Whoo a lot of spring cleaning to do here
Our last few days in Taiwan were mostly a wrap up to ensure that we did not miss out on must see things and to revisit some of the places we liked.
First up, Din Tai Fung, our first proper restaurant meal of the trip haha
Supersized version of xiao long bao man
Also Taipei 101.
We paid the fee to go to the observatory in the worlds fastest elevators. Sadly, the elevators were all enclosed, so we couldn’t see the world receding as we rushed to the top.
The damper that gives the tower stability from ferocious winds.
Sadly the outside view was obscured by 3m high steel bars. What a goddamn waste.
Amazing view from the inside observatory
With that out of the way, we tried to chase the setting sun to Danshuei on the other side of Taipei
We missed it by just a bit but it was still a view worth seeing.
The bridge we were on
And to top off day 8, we finally found the orgasmic bubble tea we were searching for, tucked away in an obscure night market. The pearls in these cups of ambrosia are cooked with black sugar and they are just so yummy.
Day 9 was just doing some supermarket shopping and shopping at wufenpu again. Personally I never knew a 9 day trip could be so exhausting. I don’t think I have the stomach for long holidays.
And so the deluge continues. Don’t worry theres only 2 more days!
On day 7, we decided to take a breather from the hectic week by visiting Jiufen and Jinguangshi, two quaint mountain towns. Jiufen was at first a small mining town that became abandoned in the the 1970s. It was rediscovered after the release of “City of Sadness”, a movie revolving around the 228 Incident. Many Taiwanese, disillusioned by rapid and urban development and longing for some reconnection to a traditional, slow paced, bucolic lifestyle, were charmed by the nostalgic scenery of Jiufen. Similarly, Jinguangshi experienced a resurgence of popularity after the decline of gold and copper activities, it’s gold ecological park acting as depository for mining related memorabilia.
But first, we have to get some coffee.
Supposedly the best coffee in Taipei. The coffee was ok, but what was really interesting about this place was the cats roaming free.
More train rides! and more mei meis!
And then we reached Jinguangshi. The park itself is nothing spectacular.
Got to visit this place which was built for the Crown Prince of Japan for his visit to Taiwan which never happened.
It even had a golf course and archery range at the back.
Then we visited this museum which had gold artifacts on display and mining equipment on display.
Is this a real gold bar? Felt pretty fake to the touch.
Its pretty ok, quite nice scenery, takes only 2 hours to walk finish the whole thing, worth a short stop if your in the area. Next step Jiufen!
Unfortunately the many years that have passed since it has become famous has ensured the utter commercialisation of the area. Its now full of vendors selling knick knacks and food items.
The stuff to see are still there however. The narrow, winding and steep streets and old architecture.
It has also attracted its ah fair share of quirky characters.
Amazing views from the top
Hello globalisation its so nice to see you
We bought quite a lot of snacks like the seaweed crackers, mochi, ocarinas. And then we were off!
I swear the evening light makes everything look nicer.
Our trip happened to coincide with the Hohaiyan Indie Rock Festival, so we decided it was worth a visit to Fulong Beach. Apparently, so did a lot of the locals.
Just outside the railway station –
More taiwan mei meis!
We got ourselves a bong of beer.
And prepared ourselves for the festivities. The setup was just like Singfest, there was a secondary area for minor performances and a main area for the big stars. The main area was on a little islet where they had food and drink stalls just behind the performance area, which I think can hold 30,000 people. Its quite a racuous affair.
That soft yellow fuzz you see is part shakiness, part low light, and part golden sand which formed dust clouds.
We got a little closer enough to make out the singer’s face. Then we just hung around the back enjoying the music and the food. No point getting lost in the crowd. Someone left off a sky lantern too 🙂
We took the early train to avoid the crowd of people. Supposedly over the 3 days, 500 thousand people attended the event.
I feel that sometimes, its best not to research too much into a place you are visiting. You start to get all these fantastic and unrealistic visions about the things you will be seeing that inevitably you end up getting disappointed. The best moments I had in Taiwan came from unexpected places. All those things which I was disappointed in, may have been pretty alright if I wasn’t expecting so much out of them. But maybe much of the happiness comes from the planning and reading up anyway.
