Tuesday, May 30, 2006


Dang it... I got up at 4am after only 3 hours of sleep. It's 10:30pm Taipei time now so in a couple of hours, I'm going to be sleepy again. :(

Monday, May 29, 2006

Taiwan, Part 6

Yawn... we just got back home last night and I didn't get up until about 2pm today. I'm going to be falling asleep at work during the day for a least a week!

We spent our 2nd week in Taiwan checking out local sights and eating. My dad still has a lot of friends in Taiwan from his college days and we were invited to dinner almost every night. A lot of them are retired generals in the Taiwan military, some even CIA/NSA types. One highlight was a tour of the Presidential Building (like the White House in Washington D.C.) in Taipei. They have regular tours for visitors but my dad has two friends who are high-ranking officials working in the building and one gave us a VIP tour. We even caught a glimpse of the president walking along a corridor.

Presidential Building (總統府) from outside. It was originally built by the Japanese after they occupied Taiwan.

My special VIP pass

One of two gardens inside the building

Reception room where foreign dignitaries sit and take pictures. This section is not open to visitors but our "tour guide" got us past all the guards. :)

We also visited several more places including Jioufen (九份) and Danshuei (淡水) but we also stayed in the apartment with the A/C blasting since it was way too hot and humid outside.

Restaurant that serves 100+ types of mushrooms. We had 8 types in the pot. I usually like mushrooms but this was a bit too much.

CKS Memorial Hall

Road in Danshuei with lots of signage and scooters... pretty much like the rest of Taiwan.

Huwei Fort in Danshuei constructed after the Sino-French War

Cafe next to Huwei Fort. The sign says "Not A Coffehouse". Shirley and I (and Silvia and German) were here exactly 11 month ago last June... funny sad how your whole life can change in such a short time.

Dinner at a Japanese BBQ restaurant in Danshuei. It's kind of like Gyu-Kaku in the U.S. except it's all you can eat and only NT$390 (US$12) per person!

Lover's Bridge (sign said Valentine's Bridge in English) at Fishermen's Wharf in Danshuei

Crane in a pond in 228 Peace Park (used to be called New Park)

Bowl of beef noodle on Taoyuan Street in Taipei. It was pretty good but cost NT$110. For a bit more money, I can get pretty good beef noodle in Irvine too.

Route map at bus stop outside the apartment we stayed. Bus fare is NT$15 while taxi fare starts at NT$70. Good luck finding your way if you don't read Chinese.

Guy selling raw meat from the back of his truck in Jioufen. Make sure you cook the meat thoroughly.

Houses built into the hillside at Jioufen

Longshan Temple (龍山寺) in Taipei, built in 1738. We went on a Saturday and the place was packed.

Sign/gate outside Hwashi Night Market, aka Snake Alley. There were many stores selling snake meat and weird potions. My parents said they brought my sister and me to drink a snake blood potion when we were young for some medical reason.

Trash night! Actually, every night is trash night except Wednesday and Sunday at our apartment. There is no trash bin; you have to bring your trash to the street and toss it into the trash truck yourself at 9:30pm sharp; our truck plays Fur Elise to let you know it's here. Our apartment building has 12 stories with 4 units on each floor which means 44 families and their trash packing the elevator each night.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Taiwan, Part 5

I've been having no luck trying to connect using wireless from the apartment in Taiwan. Right now I'm at our office in Taipei, right across the street from Taipei 101. The office is pretty nice, probably even nicer than our Irvine office. It feels like I'm back in the U.S. except everyone is Chinese and speaking Mandarin. The conference room I'm in is right next to the receptionist. She's been on the intercom for the past hour asking people if they want to order lunch.

Anyway, back to the tour. The final day was a tour of Taroko National Park and a train ride back to Taipei. The mountains near Hualien are mostly marble so the valleys carved by rivers are pretty steep. We took a large tour bus this time since a couple more groups joined us and it was crazy seeing all these buses navigate through the twisty mountain road. At the beginning of the tour, the guide (Mr. Su) only spoke English and Japanese. Later, we had to ask him to speak Mandarin since we could not understand his English at all. It's pretty sad when I can understand his Mandarin better than his English. He also said "on your right" all the time even though he was pointing left and said left in Mandarin. :)

We stopped in several places to take pictures and then walked a 2km section of the old road.

Gate in front of the old road leading up the gorge

Old footpath made by the Japanese to access marble, jade, and other gems

View of the road and tunnel dug into the mountain

Traffic jam due to tunnel construction


One of many waterfalls along the roadway

Rapids along the bottom of the gorge

A pagoda and statue along the roadway

A temple near the bottom of the gorge. The tour guide said that it's been rebuilt three times, the last time due to the 9/21 earthquake.

After the tour, Mr. Su took us to lunch... at his house! He owns a store along the road that sells marble stuff. I think being a tour guide is how he gets customers to come to his store. My parents bought a couple of bracelets that supposedly had magical powers. During the tour, Mr. Su got a sore throat from talking. Someone in our tour group offered him a cough drop but instead he held his bracelet to his throat saying that will help. Hmm...

After lunch we went to a park along the Pacific Ocean that was right next to a military base and we were warned not to take pictures of the base. While we were there, eight F-16s took off from the base and flew right overhead. Finally, we stopped by a mochi store (Hualien is famous for its mochi) then the train station for a three-hour ride back to Taipei.

