Posts Tagged ‘taiwan’

More Photos of Taiwan

Over the weekend, I posted a couple more galleries of photos from Taiwan.

First, a batch of photos from the rural area of Ershui. This quiet town on the Jiji small rail line was a good spot for a leisurely bike ride and some monkey watching up in the hills.

The other gallery I posted is from Changhua, a city that boats a rather enormous Buddha statue overlooking the town below.

If you would like to read more about my travels in each of these locations, check my blog entries on Ershui and Changhua

Lastly, some appetizers:


Photos of Lukang Posted

More photos of Taiwan are up. This time, it’s a gallery of photos from Lukang, a beautiful little city in Western Taiwan.

Most of the city was relatively plain, but the small portion of it that wasn’t seemed like it had stepped out of the past. I won’t dwell on describing it too much here. If you’re interested, feel free to check out this detailed blog entry about my short stay in Lukang.

For now, a few photos:


Sun Moon Lake Photos Posted

As I was travelling through Taiwan and exploring the area around the Jiji small rail line, I realized that my way back to Taipei could pass through one of the country’s favourite destinations: Sun Moon Lake. So, I quickly adjusted my plans for the trip back and I was able to spend an afternoon on the shores of this gorgeous, blue lake.

I quickly realized that I could have done with an extra day there. Renting a bike for a day and riding around the roads near the shore would have made for a great day’s adventure. But since I was short on time, the afternoon would have to do. I walked along the lake’s edge to Wenwu Temple and explored there until I had to make my way back to quaint little Shuishe Village to catch my bus back to Taipei, happy to have taken in some beautiful views and country quiet.

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Shilin Official Residence Photos

I’ve just put up another batch of photos from Taipei. This time I’ve uploaded photos from the Shilin Official Residence, the former home of Taiwanese leader Chiang Kai-Shek.

The expansive gardens of the residence make a nice escape from the Taipei noise and traffic with peaceful paths, colourful flowers and quiet greenhouses. During my visit, the photogenic location was highlighted by an army of wedding photographers directing brides and grooms throughout the gardens. I could hardly turn a corner without seeing a happy couple posing together.


Xingtian Temple Photos

Adding to my recent flood of photos of Taipei, I have just added a gallery of photos from Xingtian Temple.

Another of the many busy temples in Taipei, my favourite sight in Xingtian Temple was the many blue-robed temple officials seeing to the smooth operation of the temple and accommodating the needs of worshipers. Like the brilliant saffron robes of the Buddhist Monks in Southeast Asia, these blue attendants immediately caught my attention. They were like patches of bright, blue sky showing through an overcast day.

A couple of photos to get you started:


Taipei’s Dihua Street Market

I continue my journey down my Taiwan memory lane today with photos from Taipei‘s Dihua Street Market. A bustling shopping area in the afternoons, the market sells Chinese candies, medicinal herbs and sundries and the gregarious vendors will be all to happy to stuff your pockets and your mouth with samples.

I left with a massive bag of pistachio nuts well beyond my eating capacity. They were just too delicious! They found a good home in the bellies of the other guests at my hostel.

The street was full of tasty treats and happy faces. And while it may not have been as much of an adventure as the creatures, mystery meats and mystery smells of Snake Alley, it was a worthy stop in Taipei.

A couple sample photos:


Photos of the Grand Hotel in Taipei

If only my trip’s budget had allowed me to stay at the Grand Hotel in Taipei. Though my accommodation was perfectly comfortable, I’m sure the luxury of the Grand Hotel would have been a happy addition to my accommodation itinerary.

The best I could really do is have a wander through its exquisite lobby and around the grounds where my photos were taken.


Taipei 101 Photos

Continuing with my recent trend of posting images from Taiwan, I have just added a gallery of photos of what is currently the tallest building in the world: Taipei 101.

The astonishingly high building is a must-see in Taipei and due to it’s height, it’s almost a sure bet you will see it from somewhere in the city. But getting up close will give you the opportunity to truly marvel at the construction. Even better, take the surprisingly-fast elevator ride to the top where you will get a perspective of the city that shows just how sprawling the metropolis is. And if the views from the observatory aren’t high enough for you, climb a few more flights of stairs and head outside.

The outdoor observatory was one of my favourite parts of my visit to the tower. On the night I visited, the terrace was not heavily populated and I was often left alone to listen to the wind and the distant, faint hum of the city. It was extraordinary to be surrounded by millions of people, but still enveloped in quiet.

Check out the photos (including a couple shots from inside the wax museum in the observatory – David Beckham and Bruce Lee were graceful models for me) here.


