Last new country

Streets of TaipeiThis morning I departed Hong Kong for Taipei, Taiwan (the Republic of China, not to be confused with the People‘s Republic of China, or just China, as we know it in the United States). I really wished I hadn’t booked my onward ticket so soon as I didn’t have nearly enough time here. I really enjoyed Hong Kong as it reminded me a lot of New York City. Many travelers to Asia would poo poo this view, saying that Hong Kong has no real Asian feel. They’re right, and perhaps that’s why I enjoyed it so much. While it’s been very interesting and rewarding discovering a new part of the world, I certainly like the familiarity of the developed world from where I come.

My flight went smoothly, as did the arrival process in Taipei. I was off the plane and to my bus in about a half hour. The bus was the main part of the instructions I received on getting to my hostel. I was told to buy my ticket to the specific hostel, which is on the bus’s list of drop off points. The woman at the counter understood this just fine, circled some Chinese symbols on Shopping centralwhat appeared to be a list of sorts on my ticket and sent me on my way. I believed this was either the name of the hostel or the address but didn’t know. I showed it to the driver who understood it and indicated I was at the right bus.

About halfway along my trip into town (about 45 minutes in), the bus pulled over, the driver made an announcement in Mandarin or Taiwanese and most people got off. I was not aware of any of this. I found an Irish guy who was traveling with his Mandarin speaking girlfriend and they made me aware that I was supposed to transfer with them to a different bus.

This bus was more like a public bus with only airport travelers. I was part of the standing room only crowd, having to hold onto straps with handles to maintain balance while the driver zipped around corners and gave his brakes a workout. With my large pack still on my back, the brakes weren’t the only things receiving a workout. My abs were burning, too, from all the jostling and balancing as he raced around town.

Also on the bus Dinnerwas an English guy and two of his Mandarin speaking friends. One of the friends looked at my ticket and indicated that the circled symbols did in fact denote my hostel. The other confirmed that the driver knew where he would drop me off and would let us know. The Englishman joked that he, too, would be at a loss without them.

We stopped at a corner near the hostel, the driver got out and pointed in the direction I should walk and went on his way. This proved to be more than enough as the aim of his point was dead on.

After checking in, I made my way to the train station to get a ticket to Kaohsiung tomorrow, the train stop en route to Kenting Beach, where I planned to spend the next few days. At the station, I went over all the trains in great detail to make sure I could inform the ticket vendor which train I wanted if there wasn’t an English speaker on hand (it does appear that the Chinese use Arabic numerals so I felt a mix of train times and numbers would suffice). I went up to the counter Restaurantwith my primary choice and backups and the vendor had an on hand English translator assist. The whole process was extremely easy. I also did a dry run to figure out exactly how to find from which platform my train would depart and how to get there. This also proved to be very easy as the station is well marked in both symbols and English.

On my way back to the hostel I grabbed dinner at a pseudo outdoor restaurant. I watched some locals in front of me and did what they did. There were some prepared vegetarian dishes, one of which I grabbed as did the guy in front of me. I also picked up a container of three spring rolls and followed the others to a lady that appeared to be a makeshift cashier, at least she was collecting money from the others. I showed her my food and my money. She pointed at a NT100 note I had (about US$3). I gave it to her and she threw in another set of rolls, which I ended up liking better than the ones I picked up.

The physical process of eating was pretty simple, other than trying to pick up a veggie pattie with chopsticks. Imagine trying to eat a burger with no bun and only a set of chopsticks. That is exactly what I had to do. I played around with it for a bit before grabbing the whole thing with my chopsticks, lifting it to my mouth and biting a chunk from it. Like yesterday, no crowd gathered to watch.

The food was all good and seemed to be pretty healthy. The rice might have even been whole grain, something I hadn’t come across yet in Asia. All in all, it was way too much food but I ate it all. When I was a little kid my parents used to encourage me to eat all my food because there are starving people in, er, here.

I spent the rest of the evening trying to find accommodations in Kenting. There are mostly resorts or muli-person rooms with no real information on guesthouses, dorm hostels and bed and breakfasts. Since I couldn‘t find anything, I have opted to just stay in Kaohsiung (where my train goes) and play the rest of this excursion by ear. I could always head to Kenting Beach for the day even though it is more than two hours each way. After all, the beach is why I was going anyway and I could still have plenty of time there. But maybe I’ll find something closer or something else interesting in Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s second largest city.

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