02.26.07

The beauty of Tainan – 25. 2. 2007

Posted in Tainan at 21:21

I started my day with a western breakfast in the hotel owned tea shop. There was a small vegetable salad, some orange cuts, a kind of cold pasta salad, a pancake and especially for me a cup of coffee. Again I was the only western guest in this hotel and I generally also have not seen any western people here in Tainan so far. I was quite worried about my plan of visiting AnPing today because outside it was raining cats and dogs. But like a miracle after half an hour the clouds were gone and the sun shine bright like in Switzerland in the summer. Time to leave…

I decided to take to public traffic due it is very convenient here but working a little bit different than I was used to. There is no exact time table but you can see the position of the bus and its arrival time at your desired bus stop on the bus company’s website. It can also be accessed by mobile via a special WAP page. The price to the 30 minutes away suburb of Tainan, AnPing, was little 18NT$ (CHF 0.90). For a taxi I would have payed several hundred New Taiwan Dollars.

In the 18th century the famous Fort Zeeland was built in AnPing by the Dutch, during their trading efforts with the Asian world. At this time only the place around Tainan was called Taiwan. After the Dutch lost against Konxiang’s army in 1661 and the fort was destroyed it was rebuild again by the Japanese occupiers at the end of the 19th century (photo). Therefore there is not much more left than a few walls of the original fort (photo). After visiting the nearby Taoist temple (photo) I found some preserved plums (酸梅, SuanMei), a Tainan specialty, on the local street market.

Again in town center a big program was awaiting me: Confucius temple, TianTan temple, PeiChi temple, ? temple where I was watching a Budisitic worship and finally the Tainan park. A very beautiful place in the middle of busy city life. Generally Tainan has a lot to offer for the interested visitor. Still a lot of historic buildings are preserved and open for visiting. Together with the important history of this city this makes it to a must-have-seen place on Taiwan. Also the people should be quite different here than in the busy Taipei and I will go to find out later.

In the evening I wanted to enjoy the night life and therefore I went to the recommended Armory pub. A place that was quite after my taste. Not many people at the beginning (22h) so I could enjoy a talk to the bar maid and watch the Carling Cup match Arsenal – Chelsea. Some drunken Taiwanese girls on the bar next to me were gambling and the looser had the task to kiss me. Quite interesting these Taiwanese girls here 😉 . After a while also some foreigners entered the bar and so I was talking for quite a while with an English teacher who is living in Tainan since six years and with an Englishman who had an German mother. So he wanted to practise some German with me which was a quite special experience. I was not used to speak German anymore. So a very interesting and nice day and I am sure that Tainan had to offer me more when I would not have to leave on the next day.

Hoegaarden in convenient store – 24. 2. 2007

Posted in Tainan at 19:57

After only a few hours of sleep, my friend taught me to get up early during the last few days, I was woken up early. The busy working of the hotel staff could be heard easily through the thin walls. Today was finally my first day traveling for my own and it was full of positive surprises. Already some days ago, I wrote down all the necessary information from the English Taiwanese Railway Cooperation website. On the main station I was checking my notes against the timetable in on-site. Everything matched. Time to prepare some notes for ordering the ticket. An elder man was observing me while I wrote down the target station Tainan 臺南, train type 自強號 (TzeChiang, express train) and so on in Chinese. Of course I wrote some lines in the wrong order, the order of how you write a letter here is quite important, so he finally came to me: “Do you know Chinese?” I denied and so he was started to talk to me in good English and scared me that it is very difficult to get a seat in the next train to Tainan. But I tried my luck. After showing my notes to the ticket clerk I had my ticket one minute later. What was he talking about earlier?! I still had some time left therefore I was looking around in the train station and met the man again. He was a government employee and was very curious about me. When I told him that I would go back to Taipei in a few days he instantly started to recommend some places around Taipei to me, how I can go there and how much it costs. Fortunately he also explained the train ticket to me. There are differences to the Swiss train system I did not knew before. You can also book a ticket for the train, without definite seat. I got one with seat reservation. Some luck for me again because at this time during midday there were a lot of passengers in the train which does not make a longer journey comfortable without seat. After the man explained the carriage and seat number, only written down in Chinese, I was ready to enter the train.