Photos of Taipei’s Longshan Temple

Longshan Temple was one of my favourite locations to visit in Taipei. I visited the temple twice and both times, it was as busy as it could be with the devout engaging in the rituals common to Taiwanese temples.

When I visited one evening, I found I had become the companion of a young Taiwanese girl and her mother who seemed thrilled just to have a foreign friend to show around the temple. I’m sure it could have been quite educational had either of them spoken a word of English (or if I knew more than to say ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ in Mandarin). The girl grabbed me by the wrist and enthusiastically dragged me to different parts of the temple, chatted to me about who-knows-what for a while and would usually take a photo of me wherever I happened to be standing.

I’m not sure what she was trying to tell me, but she was giddy while telling it. That was enough for me to consider her a temporary friend while I wandered through the temple wondering where she might drag me next.


Taipei in Photos

Over the coming days, I hope to add a number of galleries to reflect my travels in Taipei. Taiwan was my first stop on the journey I began at the beginning of 2006, so these photos are long over due, but I hope that I can soon make up for the delay be showing off some of my adventures there.

While I did manage to get out of the capital city for a few days, I’m going to start off with the island nation’s entry point and show you around Taipei. This first batch of galleries includes shots from the Snake Alley Night Market, Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall, Bao-An Temple and the Confucius Temple.

Keep checking back for more from this fascinating city.


Photographing Northern Taiwan

Taiwan shares its ancestry with its behemoth neighbour China, but the compact island nation has a personality all its own. A traditional legacy resides in the hearts of the older generation and the cultural heritage of Taiwan explicitly reflects this tie to mainland China. Simultaneously, an independent spirit courses through the veins of the younger generation looking to get out from under China’s shadow. The two influences blend to produce a country whose riches include centuries-old temples, the world’s tallest building, and some of the friendliest people you may ever meet.

It’s these warm and avuncular people that, above all else, can make Taiwan a joy to photograph. The capital city, Taipei is decidedly international and foreigners are not uncommon. Even so, the Taiwanese people are quick to recognize a foreign face and welcome you to their country.

As a traveller, this means you’ll always have someone to happily point you in the right direction when you’re lost and someone to recommend the best sights the area has to offer. As a travel photographer, this means your requests to take photos of people will rarely be met with a brusque wave of the hand and a dirty look. Instead, you may often find people are flattered by your desire to include them in your compositions.

Taipei’s temples offer a fantastic opportunity to experience this hospitable character in picturesque settings. At the top of the list of temples to see in Taipei is Longshan temple. Almost always bustling with devotees, the incense smoke is invariably thick inside this ornate Buddhist temple. Both the temple itself and the flurry of human activity within its decorated walls make for great travel photography opportunities.

Other temples worth a visit include busy Bao-an temple, Xingtian temple where women clad in blue robes dispense incense to worshipers, and the comparatively spartan Confucius temple. At the last of these, I had the opportunity to photograph a group of local musicians playing children’s songs for a group of primary school students. The young girls and boys were just learning English and were more than happy to try out their limited phrases on me. Hardly different from anyone else in Taiwan, they revelled in the opportunity to have some fun with a foreign face.

But the sights in Taiwan are certainly not limited to temples. The sensory overload of the markets is another must see/must experience when visiting Taipei.

Asian markets aren’t for everyone. Every major city on this continent seems to have some narrow road where hawkers, vendors and customers converge in an effort to both exchange goods and to cram as many people as possible into one constricted space. Agoraphobics beware.

Taiwan is no exception, but the night markets of Taipei take the phenomenon to a new level. The usual items show themselves in plentiful numbers: knock-off designer handbags and athletic shoes, souvenir teapots, cheap watches and so on. So far, the crowded Taipei streets can hardly be differentiated from Hong Kong or Kuala Lumpur, but that’s not good enough for the Taiwanese.

They have a number of tricks up their sleeves to imprint themselves in the memories of their visitors. Perhaps at the top of the list are the snake handlers of the Snake Alley night market. Men wielding microphones will casually tap cobras while exhorting you to sip some snake’s blood. It’s probably an acquired taste and no one will force it upon you. Nor will you be forced to watch the extrication of the aforementioned blood. Again, that’s not a sight on the top of everyone’s list. Just note that these are examples of the visuals you may encounter at certain markets.

And these visuals are examples of what a travel photographer might be able to put in front of their camera lens – just don’t get too close to the live cobras. And do note that certain stalls do request that no photos be taken. Some vendors waive this rule if you ask with a smile to take a photo, but if they waive you off, don’t push the matter or you may end up the next meal of a boa constrictor.

If the vegetarian in you doesn’t find the animal handling and mystery meats to be appealing subjects, other more tame markets await you. One example is the Dihua Street market (most active during the afternoon) whose primary purpose is the vending of sundries and candies. Friendly vendors there will often let you include them in a shot of their goods. Sometimes you may even find people are flattered that you chose to include them in your travel photograph. If that isn’t reason enough to check out Dihua Street, a walk up and down this market may very well leave your pockets full of free samples of candies – some delicious, some simply bizarre.

Shooting the night markets can be tricky business. While plenty of colourful lights will illuminate your subjects, they are not always as bright as you might prefer. There is hardly a patch of ground you can claim for yourself to set up a tripod, so you may find yourself relying either on a higher ISO or on a faster lens. This is especially true if you intend to photograph the people of the markets as a faster shutter speed is necessary.

That doesn’t mean you should be leaving your tripod at home. Taipei has plenty of other subjects available for night shooting. The Xinyi district glows at night with illuminated modern high-rise architecture topped by the massive Taipei 101. Currently the tallest building in the world, Taipei 101 is an impressive architectural feat that will have you gazing skyward with your jaw agape and forcing you into shooting vertical shots – you can hardly fit this mighty edifice into a horizontal frame unless you’re far from its shadow.

Other potentially fruitful subjects for night shooting in Taipei abound. The Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall and surrounding buildings are lit up and the enormous arch at the entry blazes white in the darkness. Many of the city’s temples are open well past sundown and long exposures inside these buildings can look unreal. The neon-lit city streets are also worth a long-exposure or two. Bright signs and endless streams of traffic mix together in colourful compositions.

Of course, Taipei has a lot more to offer than what has been covered so far, but it isn’t the only place worth visiting in Taiwan. You could spend a week exploring the Northern half of the island alone while being continually kept interested by a wide variety of subjects and destinations.

My trip took me first to Lugang (also called Lukang), a centre for traditional streets and buildings. Surrounded by generic Taiwanese buildings, the town centre retains a taste of old Taiwan with its perpetually curving, narrow alleys, old, character-filled temples and craftspeople who have mastered Taiwanese arts. Both Longshan and Matsu temples are worth a visit while the twists and turns of Old Market Street and Nine Turns Lane will disorient and amaze you.

Nearby Changhua’s main attraction is its enormous great Buddha statue seated on a hill overlooking the city. Also a relatively non-descript town unto itself, the hill named Baguashan features the 22-metre high Buddha, the Nine Dragons Pond, a pair of white pagodas and a multi-storey Buddhist temple.

Changhua is the jumping off point for the nearby Jiji Small Rail Line where you can make stops in small, rural towns and take in some of Taiwan’s countryside. The towns of Ershui and Jiji are the most fruitful locations for sights and in both you can rent a bicycle to explore the nearby paths. My personal favourite location along Ershui’s many roads was the Monkey Protection Area where groups of macaques emerged from the bamboo forest to try to goad visitors into supplying some food.

One way back to Taipei from the Jiji rail line is to pass through Shuishe Village, the main jumping off point to explore Sun Moon Lake. A popular honeymoon spot for the Taiwanese, the sparkling blue waters of the lake make a beautiful foreground to the hazy mountains surrounding it. Among the top sights in addition to the landscapes surrounding the lake is Wenwu Temple, a colourful, multi-tiered Buddhist temple overlooking the azure waters.

Only a week in Taiwan seems too short. In addition to the above locations, extra days in Taipei, a visit to one of the island’s best known attractions, Taroko Gorge, and a trip to Tainan would be welcome additions to the agenda.

Travel Photographer Tips

The gear I used was relatively simple: Two bodies and two lenses (one long zoom and one wider-angle). At the temples, I sometimes found myself using both cameras at once. The energetic activity at a place like Longshan temple in Taipei changes quickly and trying to keep up with it while switching lenses would have gotten tiresome. But other than that, you could make due with one body and just choose your lens based on the situation.

As I mentioned, a tripod is a welcome addition to your gear. Ample opportunities for night photography will make you regret it if your tripod doesn’t accompany you. In fact, I accidentally left my tripod behind while running for a train and lost it. Thankfully, Taipei is one of the better places to find camera gear and I had almost the exact same model replaced within a couple hours.

A polarizing filter may help to cut down on the effects of Taiwan’s pervasive haze, but it will often also aid you in capturing the brilliant orange of the temple rooftops. Without a polarizer the shiny roofs may blind your meter.

