Saturday 25 November 2017
Having arrived late last night from Shanghai we had a late start to the day. Around noon we jumped on the easy to use MRT and headed to Longshan Temple on the west side of Taipei City.
Founded in 1738 by Han immigrants from Fujian, it is quite an interesting place to visit. The majority of the visitors were there to participate, holding incense sticks up and bowing to the particular Buddhist statue they were in front of. This was followed by chucking a couple of bits of moon shaped wood in the air and depending on which way they land determines how your prayer went. Looked like gambling to me.
There is a shop there where people buy offerings for the gods which they place on tables around the place. I presume if the gods aren’t hungry they take them back to the shop and sell them again the next day!!
It is a really nice place and very interesting to see. There is a lot going on and I am sure it would take a lifetime to really understand what it all means and how it works.
After visiting the temple we wandered the local streets, which were also interesting. Obviously not popular with European tourists as we were the only ones. the area is quite old and in places a bit run down. First stop was a foot massage; interestingly they put a plastic bag in the tub prior to filling it for the foot soak while they gave our shoulders a bit of a rub. Then it was feet dried and into the foot and lower leg part. We were amused as three Chinese guys opposite us screamed and grimaced and squawked through the whole process.
A bit further down the street we came across a covered ally with a number of little, mainly food, shops. One restaurant had snake on the menu; these were displayed live in glass cases alongside. In another glass case were a bunch of fat white rats; I couldn’t quite work out whether the rats were to feed the snakes or whether one could order those too. We didn’t actually stick around to find out!
Back on the street we came across a covered restaurant with pink tables and chairs in the middle of the street. A local on a motorbike didn’t seem to mind as he drove through the middle of it.
It’s funny because the streets of Taipei look just how I imagined them. Maybe it’s the signage one sees in pictures or on movies I have seen in the past. I discovered over the next few days that these oblong signs are consistent in all the places we visited. Many of the buildings are not well maintained and lots have little cage like boxes stuck on the windows.There are a lot of interesting small shops with formica tables are around here.
On the way back we stopped in another part of town which was a little more upmarket and packed with people, loud music blurting out from many of the shops. We found a war museum there but unfortunately it was closed for maintenance.
Sunday 26 November 2017
We took an Uber north to Juifen. This is an old and interesting part of the island with good views in spite of the bad weather over the protruding headlands.
We sort of followed the crowd and ended up in a mostly covered ally, know and Juifen Old Street. This ran for the best part of a kilometre, snaking its way through the buildings. At a maximum of three maters wide and packed with people compressed between the shops and eateries each side, it was hard to believe the amount and variety of food on sale here. Large pots of fish balls bubbled away as families crammed in to throw back large amounts of scoff. There were a couple of times along this slow moving trail one had to hold one’s breath as the stench of what ever they were preparing was quite unbearable.
Eventually we popped out the other end and decided to find a different way back rather than battling the crowds. A path took us down the hill and back around to the main road. Sylvia had somehow worked out the bus system so we mounted a bus that struggled to make the tight corners on the winding road over a hill and down to the coast.
The Golden waterfall with its yellow colour was well worth a look.
We strolled the rest of the way down to the coast looking back to see what are the remains of a huge copper processing plant. As I looked up at it I had visions of it been a modern day Machu Picchu; don’t think it will be around in a thousand years though. Mining has been part of Taiwan for hundreds of years. In 1981 the Taiwan Metals Mining Company took out a large loan to build this copper processing plant. By 1987 copper prices declined and it went broke.
We caught a bus from the bay about 20kms around the coast to the large port city of Keelung. Most of the shipping to the north part of the country goes through this port.
Here we caught the train back to our hotel at Nangang. MRT and local rail travel here is cheap and efficient. Although some of the signage rather amusing.
After missing out on the cigar bar in Shanghai, given their change of rules, we were pleased to find, after surfing the net, that Taipei has lots of them. A short taxi ride and we arrived at the Cigar Emporium. This bar is really well done with its Art Deco look, leather chairs, great ventilation and good service. It’s a shame they only serve wine by the bottle – I just had to drink a whole one.
After a relaxing couple of hours we took a stroll to Taipei 101. With the tip at 509.2m 2004 it was the world’s tallest building, not outgrown until 2010. It also had the world’s fastest elevator until 2015, reaching speeds of 1010m/minute (60 kph). Unfortunately I forgot to take a photo of the speedo on the way up and only captured one on the way down at 600m/minute. As we stepped through the retail floors we were both really taken with the layout and presentation. Although hard to capture on an iPhone it was up with the best we have seen.
