We spent most of the first afternoon shopping around the main train station.
We got some sushi for Chris and fruit for me. If you didn’t know that dark purple stuff is dragon fruit. Also a coke can in Chinese.
Our first full day we finally went “hiking” – remember we only came to eat and hike and so far there was just eating.
Hiking turned out to be this:
Paved roads and stairs. It suddenly made sense why so many feminine female Asian bloggers had been bragging about “climbing” a mountain. People were doing it in high heels just to take a selfie on the top then head back down. We came for a hike so we kept going past the touristy areas. Some places were blocked by fallen trees – there was so much damage from the typhoon still.
We followed a man using a cane up to some much older and wetter stairs. Very old stairs. We were off the beaten track as much as we could go.
Then it started to rain. An intense downpour – the cloud cover made it nearly pitch black in the jungle where we were.
It rained on our hike in Hong Kong, too. It’s how you know you’re going to have a good time, it seems. We had umbrellas so we huddled under them for a bit while the path around us began to flood. It never let up for a solid 3 hours of bucket-pouring rain. There were pools of water everywhere. It was running down the stairs almost like that scene from Jumanji.
Even with the umbrellas we were soaked. We took a break at the now abandoned lookout point. That’s when the lightning and thunder began. One hit right in front of us, and I do mean RIGHT in front of us. We decided that being on the mountain was just downright unsafe so we began powerwalking/running down the stairs off the mountain. By the time we got down we were even more soaked. We had no other way of getting back to the hotel except to take the subway. Here Chris started dripping a very large puddle – about 2 cups of water worth on the floor of the subway. When the subway accelerated it sloshed backwards. When the subway stopped it sloshed forward. Thus Chris had soon surrounded a 10 foot area with rain water. Elderly people were scowling at us and it soon became extremely funny how upset they were about the water. They were rolling their eyes and glaring at us – what we were supposed to do about it?!
Granted, we were the only people wet but we had been hiking for the full 3 hours it had been raining. I had a towel wrapped around my waist because I had light shorts and dark undies -you can guess those showed through. So Chris was dripping everywhere and I looked idiotic with a towel around my waist in public. We were a great pair.
We went to the worlds only 24-hour bookstore after getting dry. I suppose you should all be lucky that we’re not still there. There were plenty of English books. 4 floors of books, office supplies, music disks and stationary – but 24 hours. Our heaven.
(Now Chris is writing) We decided to give our stair-climbing- muscles a rest, and to focus on traveling around Taipei, we saw some interesting shopping areas, and we visited the Chiang Kai-shek (C.K.S) memorial hall.
I think that C.K.S, and therefore Taiwan in general, deserves a bit of explaining. Lets go back real fast to WWII, when China was occupied by the Japanese.
Old China was under the leadership of C.K.S.. But, the communists were also starting their movement in China. These three sides (Communist China, Japan, and “old” China) fought each other for control of China. When the Japanese left, the communists and the old Chinese government continued to fight each other. Eventually the communists won, and the old government retreated to Taiwan. Taiwan was now the official seat of the original Republic of China (ROC). The communists then set up the Peoples Republic of China (PROC) on the mainland.
C.K.S became “president for life” and wasn’t a really great person. He died, got his massive memorial hall, and his son (who seems like he was alright) became president. The son actually started making the country more democratic and free.
It’s actually a little similar to the Korean situation. Only imagine North Korea being the fastest growing economy in the world, and having…hm… a billion more people. That’s Taiwan’s current situation with China, more or less.
And now you’ve learned something!
Back to the point. We visited the C.K.S memorial hall. We would describe it as overly grand as far as memorial halls go. Definitely the largest either of us has ever seen.
We walked around that area for a bit, we found a German restaurant that we had to try for old times sake. And of course we visited the book store…again.
Most visitors who come to Taiwan come to visit the night markets. We had visited one in Keelung, where we ate some very delicious pork, but supposedly the best markets were in Taipei. It was large, crowded, loud and full of great looking food. The problem we encountered with night markets is that when you see something good, you cannot stop to buy it because there are too many people pushing you from behind. Its like trying to stop on an escalator, people will bunch up behind you and get very pushy.
The first night market was okay. We bought dumplings, and deep fried shrimp covered in mayonnaise and cake sprinkles (seriously, sprinkles). The second night market we visited in Taipei was just as crowded, but it had maybe 1/4th the space. The ass hats in charge of this market had decided to push their stands so close together that only two people could comfortably walk abreast between them. This allowed for two lines of people, and the theory must have been that people will form two orderly rows, each traveling in opposite directions. The reality was probably the worst crowd experience we have ever been in. If even one person slowed down, then people started pushing past that person, which lead to near-crushings at time (because no one is patient).
We bought nothing from this market, and we shoved our way out as soon as there was a break in the food stands. After this we had a laugh about the whole thing, and just bought another one of those scallion pancake things we like so much.
To be honest, Taipei does not have much to offer. There is some great hiking (real hiking, not stairs) in the area, but if you cant go hiking because you need a permit which you can’t get as a foreigner The memorial hall is nice I guess, the Taipei 101 building (5th largest in the world) makes for a great skyline but we would never pay to go up in it. I suppose the night markets are good for trying new things. But after you’ve seen those three things, there is little left to do.
There were over crowded museums you couldn’t pay us to visit. So on the last day we decided to go to the zoo. We’ve seen zoos before but there’s really nothing to do in Taipei.
Also it was raining. We figured that the rain would convince people to spend their time in the already overcrowded museum, where it was nice and dry, and not at the zoo.
Honestly the rain probably had no impact on the crowd. We had a fun time seeing the animals though, and the surprise star of the zoo in my opinion (this is still Chris by the way) were the hyenas. I am very serious. I’m not sure why, but you could get pretty close to them, they were relatively active, and nobody else was interested in them, which meant the pack of howling mainlanders weren’t pushing us around.
What the mainlanders were interested in were the pandas. Yes, there were pandas, yes we managed to see them, and no it was not as cool as seeing the hyenas. It was difficult to see the pandas through the mob of selfie taking, “professional”photographer wannabe jerks who came JUST to see the pandas. And not just to SEE them, but to take hundreds of pictures in the futile attempt to get the perfect shot of a sleeping panda at 15 yards through smudged Plexiglass. It was like when we saw the Mona Lisa in Paris. With 100 people in the way, anything will loose its allure. Even pandas.
So that’s it. The vacation was a little like Hong Kong in that it was a little disappointing but this was a lot better with better food and less terrible people. I think the issue is starting to become an Asian issue not a Taiwan or Hong Kong issue. We’re getting tired of things (hint: Asian things). Our tolerance levels are down. Do you want to get pushed around and have to shove-or-be-shoved adventure in some museum? Yawn, no I think we’ll just eat scallion pancakes and watch HBO in the hotel. Which we did sometimes. But it was our vacation period and we needed to relax.
Now we’re back at the grindstone trying to teach English phrases at 800 students a week. November will bring renewals (unknown what we’ll do) and then our next vacation period …. who knows.