As for when to visit, summer typhoons can put a damper on travel photography, so it might be wise to schedule outside of the summer months. I visited in January and except for a ubiquitous haze, the conditions were wonderful – not a drop of rain to be found and the temperatures were comfortable as could be. That said, getting such good weather in Taiwan may be more a matter of luck than planning – other than the typhoons, the conditions are relatively unpredictable.


Bye Bye to Taiwan

Back in another airport. I think waiting for flights is going to be come my de facto journaling time. This time I’m waiting for my flight to Kuala Lumpur where I will make a triumphant return with lungs free of unwanted liquid.

Yesterday, I got in a few last sights in Taipei before I had to head back to the hostel for an early night. I started off by getting lost on the way to the Hsahai City God Temple. I eventually got some help and found the tiny place that wasn’t really much to look at, but they did have a lot of good information there about the customs enacted by each temple goer.

The temple was right in the midst of the Dihua street market where candies galore were being peddled to throngs of shoppers. Enough free samples were being handed out that you could probably wander the market a couple times and you’d end up with a free meal. A free meal with a lot of sugar in it, but a free meal nonetheless. The place was packed full of people and I couldn’t help wondering why all these people weren’t at work on a Monday morning.

After the market, I went to check out the Grand Hotel. This impressive structure is a huge building in a traditional Chinese design. Up on a hill, it overlooks the hazy city and must have some fantastic views on clear days from its upper floors. A little out of my price range though.

Last, I stopped at the Xingtian temple. You’d think I’d be sick of temples by now, but they don’t seem to get old to me. Each has something new to offer and there is always some new photographic challenge to try to overcome, so it’s always a pleasure. Here, old women in blue robes wandered the grounds and tended to the visitors. These helpful smurfs were often found reading texts or blessing the patrons of the temple.

I trudged back to my hostel and prepared myself to leave this fine country. I wish I had more time here – there are plenty more sights I would have liked to explore. The biggest downside of this island is the cost. It’s not as bad as Japan, but some of the prices are going to look like a king’s ransom once I get to Southeast Asia.

But, the positives outweighed the negatives. I think the biggest upside to Taiwan is its people. My experiences with them were always fantastic. They were always friendly and even when the language barrier got in the way, they were willing to help in any way they could. I can only hope to meet such gracious people as I continue on my trip.


Taipei Highlights

A bunch of highlights from the last couple days in Taipei:

I played with a group of Taiwanese school children at the Confucius Temple and probably spectacularly disrupted the field trip. But the teachers seemed to like trying out their English on me as much as the kids. They made me miss my kids in Japan so bad. I also got to visit the Baoan Temple right next door. I was looking for some god to pray to that would heal my aching back, but instead prayed to the altar of ibuprofen.

Yesterday afternoon, I spent most of my time at the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall and the surrounding plaza where I got to see the changing of the guard. What a strange, anachronistic display. More fun, I think was the people watching outside in the plaza.

The highlight of the day was the night market and snake alley. I’ve been to a few markets in Asia now, but so far, this one takes the cake for volume and variety of ridiculous nonsense. Of course, the cheap garbage products were there. And the weird animal parts being sold for consumption. But, where this one stood out was the live animals.

They call it snake alley for a reason. Snake handlers put on mini shows with cobras and whatever reptiles they happen to have in their cages that night. Often the shows will culminate in the snake being killed and drained of its blood so that passers by can buy a drink. Other valuable parts are extracted and everyone except the snake seems pretty happy about the whole affair.

I didn’t stick around to watch the skinning of any of the snakes nor did I bother to watch a guinea pig get fed to a snake that was about the size of a boa constrictor but yellow in colour. The snake’s handler was just bringing out the ill-fated rodent and I couldn’t bring myself to watch. I walked past again later and it looked like that same guinea pig was still alive, so the whole thing may have just been for show.

Worst, however, were the turtles. These poor things had been laid out in a row and were gradually dying under a lamp while they slowly, but desperately flailed their tiny flippers in the vain hope of turning over. Occasionally, the owner of the shop would come by with a spray bottle and spritz the helpless amphibians keeping them hydrated enough to prolong their doom. Thanks for reinforcing my vegetarianism Ms. Turtle Torturer!

I had the fortune of spending my time in the market with a nice couple from Canada. The market was a good place to have some company. And one of them has been living here in Taipei for four months, so he knew his way around.

Today, I took a trip back to Longshan to take some photos of the hustle and bustle during the day. I happened to nitice a photographer there had the National Geographic logo on his camera. I said hi then proceeded to shadow him briefly just to see how he approached subjects. What I liked was how he just walked up to people and started shooting. It’s his job, after all. That prompted me to get over that somewhat lingering fear of just walking up and photographing a stranger. It’s actually pretty easy. I have moments where it doesn’t seem like any problem to just snap away, but this guy just proved how it easy it was to just get right in there and start shooting.

