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Trip Report Nywoman an older single traveler explores Taiwan

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Since I messed up in the tagging am now posting under separate tag. This was my last post for Taiwan until I returned a month later.

Taipei Oct 18
Today was totally a day of unexpected occurrences, actually most days are. Decided to have breakfast out, walked by a place that was displaying their breakfast items on a table outside, that’s how I ended up eating Turnip cakes and dried Tofu with Brown Rice for breakfast. It was really delicious, as I continued my walk I passed an herbalist, the scents were too tantalizing to ignore, I stepped into the store. He was weighing and making packages of herbs, spices and dried fruits. I recognized bay leaves and I think it was dried passion fruits crushed up, unfortunately there was a language barrier so I was unable to find out what today’s recipe was for or what else went into the making.

Finally it was time to go to the National Palace Museum as it was another rainy day. The Museum required a subway and bus ride since it’s located quite a distance from my hotel. My hotel is also a hostel with private rooms. My room is small, but it has a wall length mirror to make it appear larger. There is a shower, toilet and sink plus the most comfortable double bed with a delicious comforter. It is a relatively short walk to the nearest MRT (subway) and no end of choices for eating on the way. It is quite comfortable and convenient. that The National Palace Museum was free because today was a cultural day. I think every tour group in town had decided it was a very good day to visit. I managed to see some of the most precious paintings, they only exhibit 20 at a time. Got my picture taken in regional costumes, an interactive exhibit of which I have seen several versions. You stand in front of and then you become part of the scene, very amusing for children and some adults. After a while I couldn’t take the noise and crowds and left.

The day before I had met an American woman who was traveling with her two small children. She told me about a restaurant called Paradise Dynasty which was on the 4th floor on top of a department store in an office building by Taipei City Hall. They served amongst other things Xiao Long Bao {soup dumplings} in different flavors, each flavor had its own color. In order they were original, ginseng, foie gras, black truffle, cheese, crab roe, garlic and Szechuan. Of course that is what I ordered as well as a delicious dish of water spinach in bean sauce cost $15. The whole area was extremely upscale, as were all the restaurants on that floor, it reminded me of Japanese department stores with a group of restaurants to a floor.

On the 47th floor was a Morton’s of Chicago offering a Barolo dinner for $160 on 10/30. The whole area was such a culture shock compared to the rest of the city. Every luxe brand had its own boutique and it is generic of upscale shopping anywhere in the world. Have hardly ever felt so self-consciously misplaced as here was definitively not dressed for the occasion. As I was walking around I passed a launch by a Danish woman named Ilse Jacobsen of Hornbaeck, who has partnered with a Taiwanese entrepreneur whose name I didn’t get but her collection is called Weng collection, there were a handful of people attending. Across the street there was another launch which had a large group of young people trying to get close to whoever the celebrity was. Christmas decorations were already being displayed, preparations for a European food festival/market with Christmas motive was being readied. So strange in this heat to think of Christmas.

I continued on to Taipei 101, I know it was misty but went up anyway. The commercialism was mind boggling you were unable to exit without walking through what seemed like two city blocks of Coral and Jade for sale apart from all the merchandise before you ascended and while you were up there. By now I was exhausted and decided to call it a day. No wonder I had walked almost 4 miles and my back and legs told me to quit.

There once was a man on Fodor’s Asian forum called Dogster. He was a wonderful writer and raconteur and mainly a solo traveler. He wrote something to me, that has stayed with me through the years. When you travel by yourself there are going to be days that are not great. Today was such a day for me, I woke up tired, my back ached and I found it hard to get going so I accepted what my body told me, did laundry, started packing and got a late start to my day. Probably overdid it the day before, though I got a late start I needed to eat. The receptionist at the hotel had recommended that I try an eating place on the way to the MRT he said I would know it by the line waiting to get seated. Had lunch there which consisted of pork over rice and some kind of small side salad total cost $2.50. Am not sure if the people lining up do so because of the price or I ordered the wrong thing. It was filling but not particularly tasty.

It was time to continue sightseeing despite the rain, I decided to go to Longshan temple. This is the oldest temple in Taipei and very ornate. Have to confess, I don’t quite appreciate Chinese temples.
In front of the temple is a park with benches, they are populated by mainly men and a few women.
It seems that men have much more idle time than women, in almost every culture they seem congregate to shoot the breeze and drink. The rare women who are part of this always seem to look worse for the wear. Perhaps because I haven’t noticed this before in Taipei it was so glaring.
Off to Japan tomorrow.

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    Arrived back in Taiwan and after a couple of train rides to Hualien, was met by pelting rain. The weather was not supposed to improve much for the next day which basically canceled my plans to visit Taroko Gorge. Also the hotel could not find me a guide, but I was able to join a tour consisting of a mother and daughter from Bejing going into the valley. What a joke that was, unless you think going to watch a lake or two, stopping at a sugar factory that is all gift shops or a dairy farm listed as a ranch are highlights of your day. Of course all of these sights had tons of tour buses and was told that English speakers like culture, animals and nature Chinese visitors like tingle tangle.

    After I learnt that the weather was going to improve, I boked an extra night. Managed to get a driver for Taroko Gorge who spoke a little English and was a dream to work with. All of this was arranged by Holland house. I negotiated the price to TW$3000 ($100) which I felt was fair. The mountains are beautiful, and the gorge in particular with the marble and granite boulders matching the water. Lin, drove me everywhere but the amount of tourists was overwhelming. I did manage to cross two separate suspension bridges, was quite scary, Lin kept on saying don’t look down, and I didn’t.
    We drove, before arriving in Taroko, through a cemetery which was fascinating. Each grave was a little house, some more elaborate than others Not the kind of mausoleums we are used to, a bit more colorful and individualistic. Some were obviously Christian, given the cross on top of the entrance, others were Buddhist. We saw one very old grave, which was quite neglected, but it had beautiful enamels and paintings, my inclination was to stay and weed, but I didn’t.

    We passed through a fishing village, so far there was no fish, when we returned later in the day they were doing a brisk business. Did not recognize most of the fish, prices were very high though. As we were standing there a steady stream of fighter jets kept on flying over us. Under normal circumstances I probably wouldn’t have reacted, but given the tense situation with N.Korea, I was scared. We saw beautiful beaches and the main Fish market. I was shown the various Municipal Buildings, and what struck me once again, are the signs in English directing you. Why are the road directions and front of the buildings in English? This is prevalent in Japan as well, as here in Taiwan. These are not likely to be institutions visited by non-native speakers. Was very tired when we returned, the owners invited me to share their dinner, so generous and kind. When I left the next morning I was presented with a bag of Milk Nougat from the Ranch and delicious Kumquat muffins.

    Had deliberately left the last few days unplanned, since I had the dream of hitting the beach. It didn’t quite work out that way, time wise or otherwise so I settled on Tainan. Bought a high speed ticket from Taipei, and an express from Hualien to Taipei. What I didn’t know is that the High Speed Railway (HSR) is about 40 minutes from downtown Tainin. Was advised to take a free shuttle bus to the end station and then a taxi I had booked a hotel in the Anpang section as that sounded good.

    What had been a fantastic trip so far was about to turn. We arrive at this house that shows no sign of being a hotel nor any sign of life. The driver will not leave me and calls a number that’s on the door, then tells me someone will come in 20 minutes. He drives off, and the neighbor across the street invites me in, shows me the bathroom and gives me juice while chattering away in Chinese. Eventually a man shows up obviously very flustered and with poor English skills. We walk in, I decide that there is no way I am staying there, the downstairs is dark and dingy, my room has a marble staircase leading downstairs, but is roped off. I ask are there other guests, the answer is negative. A woman who speaks English comes on the phone and I tell her that this is unacceptable and I will not stay there. Eventually I am taken to a building in a central location where a really cute woman greets us.

    The driver, who was a friend of the owner takes off and a young Chinese couple from Hawaii joins us. They act as interpreters, and help show me to my room which is really miserable. The building is across from the river, ask if there is a room with river view and yes there is. It is an apartment building with gated front doors, and the new room is not much better but it does have a view. At this point I will take anything, even a room with a mattress on the floor which this is. Little did I know that my visit to Tainan would be one of the major highlights of my trip.

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    One of the reasons I was so upset was that I had looked forward to 3 consecutive nights in a decent place to round off my trip. What I ended up with was 2 nights in this place and the 3rd unknown. Poppy the owner, on my first night invited me and the young couple for dinner at a hot pot restaurant nearby.
    Already I am feeling better, she doesn’t speak much English but is totally adorable and kind. Next day I take a taxi to the general market, my plan was to start there and then hit some temples. The market is huge and totally absorbing. Meat is mixed with fish and vegetables, clothing and jewelry is competing with prepared foods and everywhere I turn am offered tastes of something. One just feels the benevolence and kindness of the vendors. It is now 88 degrees and no breeze I stop at an ice tea shop and run into a woman from Singapore I had met earlier. Wey, that’s her name, is going to a mall because it is too hot to walk around, I decide to join her since the temples will be there the next day. She only takes buses, despite the fact that taxis are so very cheap. We walk around the traffic circle and see a cobbler that makes wooden sandals and other small shops. Fortunately, I have money left on my Taiwan card and we take a bus to the Central Station that is close to where the malls are. A mall here is a high rise building and there were several next to each other.

