My stay in Taiwan has lasted longer than I had originally expected. This is mostly due to my sloth and the fact that I’m living here so cheap. I’m literally spending less than $20 per day on everything. Despite this being the most difficult place to communicate on my trip so far, I’ve found it easy to get around in Taipei. I really like the city.
I’ve spent the last few days trying to find a place that sells Japan Rail passes because I can’t get them once I’m in Japan. I finally found one but it is going to take a few days to process the pass. So now I have to wait until Monday evening to pick up the pass and then I can leave on Tuesday afternoon to Okinawa.
My goal between now and then is to be completely caught up on all my posts from the Philippines and Taiwan before I begin the adventure which is Japan.
Before I get to Okinawa, if anyone knows how I can get in touch with a Mr. Hanzo and a Mr. Miyagi, it would be appreciated. Thanks.
I got a link from PVP today, so hello to everyone who is new. I also should take this time to pander to all the new fellow geeks who are reading, so today I’ll be talking about my trip to the Guang Hua Electronics Market in Taipei.
If you have assembled a computer or have ever paid any attention to packaging, you probably are familiar with the phrase “Made in Taiwan”. Taiwan has established themselves as probably the primary source of many computer products. Over 60% of the laptops in the world are created here. Acer (who just purchased Gateway) is headquartered here. They make most of the motherboards for computers as well as a lot of the memory. Even though much of the actual manufacturing is moving to China, many of the companies are still owned and operated out of Taiwan. (there is surprisingly more economic activity between China and Taiwan than you’d think).
Given all the manufacturing here, you’d think that this would be an excellent place to buy computer parts, and you’d be right. In addition to the actual official market which is in a series of very long buildings and sort of looks like a farmers market out of Blade Runner, there are many small shops around it for several blocks. All of them open right up to the sidewalk so you can look around and talk to vendors (assuming they speak English) without leaving the sidewalk.
Many of the vendors have very extreme niches. I saw one store which was nothing but computer cases. Some shops are only cell phones. Some specialize in memory. I went into one store which was bigger than most and had a wall of fans. Nothing but CPU fans. They also had shops that would make any cable you need. USB. Firewire. Crossovers. You name it. I found the biggest selection of volt and ammeters I’ve ever seen and tons of crap which would put even the best Radio Shack to shame.
Because its Taiwan, you also see a lot of stores with nothing but laptops. Not all the deals you will find are equal, but the laptops and PC parts are particularly cheap.
Unfortunately, I don’t need a laptop and can’t really lug around a desktop PC. What I was in need of was a camera.
I have a Nikon D200. It’s a great camera. It is also a big camera. It’s heavy and very conspicuous. It is great for taking photographs, but not very good at taking simple pictures. If you want to take a photo of some food or a sign you see when you are walking down the street, carrying this big hunk of glass around your neck doesn’t cut it. I wanted a small point and shoot camera that I could carry in my pocket for taking simple every day photos. I had a Sony DSC T1 for several years and I really liked it. It was thin, easy to use and took fine photos. Unfortunately, the AC adaptor for it got lost along the way so I needed to get something else.
The deals on small electronic items like cameras isn’t as good as what you’ll find on computer parts at Guang Hua because they are not manufactured in Taiwan. However, the fact that you have so many stores in competition with each other in such a small space means you will still get a better price than you would find at a normal camera store.
I eventually purchased the Sony Cybershot DSC T-100 which is the current generation of the camera I used to have. It can do simple video, it has a very large LCD on the back and it can easily fit in my pocket. All of the photos taken for this post were taken with my camera right after I took it out of the box. I was also able to get a 2gb memory card for it for about $20.
Having used a SLR since the start of the trip, I can tell the obvious limitations of the camera. It doesn’t save as high of quality images as my SLR. I can’t zoom as much nor can I take as wide angle photos as well. I don’t really have any control over the exposure or sensitivity of the camera. It isn’t as responsive as an SLR nor can it take photos as fast. Nonetheless, I like it because it fills the role I wanted it to fill really well and it is still 8.2 megapixels. I got mine for about US$300 and most of the prices you see online are between US$350-400.
If you are ever in Taipei and want to check out Guang Hua, it is really easy to get to. Just get on the metro, take the blue line to the Zhongxaio Xinsheng station. Walk about one block north and you can’t miss it. You will be hit over the head with stores and ads for electronics.
Perhaps the most unique thing about the Philippines is the transportation system. With the exception of a short light rail line in Manila, there is zero public transportation in the Philippines. Well, they call it public transportation, but the ‘public’ refers to who the service is aimed at not ownership like in the US.
