Taiwan 2013

We three, Alison, myself and her son Zino, leave NZ for Taiwan via Hong Kong.

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Ali and I arrive first at Taipei Airport because Zino is on a later flight from Hong Kong.

It is hot, about 29 degrees and 100% humidity. It is too hot for me but I like the humidity. We go to Ali’s dad’s flat and base ourselves there. Zino hasn’t been back to Taiwan since he left may years ago. His grandfather is overjoyed to see him as are his many aunts and cousins. Everyone is taken with his height, he is well over 6 foot tall. He dwarfs everyone else and is not the little boy that left all those years back.

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We all go shopping! Most things are cheaper than in NZ. Clothes are a fraction of the price and shoes (Nike etc) are less than half price.

After one shopping session we go to the Sushi bar with the conveyor belt. The food was excellent and plentiful. There was an army of chefs working to fill the conveyor. You could see them behind a glass wall. It gave us the advantage as we could see what was coming before it appeared on the conveyor. I thought it was all you could eat.

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But the bill was calculated on the number of empty plates left piled in front of you.

We take the air conditioned Metro everywhere we can then walk when we have to. In the metro everyone less than 40 years old looks at their phone. Phone plans are cheap and they do not appear to have data caps. High speed 3G is ubiquitous, even on the underground. Most people seem to watch TV or Videos on their phones. I estimate that about 60%-70% of people have Samsung phones, the rest are iPhones. Other brands were not apparent.

As we are walking around I take the odd photo of people and no-one seems to mind too much

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There had been a gang of men digging up the road to lay cables or something and the digger was putting the fill into a blue truck. One afternoon, walking from the metro to the apartment, just as we got there we saw this across the road

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There’s a guy underneath with his arms around the chassis and the tip-up body is help up by a very thin plank. Like it says on the Internet, “What could possibly go wrong?”

 

After a few we days go to Taipei Main Station

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Which is also full of people so I take a few more snaps
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We buy some cakes

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Then get the tickets for the high speed train to Kaohsiung way down south. It is smooth and very fast.
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I try taking photos but they are mostly blurry.We arrive in Kaohsiung
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We are there for a few days, it is really hot but notwithstanding that we get around. We went to a night market
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Where I ate Durian for the first time.
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Durian
is described as smelling like raw sewage, and that is by people who like it! Anthony Burgess said it was like eating sweet raspberry blancmange in the toilet. I would have said creamy custard in the toilet whilst suffering a bout of diarrhoea. It is very odd to eat something that smells so disgusting and for it to taste so bloody wonderful. The taste is aromatic and sweet and the texture is incredibly creamy.You frequently see signs at shopping malls and hotels saying “No Durian”.

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I’d heard so many bad things about the smell that I could never imagine myself even coming close to it but I did and liked it.

There is also a thing called “Stinky Tofu” which really smells disgusting, we do not have words in English to describe the smell of Stinky Tofu. If you can imagine rancid, rotten and putrefaction you’d be close. The thing with Stinky Tofu is that it tastes just like it smells. I was heartened to come across some Taiwanese who didn’t like it either.

One Xmas at my fiend Bjorg’s house I ate an Icelandic delicacy called Hakarl which is a dead shark that has been buried for 3 months then dug up and dried out for a few weeks then the crust is removed and then it is eaten. The smell is formidable but once again it tastes alright. You say Stinky Tofu to most Asians and their eyes light up. If you tried selling it at a market in the West you’d be found guilty of causing a Public Disturbance or worse. If anyone saw you eat it you’d be sectioned. Honest.
Isn’t it odd how so different cultures can be? I must admit that on reflection it makes our culture seem kind of sanitised. Walking round the night market is to be totally immersed in so many strange and wonderful smells. Coming back to NZ and the fund-raising BBQ sausages outside the supermarket now smells like the carrion that they truly are, maybe if they were buried for few months?
Meanwhile back in Taiwan…..We took a really long taxi ride to see a Buddhist Temple.

