Taiwan 22-23 June 2013
In Hong Kong, a level 3 typhoon signal was hoisted, meaning a typhoon may come so watch out. Fortunately, planes, trains and automobiles still run at a level 3 signal. My flight was running on time. (I can't decipher the pattern, but the typhoon warning level progression is 1, 3, 8, 9 and 10 with 1 being "looks like rain" and 10 being "lock down".)
Getting Into the City
I landed in Taipei and went through immigration without incident. Being light on Taiwanese cash - New Taiwan Dollars - I decided an economical means of transportation into the city was in order. Signs said there was a bus going into the city. That has to be cheaper than the 45 minute taxi ride for 1,200 NTD. Looking at a wall of brochures and schedules, I made sense of none of it. A woman in some sort of official uniform ushered me to a ticket counter in a hurry. Asking where the bus goes and how long the ride takes just got me an impatient look of frustration. The woman behind the ticket counter said it was an hour ride and costs 140 NTD. In the spirit of following orders, paid for the ticket, but didn't receive further instructions. I walked out to the bus depot and started showing my ticket to people giving them my best questioning shrug. I was finally pointed to queue number 7.
Now to find out where I was going. Taipei was a big city, but I was pretty sure that if I could get to any part of the city connected to the Metro (MRT) I could figure things out from there. Standing in line, I studied my ticket for sake of appearances. All the writing was in Chinese characters. Finally, I acquiesced and took out my I'M A TOURIST banner - my handy Taipei Insights Guide book - and opened it up to a city map. I called an official looking guy over and started pointing to places on the map to inquire of our destination. That was a non-starter. He wasn't about to study a detailed map for me. Fortunately, I overheard someone say Taipei Station. This time I took out the MRT map and pointed at the Taipei Main Station. He gave me an affirmative thumbs up. I'm thinking of adding him to my Christmas cards list.
The Taipei 101 building, named for the 101 stories above ground (I guess Taipei 101+5 isn't as catchy of a name, but there are in fact another five stories below ground), was the tallest in the world in 2004 when it was built. It has since been surpassed by two buildings in the Middle East, but it is still quite a view from the observation deck at the top. I could see a complete panorama of the city, and everything looks like a low-rise from atop the Taipei 101.
On the way from the Taipei 101, I made a stop at Eslite, a massive 5 story bookstore open 24 hours a day. With that many books, there is a huge English books selection. I heard they are opening one in Hong Kong soon that should rival Page One. I'll be glad for the wider selection of English books.
After a night in a small hotel, les suites taipei, and hitting Starbucks I jumped on the MRT to head to the Chaing Kai-Shek Memorial. CKS was the political and military leader when Mao rose to power in China and CKS's political party and supporters fled to Taiwan. (Taiwan is still referred to the "Republic of China (Taiwan)".) The memorial was a large square with an ornate National Concert Hall and National Theatre on the north and south sides, an arching gate to the west and a memorial building closed off the square to the east. Think of the CKS Memorial as a Chinese version of the Lincoln Memorial; a large statue of CKS seated in a Lincoln pose. The walls had engravings commemorating CKS, but they were all in Chinese so all I was able to learn was what was intimated by the grandeur and the two soldiers standing guard.
2-28 Peace Park
From the CKS Memorial, it was a short walk to the 2-28 Peace Park. Named for the February 28, 1947 uprising that was halted by an over zealous military crackdown resulting in severe civilian casualties, the park has a small memorial, museum and an expansive green space with sculptures and pavilions. On this Sunday morning, people gathered to practice taichi, stroll through the park or sit in a pavilion.
After grabbing a quick bite for lunch, I took a long MRT ride north to the Beitou Hot Springs. The geological cocktail provides a natural flow of hot springs. During Japan's 50 year occupation of Taiwan, the Japanese built bath houses throughout the area. With the Japanese affinity for hot springs, the Japanese architecture is prevalent and still remains. After a tour of the museum, I walked down to the creek to soak my feet. The water looked like a cool Colorado stream, but it was like bath water that you made as hot as you can stand. It was a nice respite for my sore feet.
As I was soaking my feet, I noticed the sky going dark. I grabed my pack and hustled to the MRT, making it just before the downpour. After the metro ride to the Taipei Main Station, I wandered to find the bus terminal. After going to two separate ticket windows, I deduced that I was in the wrong terminal. The catch is that I had to go outside in the torrential rain. By providence, I did pack a rain jacket so it wasn't a disaster. I stumbled upon the right ticket window with such a confused and helpless look that they decided to escort me to the right bus. All for the equivilant of US$3.