The thing which makes Filipino transportation unique, and the hardest thing to figure out, are the jeepneys. Jeeneys are small, privately owned buses. They got their name because they were originally made out of Jeeps left by the Americans after WWII. Filipinos took the jeeps, extended the back ends and used them to ferry people around.
I wont claim to be an expert in the art of taking a Jeepney. Most of the jeepneys appear to run particular routes between preset locations which are written on the side of the vehicle. My problem was I didn’t know what or where the places listed were, so it was sort of hard to know what jeepney to get on or when it would be leaving.
Jeepneys fill the role that intercity buses or subways would fit in the US. The difference is that there are a LOT more jeepneys than buses and they are used by a larger percentage of the population. Unlike the American taxis, jeepneys do not appear to be artificially limited by regulation. For example, in New York City, to own a taxi you have to have a taxi medallion which is purchased via auction. The number of medallions is set by the city and is artificially kept low. It is basic supply and demand. If you artificially reduce the supply, the price will increase. The number of taxi medallions in New York today is actually lower than what it was in 1937 (by 1,200 or about 10%). The cost of a medallion today is over $200,000 in an auction. The cost gets passed on to New Yorkers in the form of higher transportation fares.
The cost of a trip on a jeepney is 7 pesos. (less than $0.25) and there is no real barrier to entry if you want to drive a jeepney. There are some rules. You have to register and drive a regular route and have a special drivers license. However the supply of jeepneys are not restricted. Hence, there are a lot of them and they provide low cost transportation. (I should also note that jeepneys are very dirty. Almost all the ones I saw belched black smoke. I don’t think there are any regulations regarding emissions in the Philippines.)
While jeepneys aren’t luxury vehicles, their owners take a great deal of pride. Because of my lack of knowledge about Manila, I didn’t take any jeepneys there, but I did manage to take a look inside of several and talk to a few drivers while walking around the city. Some have small televisions installed in the back for riders. Almost all are decked out with some sort of elaborate painting and are named. Most names tend to have a religious theme or are named after women.
The customization can get really elaborate. REALLY elaborate. The closest thing I can think of are lowriders. You will see all sorts of lights, hood ornaments, paint jobs, chrome finishes and other doodads on jeepneys.
Between cities, you usually have to take a bus. It took me a while to figure out the bus system, but eventually I did and it wasn’t that hard. The buses, like the jeepneys are privately owned. Unlike the jeepneys, they tend to be owned by companies who run a fleet rather than owner operated buses. All the buses I road on (and I probably spent close to 24 hours on Filipino buses) were older and I noticed that none had a working spedometer. That really didn’t matter because it would be next to impossible to go very fast on Filipino roads.
The buses were also cheap. I could take an 8 hour bus trip for about $6-7. An equivalent trip in the US would probably cost 5-10x that amount depending on the route.
Taking a Filipino bus is different in several ways from taking a Greyhound. For starters, there is a conductor who rides on the bus in addition to the driver. The bus will stop and pick up passengers at any point on the road. People get on and then pay the conductor who issues the ticket as the bus is moving. Also, the bus will sometimes stop and pick up mail. People will give a package to the conductor or driver with about 20 pesos. Someone will have to be waiting for the bus, pull it over and show ID to get the package.
Every so often you would see private bus stations along the side of the road. They would often have restrooms you had to pay for. (One restroom I saw charged you on the basis of what you did. 1 peso for number 1, 2 pesos for going number 2). The bus stops seemed to have cut deals with certain bus lines as you would only see certain companies at certain bus stops. They would sell actual cooked meals in addition to a limited selection of snacks.
What was really unique were the bus vendors. Every so often, in cities or at intersections, the bus would open the doors and let food vendors in the bus. They would walk up and down the isle for few minutes and get dropped off a few miles down the road, where they would get on another bus going the other way. The most popular thing to sell were chicharon, or pork rinds. The vendors would have a giant plasitic bag of smaller bags of pork rinds. I also saw vendors selling a wide variety of foods, including hamburgers, fried chicken, sandwiches, peanuts, and some things I had no clue what it was because I didn’t speak tagalog and I couldn’t see inside the package.
The political sytem is the Philippines is pretty much a disaster (more on that later). Rather than suffer a lack of publicly funded transportation, the people of the Philippines have created a system which is affordable, works, and is run by themselves. I developed an odd sort of affinty for it, which is one of the reasons I bothered to write this.
