Never did I ever imagine that I would come to Taiwan. And now that I’m here I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. With the assistance of some friendly, helpful people, some wonderfully informative and easy to use web sites and some great signposting for foreigners, in twenty-four hours we’ve managed to get kitted out with an Easy card for use on public transport; book internal train tickets and print them in the 7Eleven; eat a selection of satay type titbits; plan to see a live show; have a vegetarian buffet; and see some amazing sights.
After checking in to our room in Rick (Canadian) and Irene’s (Taiwanese) apartment we went for a wander around the area. It’s one if the most densely populated districts in the world but it doesn’t feel like it. It feels vibrant and busy and positive. We tried to find somewhere to eat where we could point at either the food or pictures as everything is written in Chinese but didn’t have much luck so we stopped at a little bar for a beer. And then noticed that at the entrance there was a vast selection of kebab type food on skewers, uncooked. The barman got a plastic bowl and we pointed to what we wanted. Tofu, bacon-wrapped leek, and aubergine. He put it in his bowl and took it off to grill so we could have it with our beer. Delicious!
This morning we managed to book our train tickets to Taitung online and the end of the process told us we could collect them from the corner shop (7Eleven) downstairs. We were a bit sceptical about this but thought we’d give it a go. There’s a machine but everything is in Chinese. We managed to guess our way through about half the process but just as we were coming unstuck a young man appeared, apparently summoned by staff who’d been keeping an eye on us, and asked in English if we needed help. We did and we managed to print our tickets.
We then caught the Metro to the Chiang Kai Shek memorial, not really knowing what to expect. As part of the same complex there’s a Cultural Hall and a Concert Hall. These are both large, solid, Chinese style buildings. We were walking towards them when we noticed some elderly folk doing pushing tai chi in the park (apparently it’s the latest thing). Sean went over to watch and almost immediately Alan, a participant, left the group to talk to him. We had a nice chat about Taiwan and afterwards realised that this is what we have been missing over the past few weeks. Normal, friendly contact with people who live in the country.
Feeling very positive we made our way towards the Cultural Hall and towards the sound of bebop coming from the top of the steps leading to it. When we got there we saw a large group of young people, performing the most amazing dance routine using the glass entry doors as a mirror to perfect their steps. It was wonderful to see young people being so spontaneously creative, enthusiastic and committed. What was more amazing was that when we turned a corner we found another group, and then another and another. The whole area was full of youngsters, boys and girls, committed to their particular style of dancing.
Passing between the two halls I was very excited to see on a huge stage in front of rows of chairs . . . Taiko drums!! A large group was in rehearsal for a free show that will be performed tomorrow evening do we’ll definitely be going along. We spent quite a while watching the rehearsal.
Chiang Kai Shek is a smiling benevolent figure in his memorial and after watching the changing of the guard there we visited the exhibition halls showing calligraphy, paintings and flower arranging.
We then went off in search of the oldest temple in Taipei. The map we have, while very informative on some things, is a bit ropey on actual directions so we ended up going the long way round. Not that we minded too much as what we love doing most in cities is wandering, getting lost and making our own discoveries. And that’s what happened
Feeling hungry we had the same issue about how to interpret menus and order food. Then we noticed a vegetarian buffet and the lovely lady inside showed us how the system worked (you load your plate and pay by weight) and we had the most delicious selection of food.
We then managed to find the temple, which was packed but this time not with tourists but with genuine worshippers. The place was heavy with incense and the low, hypnotic chanting of the congregation. The temple was Buddhist but the colourful Chinese pictures and models of goats (as in year of) and dancing snail lanterns (as in ???) gave it an air of Buddhist cum Confucian cum Disney.
The last appointment of the day was at Taipei 101, the second tallest building in the world. A very impressive building if another monument to rampant consumerism and the spending power of the filthy rich that we have seen in even the poorest cities.
We’re home now. It’s so nice to stay with normal people in a residential area and get a little insight into their everyday lives. We’re just chilling for a bit and then we’ll make a return visit to last night’s bar as there are many dishes that we haven’t yet tried.
So far Taiwan has been wonderful. There’s a positive enthusiasm to the place. Despite the huge language barrier people are so welcoming and friendly that we can make a connection and achieve things. On Monday we’re leaving Taipei to see some of the countryside. The whole country is only about half the size of Scotland so the three weeks we have here should be enough and we’re really looking forward to discovering more.