An American makes plans to move to Taiwan.


Richie Post #5:

We rode Ian's scooter to the main Taichung train station and caught a bus from there, to Kaohsiung, (sounds sort of like Caou-shaung), because it's not easy to get to the high speed train station, which is located in another area west of here. The bus was the nice modern cross-country style, and I watched a Canadian movie subtitled in Chinese on the way to Kaohsiung.

We arrived at a metro station similar to the one in back home in DC, only it's cleaner and more modern. To buy a “ticket” you just touch the icon of the station you want to go to on the map of the system, and the vending machine tells you how much money to put in. You get a blue plastic token like a small poker chip that opens the gate when it’s scanned. The area where you wait for the train is enclosed with sliding glass doors that open after the trains have stopped. It’s much quieter when trains arrive, and once underway the speed and smoothness of the cars is very impressive. A man asked us about the election, and I gave him the thumbs up, which seemed to please him. Our system back home was looking pretty bad as the exit gate opened the machine collected the token to be reprogrammed.

It was late afternoon at Kaohsiung’s central park area when we arrived. The streets are wide and the avenues don’t have the cluttered look of Taichung. It’s a clean beautiful city with even more scooters. We walked through their upscale night market and then went to the park where I drank a big frosty mug of Taiwan Beer while we waited for Ian’s girlfriend and her sister to arrive.

We walked to an interesting Chinese looking Italian restaurant where I enjoyed a yummy curry dinner, and ate with a fork for the first time since arriving here. We shared dishes, and agreed that my curry was best, lucky me.

After dinner we went back through one of the night markets and the girls bought me a very cool red T shirt with a skull on it, as skulls are a very popular motif here, and most of the other selections were amazingly gaudy or adorned with strange slogans written in terrible English. It’s actually a little hard to find large sized clothes, and the selection of anything bigger than Medium is limited. I think it’s the first time I’ve ever felt larger than average.

The girls left us at the station, and Ian and I stopped off at the Love River station, and checked out the beautiful waterfront section of town before catching a bus back to Taichung. I slept on the ride home apparently missing a pretty bad American Kung Fu movie, and we arrived back late last night.

Today I'm going to rent another scooter, and we might ride to the beach.

Richie Post #4: Da Keng Trail 4

Yesterday we rode our scooters out to the park with the monkeys. It was a pretty ride into the mountains through some winding little roads to a park called Da Keng. We walked trail #4 starting a little before 10:00. The sign at the park entrance says: “Be Careful Monkey”, so we were. At first the trail is one narrow lane of rough patched pavement which continues to meander up on the ridge of a finger.

The forest here is full of 4” diameter bamboo, palms, and a tangle of vegetation that looks like philodendron, and other exotic house plants. At one point there’s a sheer drop to the left into the jungle with a nice view of the valley leading down to the coastal plane. On the right there’s also a steep drop into another valley with a river bed which runs into Taichung. The road leads us down to the right and we notice people coming down the trail from up on the other side of the valley. It looks very high and really steep.

After a while we crossed the mostly dry bed on a big suspension footbridge. On the bridge I got the sensation of being on a gigantic model diorama. The rocks in the riverbed are out of scale so we were getting what looked like a mouse’s eye view of a creek. On the other side the trail starts off with cement steps, and then turns up and onto a heavy narrow wooden walkway. Its made out of 4 to 5 inch diameter logs with railings that have been lag bolted together and worn smooth by traffic. The crossbeam spacing is somewhat irregular and too open to walk on without careful placement of your feet, too close for a proper stride, yet a little too far apart to be comfortable taking two at a time.

It’s very steep, and pretty soon the walkway becomes a ladder for a while, and again from time to time on up the mountainside. Right away we started to realize what a mistake it was to attempt this “trail” without carrying water. The view was great but you needed to stop to look around because of the treacherous footing, and also to take a moment to catch our breath. There were an impressive number of older Taiwanese hikers coming down from the other direction. We were all sweaty and smiling, exchanging the Chinese greeting, “Ni Hao” as we squeezed pass. About half way up we were suffering from thirst, and took a little rest.

Ian wasn’t feeling all that great so I went on ahead thinking it would be another 15 minuets to the top. (Ian note: I think I really needed some water, and my converse sneakers have about as much foot support as a pair of flip flops, so that didn't help. Of course I am also out of shape...) It was getting comical as each time I’d reach the next high area it would reveal the next leg of the climb to be much longer than it looked from below.

Finally I reached the upper ridge, and saw I’d have to go down some before reaching the last climb. I can hear people ahead and see a small covered pavilion perched on the top of the mountain.

The party of locals having tea saw right away that I was in need of a drink, which I gratefully accepted. As I recovered we sat there having a wonderful exchange with my few words of Chinese and their few words of English. I was able to tell them I had to go back, and they gave me some water to take to Ian. Just as I started to leave he arrived, and we sat back down while he had a drink, and talked to them about his time in Taichung. It wasn’t too much easier getting down, and our feet were not happy with the pounding. We never did see any monkeys, but thoroughly enjoyed the hike.


