Friday, May 2, 2008

Taipei

I was on the plane headed to Taipei and reading the travel section of an English Bangkok paper I had picked up while boarding. The paper had this article about a Lonely Planet Writer admitting to plagiarizing and writing sections to the guidebook of countries that he had never been to. This is not what you want to read when you are headed to a strange country with the Lonely Planet as your only source of information.

I arrived in Taipei and getting through the passport process was one of the easiest and fasted countries that I have ever been to. There was no line so just walked up to a security person handed him my passport and form and a minute later I was headed to the baggage carousel. It took a while for the bags but after getting them I was offered help in finding the bus and my first impression of Taiwan was very good. A lot of the great first impression of Taipei may just be from the change in temperature. Bangkok was 36C/97F when I left and Taipei was 20C/68F when I landed.

I had come to Taipei with the idea of getting my notebook repaired. I found the place with little problem and was there an hour prior to it opening so decided to go to the Miniatures Museum of Taiwan. I think this museum is too miniature to be seen because after using up my hour looking for the museum I gave up and went to get my notebook PC worked on.

I was not happy about the notebook repair costing me about 200 euros when I thought it was still under warranty but they said the screen is not covered by the warranty. I was very happy about the time to repair it. I had to go to an ATM to get the money to pay for the repair and within 5 minutes of my return they were giving me a repaired notebook with a working screen and all of the data to be backed up.

After getting the PC repaired and backed up I started to explore the city. I first walked through the 228 park which is a park and museum to remember the events around February 28 1947. There are estimates that the government murdered up to 30,000 Taiwanese following the protest that were held on February 28. I was a bit late to go to the museum but wondered around the park.



I walked to the Tien-ho Temple passing by the Presidential Building. I did not know it was the Presidential Building when I was walking by it and only figure out what the building was a few days later.



When I arrived at the Tien-ho Temple I was surprised that the guidebook says is a Buddhist temple. I did not notice a single image of Buddha so I don’t know if this is a different style of Buddhist temple than what I have been seeing or the book just has some bad information. The Temple looked more Taoists to me.

I went to the Shida night market and made a dinner out of dumplings a lot like the ones I had really loved in Shanghai. I ended up looking for these dumplings about every day I stayed in Taipei.

I spent most of one day just walking between temples. I started by the Dihua Market which is next to the Hsiahai City God Temple. Next I walked to the Bao-an Temple and after that past the closed Confucius Temple. On my way to the Xingtian temple I found some street food and bought something I would call Dim Sum. I sat in a city park on the way and ate about 12 different dumplings. The Xingtian temple was the most crowed of the temples I had been to during the day and unlike a couple that had only tourist this one seemed to be in use.



One thing I have seen in a few of the temples in Taipei that I had never noticed anywhere else is people throwing 2 block of wood on the floor. I have had to do a number of web searches before finding out what they were doing. The blocks are called oracle or divining blocks and they are sort of a half moon shape. What I found is they are suppose to say their name, address, birth date and then ask a question. After this they throw the blocks. If the blocks both land with the flat side up there is no answer and they need to try again. If one of the blocks land with the curve up and one with the flat side up the answer is positive or yes. If both blocks land with the curved side up the answer is negative or no. I took a picture of the blocks.



After all those temples it was time for something different so I made my way to the Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall. I have since asked some people about the money here and Sun is on the 100 Dollar bill and also one of the coins. They explained him to me as being the father of the country sort of like George Washington is to the US. I found this a little strange since he was considered to be the father of communism in China and Taiwan is not a communist country.



I then went to the tallest building in the world. This is currently Taipei 101. It also has the fastest elevator in the world and I was at the 89th floor in no time at all. I visited the 88th, 89th and 91st floors. The 91st floor has an outside observation deck and I stay there to watch the sun go down which was not near as impressive as I thought it would be.



I spent one day visiting the National Palace Museum and then the Museum of Formosan Aborigines. The National Palace Museum is a very large museum with all kinds of objects and art to do with China. It is an impressive collection. The Formosan Aborigines museum is about the tribes that were native to Taiwan. I found this museum a lot like the minority museums in China and Vietnam or the Tribal Museum in Thailand.

I finished the day by going to the Shilin Night Market. When I arrived in the area of the night market there was some sort of parade type of thing going on. I don’t know what this was all about but I followed along the path of the people in costumes and reached a temple. The groups of people would each take a turn of doing a sort of performance in front of the temple and then light out a string of firecrackers.



I had enjoyed eating dinner at the night markets the 2 previous nights so found a market on the map that did not say night market and decided to see if it had the food stands during the day. I went to the Guanghua Market and was disappointed to find no food stands but only a huge number of electronics shops selling cameras, MP3 players and a assortment of other things. My backpack is already way to full so did not really look at any of the electronics.

I had walked past the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial or National Taiwan Democracy Monument as it is now called a couple of nights before but headed back to see it in the daylight. They have changed the name of the monument but all the signs leading to it and the subway stop are still the old name. Chiang Kai-Shek was the person that ruled the country as a dictator for a long time and from my point of view is the person that kept Taiwan separate from China. He also wanted a single China but under his rule rather than Mao’s and fled to Taiwan and took control of the country once his forces lost to Mao’s forces in China proper. The monument is impressive and I learned a little bit more about Taiwan’s history and Chiang Kai-Shek.



I walk to the Longshan temple and got there late in the afternoon and there were a lot of people at the temple when I arrived. They were singing from some sort of songbook that had been handed out to the people. This is just something different that I had experienced in all the temples that I had been to on this trip. There were also tables full of food and all I could think of is the monks at this temple must eat much better than the monks that collect alms in Laos.



One morning I made my way to the Maokong Gondola and found a really long line waiting to get on the Gondola. I finally made it through the queue and onto the gondola and shared it with a group of ladies. One of the ladies was terrified of the height and left marks in the ladies arm next to her from holding on so tight. Because of the ladies fear the ride up was rather funny but it is also a really pretty place so close to the heart of the city.

Once at the top of the Gondola I started walking and was away from the crowds within a couple of minutes. The guidebook talked about a walk to a waterfall which I decided to try but never found it or really any clue to where it was. I started up one trail and came to fork in the path and decided to follow the path that went up the mountain. I thought this was the direction of the waterfall and maybe it was. The path was not really in great shape and a bit wet. The path was a bit of a climb and then I came to a section that was a real climb it had ropes to help with the climb. I used the rope to go up about a 100 meters where I saw another set of ropes for the next 100 meters. At this point I decided this path was not for me and headed back the way I came. On my way back down just about back to the main trail my feet slipped on the mud and down I went on my butt. The only thing hurt was my pride and I was covered in mud. I tried to clean the mud off me as best as I could and then went ahead and walked to the end of the main trail. The walk back to the gondola did not seem very long but the line to go back down was just as long as when I came up. Other than being muddy it was a good day with being a little bit in nature and I found the worlds tallest building a lot more impressive from the mountain than I did in the city for some reason.

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