Sunday, August 2, 2009

Taiwan

I just got back from my summer vacation in Taiwan! I went with my friend Ryan, a Canadian expat and fellow English teacher in Busan. We had a great time, but I'll let my pictures tell the story.
The vacay started with a day in Seoul with Hayoung. I had been there before, but the sightseeing was great. After a cable car up Seoul's central mountain, Namsan, we found a great view of the city. There was also a teddy bear museum with cuddly illustrations of Korean history and culture.
We also had time to visit (yet) another palace. The picture below shows a line of royal gravestones lined in front of the main hall.
Tuesday morning I meet Ryan at the airport and catch an early flight to Taipei. Getting off the bus in Taipei central station, already see some striking contrasts with Korea. Besides the tropical heat and hundreds of motorbikes, the buildings look different. One of the weird things about Korea is that almost all of the buildings look like they were built in the late 70's and are aging at the same slow pace. In Taipei, I am can see crumbling shanties and state-of-the-art highrises in the same view.
Taiwan is famous for nightmarkets, so we head to Taipei's biggest for dinner. Find out food is super cheap and delicious. Some of it is also... wierd. I think the strangest thing I saw was a bar catering to reptilian vampires. They bleed live snakes and turtles into shot glasses-- a haunting image. Fish-head soup is tame in comparison.
We go with a Taiwan specialty, hotpots, instead. A whopping $2.50 for an enormous meal.
Next day we do more Taipei sightseeing. First was this Buddhist temple. Taiwanese temples are a lot different than the Korean variety. Korean temples blend into the dull colors of their mountanous surroundings. Here, the decorations are more ornate (dragons!), and the dominant color bright gold. We also came in during a service, apparently, because the place was smoky with incense and crowded with chanting monks.
We found this hand-puppet theater and museum that night. Taiwan is famous for its handpuppetry. We even saw a 7-11 commercial on TV featuring a handpuppet!

Here is a famous Taipei monument to its Taiwan's anti-communist founder. This actually reminds me of the many parallels between Taiwanese and Korean history. Both countries were colonized by the Japanese before WWII, and are now involved in a protracted civil war/territory dispute between communist and pro-western governments. Interesting, right? Nice park, anyway.

I visit the world's tallest building, the Taipei 101. I had lunch on the ground floor, but decide the $35 fee to the top is not worth it.
The next day we head to Wulai, a little town only and hour outside Taipei, but already deep in some mountains. The town is famous for its hotsprings and its jungley environs. We get to swim in open-to-public hotsprings that line the river in the main part of town. When you get too hot, you can just jump into the river to cool off. I was a bit disconcerted, later, when I saw a swimming snake and river eel in the water next to the swimming area. The area also has some decent hiking, but I did not see the wild monkeys as I had hoped.
A waterfall. Bigger than it looks in this picture.


That night we eat at a restaurant with absolutely no English. We point to something on the menu and hope for the best. A big plate of beef stir fry for each of us seemed to work out well. Later, we are confronted by a young Taiwanese couple who inform us that you are supposed to split one plate "between ten people" and eat it with rice. Oh well. It was a lucky encounter, though, because they invite us to come to their house the following day!

We spend the next day on a beautiful tropical beach a couple hours from Taipei. We meet our new friends at night and end up sleeping there after a little house party with a group of Taiwanese and one Australian.

The final day, we meet again with some friends we met the night before and visit one of Taipei's coolest areas. It is a fisherman's wharf with a carnival atmosphere. Reminds me a lot of San Francisco's fisherman's wharf. A nice end to a good trip.
The strangest experience I had during the trip was coming back to Busan. It is a unique, disorienting feeling, coming back to the home that is not my home. I only realize then how much I have grown accustomed to life here and how much Korea has grown on me.

6 comments:

  1. Welcome back to Busan, your "home away from home". Sounds like a great adventure! Mom

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  2. Teddy Bear Museum of Korean History! That sounds like the coolest place on the planet. Taipei looks amazing (except for those fish heads in bowls, I guess I'm just not culturally used to seeing that). I love your blogs!

    -Han

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  3. Wooooooooow what an awesome and random trip! Why didnt you try the snake blood? You probably passed up the oppp. for smokin taiwanese special powers. For some reason, I didnt know the worlds tallest building is in Taiwan. ! The only thing that could have made this post better is if the snakes near the hot spring slid up to you and told you what they want for christmas.

    Also, I am glad tat island picture refused to blow up any bigger on my screen, I am super jealous when it is small :)

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  4. Love reading your blogs. Hope this gets thru to you. Gram Safran isn't too good on these blogs
    going thru. What an adventure. Can't believe you are seeing so much of our world at your age.

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