Two hours and some chats with my seat neighbors later, I arrived in Tainan. It is the historically most interesting city of Taiwan. After consulting the tourist information office, I was prepared with English information material and the address of a favourable hotel near the train station. I could easily find the GuangHaw hotel in the middle of computer shops again. It is not that cheap like the hotel in Taichung, about 800NT$ (CHF 32) per night, but this time I have a window, working TV remote and even free official wireless Internet.

Finally I started my sightseeing tour with the interesting places nearby. First the Prefectural City God Temple (photo) and then going on to Koxinga‘s Shrine (photo, photo). It a the place to remember the great liberator of Taiwan. He bravely defeated the Dutch imperialists here in Tainan. My first lesson in Taiwanese history. After visiting the nearby Koxinga museum I decided to visit some places of the ancient Tainan fortification. I began at the Great South Gate (photo) and then made my way to the Great East Gate.

Unfortunately night was already falling and so I bought some beers in one of the hundreds of 24h shops (e.g. 7-11, Family Mart) which you can find here every few hundred meters. It is unbelievable what beer brands you can buy here around the clock. From Taiwan Beer, Asahi (Japan), Busch (USA), Heinecken (Netherlands) over Erdinger (Germany), Corona (Mexico) up to my favorite beer, Hoegaarden (Belgium). Taiwan does not have a bar culture but definitely an individual 24h beer culture. I was hungry and so I bite the bullet and went to McDonald’s. But here too, unknown food to me. A rice beef burger (could not read the name) with rice cookies instead of buns. The rest of the evening I decided to stay in my hotel room and enjoy Internet, music and beer 😉

Taiwanese Live Music Show – 23. 2. 2007

Posted in Taichung at 18:02

Today was the day leaving from my friend’s places. But in the morning we did enjoy a small bike tour around Shen Gang. For the first time I could have a closer look at their so-called countryside. A lot of rice fields in-between factories and apartment houses (photo).

Then it was time to say goodbye. I decided to stay one more night in Taichung City because it looked quite interesting to me the short times we have been there before. First time traveling alone in local train. No big problem to get a ticket. I already wrote down the important words and the ticket I was able to get from an ancient ticket machine.

Arrived in Taichung I was heading towards the FuChun hotel. It is just opposite the main station. I asked for a cheap one-bed room and got a room without window but a TV for 530NT$ (CHF 21). How I found out later the TV remote was not working either. It is only for one night and I will not be here for different things than sleeping.

Coming around in Taichung is not that easy like I was used from Taipei. No English signaling, you always have to tell the bus driver where you want to get out again to pay the according price. I was not ready for this yet. So I decided to view the places that could be reached by hiking. Just near the main station is the Taichung park. It is a big green area with a small Chinese garden (photo) for doing sports, relaxing and even a small lake with rowboats for renting. The next target was the Confucius temple. Also a wide natural area again with the big temple inside (photo, photo). Enough side-seeing, now I was diving into the city life. On the famous ChungYo street market I was suddenly in mood for shopping 😉 . It is just so different from a common shopping center. Not these clean ordered frames but masses of all different objects. Every store moved half of his inventory out to the street. Suddenly a sign of the Carhartt clothes brand attracted my attention. While looking through their assortment the, around same aged like me, salesman asked me where I have my trousers from. Because they were from Carrhartt and this shop was the only shop selling this brand in Taiwan. I finally bought a shirt and a cap, naturally not from Carhartt. They are some great souvenirs of this interesting street market.

In the evening I went dinner with the other friend from Taichung and her friends. We went into a restaurant serving traditional Taiwanese food. It was a big building inside decorated like an ancient Japanese market alley. They could even convince me to try some shark fin. I am not at all a friend of such food, even when it is delicious, but on the other side I did not want to miss this chance.

At around 23h they had to leave me after bringing me to the Amanking what they told me is a live music bar. The interior was comparable to the Bierhübeli in Bern. There was no entry fee but you had to consume for at least 500NT$ (CHF 20). First I thought that this might be a problem because actually I only wanted to have a beer what is normally about 150NT$ (CHF 6) in a bar. But after I entered the location, I saw that spending so much money here is not that difficult. A big Japanese Kirin beer (633ml) was already 250NT$, a Mojito drink too. Now let me loose some words about the live music show. First there was a band with a gay looking Taiwanese guy and a female singer. First of all they were talking a lot making a lot of fun. Unfortunately, or maybe better, I did not understood what they were saying all the time. In between they also played some obviously well known Chinese hits. Afterwards there was another band fully after my taste, performing English funk, rock and pop songs. Very good singers and very professional performance. So I did very enjoy to spend a night in a Taiwanese entertainment location. In the middle of the night a taxi brought me back to my hotel.

