24 July 2010

Taiwan Trip 2010 (Part 3)

Part 1 - click here
Part 2 - click

June 14, 2010 (Monday)

It started out as a rainy day. Despite our prayers that our last touring day would be bright and sunny, the weather proved to be uncooperative and mocked us with a worse on-again-off-again downpour compared to the earlier days of our trip.

The first in line for our city tour in Taipei on that day was the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Park. A magnificent 24 hectare complex built in memory of the late Taiwanese President, Chiang Kai Shek.

According to Tommy, many students from the neighboring schools would go here on dates with their loved ones. Being a Monday, we didn't see any student courtships happening within the vicinity to confirm Tommy's statement.

As can be seen in the photo below, it was a cold, gray day. Some had the foresight of bringing umbrellas for the trip; others, like myself, were not so wise.
The building below, with its blue glazed roof is the Memorial Hall. Two sets of stairs, both with 89 steps, lead to the main entrance of the hall. The 89 steps is significant as it represents Chiang Kai Shek's age before he died. Trying to prove this, Berns and I counted out loudly as we climbed up and down the stairs - both times we only came up with 88. We weren't sure if our math teachers would be proud of our counting abilities.

Inside the hall, a humongous bronze statue on the political leader sits firmly in the center-back of the room.
Once we all got back into the bus, we drove from the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall to a bakery called Vigor Kobo, which according to Tommy, had consistently won awards for their pastry and cake creations. To prove the point, in an oblong-ish table, our group gathered around a line of their yummy cakes for taste testing. Their treats were fantastic. Among my favorites would have to be their Milk Sun Cake (10 pcs) which was selling at 350 Taiwan dollars and their Pineapple Mini Cake (12 pcs) at 300 Taiwan dollars. Really, good food don't come cheap.
We were each handed a sheet with the list of items the store was offering and the prices of each. Our task was to fill up the number of packs we would like to order. Apparently, with the great reviews we personally created in our minds from all that tasting (we weren't really just tasting, we kept getting our favorite flavors until the box for the item has been emptied out), many from our group didn't leave empty handed.
After this little food recess, we headed back to the bus to go to the National Palace Museum. It was a modern museum, very well-lit and equipped with high tech equipment that I've never experienced here in the Philippines. We were each handed an ear piece, so we can all hear our tour guide's instructions and explanations of the art works. This was a great help, as it eliminated tour guides screaming histories to their groups, contesting with the other guides elaborating on other iconic items.

The National Palace Museum boasts over 600,000 authentic Chinese artifacts and artworks, most of which were brought by the art lover in Chiang Kai Shek. Among the more memorable pieces that I could recall is the Jadeite Cabbage, an intricately carved piece that many believe symbolized the purity of a girl sent to an emperor in China and blessings for numerous offspring.

Since we weren't allowed to take photographs near the artworks, we managed to steal a few shots at the entrance of the museum as we waited for our bus to pick us up.
As a little information tidbit, Taiwan is an island, Tommy told us. The common mode of transport is through cycling. It was such a common thing, that the government created public bicycles that the people could just get from bike stands and return to a different bike stand after use. No one would dare steal the said bicycles, clearly government property was marked all over it - no one would also dare purchase it.

In addition, he said, should we have the interest, we can bike around the whole of Taiwan in a span of 12-14 days, as was the average among most cyclists. It was such an interesting proposal that I quickly listed it down as one of the things I must try in my life.

Departing from the National Palace Museum, our next stop was the Yehliu Geopark, which was a good hour or two away. Caused by rock erosion and the wear and tear from the weather and other natural courses of nature, several interesting formations came to be - which can be seen in the photos below. Once again, I shall accept that I am a novice in the art of word-smithing, and could hardly do sufficient justice to the beauty and wonder of the place. (In short, I'm just lazy) I hope the photos below would be sufficient to encapsulate the beauty and awe that I've experienced there.
Below is a photograph of Cinderella's shoe. See it?
The below picture has enough room for debate. We really couldn't determine what it resembles - others say it looks like the snout of a crocodile looking hungrily at a prey, others say it looks like a dinosaur, personally, it makes me think of a hippo, half hiding under the water. Whatever it is, it caught our attention.
And of course, the rock formation we've all came to see - the Queen's head, also called as the 女王頭. Tommy told us that in some occasions, there would be a long queue for groups and individuals to have their photo taken with the said formation. It was such a popular formation that people would sometimes end us bickering and fighting with each other just to get ahead of the other for a photograph.

