Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Another AMAZING trip for the ages - Team Taylor vs. Taiwan - Part 1...


And a good evening to you from across the globe after another GREAT DAY in the land of the Noble House. I have recieved multiple emails wondering when the Taiwan updates would start (and 1 email from Hairless singing lyrics from both "An American Tail" AND "The Little Mermaid" cause, well, THAT'S manly), so let's get amongst it:

Friday: Good thing this map is in Chinese

So the Bull and Striker show up at the Budget Terminal for THE THIRD WEEK IN A ROW. Seriously, Tiger doesn't give Frequent Flyer points, but if they did we'd be Ryan Bingham status at this point. Anyhoo, post McDonald's (OF COURSE), we're en route to Taiwan, where the only other ang mo's are a family of 4 Americans. It should actually be noted that there were a TON of American tourists in Taiwan. I mean, I know we were big on the whole "keep Formosa on the security council - Mao is just a passing fad" idea, but I was SHOCKED at the number of Screamin' Eagle passport holders that were running around. Anyhoo, I digress...

The flight from Sing Sing to the "Republic of China" is 4 hours and 5 minutes, but it passed very quickly. We arrived at customs, cleared through quickly, and then embarked on the first adventure - GETTING OUT OF THE AIRPORT. As some of you might know, Taiwanese folks don't really speak any English and Sammy the Bull doesn't speak much Mandarin. And what Mandarin I do speak is useless since they speak a dialect of Hokken in Taiwan and use traditional Chinese characters (vs. simplified). However, there are signs in English, and we found one for "BUS STOP." So we walk outside and it is CHAOS - a billion people, 14 billion buses, and another sign for "HIGH SPEED RAILWAY." However, as you have to catch a bus to that, that won't work. We walked back inside, regrouped, and went to the ticket counter, where upon saying the word "TAIPEI!", we were given 2 tickets to Taipei Main Station. The cost? $180 New Taiwan Dollars. Sounds like a lot, right? Well that is SIX US DOLLARS total for a 1 hour bus ride - AMAZING! That was actually an amazingly pleasant surprise - everything in Taiwan was WAAAAAAAY cheaper than we thought it would be.

So we arrived at the main station and hailed a cab. Sammy the Bull says, "Taipei Garden Hotel" and cabbie says, "Uh?" We repeat this 3 times, and then I whip out the print out, complete with Chinese characters. Then we get the thumbs up and are en route. The hotel was great, and we even managed an AMAZING dinner at the hotel bar (called La Fusion - they had the Yankees playin' ball on TV, and I'm THRILLED to report they were getting WAXED by the Rays). We tried our first new beer (of many!) for the trip - Taiwan Gold Medal Beer. It's rice brewed, and it was actually pretty tasty.

Saturday: How exactly do you gain 600 pounds in a day? Oh, that's right - THE SHILIN NIGHT MARKET

So the Bull and Striker did what all vacationers must do on their first day out - SLEPT 12 HOURS. We woke up about 11 feeling FRESH AS DAISIES, and we then headed out to tackle our first Taipei adventure - buying train tickets. So here's the deal on this one - I'd been trying for WEEKS to buy our HSR (high speed rail) tickets from Taipei to the Taroko Gorge, but every time I'd keyed in the information, it always shot me down with a system error (seriously - picture "No patience Sammy" trying to buy tickets and ALWAYS getting to the last screen before the crash - if I'd have had Kerosene and an address handy - in English, the Taiwan Railways Authority would no longer exist). As fate would have it, Tiffanie "the RRP Ninja" went onto the web site with me and read it in Chinese, where she confirmed that you have to be a Taiwanese citizen to buy tickets. And that's great, except IT'S ONLY WRITTEN IN CHINESE ON THE CHINESE WEB SITE. Again, details...

To help us, Tiff had typed up what I needed to say in Chinese, and when I got to the counter I just handed it to that cat. Homeboy went straight to work, and $45 USD bought us two round trip express train tickets for a 300 km journey each way. Seriously - that is the same cost as the 15 minute Heathrow Express - AMAZING!!!!

After that it was time for some food, so we rocked up to the Q Mall Food Court (food courts are a big thing in Asia - it's one of the few places outside of Singapore where you can actually get a seat in the air conditioning) to try some local food. Now sister Nancy (as well as others) had always RAVED about Taiwanese cuisine, and I gotta tell ya - it did NOT disappoint. We tried our first ever oyster omelets (not so good), and then we even danced with our first ever "fish ball." Honestly, I"m not really sure what's in a fish ball (Hitman - thing of squishy fish flavored air), but I found it quite tasty (and chewy).

