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Taiwan / Hong Kong / Singapore - March/April 2011 - Page 3

Day 7 - Thursday, 31 March 2011

The flower fair and Danshui

Whilst i have been in Taipei, all you see advertised, absolutely everywhere, is the Floral Expo.
Now you would expect this to go for a weekend, but no, it goes for a year. Its like the World expo they have in Shanghai at the moment, except its just for flowers, and theres longer queues to look at flowers.

Everyone must like flowers, school kids are here in their thousands, I dont think I have ever seen so many people, on a thursday morning for a show now its 11th month.
The problem with this is, I never actually saw any of the main bits of the show, as the organisers had conveniently put up signs 'QUEUE WAITING TIME FOR THIS PAVILLION CURRENTLY 73 MINUTES' etc.
The shortest queue I saw for any pavillion was 65 minutes, so I never went in any, I just walked around the things, ate food and looked at the outside exhibits.
It all looked a bit tired to me, like after 11 months people had given up keeping everything looking fresh.

After about 2 hours of not looking at flowers, I decided to move on, the train station nearby went to Danshui, which I vaguely recollected as being in the mountains.
Turns out I was wrong, it goes to the ocean, to a place a bit like Blackpool or Brighton, lots of balloon popping games etc.
It was quite a nice place, again lots of interesting markets, and lots of stalls selling every kind of dead thing on a stick, or a pineapple cake.
It would seem to me the average Taiwanese person is engaged in a daily competition to see who can consume the biggest variety of bits of animals deep fried and put on sticks. If you get bored of just the heart of a snake on its own, dont worry, they will grind it up for you and turn it into snake blood sausage.

Heres the entrance to the flower show, the lines are longer than they appear, they go around corners and stop and they let people from the end of part 1 of line join onto the start of part 2 of line.
Theres all sorts of different whistle combinations required to coordinate the line movement.

I immediately headed to the food court. I was quite impressed that they were actually making the food here, I saw big vats of soup, people stuffing dumplings, sausages being fed into whatever the hell holds a sausage together etc.

Heres what I had for breakfast, its not what I asked for but its what I was given, the bread was actually delicious, very crunchy. The cake thing however, I bit into it and it was like biting into a balloon, it just collapsed into something 1/2 a centimetre high.

A sea of flowers.

Yeah, more flowers.

Hong Kong has followed me here with flowers.

This tree was pretty cool, I dont think it was planted for the exhibition though.

All over Taipei you find smoking booths like these. Get into your booth filthy smokers! Smoking is generally banned outdoors as well as in. So they put the smokers inside there special door so they dont pollute the outdoors, except where does the smoke inside their little room go?
I guess you can save on buying smokes and just stand in there and smoke everyone elses smoke.

More foodcourts at the flower fair, I think lots of people came here just to eat.

Not sure which country this area belonged to, it was probably the most impressive area but its not really a garden or flowers so much as a building.

Nearby on a hill is this enormous temple thing, I dont think you can get there easily.

There was a live puppet show to keep children entertained, the puppeteers were terrifying loud at screaming when their puppet was killed.

Heres the view at Danshui. I think across the other side of the ocean here is called Bali, but not the Bali we all know and despise.

Everyone enjoys a good boloking.

Danshui street scene 1 of 2.

Danshui street scene 2 of 2.

I decided to have lunch here, they were extremely happy to see me. Very grateful for my $2.

Some sort of noodle wonton soup was given to me, I pointed at the menu and was advised against the beef thing I wanted, and we eventually settled upon this.

Around Danshui is a maze of market streets, many undercover with pigs being butchered in front of you, and then next door to pig guts splashing onto the street is a temple like this. I can safely presume its not a mosque then.

Look closely, all around the place people like this ride on the back of busses with their entourage giving endless speeches on loudspeaker, just like Japan. This guy was waving like he had won.

Taiwanese people hate fancy shops

Tonight I set off into the fancy shopping district.
Despite every little side alley and night market being chock full of people, the fancy shopping area was all but deserted.
It was all the regular chanel/gucci/louis vutton stuff that is of no interest to me, but I wonder how these shops are remaining open.

I did manage to get completely lost walking around the area, not really an issue you can navigate by Taipei 101.

So because theres not much to tell except for my dinner which the pictures will tell (this makes little or no sense) I will now take this opportunity to tell some stories from earlier in the day I neglected to include.

When I was riding the subway there was a small boy in a baby stroller, he was very happy and kept standing up in the stroller and bouncing up and down. His mother was repeatedly trying to get him to sit down, but he kept pulling his legs up out of the holes they go through and trying to climb out.
Eventually, the mother had had enough of this, and pulled the canopy all the way over the stroller so that all you could see of the baby was his legs. His legs soon dissapeared again, I was watching intently at this stage inside the stroller there was a lot of commotion going on for a few minutes, then it all stopped. Had he suffocated?
Then, all of a sudden, his head popped out of one of the leg holes, and he had the proudest look on his face I ever saw.

Now for some language stories.
Whilst I was at the flower fair there were a lot of school children, and many of them would look at me and say Hello!
The game went like this each time
(child): hello!
(me): good morning, how are you today?
(child with confused look on face): ...........hello!

Now the other language story, each time I buy something, I assumed I was being spoken to in Taiwanese (Hakka I think its called), pretty much everyone say the same thing.
I have since worked out they are actually speaking english, and saying 'preciate', which is chinese for 'appreciate', which is short for 'we appreciate your custom, good day to you fine sir'.
Why they are taught to try and say appreciate rather than thank you, I have no idea.

A random furry beatles cover band was appearing inside a giant abandoned mall for no reason, playing yellow submarine, with dog barking noises for vocals.

Whilst we're on a dog theme, these dog grooming places are everywhere, theres competing franchises like 711/familymart is for humans.

Looking down inside a giant mall, with no people.

And this is the high end luxury goods outdoor mall, also abandoned.

I said I wouldnt post any more photos of the building, but I lied. I had no tripod and nowhere to balance my camera, so instead you get post modern neonist.

Heres my dinner, this is the national dish of Taiwan. Beef Noodle Soup. I loaded it up with chilli as well, it was delicious. My eyes were watering, it felt fantastic, the fire was quickly put out with a bubble tea afterwards.

Theres not a lot of big buildings in Taipei, due to earthquake concerns, but a few are popping up in the new taipei area. Plus you get some light streaming effect from long exposures for good measure. Now all I need is a waterfall and some fireworks for the cliche trifecta.

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Day 8 - Friday, 1 April 2011

Zoos, Gondolas and Lingerie

There will be a lot of pictures today.

This morning I decided to head out to another of Taipeis main attractions, the zoo and Maokong Gondala combo.
In this case, a Gondola is a cable car, not a small boat navigating the foul waters of venice.

I was in two minds about the zoo, as I will probably visit the night zoo in Singapore next week, so I looked it up, first of all they have giant pandas, and second of all, it costs $2 to get in.
So even if I stayed an hour, its cheaper to see pandas in an awesome zoo in Taipei than it is to urinate at a tube station in London.

The zoo turned out to be great, very picturesque built on the side of a mountain, all the enclosures seemed large and well kept. There was hardly anyone there, lots of school children and a couple of fellow tourists, but I pretty much had the run of the place.
The school kids are pretty awesome, I feel funny about taking pictures of groups of kids (less of an issue in a country where catholicism isnt present, but still...), they seem to come prepared on excursions for any eventuality. 5 year olds all have digital cameras, identical water bottles as big as they are, a whistle, survival suits with day glow stipes, proper hiking boots, hats with numbers on them, and they all march about with purpose and activities to complete.

After the zoo, I went up the Gondala, its a long ride and crosses a few valleys, takes about 30 minutes, and the view is spectacular.
Once you get off, you arent at the top of a mountain, so its hiking time for me, and this is the highlight of my holiday. Theres a great path of thousands of steps, took a solid hour, and I did not see another person at all.
Everyone else must stay around the station and the souvenier stands etc. Theres a fake temple thing there as well, but I was not at all interested in that.
The view is breathtaking (could have been the effect of walking up steps solidly for an hour!). The further up I got, the more leaves, branches etc there were covering the steps, suggesting people dont often go up here. But despite that the path was excellent, with a proper railing the whole way. Only issue was all the signs and maps had no English on them at all.
There seemed to be paths at the top going into the forest, but I wasnt equipped for that sort of hiking, would be fantastic though I think.

I have crapped on enough, onto the pictures.

Here is the entrance to the zoo, it is probably a little better than the Adelaide zoo in terms of quality if you are looking for comparisons.

There are 2 areas for the pandas, looks like they have to keep them seperated, an indoor area (this one) and an outdoor area (2 photos down).

There was pretty much no one looking at them except me, I had read on wikipedia that they are controversial, as they are a peace offering from China, and lots of Taiwanese people would rather make war not peace.

Last panda photo I promise.

As mentioned, the zoo is of excellent quality, built on the side of a mountain with great natural features, and excellent signage like this to keep you informed of where you are and whats going on.

This is a sun bear, its bile is very tasty, gives me all the virility I need.

These are Indian elephants, they were fighting over the cricket results.

This is part of the zoo, there were also waterfalls and caves etc.



My head inside the mouth of a hippo....

More hippos

African Elephants, they are much bigger than the Indian elephants.

No matter how hard the red panda tries to establish itself as a contender for panda love worldwide, it will always be the lesser of the pandas.

Pudding bread, is not really bread at all, but a delicious piece of sugared rubber with orange goo stirred through it.

And now, I am riding on the Gondala, the view was spectacular, and I had a carriage all to myself.

The ride takes at least 30 minutes, it was very relaxing, I could have gone to sleep.

I took a photo almost identical to this on the Nong Ping gondala in Hong Kong a year or so ago.

You cant really tell in photos how high it is, the highways and tunnels through the mountain in this photo look impressive.

Its only when riding on the Gondala I realised theres a lot more to Taipei than I knew, theres this whole additional part of the city shown here, the main area where my hotel, Taipei 101 etc is, is located just to the right of this photo, over the hill.

As mentioned, once I got off it was time to ascend stairs for over an hour, in complete solitude, never saw another person. The path was this quality all the way to the top.
If you ever go here, I recommend going up this path. Excellent views, excellent forest, no signs in English though!

Here I am at the top enjoying the view, standing proud, I felt as though the gondola and path had been made for me personally.

My only friend in the world is this lizard.

Girls, be aware, if you find yourself in Taiwan you might be called upon to feed a goat or two.

Heres a Din Tai Fung, Taiwans most famous restaurant chain, it has a michelin star and outlets in most of the world now. I want to go but there were hundreds of people waiting, it seems you go and order, go shopping, and come back some time later.

After exiting a random subway station I saw a massive crowd and flash bulbs in the distance, and stumbled upon a Lingerie show outside the Sogo department store. An advantage to being taller than the average Taiwanese guy is I could see pretty well despite being behind lots of people.

Shilin Night Market

This evening I went to the biggest market there is, possibly anywhere. Its specialty is street food, apparently snake soup is available as well as drinks mad from snake blood, but I didnt see that in the open.
There is a specific snake market street in another part of town, but its quite small, so I came to the main market instead.

Tomorrow I am taking the bullet train to Kaohsiung, on the southern tip of Taiwan, Im excited because I like trains.

Heres the entrance to the market, got here right on dusk.

Again, like the much smaller market at Danshui, theres a temple hidden behind the sausage stands.

This is a fairly typical things on sticks stand, theres hundreds of them all in a row.

Heres where I got my first snack from, they are called 'little cakes' but they are mainly savoury. Cooked in a tandoor type thing that was threatening to set me on fire.
The line for this place was long, so I thought it must be good.

I got one green onion cake and one black sesame cake for dessert (1st dessert!). They were nice, a smokey flavour from the way they had been cooked, a bit like a calzone only crunchier.

I crossed the road from the market entrance to take this photo, its chaos!

These sausages are at least a foot long and as thick as my puny girl arms. Who could chomp on one of those? I chickened out not because it looked horrible, they actually looked delicious, but it has to be 2 pounds of meat in a single sausage.

I managed to snap a photo of the bun things I ate earlier being cooked inside the metal drum at another location, photo badly over exposed but you get the idea.

A bubble tea is required, everyone wanders around with a huge tea of some kind all the time.

Second dessert was one of these things custard filled. It was only small but very nice.

Final dessert, was these strawberries that have been toffee'd (is that a word?). They were delicious, they do tomatoes as well, who wants a toffee tomato?

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Day 9 - Saturday, 2 April 2011

Bullet train to Kaohsiung

Despite having been to Japan, I have never been on a bullet train. I have been on the Eurostar, but I believe the train that runs the full length of Taiwan, from Taipei to Kaohsiung is quite a bit faster.
The top speed I saw on the screen was 301kmph.
The ride is very smooth, and you spend about 1/3 of the journey in tunnels.

Getting onto the train is interesting, the Taipei main station is outdated and horrible, once you go through with your ticket, its a tiny cramped waiting area with no shops of any kind, no toilets. If you are silly enough to go up to the platform (as I was) you cant really get back down again, you have to take the stairs whilst people yell at you.

When outside, the pollution seemed particularly bad in all rural areas, I could see a lot of farms had big fires going, not sure why maybe its part of harvesting like sugarcane.
Things brightened up considerably in each of the big cities.

The seats on the train were unusual, I had heaps of leg room but the seat was so upright it felt like I was leaning forwards.
There is a minimal food and drink service on the train, but I guess its not really required since its only a 90 minute trip.

Arriving in Kaohsiung is also interesting, as you arrive in a huge industrial area full of oil refineries.
However once you get off the train, its the most modern huge spotless station, with all sorts of shops, restaurants, facilities, lounges etc. A stark contrast to Taipei.
Transferring to the metro is simple, Kaohsiung has their own RFID card system but purchasing is easy.

Getting off the subway, its apparent that this is a much more modern city, with wider roads and footpaths, and what seems to be parks everywhere, something there were none of in Taipei.

Heres my train, its identical to the Japanese ones. The track is raised the entire journey, on top of big pillars.

I had a bulkhead window seat, heaps of room but strange upright seats.

Out of my window I was looking towards the coast, big stretches were amazingly flat like this, full of farmlands.
As soon as you were in a region not as flat as this, you were in a tunnel.
I assume if I could look out the other window I would see the mountains that run up the centre of the country, hopefully I get that side on the way back.

The train passed a few areas of pebbles like this, they seemed to be mining them, probably for road base.
The roads by the way are amazing, they are elevated like the train, and appear to be 4 lanes in each direction the entire way, there were also big fancy looking roads on the ground as well as we passed each city, none seemed to have any traffic at all.

The coffee I bought off the cart was amazingly terrible. I still drunk it thouogh, thats 50 cents worth of coffee I didnt want to waste.

It did occasionally hit 300, despite what the sign says.

Every once in a while you pass modern looking compounds like this, it was never clear to me who they are or what they are doing.

Welcome to Kaohsiung, enjoy our oil refinery.

I was a bit early to check into my hotel, so I hung around a bit on the platform, because I am a train nerd or something.

As mentioned, the station itself was very modern, reminded me of St Pancras in London.

Out and about in Kaohsiung

Its quite hot here, 28C, the streets are very wide and neat, and its a long way between subway stations.
Time to find where the people are at.
I did finally find an electronics megastore kind of place, prices were high though, I suspect Australia is cheaper! Also there werent really any crazy Taiwanese market only things I could recognise, Hong Kong seems to have a lot more of that kind of stuff.

My hotel is very flash, with someone playing a grand piano, a day spa, a pool etc. The bed is as hard as a rock, far harder than any I slept on in Japan.

Enough chat, onto the pics.

This is the view out of my hotel window, complete with water tower.

Nearby theres an 'international fair' but they were just setting up, seems to be mainly Japanese, these milk maids were happy to pose for photos. In fact they insisted.

The subway here is brand new, and all the stations are impressive, living works of art or something equally as pretentious. Still I can appreciate it because im that sort of fool.

I spotted a line of people waiting under a marquee with a sign with a bus on it. I honestly had no idea where it was going the only English word on the sign was 'free'. So I joined the line. Interesting decorations on the inside of the bus, I swear it was no warmer than 10 degrees inside, everyone was shivering.

The bus went to the 'dream mall', apparently the biggest in east asia, whatever that means. It is pretty huge and has a mega food area with a shop claiming to have made the best beef noodles at the 2009 competition.

Whilst they werent too bad, the bowl I had in Taipei was nicer, at least to me. But I was absolutely starving at this point.

On top of the 12 floor Shopping mall is a huge ferris wheel. I went on a huge one in Yokohama so why not Kaohsiung?
This one is hello kitty themed, as you can see, its been my life long dream to share a ferris wheel with Hello Kitty.

The view however, despite the pollution, was great!

More view.

Still more view.

Last one of the god damn view.

When I walked outside, this drove past. I have absolutely no idea what or why!

This is another of the fancy train stations, apparently this is the best one as I see it on all sorts of promotional material for the city.

Yep, more night markets

After a bit of research, I found out that theres an entire street full of computer and gadget stores nearby my hotel.
It was pretty good, they had lots of shelves full of every kind of ram, video card etc. As well as ipads and the cheap no name tablets.
What they didnt have was anything made by Archos at all, what I really wanted was a case thing for my new tablet I picked up in Hong Kong.

The stations here are really far apart, where as in Hong Kong, Taipei, Tokyo and Sydney they are easily walkable, here its a good 30 minutes between stations.
However I eventually got to the Liohou night market. This one was a bit more upmarket than the Taipei one, and due to the wider roads easier to navigate.
The annoying thing was there were many Japanese tour groups, complete with a flag bearing leader marching at top speed through the market with all their luggage looking lost and distressed. No one ever looks as confused as a Japanese tourist.

3 updates today! No one should ever complain I dont provide original content.

This is I presume some kind of open drain, yet theres no smell. I have generally noticed in Taiwan that it is kept clean by an army of people every morning, but more than that theres no problems with drains and odours like there is in Hong Kong, London, Paris.

Heres your standard street photo for this evening, looks a lot like Shinjuku, Tokyo.

And this is the night market. It goes on like this for at least 2km. The sign says it closes at 5am, during the day its a very busy road. This is not just one or two nights a week, this runs every night, and theres lots of them. At least 6 different night markets in walking distance from my hotel, each of them is removed from the streets in the morning in time for peak hour.

Heres my dinner, various bread like things and some miso soup. The Miso was really strong, but the bread was nice. I was amazed, a teenage boy made everything from scratch, took about 15 minutes, he rolled out the dough and stuffed it and rolled it and grilled/fried it to order.

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Day 1 - Friday, 25 March 2011
  Adelaide to Melbourne
  Melbourne Airport
  Welcome to Hong Kong
Day 2 - Saturday, 26 March 2011
  Walking around before stuff opens
  Lamma Island
  Mong Kok
Day 3 - Sunday, 27 March 2011
  West Kowloon
  Central, briefly
Day 4 - Monday, 28 March 2011
  Taking it easy
Day 5 - Tuesday, 29 March 2011
  My favourite place in the world
  I missed a flight, sort of!
  Taiwan, eventually I got here
Day 6 - Wednesday, 30 March 2011
  Taipei 101
Day 7 - Thursday, 31 March 2011
  The flower fair and Danshui
  Taiwanese people hate fancy shops
Day 8 - Friday, 1 April 2011
  Zoos, Gondolas and Lingerie
  Shilin Night Market
Day 9 - Saturday, 2 April 2011
  Bullet train to Kaohsiung
  Out and about in Kaohsiung
  Yep, more night markets
Day 10 - Sunday, 3 April 2011
Day 11 - Monday, 4 April 2011
  I ate at mcdonalds
  The hotel and the airport
Day 12 - Tuesday, 5 April 2011
  Transiting Hong Kong
  Singapore is hot
Day 13 - Wednesday, 6 April 2011
  Mostly closed until late afternoon
  Little India
Day 13 - Thursday, 7 April 2011
  The zoo is mostly, closed
  Went out to dinner
Day 15 - Friday, 8 April 2011
  Din tai fung
Day 16 - Saturday, 9 April 2011
  The big storm
Day 17 - Sunday, 10 April 2011
  The longest day
Day 18 - Monday, 11 April 2011
  Home again, briefly