02.24.07

Family attraction – 19. 2. 2007

Posted in Nantou County at 17:55

For the first time since Bournemouth one and a half years ago I would see today all three Taiwanese friends together again. So this day started early because we were going to travel. After a ten minutes ride by taxi to Feng Yuan the next bigger center, my friend and me took a local traffic train to Taichung City. It is quite easy to use this transportation because all the destinations and stations are also named in English. After arrival in Taichung (photo) we met another friend who is living around there.

Now only the third friend from Taipei was missing. This was exactly the cause of our journey. She was waiting at her grand parents place in ChuShan (Nantou County, 南投縣). But the way to go there by public traffic is not that easy. The bus company we tried first was already sold out for the next bus so we had to find another way. And my friends were really good at this. After asking around and chatting to some people they first found a taxi driver who would drive us there for NT$ 1000 (CHF 40). Too expensive for a ride of more than two hours. Finally we found a small bus company, of which dozens exist here, which would bring us to ChuShan. After buying a ticket for NT$ 125 (CHF 5) we entered a mini bus with about eightteen seats. Fortuantely there were stil three free seats left in the back of the bus. A few moments later the ride begun. A few moments later I learned that this journey was not going to be like I was supposing. Even when all seats were taken always more people were entering the bus at several bus stops on the way. Finally there were about thirty people in the bus. For example an old woman who was grabbing the grip bar with both hands what made her looking like hanging on a high bar was standing just next to me. Me however had to take care that I do not hit the head against the bus roof. Quite a funny situation. I already gave up my seat to two school kids that used this chance to practice their simple English with me. Here children are already studying English in elementary school. Two hours later we finally arrived in ChuShan and met our third missing friend.

There was no time to relax. After a short lunch we already left to a local attraction in the mountains, a big rope bridge in the middle of the mountain forest. The ride in an offroad bus up the narrow road which in places was in very bad condition would be worth to write half a book about itself. But thanks to our very skilled driver we safely arrived at our final destination which is a popular local tourist attraction. When we arrived the cloudy and foggy weather started to clear up and finally opened the sight to the beauty of the Taiwanese mountain environment. A … for refreshment and then we had to hike. Unfortunately we were not alone. A crowd of people were squeezing along the narrow paths. From youngest children to oldest people on sticks, everybody wanted to enjoy the masterpiece of engineering, the rope bridge, and of course first of all the overwhelming beauty of the nature here (photo, photo). It was a big contrast to the city life I was experiencing in the last few days. The was air fresh and the ambiance very relaxing. Only the mass of people was disturbing the silence of the nature.

After dinner my friends took me to a temple to worship. Religion is very different here than I know it from Christianism. It is omnipresent, especially in these days around Chinese New Year, and a lot of people are practising to not annoy the gods, ask them for advice or make some wishes. Everyone has his own understanding about the belief which was mostly taught by their parents. It does not matter if you are from another religion, or like in my case actually none, you can always talk to the Gods. And I did. I thanked them because I never thought before to feel so comfortable here. Of course this is because everybody does a lot to make me as happy as possible here. It is a part of Taiwanese culture and therefore I am definitely not lost in translation. I feel like home. After worshipping the couple that supervises the temple invited us to a cup of tea and sweets to have a talk. I feel so bad that I cannot speak Chinese. Everybody wants to know who I am and what I am doing in Taiwan. Western tourists are not often seen here.

But the day was not ended yet. Together with my friends father we went to their relatives nearby. What I experienced then is difficult to write down in words. Around twenty people of every age were assembled when we arrived. They served us all kind of fruits, tea and a home made sugar cane liquor. After a shy accustomising time the school children were practising their English for the first time outside school. Only a thirteen year old boy and an eleven year old girl did dare to talk to me. Sometimes still with help of their English book and the guy made himself very understandable by acting a lot of words. A great and funny experience for all of us.