…that and I wanted an excuse to post photos of tricked out jeepneys.
I like big things. Big buildings. Big bridges. Big boats. One of my favorite places in the world is the St. Louis Arch. It is neat to be able to stand directly under something 600 feet talk.
Taipei 101 is one of those big, neat places.
In most major cities, you will see a skyline of big building and one of those buildings will be larger than the others. Taiwan really has no skyline to speak of. Due to earthquakes, the buildings in Taiwan have never been much larger than, say, 12 stories. Taiwan has spread out and has never really felt a lot of need to spread up.
Major cities of the world have something iconic about them. Some sort of stereotypical photo which is shown every time that city is in the news. New York has the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building. Los Angles has the Hollywood sign. San Francisco has the Golden Gate Bridge. Paris has the Eiffel Tower. London has Big Ben. Sydney has the Opera House. You get the idea….
Taipei had nothing.
The decision to build Taipei 101 really wasn’t because of a desperate need for office and retail space. It was to create something iconic for Taipei. I think they succeeded.
For starters, Taipei 101 was designed to be the tallest building in the world. It took the title away from the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The act of having the tallest building in the world is something which up and coming nations tend to compete for because it is a (relatively) cheap way to get some instant credibility. The US did it in the 1930s with the Chrysler tower in New York and the Empire State Building. Chicago did it to take the title away from New York with the Sears Tower. Malaysia did it. Taiwan did it. Soon Dubai will do it.
(Actually, there is a great deal of debate as to what building is the tallest. If you go by the top floor, the Sears Tower is the tallest. If you go to the top of the antenna, the Sears Tower is the tallest. If you go by the top architectural spire, then Taipei 101 is the tallest. All of this will be moot in two year.)
Records my come and go, but what really matters to an iconic building is how it looks. The Golden Gate Bridge isn’t the largest building the world, but it still is among the most beautiful. Taipei 101 was designed to look like a stalk of bamboo. Personally, I think it looks like eight boxes of Chinese food takeout stacked on one another. If you look closely, you will see I’m right.
It is also unique among large buildings in that there is nothing even remotely close in height to it in Taipei. It is this giant tower standing out in the middle of much smaller buildings. Some people have taken it to be a giant middle finger extended to China. They might be right….
The reason why Taipei 101 was able to be built was due to advancements in engineering which made tall buildings in earthquake areas possible. The most visible engineering addition is the large mass dampening ball at the top. The ball has large hydraulic legs underneath which will move the ball counter to movements in the building caused by wind or earthquake. In theory, the building should be able to withstand 130 mph winds and a once every 2,500-year earthquake.
The elevator to the observation deck in Taipei 101 is also the fastest elevator in the world. It is really impressive actually. The elevator moves at 38 mph straight up and can go to the top in 37 seconds. It is so fast, you can feel the pressure in your ears change as you go up.
The observation deck gives you a great view of Taipei. I stayed up on top for about 90 minutes and watched the sun set. (or as much as you could see given how overcast it has been here). They have all the normal tourist stuff you’d expect, including a cafe, souvenir shop, etc. For an extra US$3 you can take the stairs up another two stories and check out the outdoor observation deck. The bars on the outdoor observation deck really takes away from the experience, but it is still pretty cool to feel the wind whip around at over 1,000 feet. You are also right below the spire which at night is lit up like a Christmas tree.
At the foot of 101 is a very large, high end mall. Probably the largest in Taipei based on what I’ve seen. It is full of luxury stores, nice restaurants and the largest English language bookstore I’ve seen since I’ve been in Auckland. I had dinner at a Chinese restaurant in Taipei 101 with Aaron Mowrey, a former debate coach I knew in Minnesota who is taking classes in Taipei. He is the first person I’ve seen in seven months who I knew before my trip started.
I should also note that Taipei 101 has already, unofficially been surpassed as the tallest building in the world. In July, the Burj Dubai passed Taipei 101 and just recently it passed the CN Tower to be the tallest structure in the world. By the time it is done, it will be the tallest structure of any type, surpassing even the KVLY-TV tower in Fargo, North Dakota. By the time I reach Dubai, I should be able to write another post about the tallest building in the world.
There are some cities in the world which can only be described as great cities. Cities where you can walk around all day and never cease finding good street food, restaurants, parks and shops. The people are nice and the streets are clean.
Baguio is such a city.
