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  • 2012 Taiwan Trip, Part II

    Posted on August 17th, 2012 Michele Sun No comments

    Sat March 3rd, a reckless night with all the tossing and turning, therefore was only too glad when morning  finally was broken and I was free from whatever the torment was. Quickly freshened up and walked into this nice little beach town looking for a quick bite, for we shall be heading back to Taipei as soon as possible and this was Max’s last day in Taiwan. We went to the 7- Eleven on the main street and got ourselves some breakfast sandwich and hot coffee; the store had set up couple chairs and beach umbrella right outside, so we took our seats having our breakfast leisurely and watched drama of two very tall Europeans trying to communicate with a taxi driver. The two guys asked me to help confirming the cab fare for them, and then they realized that they had misunderstood how much the ride was going to cost them. Took the bulky luggage out of the trunk because they decided to wait for the bus. Not sure if I had just caused the business loss, but the cab driver turned and looked at us asking if we wanted to do ride share with a passenger who was already in his car.

    We actually were pretty much ready to leave since we had no bag to pack, and he seemed to be a very friendly cab driver so I told him to give us fifteen minutes to retrieve our belongings and we were good to go. What we did not know was he actually needed to make couple stops enroute and picked up two more passengers, but he was so humble, friendly, and just kept making bow and saying “thank you” with a huge grin on his face. How can you mind someone like that? However, his driving skill really scared me though. He must be driving at 100km at the 50km zone, and was constantly driving on the shoulder or between lanes to pass other vehicles; I had to grab Max’s arm so tight in order not to get thrown against the door. Eventually all the zigzagging made me dizzy and put me to sleep, which probably was a very good thing for me. By the time I woke up from my nap, we were off highway and approaching the HSR station already.

    Max bought the HSR tickets at the kiosk again and we were Taipei bound, and this time there were more passengers on the high-speef train since it’s a Sat and people were getting out of town for the weekend.  Arrived Taipei a little after noon time and I decided to take him to CKS Memorial Hall first before  having our lunch, for its nearby and it has some controversial story behind it that I hoped Max would find it interesting. It turned out be to a very interesting experience for me as well, for varies reasons. The National Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall was a monument originally built in memory of Chiang Kai-Shek, who flew or escaped, depends which angle you look at, to Taiwan after the KMT (Kuomintang  or Nationalist Party) army lost the Chinese Civil War battle to the Communist army. Chiang imposed martial law and persecuted people critical of his rule in a period known as the “White Terror”, while he ruled Taiwan securely as the self-appointed President of the Republic of China and Director-General of the KMT (Kuomintang) until his death in 1975. The Memorial Hall became embroiled in a naming controversy in 2007, which I look at it as a growing pain of  path to democracy.  After the exchange of party in government, the original name for the memorial hall was restored, but the new name for the plaza, Liberty Square, remained.

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    What appeared to be amazing and very interesting to me was the amount of Chinese tourists visiting CKS Memorial Hall everyday. It’s ironic, almost, since these tourists from China come into Taiwan with tourist VISA, while China always claimed Taiwan being part of China. And they were in Taiwan to see and experience firsthand that democracy actually could work in Chinese society, despite the image of chaos and craziness that China government painted for Taiwan. They were in Taiwan and watched call-in programs on TV and saw  how people in Taiwan bitching and criticizing about the government, pressing “Like” button on Facebook, non-censored internet content… etc. Many Chinese tourists found the Changing Guards routine most fascinating, which takes place every hour at the plaza. But what the tourists didn’t know about, and I am not sure the local Taiwanese noticed either, was the music being played during the routine. The music being played by the army marching band were mostly songs from the cold war era while KMT wanted to retrieve Mainland China,  such songs like “Destroy Communist & Kill Mao”, “Retrieve Mainland & Save People”, “President Chiang — Savior of People, Great Wall of Democracy”.  At present time and place, it sounds very cheesy and even stupid considering the close economic relationship between China and Taiwan right now.

    I tried to explain such cliché to Max while he was busy taking pictures of the white and blue Memorial Hall, classic red and gold buildings of the National Opera House and Concert hall — those were indeed very impressive architecture. I probably should thank Max for giving me this opportunity to visit this place, watching the marching guards and Chinese tourists…etc, and I truly had a great experience seeing how time had moved and changed things at its own pace. Often we can’t force things to change or take place, and we just need time to let life happens.

    After hundred of pictures maybe? We went to my favorite restaurant in Taiwan and almost a “shrine” for foodies – Ding Tai Fung for a late lunch.  If you ever have the chance to visit Taiwan, you should definitely stop-by one of their locations. I took Max to the original store on Hsin-Yi Road, and we were lucky that the line wasn’t too unbearable. Ding Tai Fung probably is the most famous and favorite dumpling place in the world, and was ranked as one of the world’s top 10 restaurants by The New York Times in 2009; couples of its international locations were also awarded Michelin stars.  On any given day, they can sell over 1,000 steamers of the meat-filled dumplings, about 15 million steamed dumplings annually. The dedication, details and focus they put in to perfect the little dumplings (xiaolongbao) is legendary, and its SOP and business model have been taught in many MBA classes and even mentioned in Seth Godin’s  Purple Cow.  Give you an example of how precisely these tiny dumplings are made — each dumpling uses only the freshest ingredients, weighs a precise 0.74 oz, and has exactly 18 folds. The  wrap is so thin that almost transparent, and amazing how it can hold the meat and juice inside — such work of art! While waiting in line, we ordered pork dumplings, crab roe dumplings, chicken soup and some appetizers, and then joined the rest of the crowds from Japan, Hong Kong and Canada, passing through the jammed  kitchen and climbed up the narrow stairs. Food came fairly quick and we enjoyed the yummy dishes while I explained about this legendary restaurant, but not sure if I had done a good job or not since our concentration was on the juicy dumplings in front of us. After this very satisfying meal, we bought some pineapple cake for Max to bring back to CA, another super popular treat in Taiwan.

