Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Tony Then Travels To Taipei, Taiwan

Richard and I were together for this leg of the trip too, Jan 2-8. Noboru was lucky (depending how you look at it) in that he was going straight home because he was so sick. Anyways, the plane had a lay-over here for us, probably at no extra expense :) I figured this would be a good way to see 2 in 1 kind of deal, but the lesson I learnt here is it’s just too much going from one to another like that. I wonder now how people backpack for months from country to country.

My staples for traveling have been to meet the people, try the food, learn new things and open my mind. Maybe I’m just getting fatigued from traveling all over the world now and long for something simpler? Maybe this is why my sister Patty threw in the towel after globetrotting for a while. For now, let’s blame the feeling on the hard goodbyes I had to endure again. They’re never easy, but I should be happy to have experienced them, it means we shared something special that is just ours… I wonder how Phuong, Sao and Dung are in Vietnam… I wish emails worked to that crazy country. Atleast they ‘kinda’ work to Thailand, but the language barrier becomes obvious suddenly.

Without digressing too hard too early, we checked into a nice looking place, but were paying too much, and were lucky to find a nice nearby hostel for the remainder of the trip for a fraction of the price. When I go back to Bangkok, that’s one thing I will do differently. You meet more cool people that way; I hate hotels. It’s funny how each time I visit a country before I wanted to move there… not so much with Taiwan and Thailand now for various reasons.

We didn’t do much that first day again. We saw some of the city, ate some of the amazing food, and saw a movie again I think. We were tired from the travel and having to get up so early again so it was a lame night.

One parting gift Noboru gave us though was contact with his sister, May. One hand washes the other right? When she visits us in Japan we’re going to treat her for lunch. She’s really cool and it’ll be good to see here again. Anyways, despite being 3 months pregnant, she gave us something of a tour and took us to an amazing restaurant. So many forgotten things came back to me from my trip to China, like how you tap 2 of your fingers twice on the table to say “thank you”, and the best part, just how amazing the food is.

She took us to some memorials and other famous landmarks, like the Taipei 101. You’ll know what I’m talking about when you see it, so look at the picture; it’s massive. There is symbolism all over the thing, like how it splits 8 times because 8 is so lucky in Chinese culture (08/08/2008 ring a bell?) it’s meant to look like bamboo, the 101 is the number of floors and was meant to be binary to represent the new digital age. It is illuminated with different coloured lights depending on the day and if you want to see something really cool, check out Taipei’s New Year’s countdown; the fireworks shoot off this bad boy like it’s on fire. (you can see the building's shadow in the picture)

We walked through cool areas with interesting architecture. There was a dog show going on, and there were weird human statues doing poses. Hahaha… that ‘art’ is so lost on me. I see those (guys?) standing there with a pound of make-up on holding some ridiculous pose and think two things: one is how much pain their body must be in, and the other how I hope they’re not getting paid too much as to not encourage others to waste their time doing this too, it was a cold day too. Stay in school kids.

One thing that came up was Taiwan had a surprisingly low level of English, and we were in a major city too. I mean, Japan might even have a higher level, and they have always been the lowest so far that I’ve seen. The travel book mentioned this briefly, how their education system is similar to Japan’s, in how you have to memorize millions of grammar points instead of learning to speak something intelligent. Although I’m not in a position anymore to say if Japan is worse because I can speak some Japanese now. One woman didn’t even understand the word “English”. Points of interest for sure, good thing I studied some Kanji as I needed them to decipher some of the Chinese menus we came across. Some characters were the same as Japan’s; others were quite different. For example in the elevator “open” was the same, but “close” had something funky going on inside it… it looked… Chinese! Haha

So ya, it was surprising how many menus we stumbled upon that had no pictures or English. What Taipei had a lot of though, that we quickly fell in love with, were “night markets”. Here, there is lots of shopping, and tons of food. Delicious fresh food for cheap everywhere you looked. You almost wished for even smaller portions so you had room in your stomach to try another treat. One dish that stood out was this beef noodle shop that was on the tourist map. Actually, that particular place wouldn’t let us in because they had crappy hours, so we went next door to the competition that would take our money. That was one of the tastiest meals I’ve had yet; the beef fell apart in your mouth, the broth was rich, and the noodles were freshly hand made. Amazing. I miss China some days…

Back to the Taipei tower, it has the fastest elevator in the world, and at one point it went 1010 meters a minute. It was still a smooth ride, and coming down was a bit slower. Up top you had an amazing panorama of the city and surrounding mountains. Inside too, you could see the world’s largest damper on display or something. Either way, it’s a monstrous counter weight to help reduce the building’s movement by 40%.

