It has been a little while, I had debated closing the blog, but decided on one more year. A few weeks ago I was feeling restless and my feet were itching to be traveling again. I know I do a lot of traveling, but there is ever so much to see in this world.
I have been to Taipei twice and developed a certain fondness since it was my first international trip upon arriving in Okinawa four years ago. I spent Christmas falling in love with Asia and my new life here. I booked an inexpensive flight (thank you Peach airlines) and an even cheaper hotel and ventured to a new city this time, Kaohsiung.
I landed at the airport, tried out an unlocked iPhone with a sim card instead of being charged way too much money for just landing in another country. With all the traveling I do, it never occurred to me to buy a sim card until I talked to my peeps at SoftBank (my phone company here in Japan). I have been getting this giant bills just for entering another country and incurring international fees. Oh well…lesson learned and the sim card worked fine so I will be using it in all my sojourns outside of Japan.
I also purchased a Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) card and loaded up about $10, which was more than enough to travel around the city by bus and trains. I headed out in search of my hotel.
What I like about Taiwan is the prolific amounts of scooters, they are everywhere, which means you have to watch where you are walking. And speaking of walking, they have these little sidewalks in front of businesses, with big steps down for driveways…then step back up for the sidewalks. They also put their restaurants right there, so frequently, you are walking through the restaurants or shops. The only other option is to walk in the street, which I don’t recommend at all.
Air quality in Kaohsiung was not the greatest, due to its location on the island, industry and proximity to China. I have a wonderful black fabric mask I wear, it looks Korean but is actually made in Thailand. But people here were wearing what looked like industrial charcoal filter masks and I almost invested in another one myself.
I checked into my giant hotel room (by Japanese standards) and planned on a little walk around Lotus Pond. I only scheduled a weekend, so I needed to see as much as I could in a short amount of time.
A 20-minute ride on the bus took me down by Lotus Pond and the many temples and parks. When I think of Taiwanese temples, I think: brightly lit, colorful and incense -infused. Every one I’ve been to has a welcoming feel and I end up spending a few hours.
This night was no exception. I got off the bus on the wrong stop and wandered into this temple, below as the sun was going down. I walked around the city, Kaohsiung people were a little curious, and very friendly. It was a welcoming city, and each time I go to Taiwan, I forget just how friendly they are. I got to practice my two Chinese phrases with regularity, hello and thank you
I took the bus back to my section of town and had seen the Night Markets were close to my hotel. I stopped off to take a look at the Dome of Light just as they were closing down for the night. Again, the columns and walls were awash with the gorgeous bright colors.
On to the night markets…Anyone who has spent time in Taiwan can tell you the wonders of wandering through the crowds to sample some delicious food you may not find anywhere else. For me, the wax apples, cherimoyas (buddha head or custard apple) and mangosteens are reason enough to take the flight over. There is also a smell that is unique to these night markets that is not altogether pleasant, I think it is a combination of squid and roasted or burned chestnuts. It can be a little overwhelming, and I don’t have much of a sense of smell.
I got up a little on the early side and wanted to do some hiking. The city is ringed by hills and there are more than a few hiking trails. I chose Shoushan National Park and set out with my trusty Patagonia backpack with my Nikon and new little Lumix camera I had just bought at thrift store near my house.
It was nice to walk into the mountains and enjoy nature so accessible right outside a busy city. I met many macaques, who were much nicer than those I encountered in Singapore, a lovely little tree lizard who posed for me while basking in the sun and an industrious dung beetle. I mentioned earlier the friendliness of Taiwanese. At one point I encountered a group who were getting ready to picnic. They invited me to join, I said no thanks but chatted with them. When they found out I lived in Okinawa, one man said, ‘oh, karate’. I said yes, and he began to demonstrate kung fu for me. It was a terrific experience, we pushed hands a little and then parted ways.
Later as I was photographing the tree lizard, I felt a presence at my right shoulder. I stopped shooting (with my Nikon) and within a few inches was a very happy and curious Taiwanese man. ‘What are you looking at?’ I laughed and pointed out the tree lizard and he just stood there with me for a few minutes looking at the lizard, who in turn was looking at us.
I wound up hiking and walking a little over 11 miles that day. I made it back to my hotel, took a nap for an hour or two and then headed back out to the night markets in search of this delicious corn on the cob with some sort of garlicky, buttery and soy sauce combination.
The next morning it was time to bid farewell, at least temporarily to Kaohsiung. I made my way back to the airport with a little over $2 left on my MRT card. I guess I will have to go back and use it again in the future. With flights about $80 round trip, its a safe bet I will be spending more weekends there in the future.