I then hopped on the train and headed to Taipei 101, currently the world’s tallest building. The high ‘end mall below it didn’t have much to offer me so I headed across the street and happened to find a little tradeshow for canine products. Fortunately, this was food for dogs, not food made of dogs. And plenty of dogs were there, having a merry time sniffing whatever they could.

As the sun started to disappear behind the clouds and the horizon, I headed up to the observation deck of Taipei 101. It’s a pretty incredible building. The views from the top are probably better saved for a day when there is less haze, but it was still quite a view from the top. The outdoor observatory was somehow eerie – hearing only the wind while in the middle of this metropolis left me feeling strangely alone. So I went and checked out the wax figures on loan from Madame Tussaud’s of Hong Kong. Nothing like getting up close to a David Beckham replica to comfort you.

Oh, and one last highlight. A store at the base of Taipei 101 had chocolate-covered almonds from Japan! Yay for the best thing ever!


Sun Moon Lake to Taipei

Back to the hustle and bustle of Taipei. I was reintroduced to the congestion of this place by having my 3.5 hour bus ride turn into a 5 hour ride because of the traffic coming into Taipei. But, the screens on the bus were showing King Kong, so that kept me interested. Sure, it had no sound and I had to get off the bus at the climactic Empire State Building scene, but it looked like a fun film.

Instead of braving another bike seat yesterday, I decided to head to Sun Moon Lake and do some walking in the area. It’s the highest and largest lake in Taiwan and the guidebooks rank it high among things to see here.

The azure waters didn’t disappoint. A light haze gave depth to the distant mountains while the noon-hour sun sparkled in the water. That same noon-hour sun beat down upon my hatless head and now I can feel its heat trying to escape back out through my short hair.

I wandered the small town by the lake and found a vegetarian restaurant where the owner spoke Spanish and Chinese, but no English. Too bad I hardly remember any Spanish. So, we fumbled through things and I think I eventually communicated that whatever she made would be fine as long as it was vegetarian. She came back with a nice bowl of rice in a broth with veggies and tofu and I was happy as a clam.

With my belly contentedly full, I hiked around part of the lake to Wenwu temple. Set up on a hill, this spot has a great view of the lake and is a nice example of some of the Chinese temple architecture. It’s also interesting because it blends styles from Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian temples. Not that I’m an expert on the subject, but that’s what the brochure told me.

I hustled back down the hill to the town so that I could catch an afternoon bus and not arrive in Taipei too late, but the traffic prevented my speedy return. I am, however, happy to be back in a place for a few days where I won’t have to seek out a new place to stay each night. Now, to figure out what to do with myself today!


What’s Chinese for ‘Sore Ass’?

You never forget how to ride a bike. But, you may forget that, after a long bike-riding hiatus, a whole day of riding is going to take its toll on your ass.

My sore butt is the result of a day of cycling around the town of Ershui here in Taiwan. Thought I’m not, by any means, in capable of sitting down, I’m currently considering skipping a second day of cycling in the nearby town of Jiji. Getting back on a bike seat, makes my bum unhappy. I’m not sure what I might do as an alternative, but I was scheduled to go back to Taipei later in the day, so I might head that way a little earlier than planned.

Despite a sore behind, the day was a good one. Without any problems, I made my way to Ershui from Changhua. As I exited the station, I had the good fortune to cross paths with the owner of a bike rental shop recommended by the good folks at Lonely Planet. They suggested that the place may not be open and they were correct, but as I was checking out the store, she walked past and said hello. At which point, I jumped on the chance to ask about renting a bike somewhere in town. She said she was the owner of the shop and could rent me one even though they were closed.

And with that, I peddled off and reveled in the joy of once again peddling through rural Asia. I had so many good days of wandering on two wheels through the countryside surrounding Ichinoseki in Japan that I was thrilled to be gliding along similar roads. A pagoda here, a temple there and I was having a great time. The most obvious difference between these roads near Ershui and the Iwate landscape is the vegetation. Tawiwan is much more lush than that northern Japanese prefecture and I’m pretty sure the palm trees here wouldn’t last a single winter in Ichinoseki.

I managed to get myself lost more than once and often found myself trying to ascend hills that my wee bike and my out-of-shape legs couldn’t quite handle. That just meant more for me to explore.

I stopped for a quick bite of roadside noodles and when I insisted that I didn’t want any meat with my meal, the woman serving me looked at me like I was insane. At least she understood. In Japan, she might have just thrown some pork on top of my meal anyway. Here, no pig products went to waste and I devoured my first real meal of the day midway through the afternoon.