Back again at the house of the grand parents it was time for playing MahJongg. Together with the father, the grandfather and a cousin I was trying my luck again. Playing MahJongg is also about playing about money. And this time I was more successful. I could not believe that I won two times and the grandfather had to give me some coins. I think everybody was quite astonished.

After the game I needed a break where my friend’s father served me some Japanese whiskey. Unfortunately Taiwanese people are not very used to drink alcohol and so he was quite drunk after a short while. The girls wanted him to go to sleep but they could only achieve this when sending me to the bedroom, which I was sharing with him, too. Even when the evening was not that late I also fell asleep, even when I absolutely did not want to, and I still do not apologize this trap to them… 😉 But eventually it was still a long and happy day.

Little Europe – 18. 2. 2007

Posted in Taichung at 15:01

Today it is Chinese New Year. In Chinese calendar it is the year 96 now (photo). The year 96 is because they started to count the years after the formation of the Republic of China 1912. But only in Taiwan it is still used for official purpose.

As we went to Taichung City yesterday the city was nearly lost. Nearly no traffic, no shops open, only a few people on the streets. Today everything was different. The traditional family holiday is over and people go out again. The shops are open and so I went with my friend and here brothers to Nova on GongYi road, a big shopping mall for computer components and photo/video devices. Because I learned at a previous comparison that the prices for digital cameras should be quite lower than in Switzerland I wanted to buy one for myself. After I read some reviews and made some comparisons in the Internet I decided to look for a Canon PowerShot camera. I already tried to find one in Bern but could not find. Here I expected to become satisfied. But to my astonishment also here it was quite difficult to find Canon cameras. One model I could find at a few sellers was the Canon IXUS 850IS. The first seller wanted to sell me the camera for 13’500 NT$ (CHF 540). But only when paying cash, so that he does not have to pay the taxes, with no warranty but together with a power plug for the European power socket. It is still quite expensive and I did not had the Swiss prices for this camera in mind so I decided to look at some other places first. At the next shop they sold it for 13’000 NT$ but this one was quite suspicious. After asking for this model he fetched a box of an IXUS 900IS with a IXUS 65 camera inside and a copied IXUS 850IS manual. He explained that it is imported from Japan and he could give one year warranty. Of course again only paying cash. At the latest now I did not had a good feeling anymore for buying a camera here. And this was a good decision because when I was checking the Swiss price in the Internet afterwards, I saw that it can be ordered starting at CHF 515 back in Switzerland. There I can be sure to get the correct model and full warranty. I also compared more prices of computer components and I found that there is no difference between Swiss and Taiwanese prices even when they earn much fewer money here than we do in Switzerland. I was even surprised that the top models that are quite asked in Switzerland are not that easy available in Taiwan although they are mostly manufactured here.

Like already written before pavement cafés like you can find everywhere in Europe are not very common in Taiwan. An exception makes the Café Street in the Little Europe district in Taichung City. It is a popular attraction to take your tea and some small food under parasols in a pavement area (photo). It is only quite small but very remembered me to the “Front” at the Bärenplatz in Bern. People are queuing here nearly for half an hour to get a seat on the wanted tables outdoor. I enjoyed a cold tea and finally the day ended unspectacularly at home in ShenGang.

02.17.07

Chinese New Year’s Eve – 17. 2. 2007

Posted in Taichung at 21:03

The day started in a shopping center nearby. Not any supermarket but the “Carrefour”. It is the same like in Europe and because of this you also can buy Swiss “Ovomaltine”, French handcreme and Italian olive oil. It is Chinese New Year tomorrow and so the people like to buy a lot of food especially sweets which they can offer to their guests. According to this, there is a lot of fresh food offered and most of it you can try before you buy. We did not have breakfast and I did not know most of the things, so my friend and me were starting to eat us through the choice of products. There was dried squid and fish, specially preserved vegetables and fruits (photo), of course a big variety of sweets and ingredients for Chinese fondue (photo). For drinking we tried several sorts of tea.

After a relaxed afternoon it was time for dinner. It was a new discovery for my palate again. In the middle a big pot of spicy soup. Afterwards a lot of things were put in it to cook, from different vegetables over tofu, scrimps to beef (photo). This time no tea to drink but Tong Yung X’Old Kao Liang Liquor a vodka like specialty from MaTzu islands.