I probably spent too long in Manila. Once you’ve seen the Intramuros, there isn’t a whole lot there to see. The Mall of Asia was interesting, but I think my stay was probably about 2-3 days too long. Most of that is accounted for my by confusion over the Filipino transportation system. (More on that later)
It is a shame that the entry point into the Philippines is Manila, because Manila is the least desirable place I visited in the Philippines. Once you leave the city, things and people become much nicer.
Through asking on the internet and people in the hotel, I eventually figured out exactly what I needed to do to get to Baguio. I would go to Baguio and use that to get to Vigan and Banaue rather than going directly from Manila to Banaue. It takes more time, but it was worth it.
Baguio is up in the hills. It is sort of considered the summer retreat of wealthy Filipinos because the temperature is usually about 10F cooler there than it is in the rest of the country. In fact, the Filipino equivalent of the summer White House is located in Baguio.
Unlike most of the cities in the Philippines, Baguio is a city founded during the American occupation, not the Spanish, so it lacks many of the Latin features you see on other places. The city is also much cleaner than any other city I’ve seen in the Philippines. For starters, there is green space. There is a large park in the middle of the city with a lake. It almost reminds me of Central Park in New York. (In fact, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if that was the model for the park). You can rent a boat in the lake, you can rent bikes in the park, and there are tons of food vendors around the park and in the downtown area.
Baguio is also a college town. It is the only place in the Philippines where I saw students studying at restaurants between classes.
Getting from Baguio to Banaue was much harder that you’d think just looking at the map. As the crow flies, it is about 50 miles. The bus trip, however, is eight hours. This is partly a function of having to drive around the mountains and part a function of the roads being less than stellar. (I did not travel in a single bus that had a working speedometer. I’d guess that we were moving at about 40-50mph most of the time).
I wasn’t really certain where to get off. Baguio is a big city of about 250,000. Banaue is about 1/10 the size and it is all stretched out along a road for miles. There doesn’t seem to be a city center of any sort. The bus eventually stopped in front of the Banaue Hotel and Youth Hostel and everyone on the bus pretty much mentioned to me that this is where I was supposed to get off. The hotel itself seemed way over staffed. Maybe it was just the wrong season for tourists or it could be the fact that it was a government run hotel opened during the Marcos era. I dunno.
When you first see the rice terraces in Banaue, it is pretty stunning. I saw some modest terracing going into Baguio, but nothing remotely approaching this. The people of Ifugao (the province where Banaue is located) have been terracing the sides of the mountains here for over one thousand years. The tourist brochures you see for the province go out of the way to point out that the rice terraces, unlike the pyramids or other great structures, were made by the people who lived there for their own benefit, not by slave labor. Moreover, unlike the other great wonders of the world, the rice terraces are still in use according to their original function.
The rice terraces are also not just located in Banaue proper but are spread out for miles. To view some of the more remote terraces can take an entire day of driving and hiking. Due to time constraints and weather, I decided to stick close to Banaue. Knowing that I had to spend a day on the bus going back, a day going to Vigan and a day to get back to Manila, I figured more days driving around in a jeepney wasn’t worth seeing an extra terrace.
The day after I arrived, I walked down to the village which was directly below the hotel. A girl met me on the steps and followed me around, offering to be my guide through the village. I figured “why not” and she showed me what there was to see. There was one old man who wanted me to pay 200 pesos to see the skeleton of his grandfather he had kept in a burlap sack in the closet. I passed. Seeing a dead body really wasn’t something I had in mind when I set out that morning to take photos of rice terraces.
The hotel described the village as an authentic Ifugao village, however, the only thing that seemed authentic about it was that a few huts were up on stilts. Everything else about it seemed just like every other Filipino village I’ve seen, except for the fact that it was off the road near the bottom of a valley.
The girl eventually took me down to the bottom of the terrace into one of the actual rice paddies. To see it close up gives you an idea for just how difficult and time-consuming it must have been for people without any modern tools to sculpt the sides of mountains. I don’t know how long it would take to make a single level of a terrace but it would least have to be a year of clearing brush, moving stone and earth and creating the barriers to hold in the water. I’m also not sure how they manage to keep the walls of the terrace from breaking if they get too much rain. It would seem that a really bad rainstorm could potentially destroy everything. Some terraces probably had as many as fifty levels and they would extend in either direction for sometimes over a mile.
The next day I rented a jeepney to go to some of the better lookout spots around Banaue to take photos.
I was impressed with what I saw around the hotel but was blown away when I got to some of the better locations. It was raining during most of my stay, so while the photos may not have been the best, I got to see some of the streams and waterfalls going at full blast.
