thing that will delight me. Pretty much everyone I told about this was singulalry unimpressed, seemingly in inverse proportion to how tickled I was. Some thought it was downright lame. One of our brothers from across the pond concluded: “It must be a British thing.”
Well, quite, eh Bede?