Not only but specially today, when the whole family is assembled, it is very popular to play Mahjongg. It is a traditional Chinese game for four players. I was very glad that I learned in the airplane at least the numbers from one to ten in Chinese letters. They appear in this game and when you have to build some number sequences it is quite useful to know them. After an intensive introduction I already was able to play with mother, father and one brother. My friend was assisting me first but after a while I was also able to play alone. But unfortunately, this game is also quite connected to luck, I never won. This was Chinese New Year’s Eve and it will stay in my mind forever.

Let’s go to the countryside – 16. 2. 2007

Posted in Taichung at 09:00

This day was not really spectacular. I definitely left my accomodation in Taipei to meet another friend at the airport. In anticipation of Chinese New Year holiday I was expecting a mass of people travelling around today because this holiday is traditionally celebrated inside the family and they are often split up during the year. So I went to buy a ticket for the bus to the airport. But I did a mistake. I asked the ticket seller if she can speak English what she denied. My friend wrote me the needed information down in Chinese because she already expected this. I showed the information and also ordered the ticket in English anyway and I think the ticket seller would also understand without Chinese translation. No big delays with the bus. Also on the airport not too many people. Everything still quite overviewable.

I easily could find my friend and together we went to Feng Yuan (photo) in Taichung. Taichung is with 800’000 people the third biggest city in Taiwan. But it is not really a city. It more seems like an area of connected villages or small cities. Always some fileds in between but most of them not much bigger than a football field. Because of this they already call it countryside here. This time I will not stay in a hostel, I was invited to stay with the friends family for the next week. After arrival the father came to fetch us with his taxi at the bus station. After a short ride we eventually arrived in ShenGang where they have a small house. Of course it was quite strange to live with a family which parents nearly speak no English. Unfortunately a real conversation is not possible. But they nevertheless gave their best that I feel comfortable. For dinner we went out to a restaurant were I got know a lot of new dishes again. After dinner I was enjoying the very extensive variety of TV channels here. Believe it or not, 106 channels are available. It takes quite a while to switch through every channel…

02.15.07

Exploring Taipei – 14. 2. 2007

Posted in Taipei at 18:37

Everything looks quite different at daytime. Where there were empty streets and barred shutters the evening before, life was pulsating. I did not recognize the street I was walking the evening before. Just next to the hostel are many small computer shops (photo) and for the first time I also saw the mass of the most important means of transportation: the scooter. On every red traffic light they are queuing in dozens, making the change to green light feel like the start of a motorcycle race.

After visiting the Sun Yat-Sen (S.Y.S.) memorial hall (photo) and the surrounding park, a very peaceful place in this active town, I wanted to go to a nearby hill to watch the dimension of this city. Unfortunately the air was not that clear so I decided to visit the Taipei 101 the day after. Anyway, I read in guide book that I can ride up this hill by bus. But the problem here is to find the bus stop. After observing some buses I found out how they look like. They are only indicated by small yellow signs written in Chinese. Fortunately I did new the bus number (there are over 300 bus lines!). The place where the bus ended somehow did not promise a good city view. Just a huge high school area. I was sure to be at the right place and so I was asking some guys which were practicing break dance if they can explain the way to me. The guide book mentioned a park at the place where the school was. But also the guys could not help me out but were willing to find this SiShouShan park with me. Finally we even found the entrance to this park which was named there as YongChunGang park. Anyway, it was the place I was looking for. And after a half-hour hike we had a great view to the city (photo) especially to the Taipei 101. Also these guys did not want to miss the chance to give me their phone numbers and e-mail addresses pointing out that they will help me whenever I have a problem here. I already knew that Taiwanese people are friendly but I never expected it like this. Their tourism slogan “Taiwan – Touch your heart” fully makes sense.

What attracted my attention while walking through the streets, is the kind how they are built. Next to the street there is a stripe to park your scooter (they are really everywhere), followed by a stripe for cyclists (which are not too often seen) and then there is a roofed sidewalk (photo) in front of the shops. It remembers me very much to our “Lauben” (photo) we have in the old town in Bern. I often read that they proudly say that the “Lauben” build the longest roofed shopping street (several kilometers). But when I see this here, I have to say that they are wrong. In Taipei they have dozens of kilometers of roofed shopping streets.