Anyway on day 6, we set out to see the main attraction that brought us to 花莲, 太鲁阁峡谷. Taiwan isn’t really known for it’s nature places, but from what I read from places like lonely planet, it does have quite nice scenery. And one of the natural treasures it has is 太鲁阁. After Alishan and Beitou, I was afraid that most of it would be hyped up for the purpose of tourism, but I’m glad to be wrong.
Our driver for the day was 叔叔. He cost us 120 in an arrangement with the 民宿. I suspect that’s what they do to survive by pushing their own private transport. I would have liked to at least have the chance to ask somebody else, given that the prices quoted elsewhere was that it would not cost more than 100, but given that he ferried us the night before and would be taking us to the airport it was probably worth it, but it was one of the most expensive items on our trip. My only regret was that we could only spend like 7 hours in and around 太鲁阁.
View of the city from some unknown vantage point –
Hualien has some pretty funky architecture like paintings on the side of workshops and this temple like university.
Got to try some of those famed betel nuts on the ride. Ugh.
And then we are here.
The scale of 太鲁阁峡谷 is really immense. Despite the many photos we took of the area, we could never capture the true beauty of the area because it just towers out and beyond the frame. The highway running across the mountain range was cut into the sides of the mountains lining the gorge by 5000-6000 military personnel using hand tools and explosives. Truly a feat of human perseverance.
Can you spot the frog guarding the gate?
If the water level seems a little pathetic, its because Hualien hadn’t received any rain for 1 month and the springs were running dry. They were still crystal clear and blue/green though.
More bridge shots
We came to a temple that had a small pagoda. We went to take a look at the temple itself. Twas nothing much.
View from outside
Our final destination for the day was the tunnel of nine turns, a winding section of the old highway which was conserved for visitors to pass through and admire the view. Before we went in we had to wear protective head gear because of potential rockfalls.
When we were coming into Taroko, we saw this group of campers trying to walk their way out of Taroko. On our way out of Taroko, 6 hours later, we saw them again, this time they were singing cheers. Can you spot them in the next picture.
Visiting the shrine dedicated to the people who worked on the highway.
One last visit to the beach before we leave Hualien.
A picture with 叔叔
All in all, Hualien was quite a wonderful place to visit. Bye bye, Hualien, hello Taipei again.
We managed to make it back to Taiwan in time to go to Ximending, a hip and trendy shopping area. This area has been branded as a Taiwan version of Harujuku.
Having never been to Harujuku, I have to say it is quite pedestrian. I think it is more for people who have some cash to burn because there are quite a few novelty restaurant (like this toilet restaurant that serves food shaped like you know what in toilet bowls) and shops. At least we get to eat Ah Chung Mee Sua.
For the rest of the night, its back to Taiwanmex. Whew tiring day.
Basically after our one night stay in 台中 (on the eastern side of the island) we travelled to 花莲 all the way on the west coast. Didn’t take much photos on Day 5 so it’s going to be a short post.
Mobile library at the railway station.
By the time we reached Hualien it was close to 7 or 8pm? We checked in to our second 民宿. The rooms were a lot better than the first one. Looks more like the pictures on the website.
The owners of the 民宿 were quite nice as well. They have a habit of referring to themselves by family terms such as 大姐 and 叔叔. 叔叔 brought us to the local Hualien night market. In my opinion its one of the best night markets we went to. It was small and near the beach and had that kind of festive but homely feel.
We ate dinner at this place that served humble but amazingly good food. We were enticed by the huge slabs of pork just sizzling on the grill. Had bamboo rice, roasted pork with onions and clams. The clams were paired with some minty vegetable and they sorta exploded their juices in my mouth. I have no idea whether that’s good or bad. Also we bought this amazing corn on a stick which was just nicely carmelised.
We were very amused by the bermuda triangle of milk shops that had underaged girls screaming for customers in the cutest and whiniest voice you can imagine. “先生, 这里也可以买啊!” One of them was particular sultry and slutty lolz.
After that we exploded fireworks and let off a 天灯 on the beach. We let off 1 that was like a flare gun which you hold on the hand and it released 5-6 small bursts (it also caused some kind of mild panic from more seasoned firework exploders because we set it down on the floor and the base according to them was unstable and it was better to hold in your hand). We also let off this butterfly firework that twirled around and around in circles before blasting off into space. Our best fireworks was this expensive box that cost like 10 dollars and you just light one end of the box and it sort of fires them like a missile launcher. We didn’t get to launch our 天灯 ourself unfortunately, some boys grabbed it from our hands and said they’d help us do it, but from the complicated way they handled it we would most probably have burnt it lol. We wrote our names on the sides and love on another and saw it floating away peacefully into the sky, becoming a tiny little speck before fading away into night. Too absorbed letting off fireworks, so only have pictures of others letting off fireworks.
