18 July 2010

Taiwan Trip 2010 (Part 1)

Every two years, our hometown association, He Hui Po, sponsors its youth to an out of town trip to enrich the minds of their future generation - instilling a sense of culture but at the same time providing a venue where the young ones can commune together and bond.

For 2006, we were able to visit Xiamen, China where we paid our respects to our hometown - finding relics of our ancestry, meeting the people who might as well be our distant relatives. I managed to scavenge my past blog and find the long forgotten post, where I wrote an account of our travel there.

In 2008, the group went to Shanghai. Unfortunately, due to my thesis, I had to forgo this little adventure. This year, we opted to go to Taiwan - spending three and a half days there, making the most of the long weekend brought about by the celebration of the Philippine Independence Day. Truly, I am thankful for the opportunity to go, thus be able to redeem myself for not having finished my Taiwan blog post series last year.

June 12, 2010 (Saturday)

With less than a few hours sleep, I washed the sandman's spell off my eyes and hurriedly packed the few important items into my luggage. I was up all night preparing and packing my things - a bad habit, but thankfully, it seems that I've never forgotten to pack anything exceptionally vital.

Dad drove me to the airport, of which I am extremely grateful for. Our group were to meet at the airport at 6 in the morning, but being my punctual self, with a couple of follow up calls from the group, I arrived half past six - everyone else was already there. To my chagrin, our president, Allen Ong, was at the check in counter patiently waiting for me. We were set to board Philippine Airlines flight PR896, leaving Manila at 7.50 in the morning and landing at Taipei at approximately 10.00.

After submitting our documents to the immigration officer for approval, we caught sight of a basketball celebrity, James Yap. I'm not sure what has gotten into me, but I requested for a photo with him and his team. They obliged, even inquiring if we were from Hong Kong. We could have said yes, but we were too honest - not that it makes a difference anyway.
Waiting for the go signal to board the plane, below is a photo of our group. (Not complete though)

We arrived at the Taipei Taoyuan Airport at the appointed time. I don't have a lot of stories to tell about our arrival, except one of our companions left his passport in the plane and had to rush back to get it. The heavens were shining on him, as a stewardess found the lost item and promptly handed it to him as he got there.
This is a more complete photo of our group taken by Mark Wang. We were a total of 16 people, with 10 boys and 6 girls. Oh, and a stuffed tiger named Terry tagged along.
As we got out, we were greeted by our tourist guide, Mr. Tommy Tung from the Hanson Travel Co. He's an amiable and jovial personality, and I cannot deny how much he has made our trip especially pleasant and memorable. I can illustrate this in the future anecdotes of my post. He has fairly comprehensible English, grasping even some "big" words. For words he cannot tongue out, he is humble enough to accept our suggestions and corrections. He constantly provided us with tips and guides throughout the trip regarding Taiwan lifestyle, habits and beliefs, which I believe were more essential than specific dates in history.

Below is a photo of him. We requested him to sing us a karaoke song in the bus. He really fixed the karaoke machine to meet our request and even granted us three different Chinese songs. Of course, nice as he was, he's no Michael Buble. We sang a couple of Chinese songs though, but generally left the karaoke machine untouched after that.
Our first stop was the Taoyuan High Speed Rail Station, where we were to catch the bullet train and ride to Kaohsiung, the station after Tainan, the southern part of Taiwan. It's a good two hour ride away, we were told - so lunch would have to be delayed. Since it was still going to take a while before boarding the train, we decided to go around the station to see whatever we can find interesting. One thing I noticed, magazines were hella expensive - then again, I could've been looking at imported ones.

This is one signage that intrigued me, and I practically begged Mark to take a photo of it. I really doubt the Chinese words have anything to do with its English translation.

So, here we were, with our bulky baggage and excited grins, waiting for the train to come pick us up. There are three trains that pass by the station every hour, and they arrive and leave on the dot.

We arrived at Kaohsiung and had a filling lunch. After which, we proceeded to the first stop in our itinerary which happened to be the Lotus Lake with the Dragon and Tiger Pagodas. According to Tommy, we were supposed to enter through the dragon's mouth and exit through the Tiger's - by doing so, we have converted our negative luck into good fortune. Entering, the belly of both the dragon and tiger were filled with murals of several scenes, some of which may as well be of the Chinese depiction of Paradise and Damnation.

Below is a picture of myself, as we got off the bus. At a distance that is what the two pagodas look like.

Below are photos of the dragon and the tiger from the sides.

Right across the two Pagodas is a temple. I am not sure what the temple is about, but just outside several street vendors were hawking their goods. I found a nice interesting bracelet, but hesitated buying it - now looking back, I felt that I should have just gotten it. Oh well.
Once again, a group photo with the Pagodas.
After our quick little trip to the Pagodas, Tommy took us to Dream Mall, the largest shopping mall in Taiwan. We were given 2 hours to go around the center, and personally, that wasn't enough time for us to completely cover and enjoy the place. Outside the mall, there was a light drizzle of rain, and an ongoing children talent competition. I couldn't reiterate it enough, people are so obsessed with Korean songs - I don't know how many kids have taken to performing Wonder Girl's Nobody and Super Junior's Sorry Sorry.

Anyway, below are some of the photos we've gathered.
I realized that I have a growing love for stuffed toys, and went completely ga-ga over them. And yes, I'm a family breaker - Daddy bear is mine.

My dad always made fun of me because I have big feet. (For Chinese in olden times, women with smaller feet were considered more delicate and sought after by men, while those with big feet were discarded). Well, I don't think anyone can argue after this picture.

Like I said, I went crazy over the stuffed toys. Thankfully, my friend, Evelyn was patient enough to photograph me after every stupid thing I've been doing there. This is me, lying with a bear, equally drained and tired.
While going around, I saw this line of adorable cats. Alright, I have a love for cat toys and figurines. These really are so cute! I want the one dressed as a tiger.
After our little photo shoot with the toys - curiously, none of the stores reprimanded us for taking pictures with their items - we found this interesting ice cream stand at the end of the line called Capatina Gelato. For 90 Taiwan Dollars, you can choose two flavors to be seated on a big squarish cone. Capatina showcased several flavors - some were the typical cookies and cream, mango, passion fruit, strawberry - but others were a little outrageous as Yakult, Lavender and even a Kiamoy flavored one. Being food lovers that we are, we chose the not so common selections - and were happy to say that we loved them.

At the top of the Dream Mall, there is a small amusement park with a great big Ferris wheel overlooking the city. A romantic and scary ride, I'm sure, but none of us thought it would be worthwhile to give it a try, since we had limited time.
We decided though, for 50 Taiwan dollars per person for 5 shots, to learn and try some archery. It wasn't bad; it was a really interesting sport actually.
Time's up at Dream Mall. We had dinner at a seafood restaurant. Apparently, hygiene seemed to be a big issue, as servers seemed oblivious to our distaste when they got our used plates, slid the leftovers into a big bucket and return them to us for our second servings. Then again, we ought to understand that we didn't exactly go to Taiwan to have a five star dining experience.

The last stop in our itinerary that day was the Lover's River, where couples were said to go to enjoy a good date. It was an good concept, but it reminds me of Roxas Boulevard's walk far too much. I think I'd prefer Roxas Boulevard of the two, since I'd get to watch a gorgeous sunset melting into the cool waters of Manila Bay, or I may be biased.

Personally, there wasn't anything very romantic about the lover's river. The walkways were narrow, it's not very well-lit, etc. Then again, a friend told me - "any place can be romantic as long as you got the right person along". That has yet to be proven.

There were a series of stalls set up at one side of the Lover's River, and we found this curious sight. Massage using blunt knives. Some of the people in the stall were inviting us to give it a try, but tempting as it may seem, we had to get back to our meeting spot soon. Time limits really are a downer.
Tommy dropped us off at our hotel, China Trust, issuing our keys and making sure everyone is aware of the next day's itinerary. After we deposited our things in our hotel rooms though, we went out for some night shopping, also grabbing a milk tea along the way. At Sing Tong Yang, the group got splurge happy buying gifts for their friends and relatives back in the Philippines.

- End of Part 1 of 3-

Part 2 - click here
Part 3 - click here

Some photos were personal photos taken from my camera, others were grabbed, with permission, from Connie Ong, Allen Ong, Eveleen Ong, Bernie Ong and Mark Wang's albums.

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