Friday, December 22, 2017

I Survived Taiwan

Last week, the four of us took off for Taiwan for a short holiday. I'll be honest. I've resisted going to Taiwan for a very long time. Every time anyone says "let's go Taiwan", I'll say no. I was very firm about that. I'm not into Taiwanese food and I've not read anything about Taiwan that interests me. Plus you know, it's a Mandarin speaking country.

Well, my girl was in the middle of preparing for her GCE 'A' levels and freaking out and stressed ever so often. One day she suddenly said she wanted to go to Taiwan. I asked myself if I should support her decision and in the end I decided I would make the sacrifice hoping that having the December holiday to look forward to would motivate my daughter to work hard for her exams. Anyway, whatever my motivations, we were committed and once we had booked out hotel and flight, there was no turning back. And yes, we dragged our reluctant son along.

My daughter was very enthusiastic about the trip. She cannot remember much of her previous trips overseas when she was younger. (so leave your young kids at home when you travel!)

I read that Taiwan isn't very cold in December so I wore the same stuff I wore in Hong Kong.

We flew via budget airline Scoot this time because every expense is times 4. We skipped the food because I read that the food is rather dreadful. I was quite apprehensive about Scoot and read up beforehand. Lots of horror stories but Scoot did not check our bags for food. One traveller brought a container of food and ate it on the flight. Most people bring empty bottles and they fill up with water from a water cooler at the gate. So much for no liquid allowed on flights...

Hubs and I got good seats with plenty of legroom but my kids had their good seats hijacked by a family who wanted to "sit together".  They were moved two rows down. I did not raise a fuss because you know, David Dao.

The flight to Taiwan was horrible - lots of turbulence. I took my Novomin so I didn't have any problems. Scoot seats are designed to torture. My neck and back hurt like crazy. Then I discovered our seats weren't that great after all. The heat from an engine was directed at my seat. So I ended up with a hot ass.

We reached Taiwan Taoyuan Airport around 10:45am. Our first stop at the airport was to get a 5-day unlimited data sim card for my daughter because she was going to be one of our navigators. There were 3 operators to choose from and all had the same price(NT$500) so hubs went for the one without any queue. We also have a wifi router from Changi Recommends for hubs, my son and I to share. This was not expensive and it cost us around SGD22 for 5 days. Next we went to a Taoyuan Express Train counter, also in the airport terminal and we bought 4 Easycards which you use to pay for travelling on the mrt and bus. We went in search of the Taoyuan Airport MRT which took us all the way to Taipei Main station. By the way, there are two Airport MRT trains - one is a Commuter train which stops at every station on the route while the Express train has fewer stops. Yes, we boarded the right train. It took around 35min to reach Taipei Main station.

I don't remember if I have mentioned this to you before. Singapore MRT has been having breakdowns, train delays ever so often.  2 staff were hit by a train and there was one flood incident. The last major incident was a collision between two trains. People were injured but no one was killed. Anyway, one of the measures to improve the MRT is the Taipei Metro experts have been invited to come to Singapore to do a review of the MRT and tell us why it sucks.

So I was very excited to experience Taipei Metro for myself to see how good it is! There were no train delays! Peak hours - a MRT staff helps to push commuters into the train! Ha ha. In Singapore people complain when the trains are crowded. Wait till they get shoved in!

Where was I? Oh yes, our hotel was Diary of Ximen which is near Ximen MRT. This was not our first choice. We had wanted Diary of Taipei which is right in front of a Ximen MRT exit but it was not available. The area our hotel is in is called Ximending which is a pretty hot place. It was drizzling when we came out of Ximen station. We had to walk a short distance to our hotel. Our check-in time was 3pm so we could only leave our luggage at the reception and the staff allowed us to grab some drinks and bread from the cafeteria. Remember we hadn't anything to eat or drink since we left Singapore. After that it was back to the very cold Taipei street. That day it was 15 deg C but the wind, oh the wind. So painful when it touches my skin. My daughter and I wore masks whenever we were out. I really, really cannot stand wind in cold weather.

