Monday, July 27, 2015

Traipsing through Taiwan

Taipei 101
 In June of this year I traveled to Taiwan.  I know a girl who lives in Taipei (the capital and biggest city), so it seemed an ideal opportunity to go while I had someone I could stay with who was willing to show me around.  Stella and I originally met online, and had been talking for a while when I decided to plan a trip.  She offered a place to stay and to show me around.

This trip was many firsts for me - my first trip to Asia, first time in the Eastern Hemisphere, first time crossing the International Dateline, first time going to a country where the primary language is not English or Spanish, and my first flights longer than six hours.  And some other firsts too….like my first time eating pig intestines.  :).  It was a great trip, and a really cool experience.  

The trip started off with a...Bang?  As I was hastily packing, only two hours before departure and shortly before my ride to the airport would have come, I got an email informing that my first flight was cancelled, bumping me to the next flight (three hours later), which would cause me to miss my connection in San Francisco, and in effect extend my layover there from one hour to 18 hours.  My first thought was “Holy Crap”.  The email said if this change was not acceptable, I should call customer service, which I did, and ended up on hold for over an hour before I gave up.  In the meantime, I posted on Facebook and managed to find an old friend in San Francisco I could stay with, so I opted for the 18-hour layover rather than trying to change the flights.  And I tried to focus on the positive--even though I would get to Taiwan a day later than planned, I now had a chance to briefly explore a city I’d never seen before.  Similarly, though I had to cancel my ride to the airport, I later found a new and convenient method for parking at a transit station and riding a bus to the airport that will come in handy in the future.  

San Francisco was pretty cool--I took the metro straight from the airport to a part of downtown and walked down to the shore.  I stumbled upon the Golden Gate Bridge and got to take some pictures.  I was in downtown when the Golden State Warriors clinched the NBA title, heard some celebratory honks and yells, and got to mingle with celebrators milling about and on the subsequent subway rides to my friend Rebekah’s house.  I slept on the couch in Rebekah’s apartment after watching a replay of game 6 of the Finals (the final game).  The next day, I took the metro again and stopped off in another part of downtown to explore before heading back to the airport.  I spotted the “famous trolley” and police on horseback, and bought a big pizza at a place with great reviews on Yelp (Z-Pizza).  I took the leftovers with me, and was then the target of hungry homeless people (I gave away two pieces on the street), and later everyone in the airport seemed to be eyeing my pizza box, especially while going through security.  I had three large pieces left for the 13-hour flight.  

Silly in San Francisco
The flight was long.  At 13 hours, more than double my previous longest airplane ride.  It was nice to have the pizza, but they actually served a lot of food and drink, so much so that there seemed to be almost continual commotion from the attendants and concession carts.  I managed a few hours’ sleep and watched one in-flight movie (American Sniper) I hadn’t seen.  I also got up to walk around and stretch several times, and wore compression stockings, both in efforts to ward of DVT’s.  

At Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall Square
Stella was an amazing hostess.  First off, she met me at the airport and helped me find a bus across the city towards her home--everybody was speaking Chinese from the moment I left the airport, and I would have been lost without her (she also texted me written instructions in Chinese for a taxi driver in case she didn’t have time to come).  She took me to dinner at a Japanese style restaurant the first night, and took me to many other yummy, interesting, and fun restaurants and shops throughout my stay.  And on nearly every occasion, I was the lone English-speaking person in the establishment.  Stella translated or ordered on my behalf basically everywhere we went (I did go out on my own for a few hours one day, and felt very limited.  I managed to buy dinner and some donuts using a few basic words and gestures,, and was very proud of myself).  We visited several places I wouldn’t have known of as a regular tourist.  She planned various fun activities and improvised each day depending on weather and other factors.  She also took 3 days off work while I was there (she worked one day, and we had the weekend and one day of holiday for the “Dragon Festival”).  I never would have thought to go to Taiwan were in not for her, and she made the six-day stay very pleasant and memorable.  Even her roommate chipped in and took us out to eat, and later bought additional local foods for me to sample.  

Possibly the most remarkable thing about the visit was that I never exchanged any money nor used an ATM (nor paid for anything with dollars).  I used my credit card to pay for some things (a few meals, movie tickets [for Jurassic World in 4D, no less]…), and Stella paid for all the little things as we were traipsing around.  I gave her some cash before I left to help even it out, but the total cost of the trip besides airfare was incredibly only about $200!

Taipei by night
I did very little research before the trip, basically winging it.  I did make a list of places, however, because I had a patient in the ER about a month prior who was a returned-missionary from Taiwan (and was in the ER because he broke his ankle there on a return visit), and I asked him what I should do and made a list.   I also got a list of foods to try and one destination from my old roommate David McCombs, who likewise served his mission in Taiwan.  I left the rest to Stella, basically.  

Japanese style hot pot
I didn’t study any Chinese before the trip (I finally learned how to say “thank you”--xiexie-- while in San Francisco the day before) because I decided it would be too hard to make any substantial progress.  But after I’d been there a couple days, I decided to learn the basics, and found it made the whole experience more mentally engaging.  And just a few words and numbers go a long way for basic communication with the locals.  

Overall it was a unique cultural experience, and I loved trying so many different foods while I was there.  I showed Stella a list from some website of a bunch of different foods to try in Taiwan, and from that point she seemingly made it her quest to check off the whole list.  Some memorable treats:  Japanese hot pot, Taiwanese hot pot, sushi & sashimi, Thai buffet, stinky tofu soup with duck blood and pig intestines, mango “ice monster”, squid in various forms, mango smoothie, “Danbing” (kind of a like a fried skinny burrito for breakfast), and some good fruit (mango, papaya…).  My chopstick skills have also markedly improved, since that was usually the only option.  

soup w/ stinky tofu, duck blood, pig intestines
After six days, I sadly departed.  I had a three-hour layover in Tokyo on the return trip, so I can check off one more country, and that felt like its own mini cultural experience--the people and language seemed to have a different “rhythm” than in Taiwan, and everything seemed very efficient.  Plus they had a special toilet for squatting...  On the flight from Tokyo to LA, for some reason I got to sit in what my seatmate told me is called “premium economy” (not quite first class), which had more elbow and leg room than I’d ever had before on a plane--I was even able to prop my legs up part of the time to improve blood flow.

What a great and unique trip.  It was different from any other I’ve taken.  Asia, Chinese, the Eastern Hemisphere, crazy foods, and having someone so helpful that made my trip so much easier and cooler (and cheaper) was, on the whole, almost surreal.  And now, I’m very jetlagged.  But it was worth it.  

Additional photos from the trip can be seen here.  

1 comment:

  1. Wow the pictures are beautiful, I would like to travel to Venice lol some day