Sunday, February 20, 2011

Adventures in Taipei: Part III

I find that living in Korea, some weeks are harder than others to be away from home. These past two weeks or so have been this way but now that I've officially reached the three month mark here, and with a fresh new term just a week away, it's getting better. It's a big milestone I think, having made it 1/4 of the way through. The weather is getting warmer, there will be new classes with new ruffians to keep me on my toes, and I'm awaiting a package from home. All good things.

So here are the last pictures from my trip to Taiwan. I wanted to get them up sooner but alas, you never can predict when those weird, hermit-like funks are going to hit. I'm behind on sharing some other experiences and pictures though so hopefully after this entry it'll be back to more consistent posts!

Our last day in Taipei we had two things on our agenda that we definitely wanted to hit: Taipei 101 and the Jade Market. Since it was a short walk from our hostel our first stop of the day was Taipei 101.
With 101 floors, Taipei 101 is the second tallest building in the world and my new favorite skyscraper (I don't actually have an old favorite but who's keeping track?). It's gorgeously designed to resemble bamboo, something that is both strong and flexible. It's in an area of the city that apparently was the last to be developed so it stands alone. It was very cool to travel around to different parts of the city and look up and see it off in the distance all by its lonesome.

The best thing about Taipei 101 though is that unlike most skyscrapers it's not boring. Sure it's pretty to look at but it also has a lot going on inside. There's a huge food court, where we grabbed an early lunch, and a grocery store attached that has an assortment of foods you can't find in Korea. I nearly died when I laid eyes on a bag of Harvest Cheddar Sun Chips. I also bought some spices that I haven't been able to track down here as well as a jar of Nutella which I think my fairy godmother must've sent because it happened to be February 5th, which every calendar will obviously tell you is World Nutella Day, the most delicious of all days. It was fate.

Above the food court and grocery store is a fancy schmancy mall with the kind of stores that don't play about how expensive they are and put a picture of Vladimir Putin next to a bedazzled watch just to emphasize how much you will not be able to afford it. So we bypassed these stores and went to the 5th floor to purchase tickets for the observatory.
It shoots you up to the top crazy fast.
In addition to the great view there was also a lot of Taiwanese history spread throughout the observatory. There were candid photographs of all sorts of people and events and they didn't gloss it over either. There was one awful photo of a father who after losing custody of his daughter was standing on a bridge threatening to kill them both. She was screaming and you could see blood on his arm and a knife in his hand. It was shocking to see but I don't think any country gains from pretending it's perfect and I respect that they show both the good and the bad.
Taipei 101 also has this enormous tuned mass damper which protects the building against vibrations and earthquakes and such.
After the observatory we went back to the 5th floor where they were getting ready to choose the numbers for the Lottery.
I was already loving Taipei 101 but it officially got me when I stepped into the Page One bookstore on the 4th floor. Naturally there were a lot of books in Mandarin but there was also a huge selection of English books, many of them new. There were children's books, biographies, comics, you name it.

For once though I actually wasn't on the prowl for English books. See after buying the first five Harry Potter books in the British editions when I went to London (HBP was in hardcover and TDH wasn't out yet) I decided that each time I visit a foreign country I'm going to buy their versions too. Of course when it came to it I couldn't justify actually spilling that much money on the Taiwanese editions since unlike the British versions they really will just be novelty since I can't read them at all. So I bought only the first one and Heather suggested that the next country I visit I buy the next in the series and so on. I am however going to buy the entire Korean set because they're not expensive and even though I won't understand 99.9% of it, I can read Korean and will be able to amuse myself by picking out random spells and Quidditch terms here and there.

After Taipei 101 we dropped our purchases off at the hostel and headed out to find the Jade Market. It's weirdly located under a freeway in what looks like a parking garage but it was actually pretty cool. Sort of like a flea market except everyone was selling jewelry and tea pots and fat little Buddhas.
I bought one of those adorable little teapots similar to the ones shown above except not those particular ones because they were too expensive. I ended up at a table where two old fellas were selling things and spent a while looking over the different designs. Sometimes old people are awesome and these guys were so friendly. When I finally decided on one I asked for the price and the guy told me 1,000 (roughly $35) and I pulled a face and was like, "Hmmm, 1,000-?" and he said, "Okay, okay 900". I talked him down! I was so proud of myself! Honestly they were probably overcharging me anyway but I felt pretty good about my newfound haggling skills. 