My local friend was already calling me again for eating dinner and wanted to show a special Chinese New Year night market to me. We were heading against DiHua night market. Before we entered the fray we braced ourselves in a popular small restaurant. Normally this would not be the place were I would go to eat. It was not looking very specially from outside. When ordering the chief pointed out lovely that he can speak English. We then ate an oister dish (photo) which is apparently very famous in Feng Yuan, the place I am going to stay in a few days. For dessert I tried some of the unknown but very delicious fruits on a market stand (photo). Alright, now I was ready. After passing some already interesting shops and restaurants (photo) the people were suddenly crowding round us. In a narrow lane there were dozens of shops and stands selling goods for the Chinese New Year festival. First of all, all kind of food. Different sweets (photo, photo), seafood, meat, sausages, dried mushrooms and vegetables, preserved fruits, tea and of course also a lot of decoration stuff (photo). The smells were overwhelming and my friend gave her best to explain as much as possible to me. Of course it is very difficult to describe tastes but she did not had to because of most of the food there were small bits to try.

In the middle of this busy market there was suddenly a place of calm. A temple: the XiaHai ChengHuangMiao. A lot of single people go there to worship to the god XiaHai which should help them finding a good partner for living or even a husband (photo).

02.14.07

Pictures…

Posted in Taipei at 21:02

I know, you are all waiting to see some pictures from Taiwan. Do not worry. I took some. But I could not decide yet how I should make them available for you. So be patient. I think as soon as I am in Taichung (after February 16) where I will stay for a longer time, I will put them online…

Update:
OK, I did it. I really opened a flickr-account. So you already can see a small choice of pictures. Go ahead here.

First evening in Taipei – 13. 2. 2007

Posted in Taipei at 20:54

After I arrived in my accomodation for the next few days the World Scholar House, which is definitely a big name for this place, I only had a quick shower before my friend started to show me around in Taipei City.

The first thing we did is having dinner. After this long travel and bad airplane food, I was quite hungry. Time to get introduced into Taiwanese eating. I specially write Taiwanese here because Taiwanese food should not be confused under any circumstance with Chinese food. Food is one of the most important thing for Taiwanese people and you see it as soon you are eating with Taiwanese people or talking with them about food. But for me not only Taiwanese food was new but also Asian eating culture at all. You enter one of the wide spread mostly quite small restaurants. When you are not alone you often order different meals to share with each other. You have to order them by form (which of course is only in Chinese and not always has numbers and pictures of the meal) or directly from the chief. You mostly can choose from 10 to 15 meals. What you do not order in this smaller restaurants are drinks. Sometimes you see a fridge with some cokes inside but you do not see Taiwanese people eating and drinking at the same time. For having a drink after the meal you can go into a tea house or coffee shop. Or you can let you mix your own drink at a street shop. Running gag here: Milk with kind of gum candy balls which you ingest through a straw.

With full stomach I was introduced into the Taipei public traffic. It is very modern system mainly consisting of Mass Rapid Transport (local name for subway) (photo) and a dense bus line net. Like this it is very easy to travel around in the city. All the information you need is also available in English. I have to enjoy it because it will not stay like this in the rest of Taiwan.

After my friend left, I still was not tired. I wanted to drink a Taiwanese beer and therefore I had to find a bar. This is not that simple like you maybe think. Bar culture is not really wide spread here. After walking into several directions I finally found a big blinking beer bottle on the sidewalk pointing to the “Taiwan Beer Bar”. I did not sit there alone for 5 minutes a 31 year old engineer came to tell me that Taiwan Beer is not really the brand to prefer. As he learned that I am not a language student and that I am the first evening in Taipei, he introduced me to his friends and invented me to his table. After discussing for 2 hours the bar was closing and we had to look for an alternative. Fortunately he did knew something and so we could continue our talk. After another few hours we were hungry again and of course we found a place, we are in Taiwan, where we took a traditional Chinese breakfast. Egg in a pie. Eventually it was time to sleep. The guy gave me his number and asked me to call him whenever I have a problem here. He even gave me some money because I was not sure if there was still enough left to go home. After a short taxi ride I safely arrived at the hostel. Wow, what first day.