Adventures in Asia 2008

my travels through India, Nepal, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Taiwan.

Archive for the ‘Taiwan’ Category

Ni Hao from Taiwan!

Posted by maudholma on 7 July 2008

Apart from the odd metro station name (it only took 4 days to remember and semi-correctly pronounce Zhongxiao Fuxing), “hello” and “thank you” are about the only Mandarin words I’ve picked up during 2 weeks in Taiwan. I have, however, become an expert in the art of pictionary-sign language-hand waving. Sometimes it works but since people here consider it embarassing or shameful to admit that they don’t know something, you rarely find out until afterwards even when it doesn’t! Although the Taiwanese seem quite reserved initially (especially in comparison to Filipinos) they’re actually very friendly under the surface and we’ve felt very welcome here despite the language barrier.

Apart from 4 days in the south of the country (S and I the main attraction amid Taiwanese trying to avoid the sun at all costs even when on the beach…) we’ve spent most of our time in Taipei. I expected a busy, modern, and unfriendly metropolis but was instead surprised to be met with a very charming city. It’s a place which has found a good balance between old and new – home to the world’s most reliable metro system, the world’s tallest building and fastest elevator, a 300 km/h high speed railway network, and designer malls filled with Lagefeld, Gucci, and Armani but also boasting a wealth of local markets, herbal doctors, early morning t’ai chi lessons in the park, tea plantations, hot springs, cheap clothes and accessories at various night markets, ornate temples, and the world’s largest collection of Chinese art and artefacts. A bit like the Taiwanese people, Taipei has a cool and glossy exterior with a warm, rich, and traditional heart.

We’re lucky to have been shown around the city by some of S’ friends and have because of this been able to experience things which we wouldn’t have seen had we been following a guidebook. The most exotic things have, of course, been food related: Dumplings, buns, pastries, soups, noodles, meat, fish, vegetables whether fried, steamed, cooked, grilled or raw. The only thing we decided we weren’t adventurous enough to try was “stinky tofu”, a local speciality which smells like someone dumped the contents of a septic tank onto a frying pan, but apparently tastes a little bit better. Maybe next time!

We leave for the airport in a few hours and I have to admit that I’m heartbroken to be leaving Asia, the continent that I’ve called home for the past 6 months. This trip has exceeded all of my expectations and has been hands down the most rewarding experience of my life so far. I don’t know if I’ll be coming back to Europe a new person exactly, but after half a year on the road I would be disappointed with myself if nothing had changed and I hadn’t gained some new perspective on life. If for nothing else, I vow to smile more!

All good things must come to an end, I suppose, but we still have 3 weeks in the US before this trip is over so there’s still a little more to go before we’ve made it all the way around the world.

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(Nearly) Avoiding a Storm

Posted by maudholma on 26 June 2008

Our peaceful stay on Camiguin had a less than peaceful ending when 2 days of rain and wind turned out to be the work of Typhoon Frank rather than just “regular” bad weather. The night before we were due to leave for the mainland all the ferries had been cancelled and the part of the beach that wasn’t already under water was constantly beaten by frothing waves. Amazingly, the wind had eased by morning and we felt lucky that we wouldn’t be missing any of our upcoming flights. At the airport, on our way from Cagayan to Manila, I made the mistake of thinking that we had a good chance of experiencing our first on-time departure with Cebu Pacific Air. 7 hours later, freezing from the powerful A/C and braindead from watching the same five horrible commercials on loop in the departure hall (literally a big room with nothing but chairs and said crappy TV) the loudspeaker announced that all passengers should go through security and get ready to board. As if we hadn’t already been ready and waiting for half the day!

The Manila that we landed in was completely different from the sunny place we had left about a month earlier. Palmtrees looked like they would snap in half from the gale force winds and it was difficult to find shelter from the downpour. During the cab ride to our hostel we were in the midst of scenes I’ve only seen on the news before – people wading in knee-deep water surrounded by cars that should have been rowed rather than driven down the street. The disappointment of our flight to Taiwan having been moved forward by a day so as to avoid Frank, who was supposed to have been wreaking havoc in Taipei around the time we were due to land, was tempered by our discovery of Manila’s shopping malls. We were luckier than many people in that the main damage caused by Frank was to our bank accounts!

The irony of our flight to Taiwan being the only flight to/in/from the Philippines without a delay (not counting 24 hours) wasn’t lost on us as we stood in a check-in queue for two hours, followed by an immigration queue, and then a security queue, leaving us with barely enough time to run across the airport (now there would have been plenty to do, of course) to our gate. Although Frank decided to skip Taiwan for Hong Kong, 95 % humidity, sunshine, and temperatures of over 30 °C means we’re almost as wet here as we were in the Philippines…

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