We went out for some nightlife and met some cool ex-pats. (ex-patriots, or foreigners) they were cool, but kept asking “why did you come to Taiwan now? This is the absolute worse time” It just worked out that I asked for a layover and didn’t really look too far into it. He had a point though, as it rained every day, it was cold, things didn’t seem lively like clubs that were suppose to have lines going out the door and things were closed because of the just-passed new year, and the upcoming monstrous Chinese New Year where the country shuts down for a couple weeks. We were told up to 80% of their friends were all gone this time of year, out traveling like we were. Oh and the banks were all closed pretty much the whole time we were there, so we had to exchange money for bad rates at the shopping mall.

At the club we went to, we met some cute girls. A little while later, we were warned by the bartender not to talk to them because they were mafia, and things started to click when the ugly burly dude nearby would snap his fingers or something and the girls would quickly go back to him. He wasn’t a happy dude obviously, probably because he had to pay for their company and even then they’d rather hang out with us. They left not too long after. Interesting experience I guess, no one got hurt :) Any other night we tried to see some nightlife, everything was closed and we got soaking wet for our efforts because of the rain; clubs were only opened 3 days a week I think.

I realize I’m blending days together as really not a whole lot happened outside relaxing, eating, walking around when it was nice out, and feeling burnt out from the duration of the trip already; the last day for example was us making a trip up north to see a “fort”. It was an old building that just didn’t pique any interest at all. For example, one room was empty save for a square metal ‘water tank’ inside. It explained its purpose, how and when it was used and yadda yadda yadda I don’t care. We tried to care, we really did, but it wasn’t happening.

There was one big notable trip of note, we went out to a gorge along the crazy easy coast. We got really lucky with this trip too, we started off in the early morning and it was pouring rain, while we were there it was sunny and perfect and on the way back it started pouring again :)

So we got there and first thing we did was rent a scooter. They wanted to know if we had a license. We didn’t, but I showed them my Japanese license. They wanted to know if we had experience, and luckily I had spent 10 minutes driving one in Vietnam haha. So we got the rental, and driving it alone made the whole trip worthwhile. We cruised down a highway parallel an amazing ocean on one side, and monstrous mountains on the other; it was incredible. I learnt to drive a lot better, and Richard learnt too.

We cruised up to the gorge, and hit points of interest like bridges and other neat sights like white marble river bed, temples built into the side of the mountain, waterfalls, beautiful buildings, caves and just cool roads in general. We took turns riding on the back snapping pictures and soaking it all in. The cliffs above, rock overhangs, tunnels, fresh air, sunny day… like scuba though, there’s only so much I can say. You need to experience something that beautiful and wonderful for yourself, I’m just going to run out of positive adverbs!

At least English has a leg up on Japanese that way; they only really say “sugoi” over and over and over and ov…. Unless there is a young and ‘hip’ dude saying it, then he’ll throw in the occasional “sugehh” which means the same thing, but it’s slang! Crazy kids, what will they do next?

While Thailand was freckled with Buddah temples, Taiwan was freckled with the similar looking ‘China/Japan/Korea/depends-where-you-first-saw-them” temples, but with a twist; they had some really elegant and flashy decorations on the roofs. The people come off as not very friendly, but that’s a Chinese culture thing more than anything, and it was quite the contrast after just being in Thailand. The people really are cool, but Mandarin just sounds like people are angry. Oh and one shop had pig brains soup. It was tempting just to say I did it, but I wasn’t in the mood.

That’s about it. I can’t help but feel Taiwan got a rough ride from me. I feel I need to go back another time when I’m a little fresher, but I’m just not sure if I care enough to try. Again I’m starting to wonder why I’m traveling anymore; I look forward to visiting family in Canada to maybe … recharge? I don’t even know. It’s surreal to think about ‘home’ anymore, having been gone for well over a year now.

I was all set on leaving JET, mostly because of my little town, but in the hostel I got to talking with another traveler. He asked what all I did last year and I started to list them off on my fingers; New Year’s is a time for reflection after all.

I stared it in Korea, then my mom Visited and I saw a lot of Japan. In the summer I went to Vietnam, then in the Spring to Okinawa where I learnt to scuba. Now I was finishing the year in Thailand and Taiwan. During my rant it kind of hit me hard that I had it pretty good last year despite me whining and moaning all the time; what other job can really offer me that much time and opportunity to go crazy? Suddenly my decision to stay for a 3rd year became difficult.

"Big goals get big results. No goals gets no results or somebody else's results." -Mark Victor Hansen


No comments: