If summer is said to have its dog days, then January surely has the cat days of winter: no better time to find a favorite perch and await your next nap. A 24-hour pay lounge offers one of Taiwan's most unique perches. Whether you're visiting one for the first time, or for the first time in years, you' ll be surprised at what you see once you step inside as many of these downtown institutions have moved upmarket.
Pay lounges found their niche in a poorer Taiwan of decades ago by essentially institutionalizing the hotel lobby. They offered people a chance to read newspapers, magazines or a selection of books and comics in an air-conditioned oasis. The price of admission also included all the tea or soft drinks you could drink. A menu of instant noodles offered an inexpensive meal.
"I would hang out at places like this when I was a freshman in college," one 28-year-old surnamed Chen said of the east-area lounge where she was reading back-issues of the Japanese comic Godhand Teru. "They charged NT$1 per minute and I could read a whole series of a comic book in an hour. I saved a lot of money!"
Today's pay lounges offer all the things they once did, and often a lot more. In My Fun, the 24-hour lounge Chen had her feet propped up at, guests have the option of watching television or surfing the Internet, hopping on a treadmill for a bit of exercise, letting the kids run loose in a semi-soundproof playroom, or showering in a nicely appointed restroom.
"We frequently get gentlemen from the piano bars on the lower floors who come here for a shower after a night of drinking," said an employee at My Fun who asked not to be named. "Sometimes they'll pick up a blanket at the counter and stay several hours."
Curtained-off cubicles mean guests can nap peacefully or read their picks from the selection of adult comics in private. Many lounges allow you to take their books or magazines from the premises for a nominal daily rental fee.
But it's not just reading materials on the menu. Sofa Book, near the AsiaWorld shopping center, apes an MTV by offering customers a selection of pop music or classical CDs to listen to.
Older pay lounges often had telephones in each booth -- a leftover from pre-cellphone days -- but the trend now is to do away with the phone in favor of wireless Internet service. And, yes, there's almost always an electrical outlet near each sofa or armchair.
Sofa Book (NT$50/hour) at 2F, 309 Nanking E Rd, Sec 3, Taipei (北市南京東路三段309號二樓), call (02) 8712 5557
My Fun (NT$60/hour) at 14F, 197 Zhongxiao E Rd, Sec 4, Taipei (北市忠孝東路四段197號14樓) (02) 2771 5799.