We walked to a building near Taipei Main station to meet up with hub's buddy from college - Darren. He is an American married to a Taiwanese and they live in New Taipei city. Darren proceeded to take us on a walkabout of New Taipei city. Finally, he realised we were starving and we went to MOS Burger.

Before I carry on, I just want to rant: In Taipei, it is very hard to find menus in English. I'm very surprised that fast food restaurants don't provide menus in English. Anyway, it was pretty frustrating especially because Taiwan uses traditional Chinese while in Singapore we use simplified Chinese. What's the difference you might ask: a gazillion extra strokes.

Darren brought us to a supermarket and my daughter's first purchase was chewing gum. Yes, this is a child born in a world where chewing gum is banned. So deprived...

We came across a bakery that sold strange horn like bread. I bought one filled with pineapple and it was amazing. The night before we left Taiwan, Darren bought more for me but hubs ate them all!

Darren introduced a waffle ice-cream place to us. The waffle ice-cream was fantastic. Unfortunately, at this point, my kids were exhausted and irritable.

This is Karen, Darren's wife. She gave me some very delicious scones which she had baked herself! I ate all except one which I gave to hubs. I really regretted giving it to him.

We finally parted company with hubs' friends and took a break in our hotel room. We had booked a quadruple room and although it looks small with two double beds, the rooms with one double bed were worse.

The weird part about our hotel bathroom is we weren't supposed to throw tissues into the toilet bowl. Yeah, even for number 2. We worked around it by using plastic bags to bag our soiled tissues. To be honest, this part was pretty gross for me and I started to question the government's competence... I don't know if this "no throwing of tissue in toilet bowl" applies to the whole of Taiwan but isn't it backward? I mean the government operates a very reliable metro system...

When we were out with Karen, she brought me to a public library to use the toilet and ALL the toilets were squat toilets. In Singapore public toilets, most of our toilets are sitting ones with one squat toilet (for old time's sake). But the Taiwan squat toilet was sideways which means when you do your business, you turn to your left or right(depending on where the head of the toilet is and what business you're conducting)instead of facing the back wall. I laughed until I cried because it's so mind boggling.

The area we stayed in - Ximending is a combination of little shops selling accessories, clothing, street food, fast food joints and the bigger brand name shops. Very, very crowded especially because we landed on a Saturday.

my favourite 
Our hotel provided us with breakfast which is mostly Asian fare. There is enough variety to keep you interested for a couple of days. My son, always very irritable in the morning ate bread on Sunday and after that he skipped breakfast. Unlike my Hong Kong trip, my headaches came on Sunday and I felt quite miserable. Travelling with your kids is so much more stressful. I swear this is the last time...

On Sunday, we started our day with a free walking tour organised by Like It Formosa. We did the historic tour which was led by Eugene and Paul. I assumed they were Taiwanese.

The first stop was Longshan temple. My son and I waited outside the temple because we both suffered from sinus and wanted to avoid triggering it. My son had already been sniffling quite badly after landing in Taipei.

After a stop at a drink stall, we went to Bopiliao Historical Block (literally means peeling skin). We walked in on a live shoot. Check out the dude and his t-shirt.

Next stop was a traditional handmade ice-cream stall for a snack. I wasn't very impressed because we have such ice-cream in Singapore. It's called Potong ice-cream. One thing I observed about Taipei is there are very few rubbish bins. You literally have to carry your rubbish in your hands until you find a rubbish bin. Amazingly, Taipei streets are very clean. In Singapore, it's the reverse. We have rubbish bins everywhere yet people keep on littering. If not for the gazillion cleaning crew, our public spaces would be horrific.

Our next stop - the Red House behind which housed a gay hangout. Everything was closed during the day but later that night my kids and I came back to visit the craft market.

And just in case patrons are unaware this is a gay hangout, there are lots of signs...

I was very excited to go to the presidential building. Except we didn't get to enter it. We stood across the building and took some photos. Our guide told us some stories about political protests.

