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Monday, December 27, 2010

Taipei Continued

This post will encompass Tom and I's stay in Taipei.  It began with a few days of vacation, which was then followed by 10 days of training.  For obvious reasons, the pictures mostly come from the vacation part!

The day after Tom arrived, we met up with Heather again and headed out to Danshue.  Danshue is a suburb of Taipei that is a fishing town.  It has a nice area where you can visit shops along the water.  Sort of like Venice Beach, but without all the....crazies.  Well, without most of the crazies.  It's a town with a lot of culture, and supposedly, a lot of good snacks.  People describe Tainan as being both of those too (but moreso).  Anyway, so we got there and walked along the ocean.  We looked at the view (which was only ok, since they were doing construction) and got some snacks from a few shops.  Then, we came across this costume thing.  So we took a picture!  For once I felt pretty good about my own eyebrows.

Just after we took this picture and started walking on, we were startled because the costume suddenly stood up, making it muuuuch more imposing and then walked by us!  He was dancing too.

Then we looked behind us and saw more of them coming.  I know pictures don't do justice, but they were really quite large and quite unnerving.  And again, they were dancing.  Or dance marching.

So we took more pictures with them! (Ignore the finger in the corner)

They all came to this point, turned walked into that covered area and then onto the stage that you see in the center of the picture if you blow it up.

We sat down and watched the show from here.

This is what the area looked like.

Later that day we went to this little waterpark.  The next day, I believe we went to the zoo.  The zoo was great!  It was in a really pretty area with very lush vegetation.  It was also very well manicure, which is a sharp contrast to all the zoos I've been to in the last few years.  My favorite parts were probably the pandas and the fact that orchids were growing out of the tree trunks.  The pandas were surprisingly fascinating.  It was very interesting to see these big bulky animals that were completely docile and eating bamboo.

At one point we went back to the CKS memorial to show Tom and we tried to go to the temple (but Tom forgot his recommend).  That's about all I remember.  Then, training began!  It was miserable.  We stayed in a shabby hotel (which I'm not complaining about - it was free) and everyday we would walk with the rest of the trainees to the Hess Headquarters skyscraper about endure training from 9 - 6 or something. I can't remember the exact hours.  The training style just wasn't really my favorite.  It was like EFY, except we were all adults and we were training for a job.  Oh, and it was longer.  Plenty more to say on that, but I'll skip it since this is a public blog.  The only pictures I have from those days are of the view from our window at the hotel.

Taiwanese people looooove plants and they are everywhere you look.  A loooot of the balconies look like this one with plants overflowing off the ledge.  There are also plants lining every sidewalk.  They aren't owned by the city, but by the shopkeepers and residents.  I think it's great.

And that covers Taipei!  Next up is probably the Moon Festival.  

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Taiwan Pre-Tom

This post will be another catch up post.  Luckily, we've finally made it to Taiwan, now that Tom and I have been here for 4 months!  

So, a lot was happening at once when I first got to Taiwan.  Tom and I had just gotten married 18 days earlier, my two sisters were both having babies and I was flying to Taiwan all by myself while my poor husband was, instead, flying to Seattle to take the BAR exam.  This is going to be a LONG post partly because I want to have this all down for my own records, so be prepared.  Here's the timeline of those first few days.  PST is Pacific Standard Time, T is time in Taiwan, CST is Central Standard Time and EST is Eastern Standard Time:

Monday, July 26th : 

- I fly out of Tulsa, OK at 10:45 am (CST) (I will flew first to Detroit, in the opposite direction, for a layover, then to Tokyo, then to Taiwan.  The total duration was about 22 hours)
- Tom flies out of Tulsa a few hours later (not sure what time) and arrives in Seattle sometime that evening.

Tuesday, July 27th:

- I arrive in Taipei at roughly 9:30 pm (T) /  6:30 am (PST) 
- As I was walking into the hostel (maybe 11 pm (T) / 8 am (PST)) Tom was walking into the testing center
- As I was going to bed (maybe 11pm (T) / 8 am (PST)) he was starting his test
- As I slept, Sarah had her baby (PST - 9:30am)

Wednesday, July 28th:

- Tom got home from the test just before I left the hostel for the day and we got to skype for like 5 minutes ( 11am (T) / 8 pm (PST) )
- I spent the day exploring Taipei!
- I went to bed and Tom started test day #2

Thursday, July 29th:
- Emily had her baby at 8:46 am (T) / 8:46 pm on Wednesday (EST)
- Tom and I got to quickly skype again, for the last time, after his test and before I went out for the day
- Explored more of Taiwan!
- While I was sleeping (3 am T / 12 pm PST) Tom finished the test
- Also while I was sleeping, Tom's flight took off (5 am T / 2 pm PST)

Friday, July 30th:
- I woke up knowing Tom was on his way
- I did some mandatory things for HESS (who I work for) and hung out with my friend Heather
- Tom arrived at the hostel at roughly 10:30 (T)
- We put down his things and went to a night market!  Got home at like 2 am or something and went to bed!