After my lunch, I headed up to visit a monkey preservation area. Signs warned not to feed the monkeys, but there was one man in particular who had come to the area explicitly for the purpose of feeding them. He had driven his scooter up into the forest and endlessly pulled fruits and vegetables out from the scooter’s hold to feed the greedy primates. They were veritable pets to this old man and they vocally jockeyed for prime fruit picking position.

After watching the macaques frolic, fight and f… um, copulate, I headed back into town to return my bike. I then boarded the Jiji Small Rail line and headed over to Shuili to spend the night. The hotels here were cheaper than at Jiji, so I’ve decided to stay here even though Jiji is the location of another bike path that may be calling my name. But, like I’ve said, my butt may not be up for the challenge. So, who knows what tomorrow will bring.


You Can’t Get There From Here

When the guidebook tells you that the bus station is five blocks south and one block east, sometimes, that means, four blocks south. Yes, there may be a bus station at that first location, but not one with a bus that goes to your destination. But fret not, with a little help from the locals and a lot of hand gestures, you’ll get there.

But when the guidebook tells you there are buses running from Changhua to the Taiwan Folk Village, it lies.

I suspect I’ll never know the reason why, but apparently buses no longer run to the Folk Village. When I inquired at the bus station about the trip, I was initially just waived off with only a terse Chinese explanation to guide me. I persisted with some other members of the station staff and eventually figured out that no, you can’t get there from here.

The staff teamed up and helpfully suggested that I go to visit the giant Buddha that sits on a hill overlooking the city as an alternative to my planned day. I was ushered onto a bus and off I went to visit Baguashan.

A network of paths criss cross the hill leading to various points of interest, the most notable of which is, of course, the 22 metre tall Buddha statue. I spent most of the morning wandering the area and taking photos. Other sights on the hill included a temple behind the Buddha, the Nine Dragons Pond and pavilion, and the Silver Bridge. A good place for anyone looking for a picnic spot in Changhua.

I also managed to venture into a couple of temples in the city before heading back up to the hill in the evening to catch the Buddha in a different light.

And now, I’m resting in my hotel room that, yes, cost more than the guidebook suggested. But, despite the guidebooks misinformation, I managed to have a fun day. By the way, I can’t fault – I can’t even imagine the amount of effort that would go into putting together a guidebook for an entire country. And keeping it up to date is near impossible. As soon as one establishment changes a price, you need a new edition. Though, I would very much have liked to have gone to the Folk Village.


Lukang and Lung Disease

Okay, so the bus wasn’t so bad. I had my own little green vinyl-covered EZ chair as a seat on the bus and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind lulled me to sleep on the screen at the front of the bus. It didn’t even take as long as I had expected.

Lugang is just as the guidebook described: 90 per cent of it is relatively unremarkable, but the other 10 per cent is lovely.

After checking into my hotel, I started exploring that other 10 per cent. I started with the Old Market Street – a narrow, winding lane where artisans, craftspeople and antique dealers crowd their shops into any available space. Along the way, I chatted (as best as two people with no common language can chat) with a local artist whose specialty was drawing and painting on traditional folding fans. As far as I understood him, people would come in with a photograph and they would commission him to draw a custom design on a fan with the photo as inspiration.

He then fed me some, well, mush. It was a powder that he put into a little paper cup with warm water and it all turned into a runny paste. I tried a couple different kinds, one of which was nice enough. The other had me washing it down with water as soon as decorum allowed. Each of the tastes defied description (by me, at least – I have both a ignorant palate and a narrow vocabulary for tastes).

After the Old Market Street, I wandered to the Nine Turns Lane, another narrow, winding alleyway running through the centre of the old town. This twisting path was formerly used as a defense system, but now seems to only serve as an inconvenient alleyway. I watched a vendor attempt to navigate his cart through the bends only to scrape its top along the walls beside him.

Next, I unwittingly stumbled on the Folk Arts Museum. Housed in a huge mansion, the collection of the museum was interesting enough on its own, but didn’t fare as well when compared to my previous day’s visit to the Royal Palace Museum. I guess I’ve been spoiled by all the emperor’s jade.

My next destination was Lungshan Temple, but my aim was not true. I think I managed to run more than one circle before finding another ornate temple and I stopped there, thinking perhaps that I had found my target. Upon further review, I’m now sure I missed Lungshan temple completely and mistook this smaller temple for the larger one I was seeking. I’m pretty sure I must have passed within metres of Lungshan’s entrance, but somehow missed the mark. However, the keepers of the temple I did find were nice enough to switch on some extra lighting for me as photographed the golden carvings lining every inch of the walls.

