On Monday, May 27, 2019, we were scheduled to go on a tour of Shifen and Jiufen. The meeting place was GaKuDen Bakery near exit 4 of Ximen Station. The tour bus would leave at 1.30 p.m. and those who didn’t make it on time would be left behind. But of course!
The night before, I checked my email to see if there were last-minute changes in the schedule. A good thing I did because there was a message from the tour operator that the bus wouldn’t be able to leave until after 2.00. There was going to be a Wan An air raid drill from 1.30 to 2.00 p.m. Neither vehicles nor pedestrians will be allowed on the streets during that time.
What is the Wan An air raid drill?
It’s an annual exercise simulating an air attack by Chinese military forces. Taiwan has been doing it for over forty years.
“The first Wan An drill was held in 1978 after Chiang Ching-kuo had been elected president by the National Assembly. Due to increased concerns over Taiwan’s safety after being removed from the UN in 1971, Chiang initiated an air raid preparedness drill for citizens to “Prepare for danger in times of peace” and dubbed it the “Mega Peace Exercise”. 萬安演習 Wanan exercise).” [Source: Taiwan News]
If you think it’s too paranoid to still be having the air drills over forty years after Taiwan was booted out of the UN, consider the one-China policy that most countries observe and the fact that China still considers Taiwan as one of its provinces rather than a sovereign state. Consider too what signals the presence of U.S. warships in the Taiwan Straits (which separates Taiwan from mainland China) over the past decade send to China.
Ximen Station is just one stop away from the Taipei Main Station across the street from our apartment. It shouldn’t take too long to get there but because of the Wan An air raid drill, we left earlier than we originally planned. We didn’t want to be on the streets between 1.30 and 2.00 because people not taking the Wan An air raid drill seriously could be slapped with a hefty fine.
We reached GaKuDen Bakery before 1.00 p.m. We went in, checked out the breads and pastries, nothing really interested us so we exited the bakery, walked a little farther, discovered a shaved ice place called Ice Papa and, some two doors beyond it, a pricey-looking Japanese restaurant. We’d had a very late breakfast and we weren’t planning on having lunch in anticipation of the street food at Shifen Old Street. Still, a bowl of mango shaved ice couldn’t hurt.
Ice Papa was a dream. Creamy yet light, not too sweet and with a generous amount of fruit.
After the delectable snack, we walked around the corner to find a place to smoke. It was nearing 1.30 p.m., it started drizzling and we wondered where we could go until the Wan An air raid drill was over. I wanted to go to the rest room, there wasn’t one at Ice Papa so the logical choice was to go to the fancy Japanese restaurant.
There was a lady at the reception desk by the front door. We asked if they had a rest room, she said they did and then we asked if we could stay inside during the Wan An air raid drill. We couldn’t unless we were paying customers. Fair enough. We could order sushi, nothing too heavy, that we could enjoy leisurely for half an hour.
We were ushered to our seats, we perused the menu, we tried to order but were told that paying the bill at the cashier was how food was ordered there. Really? Like a fast food joint? I rolled my eyes in dismay but Speedy stood up, went to the cashier and paid. Then, we waited.
Outside, the drizzle had turned into a downpour. There were very few vehicles on the street but I saw pedestrians, umbrellas over their heads, running like Godzilla was after them. Running to get out of the rain or to get indoors before the air raid drill began, I don’t know. Probably both.
At exactly 1.30, our phones lit up with message alerts. I couldn’t understand the message itself but since it was exactly 1.30, I assumed that it was a notification that the Wan An air raid drill had begun (we had switched to Taiwan telco SIM cards on the day we arrived). I learned later that sending message alerts to mobile phones was a feature added to the air raid drill only this year.
Ten minutes passed and we were still waiting for our food. I stood up and walked toward the large glass windows to observe the street. The downpour had turned into a drizzle once more. The streets were empty except for the occasional pedestrian (white folk, mostly) ambling like they were oblivious to what was happening.
The food was served. At Takao 1972, that’s a meal for one person. I don’t know how other people eat but, in my family, a meal that size is for sharing.
As for the quality of the food… The food was good. Superlative. The seafood was fresh, the tofu skin was soft, the egg was beautifully seasoned.
I don’t remember how and when it happened but Speedy checked the receipt and there was an extra TWD60 on the bill. He hailed an attendant over to ask what it was, the attendant spoke no English but she fetched a fellow attendant who explained to us that it was the “sharing fee.”
“Sharing fee” is literal enough to understand without asking more questions. Still, we were aghast. Traveling in Asia, we had never encountered it before. Probably not surprising because the practice seems to have originated from America.
Is the reason for charging a “sharing fee” as simple as deterring diners from sharing food? What if, as in the case of the sushi platter at Takao 1972, the entrée is too much for one diner? Isn’t sharing better than ordering two entrées and finishing neither that results in wasting food?
Personally, I think it’s bullshit.