So, I hope you can elicit from this that there was a lot going on and it was a very strange situation all around.  I hope you can also get the feel of how all over the place my brain was having to calculate all these things in different time zones and try to do my thing in Taiwan while my husband was taking this BRUTAL test half the world away and my sisters were having CHILDREN.  

Now onto the details about what I was doing this whole time.  With pictures of course!  So, I stayed at STAR Hostel .  As you can see if you go to the link, it's VERY cheap and yet, somehow, VERY nice.  Highly recommended.  When we booked, it was brand new so there were not yet pictures or reviews on the website, but it was cheap and available, so we booked.  Walking in the doors and seeing how clean and nice it was, was a great first impression of Taiwan.  The staff was VERY friendly and helpful and it looked like an IKEA showroom.  They even offered a decent breakfast in the morning.  Best of all, for the first night or two I had my own room.  Come friday night, though, it was full.

The view from my room at the hostel.

The bed I put my stuff on the first night or two.  So hard to fit it anywhere once the beds were filled.

My bed (s) .
The morning after I arrived (Wednesday, the 28th)  I set on by myself into the city.  I had no set plan, but had marked some potentially interesting things on my map and taken down some important information about a few sites on my notepad.  I ended up going to a beautiful park, called Peace Park, a Fine Arts Museum, the National Chiang Kai Shek Memorial and then to the LDS temple in Taipei.  I didn't actually go inside the temple, just walked around on the grounds and took a small nap on a couch in the foyer of the stake center (meetinghouse) next door.  After the temple, I just got myself a subway sandwich and relaxed at the hostel for the evening.

Some MRT (Taiepi Metro) stop.
Peace Park

Peace Park

Also Peace Park.  This are looked odd to me at the time, but is very familiar now because almost all parks have an area like this.  The area has a hard dirt ground, lots of beautiful swaying trees and lots of places to sit.  Usually there are older people exercising.  Sometimes they do tai chi, sometimes ballroom dancing, sometimes they just hit themselves (I think to loosen their muscles or something).  It's a great area to people watch or read and I did both.

Chiang Kai Shek Memorial.  In 1949 Chiang Kai Shek and 2 million of his followers (whose decendents make up about 12% of the population now) moved to Taiwan after being defeated in mainland China.  They planned to recoup and return to take over in mainland China, but never did.  CKS and/or his party ruled Taiwan under martial law until 1987.  The first opposition party was created in 1986 and Taiwan became democratic shortly thereafter.  Chiang Kai Shek is viewed with mixed feelings.  He improved a lot of things, like infrastructure and economics, but was a meanie.

I was inside the memorial when these soldiers surprised me by coming out of the elevator and marching full speed toward me.  I kept trying to get out of their way, but they kept turning at the same places I did.

The memorial had a museum inside it.  One part was dedicated to the life of  CKH and the other part was beautiful Chinese paintings, like this one.

This is just the top part of the memorial, where the lincoln memorial style statue of him is.  It sits on top of a much larger structure.

View from the memorial.

Steps up to the memorial.  National Opera Houses flanking the pathway.  There are  also gardens surrounding the perimeter.

The man.

This was a building I passed as I walked from the Memorial to the temple (which is right down the street).  I liked that there was a Buddha sitting on top.