Best night in Taiwan. Absolutely beautiful.
Ok seems like wordpress has some problems with resizing images so i have to resize them before uploading.
After a whirlwind tour of Alishan, we hightailed out of there and headed to Taichung where we hoped to spend at least some time exploring the nightmarket there.
Unfortunately as you can see the sun was setting fast.
More train shots because I just love sitting in the train.
I don’t know why, but we found the bento and the instant food stuff to be like better that the street snacks. The train bento is a must try, the ingredients change from trip to trip. Heres’ a photo of our second bento but we had better luck with our first.
Once we reached taichung we realised that the visitor arrival centre was closed. Because we haven’t booked any places to stay in Taichung in advance, we were royally screwed. Luckily it turned out to be a blessing in disguise as we found a hotel within 100 metres of the railway station. And what a lucky find it was. It was only slightly more expensive than a hostel stay (i think it was 1300 yen or slightly more than 50 dollars) yet had way better facilities (lan cable you can pull from the wall, touchscreen operated controls, universal socket, wall mounted lcd tv, and a nice comfy bed). Granted it was small, but it was pretty high tech. Travelling taiwan on a budget and in comfort is definitely doable during off peak periods like weekdays.
On our way to fengjia night market. Shawn’s no2 amateur tip for taking photographs – if you have to choose between overexposing or underexposing a photograph, underexpose most of the time. When you overexpose a photograph there is no way to recover the highlights that have been lost. Case in point, in most daylight shots the sky is always the first to blow becoming all white. There’s little you can do to avoid that because you want the subject of your shot to be better lit but if you underexpose the photograph, you can always bump up the brightness in photoshop and keep a bit of the sky. The tradeoff is there will be a little noise. Shawn’s no1 amateur tip? Take lots of photographs LOL.
Fengjia night market itself. Wish I had a better photo. For the first 2 hours, we were so kuku that we explored the fengjia food market without going into the main one because there were few directions. More youngsters frequent fengjia as compared to the other night markets we went to. It felt more vibrant and hip. Our first food stop:
Live bbq prawns. They would take the prawns from the tanks, skewer them and place them on the grill while they were still alive. That was followed by coating the prawns with some MSG powder. HOW CAN YOU GO WRONG WITH THAT. Apparently you can because the prawns weren’t very good. Maybe they were too small.
The second item we ate was big sausage eat small sausage, a huge sausage wrapped in a rice burger bun. Apparently the small sausage was so small because I couldn’t taste it, but it wasn’t bad.
Our third item was this monstrosity.
That’s mashed potato covered with cheese, ham, bacon, pineapples, and spinach. HOW CAN YOU GO WRONG WITH THAT?!?!? Apparently you can, cos it was meh. I guess we had too high expectations of it.
Next, chou tou fu. It was part of my contractual obligations. Normally I wouldn’t touch anything that smelt that bad because of my highly sensitive reaction to nausea-inducing things (which applies to everything else except myself). Humans have highly evolved smell mechanisms for one reason and one reason only. THINGS THAT SMELL BAD ARE BAD FOR YOU. But ok it wasn’t that bad la. Nothing to get me to eat it again however.
After this, we kinda lost our appetite for photo-taking of food so i forgot what we did but we eventually found out we were going the wrong way and were directed towards the main area which was more clothes friendly.
Lots of helmets for the scooter crazed chicks in Taiwan. (for yeow – PATRICK)
Final shot of the day. In a world of Chinese, speak English.
Can’t upload photos at home so I thought I’d just write a short piece on p0nd.
Spoilers ahead, so if you haven’t played the game yet you can play it here @ http://peanutgallerygames.com/blog/games/pond/
When I first finished the game, my first impression was dissapointing. Why is there a kraken at the end? It so totally threw off the aesthetic of the game. And I thought the authors were resorting to cheap violence when they had spend so much effort on building a cohesive/coherent world. But then on further hindsight I realise that that kraken is important and this is my take on it.
p0nd is at its simplest, a game. What constitutes a game?
1) There is some form of gameplay where you are tasked to do something, an action. If a game asks you to sit back and simply watch something, its not a game.
2) There is some form of interim reward or progress for doing said action.
3) Eventually that action will lead you towards a final goal (and in many cases, a boss battle.)
4) There is some sort of ending, usually happy and cutscene-driven.
Besides the conventions that all games share, within games there are also genre conventions. In the role playing game, you kill things, and there is an epic story. In the fighting game you kill things, there is a story but you don’t care about it anyway. In the first person shooter – you shoot things to kill yada yada yada. In indie games, you do almost the same stuff, but you do it beautifully.
Having take some film mods, i have learnt that genre conventions are some of the most powerful tools available to film-makers and to game makers. For one they are a set of rules which have been shown to reliably elicit certain emotions powerfully. Secondly, genre conventions once violated, forces people to think more carefully about what they have seen and not just be passive observers. Without genre conventions to violate, who will the rebels rebel against?
I have also learnt that the most preserved and beloved films belong to two camps. One camp of films conform so strictly to the genre conventions as to elevate them to archetypes. The other camp is iconoclastic, subverting genre conventions so as to reveal something through the subversion. The best films somehow manage to straddle the two.
p0nd belongs to this category. As a game it fulfils everything that is expected from a game. You do stuff, defeat the end boss, go home happily ever after. Yet people find it subversive why? Because as part of an emerging genre of indie games with unique gameplay, they never expected it to toe the line by including an epic boss battle with health bars and an epic finishing move. It is both subversive and conformist.
The quote at the end of the game, “I could be wrong…” by Roger Ebert was taken from a follow up piece he wrote to an article in which he said “Games can never be art”. The authors want to put this game across as art. I think that is a little pompous. But I believe it may be true. This piece holds up as art, not by itself, but because it illuminates the fact that the stage has been reached where games are mature enough, to have their audience expect something out of the experience, and to have that expectation exploited. It left me outraged. It left me disappointed to have my beautiful indie landscape torn apart by some hideous monster. But most importantly it also left me to think more deeply about what I had played and how that kraken tore apart my expectations.
What about the message? Is it a parody of the indie game movement? Is it a dialogue on the value of going out to play versus staying home to watch television/play video games? Is it a comment on violence in video games? Is it a critique or response to Ebert? The message doesn’t really matter as long as you understand it has something to say and that the answer will be different for everyone.
I realise my thoughts are really incoherent and they aren’t coming out in the right order so ah please forgive me for the lousy writing. I realise what has stopped me from blogging regularly is the fear that I can never write well. Actually it applies to everything. Reading the works of others, looking at the pictures taken by others, hearing the songs sung by others, it all seems so polished and skilled and wonderful. So, because of that I stop trying, but i won’t ever reach the 10, 000 hour rule like that. So I just got to keep trying I guess.
The next morning, is definitely not a good time to wake me up. Try afternoon.
Pathway to a scenery post behind me.
We said goodbye to our hosts, and left for the summit. We were planning to take the bus, but were hijacked along the way by a van driver who was carrying another couple and promised us cheaper fares and grabbed the bus tickets out of my hand. What he never told us was that we had to stick to a time he had already arranged for the return journey. I hate changing plans at the last minute and will surely keep that lesson in mind the next time I travel. When we reached the top it was sorely disappointing. Feel the commercialness ooze out of every square cm of that area.
We were treated to an aboriginal performance at the railway station. One segment was done to Enya’s Return to Innocence, which everybody has heard. Did you know that the aborigine chant in Enya’s Return to Innocence is not African but actually Taiwanese? It was illegally sampled from the performance of two taiwan aborigine students while they were on cultural exchange. They later settled for some probably obscene amount of cash. Like aborigine groups in other countries however, the groups in Taiwan are not doing very well. Most of the children do badly in government run schools and they have been either pushed out of the lands they used to occupy or reemployed to do labor on those very lands which have now been turned into tourist hotspots. Sad.
Typhoon Morakot, the deadliest typhoon to impact Taiwan in recorded history, destroyed several segments of the Alishan famous forest railway line. This railway line would have brought us from Chiayi to Alishan – several thousand metres above sea level, bypassing different layers of temperate and tropical vegetation. Only two segments were open at the time of our arrival, one taking us to the divine tree, a humongously epic tree which was returned to nature when it was struck by lightning sometime in 1970, and segment going to the sunrise watching platform which we didn’t have time to take.
It was an extremely short ride to the divine tree but it was quite enjoyable and charming to ride a traditional steam driven train. Once we reached the area we were surrounded by giant trees.
Ok maybe they weren’t all that giant after all. Some of them were quite huge though.
Not much to see, lots of trees. Saw a heart shape tree stump and took a successful self shot. Awwww 😛
Saw a very normal looking pond, and a very cock story.
And thus we moved on, taking random pictures as we went. I think she took better pictures than I did 😛 All in all, it was a very small area, which we managed to cover in less than 3 hours.
The tranquil peace was shattered by a horde of Chinese tourists bringing their trademark authentic human vuvuzela sound to Alishan mountain. Run away!
All in all, I would say Alishan is a miss. Come back during one of the cooler seasons where there is the possibility of snow or when the railways are repaired or if you are up for waking up at 4:30 in the morning.
Ok I’m noticing some wierd distortion and compression artifacts especially in Day 4 pictures possibly done on wordpress end. Shall stop here for today and try to fix it tmr.
We woke up early to take the western train to Chiayi, a jumpoff town for Alishan, a nature preservation area situated in a mountainous area famed for it’s five treasures of cherry blossoms, rolling sea of clouds a la chinese swordfighting movies, sunrise, sunset, and snow capped mountains. Absolutely enjoyed the 4 hour train ride to Chiayi, with wonderful scenery outside the window.
Whenever I go to another country I always like to try the fastfood local specialty. For Taiwan Macdonald, they offer the most plastic bagel I have ever seen.
Once in Chiayi, it was another 1 hour bus trip up to our bed and breakfast. So I tried to take stalker shots of Taiwan Mei Mei’s.
While many people chose to stay on top of the mountain in order to wake up for the sunrise at freaking 4.30am, we chose not to and instead opted for a bed and breakfast halfway up that also offered some night activities like firefly gazing and white squirrel spotting. The view outside our bed and breakfast was amazing. The room sadly, was not. It looked nothing like the photos on the website.
While it could have been a really bad experience based on the room itself, the night was saved by the activities and the hospitality of the hosts. They specialise in eco-tourism – making money by promoting and protecting the local wildlife. They also had their own mini tea plantation where they grow tea for export. After we settled in and drank quite a bit of tea, they drove us to a area which was far away from the light of the villages to see the fireflies. The fireflies are usually hidden and they don’t emit light but they are really stupid because they will be attracted to the sight of a lighted cigarette and come buzzing around. Tried to take photos but it was in total darkness so too bad. After that we set off to look for a white squirrel. The white squirrel is really cute, wish I had a real photo to show you but I only have a picture of the toy they are preparing to launch in collaboration with the government.
On the start of day 2, our initial enthusiasm to explore the vast unknown of Taipei was tempered by the Taipei heat and the fact that Taipei denizens like to sleep in. Their departmental stores open at 11am.
Sorry for the the shaky photos, we weren’t aware for the first day that they were all that bad because they looked fine on the lcd.
We decided to make our way to Beitou, a section of the city famed for its distribution of geothermal hot spots which gave rise to countless hot springs (I know xiao right! Weather so hot still want to go hot spring.).Sadly descriptions of its beautiful park are wildly off the mark, and the public hot spring was quite small. No pictures (not that there’s anything to be missed). There was however a very beautiful public library nestled deep in the middle of the park.
Escaping the heat like countless the citizens, we made our way into one of the many metro malls for a proper meals.
The underground malls are pretty big on encouraging young people to use public spaces to practice and perform.
We next headed to Wufenpu, a commercial warehouse district that sells clothes at dirt cheap prices. Discounted shirts can go for as cheap as 5 dollars, and fashionable buys can be had for like 20. It’s a must stop if one of your main goals in Taiwan is shopping. Supposedly even the clothing vendors in the night markets in Taipei drop by Wufenpu for stock.
We then dropped by Raohe nightmarket for some street food.
Our first try was pepper biscuit, a bun with spicy meat baked tandoori style in a clay container lined with charcoal.
Long queue, but not bad. Encouraging first try. We next had prawns cooked in butter sauce. How awesome is that?
Sadly, not very awesome. Prawns were fresh, but they didn’t take on the flavor.
There were other food too, but we didn’t take photos so I can’t really remember them. All in all, hmm not a really good day. Disappointing start.