During the bus ride into Banaue, large stretches of the road for almost the entire trip was take up by people drying rice. They would spread the rice out over large plastic sheets, or sometimes just on the bare pavement, and constantly turn over the rice with a flat shovel to dry it out. It seemed like every square inch of flat, paved surface in most villages was taken over by rice. Basketball courts, schoolyards, and walking paths were all covered with rice. I was told that most of the Philippines have three rice harvests per year, but in Banaue, they only have one. Usually in March. I assume this is due to the climate up in the hills vs lowland regions.
UNESCO has the rice terraces listed as an endangered World Heritage Area. The terraces themselves are not in danger, however, the construction of shanties around Banaue is starting to take away from the beauty of the area.
The rice terraces of Banaue are what I’d call one of the Secret Wonders of the World. Like Nan Modal I visited earlier, they are impressive human accomplishments created by pre-modern people, that almost no one has ever heard of. You can’t just go Banaue. It takes some effort. There are no airports anywhere nearby and the only way there is overland.
If you bother to make the trip it is well worth 20 hours of bus time.
Man. I’m way behind on posting, but it for a good reason.
In the last two days I’ve seen Taiwanese rocket launchers, riot police, almost been crushed in a crowd at a fireworks celebration, rode the fastest elevator in the world. was on top of the tallest building in the world. had great Chinese food, and I’m still going to the night market and snake alley tonight.
I’ve pretty much figured out the Taipei transportation system, which is making getting around really easy.
I’ve spent the last two days in Taipei doing nothing. I’ve been making use of the wireless connection catching up on podcasts, downloading episodes of TV shows I’ve missed (Heroes and Entourage). I like the hostel I’m staying at, it is cheap and the neighborhood is nice. I might stay a few days longer. I still need to do some laundry and buy a few odds and ends.
I’ve also taken the time to upgrade and fix some things with my website. In particular, my map. I attempted to integrate a map when I first launched the site, but it really didn’t work that well. Integrating Google maps into my site was really a kludge. The few WordPress plugins that existed weren’t very good and I eventually gave up on maintaining it.
Since then, Google has enabled embedded maps and also allowed for Google Earth files to be displayed in Google Maps. This is the result:
View Larger Map
Red lines are where I’ve been. Green lines are where I’m going. You can click on pins to see photos and links.
It isn’t perfect. You might need to move the map a bit to see some of the paths and pins. I’ve been keeping a KMZ file for Google Earth and I need to go back and make some changes to have photos fit inside of Google Maps. However, I can just keep updating the same Google Earth file now to keep the map updated (in theory). I have a permanent link to the map now in the menu on the left.
If you haven’t seen the map in Google Earth before, this should give you a sense of scale of where I’ve been so far on the trip.
When I came up with the idea of writing about McDonald’s around the world, the idea was to compare how various restaurants differ based on how their countries differ. During my trip through the Pacific, there wasn’t a lot to set the various restaurants apart.
The Philippines is the fist place where I’ve noticed some substantial variation in the menu compared to what you might see in the US.
For starters, rice is the primary accompaniment. Every meal comes with rice and the rice is packaged in small, consistently shaped conical mounds. You can get fries, but they are secondary to rice. McDonald’s in the Philippines also sells a lot more fried chicken that I’ve seen anywhere else. They call it Chicken McDo. I had breakfast at one McDonald’s in Manila and had corned beef and rice. I have also seen McSpaghetti on the menu.
If you do buy a normal American type meal of a burger, fries and a drink, you’ll immediately notice that the portions are significantly smaller. If you up-size your drink and fries, you still will get a portion as small or smaller than the smallest size you can get in the US. If you are old enough to remember eating fast food in the 70s or 80s, you used to get small, paper packages for fries. That is pretty much the size you get in the Philippines. The “large” drink is the size you’d get in a small plastic beer cup at a party. In addition to cutting back on portions, you will often (but not always) find non-disposable silverware and cups.
The prices here are also the lowest I’ve seen so far. You can get a regular sized burger value (Big Mac, Quarter Pounder, Double Cheeseburger) meal for 99 Pesos, which is about $2.15. Part of that can be explained by the smaller portion sizes, but it is mostly a reflection of lower Filipino prices. I wasn’t able to find out anything regarding where the food is from. I suspect the rice and chicken is from the Philippines but the beef is not.
All of the fast food restaurants in Manila delivered. You’ll see a small fleet of scooters with an insulated box on the back outside each restaurant. I saw several signs which still offer the old Domino’s deal: 30 min or the food is free. They all also seemed to have the good phone numbers. Shakey’s will deliver if you dial 7777777. KFC is 911-11-11 (a number most Americans would be hesitant to dial).
McDonald’s, however, is not the interesting fast food story in the Philippines, however. It is Jollibees.
Jollibees is the largest fast food chain in the Philippines and is Filipino owned. They also have stores in several other countries including twelve in California and Las Vegas. They are probably the only Filipino brand which has any presence outside of the Philippines. Jollibees has over 600 locations across the Philippines, Hong Kong and the US. In the Philippines, they did things I haven’t seen anywhere else. Because public infrastructure is so poor, I saw several scenic overlooks along highways sponsored by Jollibees. Everywhere there was a McDonald’s you’d find a Jollibee, but you would find Jollibee in places you wouldn’t find a McDonald’s.
I made one trip to a Jollibees and ordered a hamburger. It was one of the worst hamburgers I have ever had. Eating a hamburger isn’t usually something you even think about. You don’t often go into a fast food restaurant and think anything, good or bad, about what you’re eating. This, however, was bland and tasteless. I would swear the patty was boiled. I looked around the restaurant and noticed I was the only one eating a hamburger. Everyone else was eating chicken or spaghetti. They probably knew something I didn’t.
I also haven’t been able to write much about local foods on my trip. (See my previous post on the lack of a cuisine in the Pacific) The Philippines is also the first chance I’ve gotten to really experience some local foods and street food. One dish I ate (while writing most of this post) was called “Kare Kare de Pata’t Buntot”. It was a beef dish in a peanut sauce, served on rice with a side sauce…and I’m not sure what the sauce was made out of. It was really more of a paste than a sacue. It was really good and very rich. There were also large pieces of the beef fat in the dish. It was not at all spicy, like all the Filipino food I’ve had so far.
In my hotel in Makati, they had a breakfast dish made out of pork. I have no clue what the name of the dish is, but the pork was a bright pink color from the sauce and was sweet. It wasn’t as sweet as sweet and sour pork, but it also wave very good.
In Banaue, I ordered a local Ifague dish of crispy pork knuckle. There really wasn’t much too it. It was a big hunk of pork with bones which was fried served with soy sauce and rice. The best part of it was the friend skin of the pig.
In VIgan I had a dish fried pork belly. It came with a side sauce that was probably be best thing I’ve had on my trip so far. I don’t know the name of it, but it was clearly based on soy sauce, but with a lot more to it. I asked was it was and I was only told it was a “fish sauce”.
The street vendors were also much greater than anything I’ve experienced so far. You could walk out on a major street and see people roasting whole chickens. In Bagiuo there was a block it seemed of nothing but roasted chicken vendors. In Puerto Princessa, I saw someone serving an entire roasted pig, with the pigs head displayed prominently on the cart. I also got to experience the bus vendors, but I will write about that more when I post about my experiences with the Philippines transportation system.
Given the number of Filipinos in the US, I’m surprised you don’t see more Filipino restaurants. I think more Americans would have no problem with Filipino cooking, even if they didn’t like Asian food in general. Nothing I experienced was very spicy and they don’t use chopsticks.
Taiwan is the first country on my trip which I’ve previously visited.
I was here in January of 1999 for business (I circumnavigated the globe in three weeks on that trip). During my week in Taipei I didn’t get to see much and what I did see was only at night. It was also the first time in my life I was outside of North America. I remember landing in the Chang Kai Sheck and being in total culture shock. Everything was in Chinese and I had never experienced anything like it. Had the company not arranged for me to get picked up at the airport, I probably would have flipped out. This time, it went much smoother.
Taiwan is also the first stop on my trip that isn’t really a European influenced country. In much of the world, if you can understand the Roman alphabet, you can sort of get by. You can figure out what words mean sometimes by knowing a similar word in english. Sometimes a word will be written in english. Even if you don’t know what a word means, you and probably pronounce it or at least make a good guess.
With Chinese characters, however, that is all out the window. It is completely unknown to me. It is hard to even hand copy something down to show a cab driver, Not knowing the characters is an order of magnitude more difficult than just not knowing the language.
The highlight of my previous trip to Taiwan was the night market. It is touristy, but I intend on going back as soon as I can. I have one particular objective in mind :)
Also, since I was last here, they have completed construction of 101 Taipei; currently the tallest building in the world. I want to go up to the observation deck if for no other reason than to ride on the world’s fastest elevator. In fact, everything here looks different. Newer. Cleaner.