Tommy had also told us, that in a few more years, due to the climate changes and nature taking its course, the Queen's head may eventually be deformed and would no longer represent itself as Nefertiti's nature-borne monument.
Below is a photo of us, girls, with a variety of rock formations. We weren't really allowed to touch them. For whatever reason, I didn't bother asking.There was a curious item buried on the soil, with carvings of a flower on it. We saw it a little too late and weren't able to ask our tour guide about it anymore.
Once again, it was time for everyone's favorite part of the trip. Shopping. The bus went through a winding path up a mountain, until we reached the Chiufen Village.
Here, I found some out of the ordinary trinkets - like the small musical figurines. With a few holes punctured on a figurine, one can play music through it. Among its designs are owls, insects, hearts, etc.
A noteworthy moment during this travel would have to be the time I dared to eat snails. For 50 Taiwan money, I bought myself a cup of barbequed snails swimming in soy sauce. It was a chewy treat, that made me think of eating squid - but it's definitely not something that I'd go craving for in the middle of the night though.
At the end of the long narrow street of shop vendors is an awesome view of whatever it is you're seeing below. Once we've mostly completed our shopping, we headed on to dinner. Being our last night in Taiwan, Tommy definitely saved the best for last.

That night, we were to dine at the Five Dime Boathouse Restaurant, an avant garde establishment built by a dreamer and an innovator, Xie Li-Xiang. The Five Dime Boathouse may sound like a completely deranged idea at first hearing, but it was an artistic and novel concept that it proved to be a success. There are now four existing branches across Taiwan, each with it's significant unique appearance but all are still tied together by the use of driftwood, trees and ceramics for its architectural construction.
The food were generally good and tasty, served in big, heavy plates and bowls. We enjoyed ourselves tremendously, surrounded by ethnic-like artworks and metal play.
In the Five Dime Boathouse brochure, there is a quote that I'd like to key down here.

"Sometimes dreams alter the course of an entire life."
- Judith Duerk

As Tommy would say it, "It's your last day to use up all your Taiwan money".

After dinner, it was time for splurge away. To the Shih-Lin Night Market. One of the biggest night markets. Our aim? To shop and to eat.
Below is the most expensive corn I've ever eaten in my life, and to add, from the sidewalk. Depending on the weight of the corn, we got one at 110 Taiwan money. After choosing your corn, the vendor would then attach it to a mechanism or whatever that may be, that would cook the corn, revolving over the hot coals. What made this a wee bit different, is that the vendor would wipe on some sauce over the corn. The brownish sauce would then bubble as it heats up, making it look oh so yummy.
So here I am with our corn. Bern, Eveleen, Cathy and myself are sharing this one corn. It tasted like corn with Teriyaki sauce - it was chewy and a little difficult to eat. For my side, I felt that I wasn't really enjoying it as much, and boy, did we realize everyone shared the same sentiment.
Of course, a trip to Taiwan won't be complete without a dare at Stinky Tofu. We were 7 pitted against this one bowl of stench galore. After the first bite, most of us have already had enough. This Taiwan delicacy has always been so controversial for me - what makes it so tasty to the locals? One bite, and I felt like I've placed an entire provincial communal bathroom inside my mouth.

Because there were still plenty left, and since I was the one who was so adamant in trying it, I took it upon myself to eat as much of this specialty as I could. After a few more bites, my tongue began to acquire a taste for it, and it wasn't as bad as I initially conditioned my mind to think it is - but whenever someone would make a crude comment against it, my bias would kick in and my tongue would send a revolting signal to my brain.
After an seemingly excruciatingly long battle against it, we were able to finish off the Stinky Tofu - rushing towards the nearest drinks stall to wash our throats down with some cool, sweet milk tea and Taiwanese halo-halo.

Riding a taxi to our hotel, there was an additional fee of 20 or 30 Taiwan dollars after 11. We left past midnight, sometime around 1 to 2 in the morning. All I can say was that, taxi rides in Taiwan were really more expensive compared to the Philippines.

It was going to be an all-nighter, as everyone packed their respective baggage in preparation for the flight back to Manila.

June 15, 2010 (Tuesday)

Dark circles around our eyes. It was our last day in Taiwan, and we were going to be flying back to the Philippines after a few more hours. I didn't feel as thrilled to be getting back to my real life, but it was something that had to be faced. Four days passed by so quickly, but it was enough time for us to get to know each other better, to create memories and experiences that we could look back to in days ahead.

Tommy helped us at the baggage deposit counter in the airport, still answering our out of the blue questions patiently. As he handed our passports back to each one of us, he gave us his card should we ever need him if we return to Taiwan. We were especially pleased with Tommy's performance as our tour guide - that we continued to speak highly of him even after he had bid us farewell. We boarded Philippine Airlines flight PR897 departing at 1100 in the morning. We arrived in Manila at approximately 13.20 in the afternoon. Missing the coolness of Taiwan, our clean feet despite a whole day of travelling, and the adventure that came and went.

It was a blast. Until the next trip.

-End of Part 3 of 3 -

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.

No comments: