Wednesday, 3 August 2011

My Trip to Taiwan was marred by the arrival of two typhoons

                                      Colorful provincial map of Taiwan
                 Taiwan is just a mere 130km from Mainland China
                            Our old faithful VW 9 seater MPV

Last October 2010 I kept my wife and her family company to embark on a 8 days tour to Bao Dau宝岛, the treasure island of Formosa viz. Taiwan台灣, in the Pacific Ocean, just about 130km at its narrowest point from the mainland China. Amongst us, my folks knew very well I was the only one speaking and understanding the Chinese Language; so I could be an instant interpreter and ready translator in their presence for the duration of the tour. Our small family group was comprised of my wife and I, her two spinster sisters, their only brother and their mother.

                        Interesting find: Ice cream sold in
                           Japanese-styled wooden containers
                            Chatty retiree on his motorised 4 wheeler

                                    The dishes in this small restaurant
                                        was just too good to resist
                                  Be warned : You're eating too much! 
                                  Not me alone, 5 others were here too
                           Tourists were attracted by lines
                        of Chinese clay teapots  on display  

                       Brisk business as usual for this breakfast eatery 

We landed at Taipei's Taiwan TaoYuan International Airport臺灣桃園國際機場 in the early evening of 20th Oct in the midst of heavy drizzle when we tropical country bumpkins first felt the chill. They don't call it "ChiangKaiSek Airport" any more as it was named after the deceased totalitarian first president of Kuomintang of Taiwan, who ruled Taiwan with an iron fist. My wife's cousin Chew BC picked us up in a large tour Volkswagen MPV which was equipped with a wheel chair. (For the grand lady-my mother-in-law who is in her 80s) Together with him came along the driver Bob and a gentle middle aged Tai Chung friend named Liau.

TaiChung Temple remained sunken after
the Sept 21st 1999 Earthquake

             It was hard to avoid death when crushed under the collapsed building. This used to be the school Hall, no one was injured or killed here as the disaster occurred in the early hrs of morning.
             The natural calamity killed 2,415  wounded 11,300persons,
             and totally destroyed 51,700 houses, damaged another 53,000.

                     Lovers' Rocks? No, these are the damaged pillars
                      of elevated rail track of  TaiChung; they suffered     
                             their ill-fate during the 921 Earthquake
This trip proved to be very rewarding and fun as we really saw many facets of Taiwan with the generosity of our cousin Chew and his friends, including the driver, and despite it rained most of the time. The hiring of the MPV (One 9 seater vehicle) was at RM1700 per day but since he was the owner and a close friend to cousin Chew, he only charged us at NT$5000 (RM500) per day. The tough looking (used to be a rugby player) MPV driver who spoke some Japanese and a little bit of English even bought us dinner together with his daughter at Tai Chung. She was a graduate of Sports Medicine and was currently working at the University after her graduation. The older man aptly named Bob kept us entertained with sudden outburst of old English songs and fascinating stories of his ‘unspeakable suffering’, a phrase he picked up during his military days.
A tiny railway staion named Jiji was built by the Japanese in early 1900s. It's still operating.
                         A picturesque scene on Sun-Moon Lake captured
               from a cable car on the ascent to the hill of multi-tribal village

                           Amidst tensed situation with Mainland China,
we still could have this picture taken with the
naval war ship at the background.
No military guard was seen around here.

                      We have a group picture taken before
                      entering the 921 Earthquake Museum

Tour guides? Yes, Chew's friend Liau, a millionaire around the age of 40 was our guide at Tai Chung and the driver doubled as our guide too at Taipei. We even stayed at the humble bespectacled wealthy man’s  (He was browsing at his blackberry all the time to look at the stocks) exclusive condo unit at the top floor The Penthouse - for free for three nights in Tai Chung whilst he went back home to his family for the night. The apartment he owned was worth a whooping NT$ 20 million (About RM2 million). For breakfast they brought us to small eateries at 3 different places when we were not sleeping at the hotels. At hotel's accommodation, breakfast came along as standard.

                         Japanese liquor store at the 101 Building, Taipei.

                             Auntie with painted face riding motorcycle with
                               umbrella enjoyed having her picture taken

                        We enjoyed some small eats at this tiny shop since
                          the pasar malam was closed after a downpour
In Tainan, South Taiwan, an ever smiling, extra-ordinary helpful friend of cousin Chew boarded our MPV as our guide for a day. This charismatic person Charlton Sim who was a New Yoker few years back as a journalist, (20 yrs), volunteered to be our guide for free! (He is a US citizen but came back to Taiwan to be with his aged mother few years back till she passed away last year; his dad died about 10 yrs ago.) He has been a bachelor all these years but admitted that he has a steady old beau. He's 62! Charlton is a qualified tour guide and at the same time he's a lecturer of English language at a private college in the afternoon till early evening. I told him I wanted to buy a book named: 1949 Big River Grand Ocean 1949 大江大海, penned by famous Taiwanese woman writer Long Ink Tai 龙应台. He told me promptly: No, you don't buy. I have the book and have read it. I'll send to Tai Chung and you will get it next two days. True enough our Tai Chung friend Liau, the millionaire handed me the book with a goodwill card later the week. I was truly touched by Charlton Sim's kind deed. Unfortunately it was raining most of the time at Tainan that I could not have a picture taken along with him.

                                 Picture taken next to a huge bill board
                                  promoting Taipei Floral Expo 2010

                    We were celebrating cousin Chew's birthday
                    in the hotel Cafeteria. Bob the driver was at far right
It was a food holiday and of course lots of shopping for the women folks. I bought two books, one autobiography of Andrea Agassi the tennis player and another one on notorious Mao Tze Dong. I pampered myself to pay for a light jacket due to the cold weather. I also bought one portable hard disc with 500G memory storage just in case my pc going bonkers again.

Eating the very tasty oyster mee-sua of Tainan
 A very crowded morning market of Tainan
                           Cycling club members stopped for oyster mee-sua
                                       we had to eat fast to make way for them
               This shop sells the ubiquitous Bak Yeun-large meat balls soup
                                      BBQ large sotong - squid anyone?             

The mega Typhoon Magi’s tail hit Taiwan after her devastating route to The Philippines. But the worst affected areas were at North Eastern Taiwan - Yilan 宜兰 district which was just about 50km from Taipei. There were 26 deaths and a score of Chinese mainland tourists unaccounted for with their tour coach half buried. We were lucky as we were not planning to go there. Just before our departure another fierce typhoon threatened to land at Taiwan; this time it came from South-Westerly Indo-China areas like Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia.

                      Ususally it was very crowded; Xi Men Ding
                           looked deserted after the typhoon visit
                            The magnificient Imperial Museum, Taipei
                        A poster of the great wisdom Master Hsing Yun
                       星雲大師 adorned the wall of Fo Guang Shan's
                                   Exhibition Hall in Kaoshiong                          

The highlights of our short sojourn and travel were many. The devastating earthquake remnants of Tai Chung were an eye-opening experience. Many severely damaged buildings were left as they were for visitors to witness. The enlightening Fo Guang Shan 佛光山 of KaoShiong, the Sun-Moon Lake日月潭and Ali-san 阿里山were pleasantly memorable tourism hotspots to visit. Night market strolls at Taipei’s trendy Xi Men Ding西门町 was a breeze after the rain; it was a good place to shop for the trendy and the young, fashion conscious Taiwanese people. Despite our trip was marred by not so ideal weather conditions, we managed to visit palatial places like the magnificent Imperial Museum and the majestic Presidential Palace中華民國總統府.

                 View of the fore-ground of the entrance as seen
                           from the Presidential Palace
                  Taiwanese people love dogs, you can see dogs everywhere
                 This one was friendly enough to allow me to pat him.

This trip was 10 times worthier than we were there 15 yrs ago for which I could not remember anything about Taiwan at all. All I could recollect at that time was that we traveled day and night from North to South along the highways most of the time. It was a 400km journey. Of course this time we had my wife's cousin Chew BC and his 'cronies' to thank for. As for the betel nuts girls, (Well known for dressing scantily to lure customers) well, hard luck for us men folks. We saw lots of them but due to the cold spell, most of them were fully dressed up to their chins, wearing the turtle-necked blouses. Even mosquitoes and flies were unable to fly into their clothing.

The Betel Nut girls 檳榔西施 we didn't get to see due to the cold weather, too bad. 
                       The stormy waves hitting the shores relentlessly 
                                and repeatedly was a quivering sight

We left on time around 6.30am local time with temperature at 18 Degree C at the airport with bellowing strong gust of wind bidding us goodbye.  It was another typhoon coming.

 Alan CY Kok

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