Feet throbbing and stomach rumbling, I headed back to a place where I had been greeted earlier in English. The restaurant turned out to be a burrito place run by a Taiwanese man who had lived most of his life in Texas. The affable gent was ever so pleased to offer me an extra large vegetarian burrito and I was even more pleased to eat it. Finding vegetarian fare in Taiwan is proving to be possibly even more challenging than in Japan. At least in Japan, I had a hope of making myself understood in Japanese that I didn’t eat meat. Here, I can’t even find the phrases in the guidebook.

Last stop for the day was Matsu temple. A lot more Spartan than the temple I had previously visited, the Matsu temple still made for a good wander in the evening.

But with my feet already preparing to explode, I ambled the block back to my hotel where I’m now willing my feet to skip the blister stage and go straight to callous. I mean, I’m only a couple days into my trip and already my feet want to fall off? I’m hoping that’s not a trend that keeps up or four months from now, I’ll but crawling on my hands dragging stumps behind me where legs should be.

Though, in Taiwan, I suspect, someone would loan me a wheelchair if that were the case. The people here have been genuinely friendly for the most part. And if they’re not friendly, they’re not rude – they just tend not to notice you. Well, there is the guy next door right now with a serious phlegm problem who’s attempting to shatter a record for loudest hack possible. But I don’t know if that’s really rude here. Just seems to be par for the course in some parts of Asia. This guy has nothing on the folks in Hong Kong though. Those guys can cough up a loogie like the stuff was valuable. Hooray for rampant overpopulation resulting in ever-present contagion of respiratory illness!

I just hope he’s going to cough himself to sleep soon.


A Pause Before Lukang

7:45 am

I’d rather be waiting for a train than a bus. Trains have an elegance to them I have learned to appreciate since in Japan.

Maybe it was just the fault of the bullet train there. Those were things of beauty. So much so that my sister, when she arrived in Tokyo, became completely obsessed with these technological marvels to the point we had to return to a particular toy store to buy the rest of their bullet train paraphernalia after we had only bought half of it on the previous visit.

Cute mascots aside, the shinkansen was indeed the way to travel in Japan. Gliding just over the ground at 300 kilometres per hour can’t be beaten.

Certainly not by the folks here at Ubus, Taiwan. Fine folks though they may be, I am not expecting the quality ride of a bullet train on my eventual departure for Lukang this morning.

I could have taken a train and I probably should have. But, when talking to the manager of the hostel at which I stayed last night, she suggested taking the bus. Cheaper and faster were the selling points. And considering that I’ve incurred some unexpected costs in the last couple of days, the cheaper part sounded especially attractive.

But it turns out I would only be saving a couple dollars and maybe a half hour of time. The problem is this two hour wait I have before boarding. Who knows how frequently the trains run. What I should have done was check the price and time here at the bus station and when I found out about the two hour wait, I could have easily headed over to the train station to check their prices and times. Alas, 20/20 hindsight, but hopefully a lesson learned and on the way back, hopefully, I will be more awake to take advantage of what should have been a little common sense.

Speaking of common sense, I truly that picking up all of your belongings is just one of those things you happen to do when getting up to board a train. Me, not so much. And yesterday, I finally bid farewell to my tripod.

That little camera stand is now in the hands of someone else. And really, I think it would be happier there. It has always been trying to escape me by camouflaging itself into the ground when I go to pick it up when picking up my things. The thing was just waiting for this day when I would leave it behind long enough for someone else to come along. I thought I had treated it well, but apparently it was disgruntled.

No, yesterday, it happened to blend in with a train platform on the Taiwan metro. When I went to board the train, there it lay, stealthily dodging my gaze. I boarded the train, sat down then realized something was missing. I darted off the car before the doors closed, but in one of my more idiotic moments simply assumed that I must have left the tripod back at the hostel. I didn’t even think to look at the bench where I had just been sitting. But, I suspect that even if I had, that wily former tripod of mine would have scurried behind a bench leg and out of my view. That thing really didn’t like me. I know it.

So, instead of my planned itinerary of fun and photos for the evening, I got to go on a shopping trip. It didn’t last long. After wandering to the area where I was likely to find a camera shop, I soon spotted a Leica logo and followed it into a small used store where a tripod almost identical to my old one awaited me. Easy! And the shopkeeper’s wife told me I was handsome too. Mind you, she was in her sixties and probably not my type, but still…

Damn it. As I have been writing this, a bus has boarded for Chanhua, a city very close to Lukang. It’s boarding an hour and a half before my bus. And they didn’t give ma an option to get on that bus at the counter! Grr. I know I have to be a patient person to be a traveller, but I think Japan’s unfailing adherence to schedules has spoiled me. Oh well. With my laptop here, I can use the time productively.

