Prior to leaving on any big adventure I always find myself asking the same questions – what the heck do I bring to this foreign country with a strange alphabet??? Here are a few things I have learned the hard way:
Tip #1 – Write Everything Under the Sun Down – In the Right Language
I thought I was overly prepared for this trip – I mean full on duotangs printed with flight information, athlete bulletins, and directions to everywhere you can possibly think. I figured I had it on lock this time – should be easy, breezy. FAIL. Being the stereotypical English-speaking tourist I am, I made the mistake of narrow-minded thinking that everyone speaks some form of English no matter where you are in the world. Common yes, but definitely not true. If you writing anything down, make sure you write down (or print out in the case of Mandarin Chinese) your destination address AND the city you are traveling to in the local language. Which leads me to my next point:
Tip #2 – Don’t Panic – Embrace the Inevitable
You will get lost – Or at least think your 100% lost on a frequent basis. I follow the rule in life that people are inherently good and being in a strange place has proven this fact for me again, and again. When I arrived in Taipei my flight had been delayed 3 hours, I rushed to make the last High Speed Rail train down to the southern tip Kaoshung by 10:31pm. I arrived at 10:34pm, Awesome.
This is the point where if you have blind faith in people, I believe you will always manage to reach your destination, even if it might take you awhile. I asked the ticket agent in English what I should do next, he wrote a few things down, said Train halfway then ‘bus’, pointed me in the right direction and I was on my way.
I managed to get to the first stop on my new journey – the high speed rail toTai Chung . Tai Chung is about halfway to Kaoshung, a small point on the middle of the of Island of Taiwan. I got off the train at 2AM thinking, “Heck ya halfway there, just need to get to the bus!” BUT when I arrived at the Tai Chung stop there was no bus station. Whoops. I asked yet again for blind faith directions from a random student and she pointed me in some direction. Success!! I made it to the bus station. Except it was the wrong bus station. Blind Faith # 3- I had the lovely ticket agents write down my new directions in Manderin Chinese, hailed a cab and jumped in. At this point it was 3AM in an Asian Country, I’m hauling around my wakeboard bag that resembles a body bag, so who knows what sort of run-in may happen next. The Taxi driver managed to get me to the right spot so, I gave him a big, ol hug, $60NTD tip and bought a ticket to my final destination. Two more bus stops and a taxi ride later I arrived safe and sound at my friend’s apartment at 5AM, only seven hours late.
I forgot to mention it was Halloween. Which of course isn’t celebrated in Asia, only by enthusiastic expats like my friend Sarah. So I was welcomed with an excited, not-quite sober embrace by six very large crayons eating dumplings. What do you do when you’ve traveled 26 hours and been lost for 7 in a foreign Asian country?? You put on your crayon costume and join right on in!!!!!
I know what a lot of you are thinking, lucky girl she could have ended up in some sketch-bag place, robbed or worse. What I failed to mention is that a similar situation has happened to me almost every foreign place I’ve been – and for those of you who know me well you can agree that directions are not my forte – which proves my point that people are inherently good. If you embrace the inevitable fact that you are in a strange place, don’t ever hesitate to ask someone to point you in the right direction. (Of course common sense does play a major role in decision-making). It may not be the most direct route, but that is all a part of the overall adventure.
THE REST OF MY TRIP TO TAIWAN:
Day One – Traveled from Toronto – Calgary – Taipei – TaiChung – Kaohsung (pronounced Gaow – Chung)
Nee-How – is Hello, Sha-shia – Thank You!
The next day took a taxi to Kenting beach. First went to Hungchun and rented scooters. Drove the scooters to Baisha beach. Drank some mango beer & then scooted into Kenting. We stayed at the Dolphin hotel right on the beach. Walked around the main street, bought a cool dress, head-scarf, ate at a really good Thai place. Bought a coffee-baileys in a bag, a necklace & bracelet. Stayed up till 4am talking on the patio.
Next day scooted to a cool little beach called Jialeshuei, went surfing for a few hours, Took scooters back to the place where we rented them and went out for noodle soup. Took a taxi back to Kaoshung where jet-lag kicked me in the ass.
Now up at 5AM writing blogs!
I was up again at some god-awful hour and decided to go for a run when Sarah left for work. I ran down the river towards the center of the city and back along the opposite side. Key things I noticed: Pagodas EVERYWHERE, old men just hanging out in the park fishing and chatting, hustle and bustle of the morning scooters, and maily just Asian smells. Humid air, the occasional whiff of incense and the occasional whiff of sewage.
We came back to Sarah’s place, Jeff made us some delicious breakfast and we just chilled out for a few hours. I worked on my grant, Jeff and Danielle chilled. We met Sarah in the afternoon and went for a hike up Monkey Mountain. Insanity. So many monkeys everywhere, if you bring food they will steal it. It was a solid 45 minuite hike at least to the top of the hill with a few stops along the way to climb old trees. The Trees are really cool, they grow from vines that scale down into the ground off older trees. You see a lot of vines coming together so everywhere you look limbs are twisting and turning around each other.
When we got to the top you could see all of Kaohsiung, the ocean and the rest of the huge conservation area . A lot of the region is used for military training and the gates are guarded when you go towards that area. At the top of the hill they have free tea for everyone that comes. It is a volunteer program where people hike the water up everyday in backpacks and boil it right there. You see 90 year old men hiking everyday (not to mention it is a pretty strenuous hike! ) with this huge backpacks full of water. I’m a wakeboarder and can appreciate how heavy water is since we use it as ballast to weigh down boats. I’ve also been doing crossfit for a month and these guys were passing me on the climb. I guess if you ever want to stay in shape hiking is one way to do it!
It was dark by the time we got down to the bottom of the hill, after surviving a monkey fight (See the video, pictures are louder than words) and Sarah wanted to take us to see the Lotus Pond. It is a gorgeous pond in the middle of the city surrounded with Pagodas and water lillys. (Lotus flowers) AND There just happened to be a System 2.0 right there. Yup! In the middle of Taiwain. Dave has been a few times and wants to learn air tricks so I gave him a couple of tips. Really you just gotta go for it.
We made our way over the the night market, which I think was definitely one of the highloghts so far of Taiwan. Rows upon rows of street food vendors, knock off clothing, watches, jewelary, even games for the kids to play. We started by weaving our way through the endless food options and finally settled on Mongolian grill with a plate of infamous Taiwianese dumplings. OMG the best food EVER. The best part is that they cook everything right there on these tiny steel stands with bright floresant signs all written, of course, in mandarine Chinese. The smells are almost overwhelming, total sensory overload. After dinner I had my heart set on Chocolate deep-fried banannas, so I bought a bag for the team to share. Greasey but oh so good.
We weaved our way through the night market vendors, I bought a cool leather watch which I instantly regretted after if fell off my wrist twice. (I’ll have to change the clasp). The market is actually pretty great in the sense that it isn’t a tourist trap. Sarah was telling me that it is the Kaohsiung ‘mall’ the place where teens and Taiwanese come after work to spend all their hard earned money. You don’t see the bartering that you do in Thailand or Vietnam, I mean there is a little bit of batering, but you almost offend the vendors if you shoot to low. They are also not afraid to say no to you and turn the business away.
We ended the night at 7-11 across the road with a couple of beers. Two of Sarah & Dave’s co-workers dropped by after working out at the gym down the road. Beers are about a $1 and you can drink them in the street wherever you like. It really makes you think why we have all these laws around liquor trying to prevent accidents, yet it still happens anyway. Taiwan everyone drives around on scooters passing each other in the street and their main concern is wearing masks to protect them from pollution. Dental & healthcare, pharmacies are everywhere – It is a health-minded society and everyone looks great. You also don’t see McDonalds on every corner (Yes there is McDonalds but not on every corner like here). Just a different perspective, fear is a powerful in North America. Maybe we should start focusing more on heath and less on excuses for not taking so many adventures.