Richie Post #3: Scooter Rental

We’ve been walking quite a bit actually, just not downtown on the bigger streets. The smaller streets aren’t bad, though you do need to keep an eye out.

Ian and I rode down to the area of the bus station and I was able to rent a nice silver 125cc scooter for $20 a day. All the people I've met here have been very welcoming, and the scooter rental lady was friendly and funny. It turned out my getting an international license was a good idea, and Ian’s Chinese was good enough for there to be no problem. We rode a windy little road into the foothills to the east outside this city.

It's very strange to see bamboo and palm trees growing in a jungle on the mountains. It was also interesting to see how quickly the landscape transformed form city to wilderness with hardly any sprawl or urban transition. The battery in my camera ran down so I didn't get any pictures today. Tomorrow I'm hoping to check out a park a little to the north of where we went yesterday. Ian says there are wild monkeys living there like squirrels, and I’ve got my camera all charged up.

Eating here is cheep and delicious. We picked up some large steamed dumplings, like the puffy white ones we used to get at the Nanking, from a big farmer's market on the way home. They have four different fillings and sell by the dozen for $3.00. They use motorized gizmos like slow moving horizontal fans with tassels over the fish and prepared food to keep the flies off. It works well, and a whole table with fresh fish had none of the little critters buzzing around.

I bought a six-pack of Kirin beer labeled, “Bar Beer”. I think its draft beer, light but good, and also inexpensive.

The picture is of what they call the 'night market', really just a big strange smelling flea market.

It's still hot and a little muggy during the day, but it cools down at night.

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Richie Post #2: Eating in Taiwan

I met some really nice friends of Ian’s for dinner at an interesting restaurant the other night.

There’s a big pool about four feet deep in the center of one section stocked with shrimp. You rent poles, drink beer, and catch dinner. We caught a dozen huge shrimp which we grilled and ate with our Taiwanese seafood soup. Yum!

It’s been raining for the past couple of days and the forecast is for a couple more. Since we don’t have a car it’s put a damper on our traveling, though we have been out riding. I walked several miles yesterday and took some pictures.

Last night we went to a sushi bar for dinner. It’s a very Japanese place with a conveyor belt that runs through with an assortment of plates with various exotic selections. Lots of squid, octopus, and cuddle fish along with the normal looking rolls. The plates are color coded for the price of each dish, and if you want to order something special there’s a touch screen menu at the table. Those orders arrive by an electric high speed train that runs on a track above the conveyor. It was great, and really expensive for Taiwan. The two of us stuffed, with soup and three beers was $15.00.

Not much going on today, probably another long walk in the rain.

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Richie Post #1: Driving in Taiwan

This is a post written by my father while he was still in Taiwan in November. It was his first time in Taiwan, these were his impressions:

We went to a Taiwanese restaurant here in Taichung for dinner last night. Ian and I followed his girlfriend and her cousin on their scooter through town in some truly amazing traffic.

Ian drove with me on the back. Disney, or Six Flags should consider such a ride, as it was more thrilling than any roller-coaster ever built.

Scooters are the dominant vehicle here, and Saturday night there are thirty or forty waiting at every light. Since scooters are not "allowed", ha ha, to make left turns, if a rider wants to go left, they make a partial right turn, then a quick left at the front of the intersection and stop to wait for the light. Cars are supposed to wait further back, which they do most of the time.

What actually happens when a light turns green is, (after a brief period where the people; running the light, making left turns across two lanes of traffic, and those who have started the race early, sort out their differences), something like the start of a motorcycle race. A slow motion race, but a definite race none the less. In lieu of high speed the Taiwanese add obstructions to the "official" half lane to the right of the two normal lanes used by vehicle traffic. Bicycles, scooters pulling over-sized trailers, scooters driven slowly by old ladies with both legs hanging down, parked cars, portable signs, a surprising number of people driving against traffic before heading whatever direction they'd really like to go, and an occasional suicidal pedestrian can be counted on to liven up the competition. The track is gaily lit by bright signs of every color and store fronts, so scooter lighting is optional, and since working mufflers are also optional, the sound of the race is authentic.

Once the pack gets up to speed the riders jockey for position ready to squeeze between the various moving as well as stationary obstacles and the now overtaking cars and trucks. To assure the action never slows an assortment of vehicles backing into the roadway, making U turns, and maneuvers of unknown purpose are performed randomly.

It was amazing to me that we were able to travel several miles each way through this mayhem without observing an actual collision. By the time we got back I had begun to develop a begrudging admiration for these fearless riders, and today I'm ready to rent a scooter and join them, slowly with both legs hanging down.

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