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It was really big and once through the first building it opened out into this huge vista

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But before going on let me show you what was in that first building

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Yes that’s right Starbucks! gift shops and monks begging too! I’ve long since lost any idea about Christianity or indeed any recognised religion but I was not so jaded that I did not see this as something so base it beggared belief.

Onwards and upwards.At the end of that long vista was yet another huge building

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and behind that yet another building on which finally the Buddha sat. If you look carefully you can see that his eyes are downcast. No bloody wonder! If he ever lifts his eyes and sees what’s going on in his house!
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On the way we took a stroll in the garden, it was about 32 degrees!

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I took this picture of Alison with a huge cock 🙂

Before we leave the temple look at this….I never saw it until later when I was looking at the photos. You remember this photo above:
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Well, after I took that one, I moved to the left and took a photo where the brass ball was directly in front off the Buddha’s face, click on this picture and look what you see
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Later we went to an “art precinct” which was an interesting idea in such a pragmatic nation.

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Zino being tall

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The last day in Kaohsiung and we went to see an exhibition of paintings by some friends of Alison’s sister. The exhibition was in the council run art gallery, a huge building that looked more like a museum. It was huge and had several galleries scattered around it. But what was interesting was that when walking in off the street you come into this very large space that in our world would obviously be the car park. But in their world it is reserved for dancing!

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People danced in groups and alone, there was ballroom and modern dance as well as those rhythmic group dances. It didn’t seem organised in any way, people seemed to be in groups but came and went at the same time. Judging by the polished look of the floor I say that they did some serious shuffling here and judging from some of the people you’d have to guess that one or two of them had been round the block a few times

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I think it was Zino that noted that in our world those huge mirrors on the walls would not last a day in an unlocked public space that opens onto a park as well as roads on the other 3 sides. And that the walls would be covered with graffiti and the floor with broken glass and puke. But not here though.

We eventually found the gallery and met the people, a couple well into their 50’s, retired and well-off.
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We went back to Taipei and by this time I was slowly starting to acclimatise. The family had a dinner for the dad’s birthday and his children and their children were there. He also brought along his new girlfriend. He is 82 and she is 67! No wonder he is smiling

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The dinner was in a buffet restaurant up on the third floor. You’d never guess from the street how packed and busy this place was. Like everywhere in Taiwan the food was really good. I’d say that apart from the odd thing, everything is cooked from scratch before you eat. I am not exaggerating if I say that we ate almost no processed food while we were away. Judging from what I saw most people actually cook food from the basics of veges and rice and meat and fish, for every meal every day. They are nation of healthy eaters and they are all skinny too. Preaching aside, the food tasted good all the time.

Back to the family dinner

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Zino being tall again

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Angela, Emily, Sue May and Alison. There is another sister (Sarah) but no-one remembered to invite her! Family stuff I guess. Can you imagine having 5 daughters?
There was a typhoon that swept across the region and the tail of it just touched Taipei. We briefly walked outside to get to a food shop. The wind was howling and there were branches on the road from the trees that were swirling about and the rain was lashing down but it was about 30 degrees. Later as we went back to the flat I looked out from under the covered walkway and just for an instant it was like Blade Runner

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Getting close to the time to leave and one thing I had on my list was a visit to an old gold mine out in the wop wops. Sue May drove Alison, Emily and myself out to this place. It was kinda weird. Looked a bit like a Mayan temple

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I was about to walk up to it when Sue May called out that if I was going to walk then I should take the snake stick. I thought they were pulling my leg but they weren’t. In the end I  decided not to walk anywhere.

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There were these odd tunnel things that run right up to the very top of the mountain. I thought they were water ways to bring the water down for the gold mining but they were chimneys! made of bricks and 2 metres high by 1.5 metres wide they snaked all over the hills. The miners discovered that the fumes from smelting gold via mercury were highly toxic and I guess they learned the hard way. So they built these chimneys to take the fumes right up and over to the other side of the mountain. What the picture doesn’t show you is the extent of them, you can just see one in the far background. There were lots of them.
Later we went up to the actual place of the latter day mining by the Japanese and they used slave labour during the war including many hundreds of Poms. The deal was that if you never dug out your quota of stuff then you were beaten with a mining hammer. The Poms got to work in the hottest (about 40 degrees) and most dangerous part of the mine. Needless to say most of them died there. Such brutality.