In case you couldn't tell, the temple is very much sandwiched in between the rest of the city buildings.  Once you get on the grounds though, it feels just as removed as any temple does.  Amazing.
The next day, I went to the National Palace Museum and then to the Sun Yat Sen Memorial.  I'm sure there were other things I did too, but those were the main two and the only two I remember.  I can't even remember which one I went to first, but I do remember a great experience on the way to the NPM.  I was waiting for the bus that goes to it and there was just one other person at the stop.  He was older, was dressed in a very distinguished suit and looked quite anxious for his bus to arrive.  He kept checking the bus stop sign and looking down the road.  I was doing the same thing because I wasn't entirely sure I was at the right stop, but was in no hurry.  I had already been at the stop for 15 or 30 minutes even though the bus was supposed to come every 10.  After a while, the man asked me (in decent English) whether I was going to the NPM (which surprised me a little, but I guess that's probably the only reason a tourist would be at that stop).  He said he was too and that he needed to get there quickly and asked if I'd like to share a cab.  I normally would never do such a thing, but it was broad daylight in one of the least crime ridden countries in the world, he looked like someone who really would work at a museum and seemed nice, and I really wasn't sure my bus would ever come.  Plus, he was older and not very big and it looked like I could take him, so I said ok.  On the way, he told me that he'd just come from a trip to DC where he'd been researching at the Library of Congress for a few weeks.  He's an art history researcher and he was late for a meeting at the NPM where he works as a researcher.  This was his first day back.  He gave me his business card and told me to call him later in the day for a free tour of the Museum!  I know how this sounds, but I swear he wasn't a creeper.  Also, if you ever go to Taiwan you'll find that people are just like this.  They are SO nice and always bend over backward to help you out (especially if you're a foreigner).  Also, they are very proud of their country and like showing it off and he kept telling me all about how great the NPM is.  He paid for the taxi too!  Anyway, unfortunately I never got to take him up on his offer because I didn't have a phone and when I tried to ask the people at the museum if I could use theirs they couldn't understand me.  Oh well.

Also, let me just explain a little about the museum.  It's in a bit of a suburb of Taipei and set in beautiful green mountains.  The building is beautiful and the whole scene is breathtaking.  It came to be because when CKS and his followers left China, they took some of the most valuable art from the Palace Museum, which is located in the Forbidden City in China, with them.  It's one of the best museums in the world.  The grounds also include gardens.

Gate at the entrance

The main building

Lions statues like this are common in Taiwan.

Garden area.

Had to stop and take a pic of a dragonfly, as usual.

The next pictures are all from the Sun Yat Sen Memorial.  He was the first President of the Republic of China, which used to include mainland China, but now only includes Taiwan.  He co-founded the KMT party, which is the same one that moved with Chiang Kai Shek to Taiwan.  He is seen as the Father of the Nation because Taiwan is now the Republic of China.  Does that make sense?

These guards flanked his statue and looked fake.

Very similar to the one of CKS.

There was apparently something going on because there were dance groups like this ALL around the building.  Fun to watch.

Not quite as attractive of a building.  Huge grounds though.

This interesting mural was on the wall surrounding the memorial.  Though it would be a neat picture with Taipei 101 behind it.

Park on the grounds.  Stones like this are all over Taiwan.

Another Sun Yat Sen statue.  This one was at the park area.
The next day I had to meet up with the HESS training group.  First, we went on a little bus tour and stopped at the CKS memorial.  Since I'd already been I just took this picture of the gates at the entrance.  Then we went to a cool temple and ate lunch at a pretty good restaurant.  Finally, we did our mandatory medical check at the hospital.  Maybe I'll make a post someday about health care in Taiwan because it's amazing.

This temple is adjacent to the HESS headquarters.  Temples like this are ALL over in Tainan, where we live.

Here's what it looks like inside.  There's idols, offerings, incense and usually a lot of red.

Those tables have offerings all over them.  People brings them and offer them to the gods and to their ancestors.  Don't quote me on any of this.

Burning incense.  

More incense burning.  They are facing the inside area with the idols.

After the hospital I went out to dinner with Heather, who also works for HESS and who lives in Hsinchu.  She took the train to Taipei so we could hang out.  The place we went to was a "hot pot" place.  Basically, it's like fondue.  You dip all kinds of things like meat, vegetables, fish balls, dumplings, etc. into really hot liquidy sauce.  It's really good!  But beware because the shrimp and other seafood still has eyes and antenna!  It was great though and really good to see Heather.

When Tom came, he was hungry, so we took a taxi to this great night market.  I'll make a whole post on night markets, but basically people set up all these little stands with food, clothes and other nicknacks and sell them!  They are only open at night and usually quite late.  This one seemed to be wrapping up when we got there around 1.  There was still plenty for Tom to eat though.  Then we took a loooong walk all the way home in the middle of the night!  It look like an hour, but was just what we needed after not seeing each other for a few days.

Stay tuned for the rest of Taipei, which will be much shorter!