    Wey needs to get a watch strap and we stop at a watch store, as one of the sales people is doing her make up. She has a great comb for her lashes, a curler that is an USB and the skinniest mascara brush I have ever seen. Her eyebrows look great so I ask what she uses, it turns out they are tattooed. All of this
    Is very enlightening especially since it seems that both here and in Japan the young women are totally preoccupied with their looks. The young Chinese woman from Hawaii brought an extra suitcase and was continuing to Okinawa for the sole purpose to buy skincare products and make up. In this particular building there is a Daiso, it’s a Japanese dollar store chain which I have discovered. Everything is one price and the assortment is very diverse, they have some interesting cooking implements which I purchase. We end up in the basement where I have a curry donut and buy a chocolate croissant for my breakfast. Time to head back and I find a bus that stops near where I am staying. Now it’s time to consider dinner I had read about a place in Anpeng that serves oyster and shrimp rolls. Taxi there, and question if this is actually the place, very simple and almost empty. I was in the right place and order one of each, at a cost of $3.30 my taxis cost more. They were very good and tasty so I was satisfied.

    The next day I am to meet Poppy at 10 am to move, she drives me to a place and tries to call her friend,
    Then she takes me to a restaurant and says she will return. After a while this couple shows up who are friends of hers. They order food, Milk Fish Soup, Oyster Soup, some kind of fried bread and Congee.
    Cyndie speaks excellent English, Filip her boss not so much. After the morning snack we return to Filip’s guesthouse and am served tea, Pomelos and more tea. By now I want to get on with my day, as pleasant as this is, it is after all my last day. Eventually we leave for my lodgings which is in the heart of Tainin, very nice, brand new but stairs to climb and a mattress on the floor. My new landlady is so very kind and you just know that she wants me to be happy.

    Cyndie has been given the day off to take me around, we see the two sights I had wanted to see. We have fried ramen noodles with seafood and in general walk around. Eventually we meet up with Poppy who has promised to take me to the salt mines. It was one of my goals for the morning, to take the bus there. When we arrive we meet one of her friends, Justin who take us out to see the sunset and a spectacular sight. Every evening in November, Whiskered Terns return to perch on the oyster beds for the night. It is a spectacular sight, hundreds and hundreds of birds against the setting sun. Before it gets totally dark we walk to see the salt fields, very different from other fields I have seen. Here the salt is collected into pyramids, it was beautiful to see in the dusk. We end up having dinner at Justin’s restaurant and what a feast it was the food just kept on coming all very delicious.

    On the drive back Poppy wants me to see this very special temple, as chance would have it there is a large contingent from Taipei celebrating. Some are costumed to portray gods I think they are on stilts, firecrackers go off and it is all very spectacular unfortunately my camera didn’t really capture the scenes.

    As we return to town we stop at a fruit shop where Poppy orders tomatoes to be served with a sweet ginger sauce, there is also a large fruit plate with a salt similar to what I had in Mexico. This is just to make sure I am well fed, we then return to my lodgings where Filip joins us. More food is procured this time sweet sticky rice and some kind of sweet soup. I don’t have a clue to what is being said for most of the conversations but everybody is having a great time and laughing a lot. I am nominated as big sister with a promise to return. All of this without any alcohol or stimulants, it was just a lovely day and evening.

    The next morning Natalia my landlady has bought breakfast for me and also ordered lunch before I am picked up to go to the train. Since I have several hours to kill, I walk out the door and they are dressing a God at the temple next door for a procession to take place later that day. I am invited to go to the back of the temple and see the Gods that are on display. The gentleman who did so, offered to show me more temples and off we went. I needed to get some more cash since I had spent most of what I had on dinner the previous night. We go into 7-11 I get what I need, and Fang buys bananas, we go on to the next temple which is also amazing. It is time to return since Filip and Poppy are stopping by to say goodbye. Fang presents me with the bananas for the train, and I am overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity of everyone I have met in Taiwan and especially my new little brother and sisters. It has been an amazing trip with so many impressions and experiences but what I take with me going back, more than anything else, is the kindness and consideration of the people that I encountered.

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    Wow, glad that it all ended up being a positive experience for you in Tainan.

    Anpang is an old town for day-trip purpose, but not for lodging. For overnight I'd stay in downtown Tainan for better tourism infrastructure.

    Have been following your trip, from Taiwan to Japan and then back to Taiwan.

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