After that it was off to something very cool for this historian - Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. I'd grown up studying this cat, and let me tell you - his cult of personality is AMAZING. The guy's memorial is HUGE - you climb 89 steps (his age when he died) to get to a statue of him seated that makes Abe Lincoln look like a small lego set-up. It's situated in Democracy Park, and the view from the top of the steps is AWESOME - the China gate (CKS's statue faces mainland China - no comment on that one), the park, the Taiwanese flag, and the performance halls - all very cool. It was then over to 2-28 Park before rocking up to our first true highlight of the day - the Beitou Hot Springs. In a word - EGGGGGGSELLENT.

So thanks to Taipei's extremely extensive Metro system (with signs in English), places that would have been COMPLETELY unreachable without a car or language skills are now very close to hand. One of them is Beitou, a local hot spring. You see, Taiwan (situated squarely in the Ring of Fire - kind of like the peninsula in Ireland...sorry, Bob - couldn't resist) is a VERY thermally active country, and there are hot springs everywhere. Beitou is a VERY local hangout, and it's right at the end of the line. Consequently, it instantly became a "to-do."

We paid $1 US a person to get in for a 2.5 hour sitting. Now granted, if it were Iceland, that would be perfect, but since it's ALREADY 100 DEGREES, hot springs are quickly daunting. We started at the first pool, which was about 96. That felt good, so we moved to the second pool (101). that was HOT, but I managed to survive (Muffin Puffin was NOT loving that one - Florida girls...sheesh...). I then tried my hand at the third pool, which was 122 Fahrenheit. I'm not really sure how best to describe the instant agony one feels when one plunges into a vat of BATTERY ACID, but I can't believe I still have leg hair (Price - this is a good alternative to using Gillette Fusion blades on those legs - you'll save a TON). I seriously made it about 30 seconds and thought "this is exactly how you die in a foreign country" before jumping to the cool down pool (of 108). After that it was into the cold pool (which really is frigid), where I finally got back to homeostasis (that's right - middle school health class REPRESENT the vocabulary!). And the

best part about all this? There is a "hot springs cop" who roams around to ensure that you're either a) COMPLETELY IMMERSED TO YOUR HEART, b) not immersed one inch ABOVE your heart, and c) don't have just your feet dangling (if you just have your feet in, the Chinese believe it's bad for your health). Seriously, this dude walks around STALKING people. It's like the movie Traffic - no one gets away clean.

After that, we showered off quickly and then headed for the nightly Taylor vacation staple - a bar! Only there was one problem - THERE ARE NO BARS IN TAIWAN, AND THOSE THAT DO EXIST DON'T OPEN UNTIL 9 PM. I'm NOT joking - we had to break out the Lonely Planet (T-Bone, that was for you) and SEARCH for places to find a beer. Finally, we found a "pub" called "My Place," which was at the ASS END OF THE UNIVERSE down a dark alley in the middle of NOWHERE. They had "Happy Hour" on (shocking, that), and so we settled down for a few Taiwan Beers (same brewery, but not the gold label - gutted!). Aside from 2 Scottish guys, we were the ONLY CATS in the bar, but Nancy, you'll be happy to know that, since the staff spoke no English, I threw out the "Nunhey Beelu!" and they knew EXACTLY what I wanted. I'm tellin' ya - LIKE A LOCAL...

We then rolled over to the highlight of the evening - the Shilin Night Markets. Borough Market beware - this place rivals you every step of the way. Picture OCEANS of street vendors, selling everything from dumplings to fresh fruit shakes (and we're talking cut up an entire fruit and chuck it in a blender) to sweets to fried chicken to stuff I've never SEEN before to ALL THE MEAT ON A STICK you can ask for. Seriously - I have now officially fallen in LOVE with honey pork - SO GUUUUUUUUUUUD peppy cheekies. We ate like KINGS, and I think I gained about 6 pounds that night alone (3 HUGE sausages covered in chunks of garlic will do that to you...along with the 400 dumplings). Needless to say, when we walked out of there an hour (and 16,000 calories) later, we felt DISGUSTING (Ladies' Man style). But that didn't stop us from going home and PASSING OUT. Good times.

Okay, that's enough for the first installment and definitely all the news that's fit to print. Chat tomorrow!


Sam and (back in the house after Body Combat) Jenny

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