As the one guy was wrapping up the teapot his buddy asked me what I was doing there and I explained about teaching in Korea. He asked where I'm from originally and I said, "Massachusetts. Boston?" and he was like, "Ah Boston! Kennedys!". Friendly old folk are great. 
It's hard to see but I posted that picture above because on the lower left side you can see this little beagle who was the biggest sweetheart. She was just wandering around the market and I stopped to pet her about five times and she was eating it up. At one point one of the sellers turned in his chair to give her stomach a good pat and laughed and said, "Too fat!" which was true but aww she was so cute.

I'm bringing this up because as a dog person Taiwan was awesome. In Korea I don't see dogs too frequently and when I do they're either those little toy dogs or huskies. I swear it's like one or the other. Minis or huskies and that's it. But we saw loads of dogs in Taiwan, everything from beagles to retrievers to mutts. We went into this one family run store and they had a huge, old golden retriever that looked like Shadow from Homeward Bound. How could I not love a city that loves dogs so much?

And on an unrelated note because I wasn't sure where else to bring it up, something else I really loved about Taiwan was the fashion sense. There was such a variety and everyone seemed to be happily rocking their own style. I don't mean to keep comparing Taiwan with Korea but here I've noticed that when it comes to fashion Koreans seem to be really self-conscious. It's sort of like when you go to an American college campus and see four out of five girls wearing leggings, Ugg boots, and a North Face sweatshirt. Nobody wants to stand out and wear something different. Wintertime in Korea means the majority of girls are wearing short shorts with tights underneath and platform heels or sneakers if they're still in school. The boys all wear the same Adidas pants with those matching poofy black coats. The hairstyles are nearly identical and, at least with the little kids, they're all wearing the exact same glasses.

Sure I saw a few similar trends happening in Taiwan but I didn't feel like I was walking past the same person a hundred times in a row. Fashion in Taipei seemed much more relaxed and open. I liked that a lot.

We spent the rest of the day just sort of wandering through the shopping districts again. We wanted to get dinner and hang out at the biggest night market but it was absurdly packed so we found a less crowded shopping spot and ended the night there. The next morning we caught a cab to the airport and after getting through security waited for our flight to board in the first class lounge. It wasn't quite as nice as Incheon's but this lounge had Oreo's and pound cake mmm.
The return flight was smooth sailing and then we took a bus from the airport back to Yeonsu. It was such a nice trip. We were able to see a lot but I felt well rested coming home too. And it helped that I speed cleaned my apartment right before we left. There's nothing like coming home to clean laundry and a sink sans dirty dishes. 

I still have some pictures from over the course of the three days that I wanted to share which I think add to the overall glimpse of Taipei that I got and they're pretty self explanatory so here there are, a random mix:
And so ends my trip recap. I highly recommend visiting Taipei if you ever have the chance. There are lots of English teachers there and from what I experienced it seems like a great place to be. My top three recommendations for things to do in Taipei would be the Taipei Zoo, Taipei 101, and Kiwi Gourmet Burgers. Get yourself a blue cheese burger and a chocolate peanut butter smoothie. Life doesn't get too much better than that.

Trivia of the Day: Taipei was founded in the early 18th century and became an important center for overseas trade in the 19th century. The Qing Dynasty in China, made Taipei the provincial capital of Taiwan in 1886. When the Japanese acquired Taiwan in 1895 after the First Sino-Japanese War, they retained Taipei as the capital of the island, and also advanced an extensive urban planning in Taipei. The Republic of China took over the island in 1945 following Japanese surrender. After losing Mainland China to the Chinese Communist Party in the Chinese Civil War, the ruling Kuomintang resettled the ROC government to Taiwan and declared Taipei the provisional capital of the Republic of China in December 1949

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