Shilin Night Market is known as the biggest of its kind in Taipei. With hundreds of stalls and booths to explore, we only saw a portion of it when we visited the market that one winter night in January. We might have seen very little of Shilin Night Market, but it was pretty much my favorite night in Taiwan.
Before ending our day at the Shilin Night Market, we had a long day exploring cultural attractions in the city and spent even longer hours prowling the grounds of the National Museum. Dexter separated from us to meet an old friend, and Cherith, Marianne, and I spent the night shopping and trying various Taiwanese street food. It was my first time to eat xiao long bao and candied strawberries!
Running low in Taiwanese dollars and with no money exchange store in sight, we only bought a couple of souvenirs and spent the remaining time looking for a place to rest. The market was devoid of benches for tired tourists, so we were glad to see a line of small coffee shops providing warmth to passersby. We randomly picked one coffee shop, and we were pleasantly surprised when we realized that it’s not just good coffee the barista was offering.
I cannot remember why we chose that specific booth. Neither can I remember why we decided to opt out of sitting at the tables and went for the seats at the bar instead. Maybe we were cold and we wanted to be as close as possible to the warm indoors. Whatever it was, I was glad we made that decision.
I cannot remember what I ordered. I cannot even remember our barista’s name. But I do remember the conversations, and I do remember the warm feeling of finding solace in a cozy corner coffee shop and having a good cup of coffee in hand while it’s raining. The godmother of coincidences might have been watching over us that time, but our kind barista that night had a particular fondness for Filipinos, mostly because he spent five long years working in the Philippines.
He shared stories about his years working in the country–about jogging in Diliman, traveling in and around Manila, making friends with Filipinos. He cracked a lot of jokes. He said he got his humor from Filipinos. In fact, he maintained his friendship with old workmates, and some of them even visit him in Taiwan from time to time.
After moving back to Taiwan, he opened the little coffee shop, which he manages by himself. Though he hires a part-timer (a Filipina!) to help him with the coffee making process, he’s the one interacting with the shop visitors, and the one who personally gets all the orders, prepares it, and serves it, too. He left a corporate job at a shipping company in the Philippines and opened a coffee shop. Sounds a lot like my plan in life, too!
Though he was also busy serving other customers, he still tried to talk to us and gave insider tips on what to do in Taiwan. He even insisted that we try the chiffon cake at a bakery a few shops down from his cafe. And he was right, it was definitely good.
After our insides were warm enough and we had enough laugh with our friendly barista, it was time to go.
There are many things to love about visiting new cities, exploring the world, seeing the unseen. But there’s something magical and intoxicating in knowing that no matter how much you plan your trip, traveling will always find a way to surprise you.
I bet there are many things to do in Shilin Night Market, but I’m still glad that one winter night in January, we were cold and tired and we stumbled upon that little corner coffee shop.