Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Taiwan: Very much unlike Asia!

Taiwan is a little island, existence of which as a country is fought over many a times! No matter what political status is, the nation is so unlike any other countries in Asia as I found out from my first step in these mystical lands!
Getting visa hasn't been so easy for me. Since I had a US visa, all I needed was an online approval letter and the immigration officer stamped my passport within 5 seconds of presenting, no questions asked! Taiwan, claimed by China to be theirs, has every board written in traditional Chinese script as well as English. Every step, every corner, every turn is very nicely marked by sign boards and you have to try real hard to get lost or to land in a situation to seek someone's help. My first discovery about this amazing country was its amazing people. There is no chaos, which usually so prevalent in any other Asian airport. Queues are disciplined, no one breaks the line, no one jumps the line and most of all, everyone is quiet. They have great deal of respect for atmosphere at public places. As such immigration, customs, getting the bus ticket and getting on the bus all transpired in a one harmonious movement, which I am not very used to after spending over 3 months in South East Asia.
Within 15 minutes, I found myself cruising on wide road of Taipei city, traffic moving ever so fluently, buses on one lane and small cars on another. The modern skyline rose on either side of the road, glittering against the ink blue sky as my bus took me into the heart of the city. Even in the dark, the cleanliness of the city was astounding. I got down at the Metro station and finding a metro to my hotel was even easier. Again thanks to so well maintained boards, I hardly had to ask anyone. But still, since I had not talked much to anyone through my journey, I decided to ignore the sign boards and ask people instead, who were really helpful and warm.
By the time I reached  my hostel, it was well past midnight, but one Japanese gentleman was up, who registered me in a small register and guided me to a small bunk bed. The hostel was about $ 11 a night, with free wi-fi, hot shower and unlimited quantity of coffee! Not a bad price, in this generally expensive city.
I sat at a Metro station the next day, watching mass of people moving in and out of station. There were business class people, students, shop keepers, families, all using this vein alike. I was also reading wikitravel page about Taipei and read that Taipei is one of the most densely populated cities on this earth. I looked back at the crowd and indeed there were just too many people. But, you would never notice that, as there is no shouting, no chaos and no hold ups!
In the Metro

At the station
I finally managed to meet Yushin, who took me to a documentary show, made by one of the documentary geniuses. The documentary was about Whale Sharks and it was in Mandarin. I did not understand much, but it was well made nonetheless, as I was able to sit through two and half hours of it without a single yawn. That must be one real genius!
Documentary time!

Famous 101!

Meeting Yushin and Huang was like a reunion. After a long time, I had friends to talk to and not just go from one place to another. Hang out at a cafe and talk. It was such a relief!
Amazing meal


So after finishing a huge meal of fried pork and unlimited rice and spending some time in a nice local book store, Yushin took our leave and Huang and me headed to a small suburb called Danshui, which is situated along the banks of Danshui river. Light rain had started to drizzle, but it was a nice day overall. We got down from the MRT right at front of the river and started walking along the banks of it. The river side has a nice little park, with plenty of benches to sit on, there is a cycle rental agency and plenty of food stalls. We walked taking in nice smells of delicious food items being sold. There was fried chicken and fried squid, mushrooms, more sea food, hot tea. As we passed these shops, everyone would offer us small amount to taste, of which I was most thankful for a nice cup of hot tea flavored with ginger, so perfect for the weather. Huang joked that you don't really need to buy anything here, as walking along the street, you will find your belly to be full from free food offered by shopkeepers and which was almost true!

Danshui river

No idea what's that!

Fried Sea food

Tea packets

We continued walking towards a famous Spanish fort which is situated on a hill, but unfortunately it was closed. So Huang directed me to a university instead. Walking inside, I felt as if I was in Europe. The architecture is very western and a pool in the middle of brilliant, cool water hosts fish of many colors! It's more like a park than a university and true to that, there were many families and friends who had come to just to enjoy the nice weather. Walking through the university, we came across a Golf course and entered it, again no questions asked! I can not imagine people letting you on a golf course, just like that, anywhere else in Asia.
A small pool at the university

European like architecture of the university

Golf course

Golf course
I said goodbye to Huang at Shilin station, and went straight to the night market for which this district is famous. Here night market is more for food than for other stuff. There are food stalls selling all kinds of food items. Barbecue, sandwiches, noodles, deserts, drinks. I spent at least an hour just trying to figure out what to eat, everything is so tempting! Walking through the night crowd, I stumbled upon an old temple. Temple of a goddess, which guides the fishermen. This a typical Chinese architecture, is situated right in the middle of the night market. Hanging red lanterns decorate the roof and big jar holding numerous incense sticks welcomes you inside.
Night market at Shilin

Incense pot

Temple at Night market

Red lanterns

I spent some time in the temple, eyes closed, and let myself breath in the smell of incense sticks and listen to bells ringing somewhere in the temple, before turning back to the Metro to carry me back to the hostel.

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