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In the car park toilet

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This is Emily, Alison and Sue May with the snake stick.

Later on Angela’s husband Henry told me that they have had cobras at their place, even in the bathroom! and I saw their special snake grabbing stick with a very long handle and serrated metal jaws to grab the buggers. Nothing that I’d like to witness first hand, I could have used that snake grabber on some of the cockroaches I saw!
Sue May drove us home by driving along the top of a range of hills
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and she showed us the tiny fold up bed in their tiny car that they use when they go camping for weekends. There are some real advantages to being small. You don’t see many Europeans in Taiwan, a few in Taipei but given the size of the crowds less that you would imagine. After a while you forget then all of a sudden you see a white person and they look really odd in that sea of Chinese faces. Alison tells me that she sees me as Asian and I must admit that I do not see her as Asian. In fact I see Asians like I see everyone else as I am so used to being amongst them.
By contrast, when we got to Hong Kong there were heaps of them and to my eyes, amongst the small lithe Asians they looked like large lumbering blobs of badly dressed, sweaty fat. As no doubt did I too, but I had completely acclimatised by that time I can at least say I was not sweaty and even though I say so myself I had a pretty cool shirt on. Yessir!
Meanwhile back in Taiwan
Sue May drove us for miles along the hills stopping for a picnic at the pinnacle and finally going way down to the coast where we stopped for some High Class Cake
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at a place that had a wonderful verandah right on the ocean side.

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Looks cool but it was blisteringly hot.
At another cafe at another time I ordered a Caesar Salad and it looked like this:
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It consisted of some lettuce leaves filled with grated cheese with some Heinz salad cream dripped on the edge….that was it, no egg, no croutons, no bacon, no thing really. In their favour it was an “Italian” restaurant which means that they served food that they (Asians) imagine people (Westerners) would eat in an Italian restaurant without ever actually having been to an Italian restaurant except for maybe for a visit another Asian Italian restaurant that was run by someone who had never actually been to an Italian restaurant except for maybe……..

I saw a scooter with trainer wheels – several in fact
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and on the metro going back I saw a very strange sign, strange for Taiwan and strange full stop
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And then it was time to leave. We flew into Hong Kong about midday and we weren’t scheduled to leave until 9pm the following night. I’d booked us into a 5 star hotel near the airport. They picked us up from the airport and everything was so smooth and nice and wonderful. They ran shuttles to take you everywhere. We wanted to go into town but had just missed that shuttle so we took the next one which was going to Disneyland. We had no intention of actually going in but it was a fair chunk of the way into town so off we went rather than hang around for another shuttle.

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It didn’t say Arbeit Mach Frei over the gate but it did have its own special train that was disgorging people by the hundred every few minutes. I won’t get too macabre but it did strike me that the logistics here were not new.

Interesting, it is a fair walk from the gate where you see Alison to the actual entrance to Disneyland. Once you get off the train you can just hear some Disney music playing softly and as you walk the couple of hundred metres to the entrance gate the music gets progressively louder and you cannot help yourself feeling happier as you progress. However, once you see the queues for tickets the joy leaves you a bit ans then when you see the queue to actually get in I guess it all gets a bit depresssing….but hey, not for kids!
We took the Disney Train away from Disneyland on a line which connected to the main metro line.
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I dare you to order this in a hurry
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Green Tea Bean Jam Whip Cream Bun
Finally, at the local shops
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We found Maccas and had coffee and cake and there, nothing fresh or recently made in any of it but good nonetheless. Sitting opposite me was a Chinese woman who was eating exactly what I normally eat Big Mac, Fries, Apple pie and Chocolate shake. I don’t know why but I always assumed that I was the only person who like those things together. Heaven help me.

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Could almost be a Chinese movie poster!