Some pretty marble vases for sale at Mr. Su's store/restaurant


Scenery along the Pacific coast north of Hualien

The receptionist just announced that bento lunches are here. I'm eating lunch with my parents and their friends at 12:30pm so I'd better take off and find a taxi.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Taiwan, Part 4

Today was mainly a travel day from Kaohsiung to Hualien. This morning the tour bus took us around Kaohsiung city. The first stop was a large man-made lake surrounded by a park. It was pretty deserted since the entrance fee was NT$100 per person, expensive even by American standards. It was a pretty nice park though. There is a seven story pagoda that all of us climbed and took pictures, even 70-year old Mr. Lin.

The tour guide said that tour groups from China don't visit this park because they have to pay. Even though the tourists pay a lot to come to Taiwan, officials in China take a cut, and since they have to travel through Hong Kong, more people take a cut. When they finally get to Taiwan, there's not much money left so they go to places that are free.

View of the lake

A stone bridge that has nine-turns. The tour guide said that evil spirits can only travel in a straight line so they can't come across the bridge. I think he made that up.

View from the top of the pagoda

Next, we went to another lake that was surrounded by Buddhist and Taoist temples. The Taoist temples are elaborately decorated with all sorts of figures and stuff while Buddhist temples are more plain. At the 2nd temple, it started to pour, probably still due to the typhoon off to the west. We decided to call it quits and headed for the airport.

A huge multi-denominational temple

Not sure what this was. On the left is a dragon (entrance) and on the right is a tiger (exit).

The flight to Hualien was uneventful. We rode in a Fokker 50 and the flight was about an hour; the trip would have taken 5 hours by bus. Hualien airport also serves as a military airport so they told us not to take any pictures. There were several bunkers at the far end of the airport with some F-20's.

Our plane from Kaohsiung to Hualien

The hotel in Hualien is not too bad; I think it's better than our hotel in Kaohsiung. Once again, even a so-so hotel in a small city has 100-channel cable TV and wireless LAN. The shampoo and conditioner however, come in small plastic pouches, like condiments. Tonight, we ended up eating in the night market. We had some steamed buns, steamed dumplings, and a bowl of rice noodles for about NT$125. Tomorrow, we will go to Taroko National Park and take a train back to Taipei. I don't have Internet access in our apartment in Taipei so this may be my last post from Taiwan.

Night market stand where we ate dinner. I was too hungry and ate all the food before taking a picture.

Taiwan, Part 3a

Some more pictures from yesterday:

Rock off the coast of Kenting National Park. The tour guide says it looks like Richard Nixon.

Frog stools along the beach

Elanubi light house complex

Pacific Ocean from west side of Kenting National Park

Natural gas bubbling up from the ground. During the dry season, they would light the gas and it would burn all season.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Taiwan, Part 3

These guided tours take a lot of energy, getting on and off the bus at each stop. Anyway, we were pretty tired yesterday. We decided to have dinner across the street at a department store; they have a food court on the 12th floor. The most interesting part of the evening were the elevator ladies. I didn't get a picture (yet) but they were wearing uniforms (with hats and white gloves) and make sure you didn't get trapped by the elevator doors.

This morning, we boarded a different bus and a different tour guide took us to Kenting National Park. Our group of eight became twelve as a French couple (the wife is Cantonese but was born in France) plus two Japanese men joined our original group. The trip from Kaohsiung took about two hours and we drove along the coast. There is a typhoon currently moving north somewhere south of Hong Kong. Typically typhoons move from the Philippines, up the east side of Taiwan, and heads toward Japan. This typhoon is different that it's on the west side of Taiwan generating pretty large waves. The tour guide said that in his 25 years leading tours, he has never seen such large waves on the west side of Taiwan.

High waves generated from the typhoon

Wave damage at a rest stop. There were also debris on the road to Kenting in several locations.

Our first stop was a rock formation that looked like a cat. The waves were pretty large and the bus driver chickened out from driving out to the end of a pier. This was right next to a nuclear power station. I think someone had a sense of humor and built three (only three) windmills next to the nuclear reactors.

I don't see no cat... looks like a bunch of rocks to me.

No snorkeling today

After lunch, we continued along the southern coast of Taiwan to Elanubi Park, the southern most point in Taiwan. The waves were still pretty heavy and it was very windy, probably more effects of the typhoon. We drove to a couple more scenic spots and headed back to the hotel in Kaohsiung.

I'm having problems uploading pics again and running out of battery juice (no three prong outlets!) so I'll continue later.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Taiwan, Part 2

We just arrived at our hotel at Kaohsiung for the next two nights. The hotel is a bit dumpy and my room is really small. I couldn't find an Ethernet port in the room and I didn't see a business center in the lobby. To my surprise, they had an access point on each floor so I'm connected via WiFi. The room smells a bit like smoke but this hotel does not have a non-smoking floor... welcome to Asia.

We didn't see very much this morning. After breakfast at the hotel, we left at 9am for Kaohsiung. The main stop was at a small town where we walked around some alleyways. I think the town was famous for mung (green) bean cake. Lunch was at a random rest stop along National Highway #1; there is a parallel, newer, National Highway #3 that runs north-south along the west coast of Taiwan. It's 6pm local time now; I'm going downstairs to get something to eat.

View of Taichung from my hotel room

Sign pointing to a narrow alleyway (it says "touching breast lane")

Old houses away from the street. The tour guide said that some houses are 200-300 years old.

Making bicycle horns by hand (those axe-looking things are soldering irons)

Fruit stand along the street

Taiwanese shaved ice: red bean, pineapple, and aiyu (NT$20)

The two bags contain pig skin. The sign says they deep-fry pig skin, I guess to make pork rinds. Mmm... I think I'll pass.

View of Kaohsiung from my hotel room. Looks like any large city in Taiwan.