The Island Claimed by China

It’s another long weekend (I’m really enjoying these frequent holidays) so this time David and I decided to venture out of Korea for the first time since I’ve been here, and the cheapest flights we could find was to Taiwan, so why not?!
I would have never thought for a second before coming to Asia that I would make the effort to visit Taiwan; the only information I know of it is that practically anything produced of cheap labour originates from Taiwan causing me to make the judgment that Taiwan was a poor country. After living in Asia for a few months, my Western perspectives have changed tremendously. Our definitions of rich and poor and standard of living vary greatly based on East and West origin. So this trip to Taiwan was definitely worth it, one that I am really glad I did because it made me open my eyes and see things from out of the judgmental light.

 looking out from the CKS memorial hall

The flight to Taipei was extremely pleasant. We flew Eva Airways (Taiwanese airlines) and it was only 2.5 hours to get there. We were staying in a hostel in downtown Taipei and it was very easy and cheap to take the airport bus (cost us about $4) to the central train station which the hostel was by. The hostel was on the 22nd floor of a building in a city that is filled with skyscrapers.
We only had 3 days in to explore the city so our days were totally jam packed, making it adventurous and rewarding. Since Taipei also has one of the most efficient subways systems in the world, exploring this small city wasn’t that hard at all.

Taiwanese people remind me of Koreans – extremely kind and helpful. Only difference is that Taiwanese can speak English. We met several people on the street while asking for help with directions that spoke close to perfect English. They had no accent at all! Being an English teacher, I was very impressed with this.

jumping at Longshan Temple

 The history of Taiwan is very interesting, something else that I would have never thought to read up on throwing it away as boring and uneventful. Taiwan has never been its own country, they have always been ruled either by China or Japan. Although they are technically still a Chinese colony, this only shows in the fact that Mandarin is the official language.

When it comes to food and governmental rule, Taiwan is completely independent. Taiwan has cultures from different parts of Asia, not just China. Their cuisine consists of Indian, Chinese and Japanese (maybe even more cultures) influences. Along with Mandarin and English, Hakka and Taiwanese are also widely used. So Taiwan is NOT communist!

And it is the home of the world’s tallest building, Taipei 101 (it has 101 floors).
After visiting Longsham Temple (one of the oldest non-denominational temples located in the old part of Taipei) which was very unique, we made a visit to Taipei 101 learning that it also has the world’s fastest elevator. The view from the observation deck was phenomenal because Taipei has a very urban center, but is not far from mountainous scenery filled with greenery and rivers. This proved to me why hiking was a popular hobby in Taiwan as well.

We also made a stop at the CKS Memorial Hall which is in the process (or maybe already has been) of being renamed since this CKS guy isn’t really the greatest person for Taiwanese. He was a past prime minister for whom this hall was built for, surrounded by beautiful gardens and a pond. Since it was on our way we decided to take a peek, which again was a great choice because this memorial hall was very unique since the design was chosen from a contest after the death of CKS.
at the very top of Taipei 101

 Our last adventure for the day was to make to Makong, an area atop the mountain side known for its tea shops and scenic views. The popularity also comes from the fact that you have to take the gondola (part of the subway system) to get there. The gondala is actually a cable car which takes you to Makong thru the mountains (which look more like jungles). The ride lasted about 45 mins but felt like forever because I was seriously freaked out since I have a fear of heights. At the same time, the experience was really amazing and this whole gondala thing was clearly designed for dates and couples since each gondola can only fit about 6 people at a time. Totally not catered for mass transportation.

Our first day in Taipei was definitely amazing. We saw numerous sights which we were easily able to do so even though we didn’t speak a speck of Mandarin. We also met a few nice Taiwanese people on the way and took thier advice and hit the night market in Shilin which opens only after 10pm. I was confused about this night market idea, but after speaking a Taiwanese about this I was informed that due to the heat, most Taiwanese people prefer to stay indoors until the sun goes down. Only at night do they do their shopping and biking. Since Taiwan is one of the safest countries in the world, the people of this city truly live at night.

It seems that most Asian countries have natural hot springs, a fact that I was never made aware of before. In fact, I was never aware of hot springs period. I mean I knew they existed, but not where or why. But it seems in East Asia, hot springs are a hobby as well as a natural remedy. It’s this concept of hot springs that led Koreans to create the 24 hour spa rooms known as jimjilbangs which I enjoy very much so it’s actually an awesome concept since it’s all about relaxation and de-stressing. The difference with the natural hot springs is that they are outdoors providing beautiful scenery to relax among.

 the river – on the banks lay hot springs

Taiwan’s most famous hot spring is in Beitou, a little north of Taipei city. Since it’s so popular I was kind a weary towards going there figuring it would probably be too crowded. The next best bet was Wulai, which is south of the city. Both are accessible by local transport which makes it a very favorable spot for the Taiwanese. Looking at the subway map I calculated about an hour and a bit to get there since it would require us to take the subway to the last stop of the green line, then take a bus far into the mountains. But with the amazing Taipei metro system, it took just about an hour and the ride there was spectacular!! It was only a preview of what more we would encounter today.

Although the hot springs are Wulai’s main attraction, it is still filled with many more things to do.
It was super humid in the city so it was nice to get out and have some fresh air in the mountains. The town of Wulai is actually filled with aborginees but I believe they live in a separate area than where the tourism takes place. We walked through the little town which is fairly small and headed towards the waterfall. We took a mini train instead of walking the 1.6 km and were dropped off right in front of the waterfall which ends the tourist road. The next best thing to do was to take the cable car up to the top of the mountain where there is a resort located in the forest. The ride up in the cable car was amazing since it takes you right above the waterfall which is fairly high. Up in the forest it was just breathtaking, more waterfalls and beautiful fauna surrounded by the chirps of so many different birds. It was like a forest paradise! The area is well-maintained by the resort and is a popular vacation spot for couples. There is a even a small lake where you can canoe!

After coming down in the cable car we decided it was time to go to the hot springs. They are located on the banks of the river that goes through the town. It wasn’t too crowded and the people were very friendly, trying to talk in English and telling us where to sit. The river was very cold so it was good to sit in the hot water then take a dip in the water (like in the hot baths in Korea) but I was a little turned off from the dog that was swimming in the river than hanging out in the hot spring that I decided just to dip my feet. Since hot springs are outside, you are not required to strip down all the way like in the indoor hot baths which is probably a good idea since everyone walking by can see you.

After a lil dip we ventured to find some food and ended up eating at the only Indian restaurant (if you can call it that, it was more like a street stand with a sit down place) in the strip that leads you to the bus stop. It was definitely interesting for me to be eating buriyani in a small town in Taiwan talking to a man from Karnataka. But that’s what travelling to random places can do for you.

We headed back to Taipei to go to a couch surfers meeting in the city. We met numerous couch surfers, some Taiwanese, lots of expat teachers as well . They all only had great things to say about Taiwan and we could understand why.

with some locals

We are heading back to Seoul tomorrow and are pretty sad because David and I really enjoyed Taiwan. It’s small enough to see so much in just two days. I’m actually wondering why I didn’t look more into Taiwan when I was looking for a teaching job, it seems like a great place to live.

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