There's a very sad and tragic story behind 228 Peace Memorial Park. 228 stands for February 28 and it refers to a chain of events which happened on that day in 1947. This incident resulted in public uprising, violent suppression by the Nationalist Government and this was followed by White Terror, a suppression of political dissidents and Taiwan was under Martial Law from 19 May 1949 to 15 July 1987. Shocking! Our guides also touched a little bit on the contentious relationship between Taiwan and China. Honestly, listening to their point of view, their sense of helplessness (or hopelessness?) I felt very sad for Taiwan. I'm very glad that Singapore had a very clean break from Malaysia(we were kicked out actually) and therefore there is no talk of who owning whom! Honestly, Malaysia did us a big favour although at the time I believe our leaders were frightened to death that Singapore would not survive.

Our walking tour ended at Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall. Chiang Kai Shek is also a controversial figure but I won't go into that.

We gave our guides some tips (you can also give nothing) and went in search of lunch at YongKang street.

There was a Din Dai Fung but the queue was too long. Instead we lunched at Kao Chi which is also considered famous enough. We ordered their specialty Sheng Jian Bao instead of xiao long pao. They were awful, awful, awful.

One of my favourites in Singapore is pork belly bun. So we ordered some for me. I ate one and it was horrible. There was this vomit inducing taste in the pork. After forcing it down my throat I confessed to hubs I couldn't eat another one. Poor hubs had to eat the rest!

This meal made me realise something. I really dislike Taiwanese food. I'm sorry. No offence. There's no polite way to say it. But there's something smelly which I cannot stomach. Of course I am a very fussy eater, just so you know. The meal made me ill and I couldn't wait to go back to the hotel.

But my daughter had plans. We looked for Smoothie House at YongKang street and there was more than one. We went to the less crowded one further away and I tried mango with crushed ice. I hadn't eaten much rice so I could eat this. It was nice but we sat outdoors and it was cold. So eating ice in that condition was a challenge.

Sunday night ended badly for me. I had a very bad headache and ended up sleeping for a very long time. Hubs went to meet up with his buddy Darren while we all stayed in the hotel. Finally when I woke up, me and the kids went out to explore Ximending. My daughter is very good at navigating. She brought us to MacDonald's. By chance, we walked past a Sugar and Spice booth and we bought nougats and some Taiwanese pastry. What a mistake! I became horribly addicted to the French nougats.

Monday was devoted to LeoFoo Village Theme Park. Getting there was a real pain. We went to a bus-stop next to Jingan MRT and we kept wondering if it was the right bus-stop because the directions said to go to a E-go bus stop. Finally we figured out the operator of the bus was E-go and the bus number was 5350. The bus dropped us off very close to the theme park. I had fearful thoughts when I took a look at the theme park. Firstly, why were there animals in the theme park? Not a whole lot of animals. Just a few random animals. Oh, I almost forgot to mention. Out here at Leofoo village, the wind was a thousand times worse than Taipei. Like killer wind.

Hubs got us to ride this bicycle thingy which is 3 stories high above the ground, very flimsy and balanced on a little metal rail and you ride it around the animals enclosure. I don't have pictures to show you how scary it is but trust me. I screamed all the way and cried and cursed hubs. Hubs laughed all the way and happily took a video of my terror. My kids said they screamed as well so I know it's not just me.

We tried a few more rides, none as traumatic. I chickened out of a couple of rides. Even though I think the theme park is quite pathetic, I'm glad we went because my son, whom we dragged to Taiwan enjoyed a few of the rides.

Plus I got to shoot! I didn't win anything though as I only hit 2 targets. You need 3 to win.

Going back to Taipei was so, so difficult. We waited for bus 5350 and when it finally came, it only picked up a certain number of passengers and we had to wait for the next bus.

In total we waited one hour for our bus. In the open and it was sooooo cold. The wind was relentless. I almost cried when the bus driver allowed us onboard and we laughed our heads off when the driver told the remaining people at the bus stop he couldn't accept any more passengers. The look of confusion and disappointment and terror. Yeah, we already experienced that. Apparently the driver had to leave some seats for other passengers along the route.

Tuesday we had nothing planned so we went to Tim Ho Wan for lunch. The food tasted different from the Singapore branch. (avoid the congee)

I was pretty disappointed at first but I'm so glad we went because it had this you tiao wrapped in chee cheong fun skin which is so delicious. I wish the Singapore branch has this. I'm so jealous.

My son really wanted to eat at Din Dai Fung so we finally went to the branch at Taipei 101 for tea break. We barely waited before we were shown to our table. My son got to eat his fried rice and xiao long bao so he was happy. Unfortunately, the other items he liked such as the duck and prawn pancakes weren't sold in Taiwan. I just want to mention that both Tim Ho Wan and Din Dai Fung have Chinese/English menus. What a relief.

We spent a lot of time hanging out around Taipei 101 and everyone kind of enjoyed ourselves.

We even found a Singapore Toast Box and we had our Singapore style tea there. (first cup of tea in Taiwan)  Actually I had a secret agenda for our stop at Toast Box. I saw a very good looking man having tea with a friend inside and you know, stressed and exhausted, I thought it would be soooo nice to sit next to this gentleman and gaze at the back of his head. It worked! I felt so happy afterwards.

Before going back to the hotel, my daughter wanted to check out Rhaohe night market. I'm not a fan of night market because in Singapore we have night markets and I usually avoid them. Too noisy and nothing but cheap pirated merchandise.
It was raining when we came out of Songshan MRT station. Luckily Rhaohe market is quite small but oh boy, I had no idea what was in stall. Very soon, the stench of certain food stalls hit me. It was so bad I gagged. After a while, I realised that stalls selling pigs organs were the culprit. People had warned me about stinky toufu but I actually smelled it on the first day and it wasn't as offensive. (not that I will dare to eat it) The horrible smell from the pigs organs really ruined my night and hurt my head. I think I committed suicide in my mind every time the smell entered my nose. I was so relieved to leave the place. My son was not too happy either but he really held it in. I know some people eat the stuff and clearly enjoyed it but what can I say? I have a super sensitive nose.

Our Wednesday was devoted to a visit to Shifen and Jiufen. We had booked a shuttle bus via Klook and we booked the noon pick-up because we didn't want to wake up early.

There is only one purpose in going to Shifen - to fly the Sky Lantern. I like the weather - very chilly but no wind. The happening part of Shifen is on both sides of the railway track. At first I thought the track was not in use but a train actually came! People were far too casual about their safety and I saw two tourists just barely climb out of the tracks in time. I'm shocked no one was killed. Our kids wrote their wishes on the paper provided. My daughter asked for good results for her GCE 'A' levels and my son asked for game design skills.

Our driver drove us to Jiufen which is not too far away. He parked his bus at a parking lot, showed us his hand drawn map and told us to walk a short distance to reach Jiufen. When we came out of the bus, it was nightmarish. Firstly, there was a huge rain, plus very strong wind and worst - there were a gazillion other tourists off loaded at the same car park. We followed the crowd and eventually we reach a flight of narrow steep steps.

Once we got on the steps there was no turning back because there was a constant stream of people coming from behind and coming down. After a short while, I couldn't keep up. My chest wanted to burst open so I took a break. My kids had gone on ahead and I was so terrified they would get lost I asked hubs not to stay with me. I told him I would catch up. Eventually I recovered and I walked up the steps again. I climbed and I climbed and my chest kept threatening to burst open and I couldn't find my family. I was hoping they would stop at one of the many tea houses or shops at the side of the steps. Finally I reached the millionth step and outside there was darkness and still no family. I decided to go back down a few flights to take shelter from the rain. I reasoned that they wouldn't leave me behind so I decided to contact them. Remember I share the wifi router which is in my son's pocket? So I sent a text message to hubs and my daughter. There was no reply so I decided to climb back to the millionth step and this time I walked into the darkness. After a while I came to a temple. I looked around and realised I was the only person in the darkness so I ran back to the steps. I was nearly in tears. I took shelter at a Cat's cafe and pondered borrowing a passer-by's phone to contact my family via whatsapp. Then I realised there was a free unsecured wifi. I tapped onto it and managed to send my family my location. My daughter whatsapp/call me back immediately and told me to stay put. After a very long time, they found me. It turned out they had taken shelter very close to the bottom of the steps and I had climbed the million steps for nothing.