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    We got back to my parent’s place, dropped our bags, and changed into our running cloth for we were ready to log in our last run in Asia. Taipei is not exactly a runner friendly city, the busy traffic and congested pedestrian path leave no space to running, and small neighborhood parks are just “small”. Therefore our best option while in Taipei was the Da-An Forest Park on Hsin-Yi Street, and once again we looked really out of place while riding bus to get to the park. Da-An Forest Park is the Central Park for Taipei, which occupies an area of 26 acres and includes an amphitheater, concrete roller- and inline-skating rink, ponds, pavilions, walking path…etc, a very popular recreational site and playground. During my last business trip to Taipei, I even attended a Canadian Day concert here. It’s cloudy in the late afternoon when we started our run, and also very humid that I found it’s difficult to breathe. Since my RunKeeper kept dropping, I wasn’t sure about my pace or distance, but according to the park map I probably ran 3+ miles in loops. We were both soaking wet from our sweaty runs, but nevertheless it’s a much needed run and I think our bodies really appreciated the workout after all the travel and lack of sleep. It started to drizzle and gave us great opportunity to cool down, and instead of dragging our smelly bodies onto bus immediately we walked couple blocks on Hsin-Yi Street and bought bottled water with my sweaty NT$. We also walked by the American Consulate/ Emabssy, and Max was surprised at the no descriptive building that bare no American flag or guards. I explained that since there is no diplomatic relationship between Taiwan and U.S, any foreign affairs related issues has to be conducted low profile and non-official.

    That evening we were going to join Mike, my friend/ex-colleague from CA, who moved to Taipei couple years ago and now in online video streaming business; he would show Max and I how people party in Taipei. For this occasion I needed to get dressier shoes than my old and faithful Brooks which still laced with timing chip from Tokyo Marathon. It’s easy to find beautiful things in Taipei 101, and all I needed to do was just walking across the street pretty much. I dragged Max out of the house and walked into the rain for our first and only shopping excursion in Taipei or this entire Asian trip actually, and easily accomplished the mission within 15 minutes. Showered and changed, the good looking pair was ready for a very fun night in Taipei. We had about 45 minutes to spare before meeting up with Mike at Cashbox KTV, so I decided to take Max to my favorite bar in town — Carnegie. It’s a very popular drinking place among foreigners who relocated to Taipei or in town for business, with giant screen TV, pool tables, DJ, menu in sensible and correct English, and of course extensive selection of drinks. It’s funny that I found how easily Max adopted the Taipei life style when I asked him if he wanted to walk over to Carnegie or take a taxi, and he opted for the later. From the very beginning, and I repeated it many times, Max was in Taiwan as my guest and we would do whatever he felt like it. The familiar and loud English songs at Carnegie made us feel like home and put us in very hyper mood, or maybe it’s  from the yummy White Russian that Max ordered for me:-p

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    Cashbox is a Taiwanese style karaoke place, and the largest karaoke chain with many locations spread out in Taiwan for people to sing, drink, party…etc, and instead of a large and open stage area like in the State, here you get private rooms in varied sizes to accommodate your party size; the one we went to was Cashbox Sogo and a fancy one that most patrons really dress up to impress.  I was so thrilled to see Mike when he walked into the lobby, and he looked so sharp and hip in his salt and pepper spike hair and rimless glasses – he certainly looked like he was in entertainment business! He took us to the private party room his friends had reserved, and we immediately found ourselves were introduced and welcomed by pack of young and loud crowds that mostly dressed in student uniforms. Of course they were not high school students, but it’s the theme of tonight’s party!  While all kind of alcohol kept being brought into the room, Max was encouraged to pick a song from the touch screen panel and join the singing. I was more interested in talking to Mike and his friends, and was also very entertained watching Max mingled with the crowds. Not sure how long we stayed at Cashbox or how much drink we had, but we were all high in spirit when we left Cashbox for our next destination – Barcode!!

    Barcode is a premier lounge bar near Taipei 101, a posh and upper crusty bar offering all sorts of drinks, shots, unique cocktails, upscale deco, great music, and a great spot for people watching and being watched. We met up with more of Mike’s friends who were having a bachelor party there that night, and they were really fun and interesting individuals to hang out with. After more drinking, dancing and laughters, I thought this was a great way to wrap up Max’s Asian trip. When the the guys found out this was Max’s ladt night in Taiwan, they started telling Max just to party all night till his 7:00am flight, and forget about sleep, period. Oh boy!! Now I had to worry that he would either miss his flight, or would not be allowed to board his flight; not that I wished to watch him leave, but he had to return back to California for work. About 2:00am, the guys decided to hit another bar to continue the bachelor party, but the sensible and responsible Michele decided it’s time to go home regardless how much we had enjoyed the company and this night. Hugged and kissed good-bye, we parted with Mike and his friends and  walked into the dark night of Taipei, and for whatever unknown reason I felt it’s actually terrible that we were so close to Tapiei 101. I really wished the walk could continue forever and never had to end.  Forego going into the sequence of events afterward, I eventually dropped Max off at the C.K.S. airport for his Narita+San Francisco bound flight. And I literally and figurally watched him almost slammed himself against the glass door, luckily that I was able to grab him and stop it in time. With pounding headache and sinking heart, I watched him crossing the security line and entered into the sequestered area, and very soon he was completely out of my sight.

    Standing in this rainy spring morning, I was feeling being left behind again…



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