Since I have the time here, I might as well chronicle the rest of yesterday’s fun. Aside from the tripod incident, it was a great day. My first stop was the National Palace Museum where millennia of Asian art makes its home. I think my favourite would have been some of the jade carvings – there was one plate in particular that caught my eye. It wasn’t the most practical of dinnerware, but then again, who eats off jade? It was full of hundreds of holes that surrounded a slithering dragon. Actually, It might have made a good sieve.

After the museum, I wandered over to the Shilin gardens. They used to be a part of the grounds for the estate of a dictator. Well, apparently, this particular dictator had a lot of fun exploiting his citizens because his gardens were pretty nice. Nice enough for at least a dozen pairs newlyweds to be taking their wedding photos there. Around every corner there was a new bride and groom with a photographer ordering them around. I found it odd that all this was happening on a Monday, but I’ll just chalk it up to being an ignorant foreigner or something.

Next was my fun with the tripod. But after securing my new three-legged friend (who will never, ever be leaving my side, by the way), I headed over in the direction of Longshan temple. Even during the evening, the place was buzzing with the activity of worshippers. I wandered about and tested the new tripod, all the while thinking that I’ll have to go back during the day to see if some of the people there will consent to a photo or two. The darkness didn’t make for the best portrait lighting, so I think I’ll have to return when it’s light out.

Cross your fingers that my bus has a speedy passage to Lukang and I can have a good time taking some photos or the old city there.


Sophomore Mistake

10:40 am

Okay, so those earlier mistakes of mine were nothing. Nothing compared to the $70 mistake I made when I left my ticket to Taipei somewhere in Calgary.

Now, it’s not as dumb as it sounds. I had changed my ticket to Taipei for a later date and was then issued an itinerary via email. With that itinerary printed out and in hand, I approached the China Airlines counter. Everything seemed to be going smoothly until my ticket agent ran off with my booking number.

She retrieved her manager who then proceeded to ask me if I had my ticket. I told her I only had the itinerary delivered via email. What I didn’t realize was that since the original ticket was issued as a paper ticket, I was still, apparently, travelling on a paper ticket. A paper ticket that was now somewhere in the trash in Calgary.

She the informed me that I would need to buy another ticket. And then I shot laser beams from my eyes that obliterated half of the airport. Or, at least, I wanted to. Instead, I desperately asked if there was some other way I would be able to get on this flight without buying another ticket. She wracked her brains and told me that I could say that I had lost my ticket, pay $70 and then be allowed to board the plane.

I begrudgingly accepted the offer and watched some wee Asian girl dressed in purple hustle off around a corner with my itinerary, my Visa card and my passport (in other words, my life lines). I nervously waited for her return. When she came back, I happily signed away some cash that I had not budgeted for this use and got my boarding pass.

So yes, I am still going to Taiwan. But just barely.

All of this drove out of my mind that, just before this incident, I had ordered a couple of veggie burgers from Burger King only to have them delivered to me with no patties. Is this just how they do it there now? If this morning is any indication of how this trip is going to proceed, I should get ready for a lot of surprises, big and small.


Rookie Mistakes

8:00 am

I haven’t even left the country and, on this trip, I’m already two mistakes old. Neither of them were especially serious, but easily avoided.

First, I had a sudden rush of panic when I realized I had enterer the Calgary airport still wearing my winter coat. Ordinarily, donning a winter coat in the Calgary airport in January isn’t such a big deal, but when you’re embarking on a trip to Southeast Asia and you have very limited packing space, a winter coat is not a wise choice of clothing. I’m sure, once I got to, say Thailand, I could claim it was a fashion statement, but in 40 degree weather, that’s not a statement anyone wants to hear.

So, I quick rush to the payphone to call my chauffeur, (a.k.a. dad), and I was sorted. My only comment to him as returned was, ‘Well, I hope that’s the last mistake I make for a while.’

If what I meant by ‘a while’ was a half hour, then I was right on the money.

I made the rookie travel mistake of carrying a pair of fold-up scissors in my carry-on. It was confiscated of course, but what amazed me about the whole affair is how many flights I must have taken with those very same scissors in the exact same location without having them noticed by security. Go figure.

This will be my last report from Canada as I now sit in the Vancouver airport waiting for the ticket booth to open for my next flight. Next stop, Taiwan.



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