Here is the moment I was reunited with my family.

We took shelter at a tea house to recover from my trauma. We were all wet, cold and hungry. Luckily the fried rice and xiao long bao we ordered was not bad otherwise I would cry.

Till today I still suffer from Jiufen PTSD. Just shout Jiufen at me and I will get flashbacks of chest pain, terror and fear of being left behind in Jiufen and having to speak Mandarin for the rest of my life...

After leaving Jiufen for good, hubs and my daughter still managed to have the energy to go out with Darren for another night market visit. I'm really glad that my daughter enjoyed her time in Taiwan and got to eat all the street food. For my son, he enjoyed being in the hotel best and he spent a lot of time watching cable TV. I too enjoyed our time in the hotel where everyone is relaxed. I will cherish the moments because I know it's very unlikely the four of us will travel together again. I know I don't travel well and there were moments when we bickered unnecessarily. I guess that's part and parcel of being together 24/7. One thing I learned is this. I need to be physically fit if I want to travel again.

Our Thursday was devoted to going home. Hubs made it easy for us and booked a car to drive us straight to the airport. Remember wet, rainy Jiufen? Hubs and my girl's shoes were drenched. My girl and I had spare sandals. Hubs did not. His shoes really stank. We kept complaining and poor hubs even took the trouble to look for a place to buy a spare slippers at the airport but failed. But he need not have bothered. Our tiny Scoot plane was filled with far smellier people.

See how happy I am the minute I landed in Singapore. Will I travel to Taiwan again? Not in this lifetime.


Kate said...

Thank you for the tour of Taiwan. A good friend of mine in grad school was an exchange student from there. He brought me Taiwanese delicacies, and I brought him gingerbread.

He wanted me to come and visit, but it is way too far from Canada. Now I have visited, as your guest.

Happy solstice from the land of snow, and -15°

sandy from BC said...

I really enjoyed coming along to Taiwan. I especially enjoy seeing and hearing about the food that you eat on holiday. I had a few chuckles as well. Yes, there does come a time when the children are not interested in going with the parents on holiday. I find travel to be very stressful and lots of work. I live in Western Canada and we are enjoying a bit os snow at the moment.

Projects By Jane said...

Hi Sandy, yes I too find travelling very stressful. I did a lot of research beforehand but no amount of research can fully prepare you for the culture shock. One thing that totally caught me off guard was this. Because Taiwan and Singapore was in the same timezone, I naturally assumed our suns set at the same time. So wrong. In Taiwan, the sun sets at 5pm while in Singapore it is 7pm. When we reached Jiufen, it was starting to get dark even though it was only 4pm. I think the dark made my Jiufen trip much harder. Thanks for dropping by. Happy snow-ing.

Ely said...

Your husband's expressions in all your photos cracks me up. And that hair! I guess, after all, it was a trip for your daughter and I hope she does well on her exams after you and her brother basically suffered along. What's the white looking marshmallow thingy on the mango ice? And is that some kind of toast with the Singapore style tea?

Ok. I have seen Taiwan now! Don't need to go there. Where to next?

Projects By Jane said...

Hi Ely,
The white thing on top of the mango ice is pena cotta. It doesn't have much taste as the mango was quite overpowering. I looove mango tho' so it's ok. In Singapore, eating toast thru'out the day is very common. We eat it with tea or coffee (not Starbucks style, made with a "sock" filled with tea or coffee powder. The toast you see is pork floss toast. There is a layer of condensed milk to hold the pork floss to the toast. It's super delicious. Bread Talk became famous for their pork floss bun. Toast Box (same company but is a coffee shop), added pork floss toast to their menu. If you can't eat pork, there is also chicken floss you can try. It's easy to make your own floss toast.

I'm hoping my next trip is handmade or craft market oriented. Would be nice to go to all the craft markets and craft supplies stores. Say Japan?

Anonymous said...

Hi Jane

Do you remember the "hot" seat number in your Scoot flight?

Chau Lee

Projects By Jane said...

Hi Chau Lee,

It was Row4K, a window seat. Because it's the first row after business class, lots of leg room but you'll get your ass burned. No need blanket or sweater.

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