Eventually arriving at the viewing deck the views were stunning. We really enjoy going up these tall buildings.
In the centre of the floor there is a a big ball – 600 tons of it suspended in the middle on ropes and and rams. This wind damper is designed to counter the movement of such events as typhoons and earthquakes. During typhoons they close the viewing floors but as earthquakes are unpredictable, people are there when they take place. There is video of it moving along with the crowd staggering around during a recent earthquake. The ball can move up to a meter and a half which some smart engineer must have worked out will stop the building moving to much and being damaged in such an event.
Monday 27 November 2017
I had found a pass on line for the Taiwan High Speed Trains; interestingly the three day pass was cheaper than the two day pass. At 75 USD it was also cheaper than a return trip to the bottom of the island. Mid-morning I jumped the train heading south down the west coast. I also really enjoy the speed and efficiency of the fast trains, even though when you are sitting in them it doesn’t feel like one is moving that fast. The transport infrastructure here is impressive with many roads, motorways and train tracks on pylons. They seem to be really good at sticking stuff up in the air.
As the train sped south through city after city it was almost like the west coast is just one big city with a bit of bush and a few rice paddies dispersed throughout.
The Japanese built train reached 300kph as it sped south, stopping at only a few of the twelve stations along the way and covering the 350km in just over 90 minutes. The planning for this train started in the 80’s when they found they were running out of space on the west coast to build enough roads to move the population around. 90% of the 23m population live in this area. Opening in 2007 the rail system last year carried 50 million passengers, still short of the 80 million predicted. As we pull into Zuoying Station teams of six cleaners stand stand at attention in two ranks ready to board the train.
A very helpful local English teacher assisted me in taking the local MRT into Kaohsiung City for a look around. With a population of 3 million this city has wide main streets and quite a large port area. It is quite a tidy city. There is lots of construction going on around the inner port area which looks like the are trying to turn it into a tourist come entertainment area. Trams rolled back and fourth along the waterfront.
There is a large exhibition hall which in one half was running a pet fair. I didn’t venture but there was a fair bit of dog action going on in the corridors outside. I always believed that one owned a dog to take it for walks and in turn both parties got a bit of exercise. Not the case here – the dogs are very much in charge being pushed around in strollers.
Kaohsiung also boasts a tall building. At 347m and 85 stories, 85 Sky Tower is a hotel with a restaurant with a public viewing deck under that giving unobstructed views. Well unobstructed apart from the smog that hangs over the city, and some not too clean windows.
The return journey was an easy one, the metro back to the main station running every four minutes. Just over 90 minutes on the fast train had me back at Nangang station and our hotel.
In the evening Stan and some of his Royal Canin Taiwan team took us back to Tower 101 where we enjoyed a multi-course Taiwanese meal on the 82nd floor.
Tuesday 28th November 2017
Back on the THSR I headed south again getting off at the Hsinchu stop. Like all these stations they are outside the city with local rail transportation to the city. The local train up on pylons took us over rice fields and into the Center of this, just under 500 thousand people, town.
One thing that I have noticed over the past couple of days is every low rise building has a number of shiny stainless steel tanks on top of them that glisten in the sun at certain times of the day. I presume they are for there water supply.
Another thing that is prominent in Taiwan cities are the buildings built out over the footpaths providing shelter, extra retail space, and also a place for people to ride their motorcycles into and park up.
I had spotted on the map not far from the station the Hsinchu City God’s Temple. Arriving at the location I couldn’t see the temple. I crossed the road and looked back seeing the decorated gables of the Temple. The whole, quite large, building is hidden behind stalls with narrow alleyways as a way of access. Built in the 1700’s and refurbished in the 1920’s this temple is about the ghosts. I was told these are the ones who don’t qualify to make it to the after life for reincarnation and just hang around as ghosts. Looks like the kind of catorgry I would fit into.
Inside the place was busy with people praying and just hanging around; apart from me not a tourist in site. With many shrine rooms, statues and even a furnace blasting away (not quite sure what that was for), the temple has a large kitchen and lots of other rooms. No one seemed to mind me wandering around.
From here I made my way through the town, with lots of small retail shops here selling just about everything. Just like everywhere in Taiwan motorbikes charge along footpaths and through pedestrian malls.
I was back at the hotel by two ready to be picked up and join the others for the flight to Hong Kong. The temperature here over the last few days has been great at between 18 and 23 degrees centigrade.