天灯节!

Hello everyone! Today concludes the Chinese New Year celebration. Most people returned to work last week, but today marks the two week point after Chinese New Year, which makes it the Lantern Festival thus ending the celebration. The Lantern Festival was one of the main reasons Dannysha and I decided to come to Taiwan for the winter break. We did some research and reliable sources (wikipedia) said that the town of Pingxi is supposed to be one of the best places to go for the lantern festival, which was where the 天灯节 or “sky lantern festival” originated.

Pingxi isn’t too far outside of Taiwan, but it’s not accessible via metro. To get there, we had to go to the Taipei Main Station and buy train tickets to Ruifang, and from there transfer to the Pingxi line and take another train to our final destination. Buying the ticket was easy, but getting on the train was a little tricky. China’s train system is very well organized and there are many workers on the platform to help you if you have any questions. Unfortunately, Taiwan was severely lacking in the helpful department, and the arrival/departure board was utterly confusing. Despite the confusion, we boarded the correct train and arrived at Ruifang within a short amount of time. We bought our tickets to Pingxi again (which was a mistake because we’d already paid for the full ride at the previous station) and rushed to the platform. The train was waiting for us when we got there, and was packed with people. I was dismayed at first, but realized the cars further down the platform were fairly deserted. Dannysha and I nearly sprinted to get a seat and were practically kowtowing to the gods for it by the time the train started rolling. Anyone who is claustrophobic or doesn’t like being in close proximity to strangers would not handle this trip well at all.

Being in a seat, we were unable to read the sign when we reached a station and the train began emptying. We followed the crowd and wound up at the wrong town and station, but it was no big deal. We ended up in Shifen, which had a very large Sky Lantern Festival itself. The tiny little town was completely packed. I’ve been to large, crowded theme parks and various other big cities but I’ve never been so jostled in my life. I’ve also never seen so many foreigners in any one place in Asia–I’d say that the crowd was maybe 30% foreigners. There were so many shops selling lantern trinkets and snacks that the streets were clogged and getting down to the area where people were sending up lanterns in groups was incredibly difficult and maybe even a bit arduous.

Finally, we came to a large area where people were selling lanterns and providing markers with which to write your hopes for the new year. People say that by sending the lanterns into the sky the gods are more likely to see your wishes and prayers. So we purchased a red one from an option of about 9 different colors, my favorite of which (purple) was sold out. After writing our wishes on our lantern, a girl came by and helped us send it to the gods. The way these things work is that it’s like a mini hot-air balloon–they light a fire under it and then it just floats up. This can, of course, go terribly wrong. One of the lanterns became entangled on a telephone wire while ascending and caught fire, another hit a building and sort of exploded, and several simply hit a strong pocket of wind causing them to tumble over and immolate mere feet above the heads of the crowd. I’m assuming that all of these scenarios do not forebode good fortune. Fortunately for us, Dannysha and I’s lantern flew away safely, and thank heavens for that because I did not want to see my message of 给我钱 or “GIVE ME MONEY!” go up in flames.

The ride back to Taipei was, well, crazy. There were thousands of tourists in this tiny town, and only a few trains were coming to take them back. This was the first time I’d ever seen the train workers shoving people into the train to make them fit. However, Dannysha and I made some new friends while being crammed into the train. It seemed better to be friendly to the fellow foreigners whose faces were only several awkward inches away from your pelvic region than to ride on in an uncomfortable silence. It was very interesting to hear their opinions on Taipei and the Chinese spoken there since they were all exchange students and also studying Chinese. I wish I’d met them at the beginning of my stay in Taipei, but at least some nice conversation made the uncomfortable train ride a bit more tolerable.

I’ve uploaded some fairly bad photos for your disappointment. I should have taken my camera’s instructions with me or read them before I came to Taiwan. I did not, however, so many of the photos are a little blurry. Some of them are not the camera’s (or my) fault–there were so many people that I was constantly being jostled and it was difficult keeping the camera still. Still, here they are!

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Taiwan–Day 12(?)

Hello everyone! It’s been awhile since my last update, I must apologize. I’ve turned into a bit of a night owl here which is quite fun but means that I haven’t been to as many places in or around Taipei as I’d like. I’ve gone around to a good number of places, though, so this will be a little catch-up blog for a few days. Concerning food here, Dannysha and I have had authentic Japanese ramen and tonkatsu which were both astounding, some Korean food of which I forget the name, plenty of Taiwanese food, and best of all MEXICAN FOOD! Now, I can’t really say it’s as good as what you can get in America, but it’s close enough to quell my need for queso. We recently climbed a mountain and got some nice photos, visited a few night markets, wandered around the area near our hostel, went to the zoo and visited the Maokong area. I’ll be making a different post for those last two things, so for now just enjoy the photos!

Taiwan–Day 5

Hello all! I hope this post finds you well and in good health, and possibly stuffed from a grease-filled Fat Tuesday! I didn’t really go anywhere of historical importance today, so I don’t really have any good stories for you. Instead, I thought I’d make a note of some of the things I like about Taipei so far. So, here we go!


1. CLEAN AIR!! Air quality was never something I gave much thought to in the States and is something I choose to ignore in China. But after living in China for about 5 months, it really is amazing how different a whiff of fresh air will make you feel.
2. FOOD VARIETY!! Kaifeng is fairly limited when it comes to food options in that you will be eating Chinese food regardless of what your taste buds want. Don’t get me wrong–the food is wonderful, but a taste of home is just that–home. While in Taipei, I’ve had french fries covered in cheese, a corn dog, some kind of Greek sandwich that was similar to a gyro, and those were just snacks from street side food vendors! There are a plethora of Japanese, Korean, Italian, Mexican, etc restaurants in the area. The only food I’ve had trouble finding is Taiwenese food.
3. SUBWAYS!! Not the fast food chain you silly Westerner, I mean the underground public transportation method! The Taiwan MRT system is just amazing. It’s clean, fast, well organized, and has decent hours. Most of the lines stop running around 00:30 so you’re fine unless you’re going to a late movie or a bar.
4. FRIENDLINESS!! The Taiwanese are very friendly, particularly towards foreigners. I’m not saying China isn’t, but let’s be honest–Taipei is a big city and people living in a big city usually aren’t the friendliest towards strangers. I haven’t had to ask anyone for directions yet, but I’ve had several people come up to me and ask if I needed help. In another instance, I was behind a young Taiwanese couple on the subway escalator (by young I mean they could have been anywhere from 15-30 years old) and they just turned around and asked Dannysha and I where were we going and if we liked Taipei. They also made some suggestions about places to see before we leave.
5. MUSIC!! Chinese pop music isn’t really my thing–it’s mostly ballads and ALWAYS melodramatic, but Taiwanese pop seems to be closer in relation to Korean and American pop which are much more dance-y. Because small shops selling anything other than men’s clothing will be playing the most popular tracks, music is of utmost importance.
6. PARKS!! There are parks everywhere in Taipei, just like Shanghai. I’m beginning to think this a common theme in many Chinese cities, and I love it. Sure, New York has Central Park but who needs that when you’ve got about 12409 small parks randomly scattered about the downtown and running/biking parks running along the rivers that dissect the city?
7. ENGLISH!! Now, before you start judging me–a student of the Chinese language–for listing my mother tongue as a Pro, allow me to explain. When I step up to a counter to buy a food item or knick knack, the shop clerk will always begin in English. I will always respond in Chinese. They seem to love this and will then continue in Chinese, usually saying that my Chinese is great (which it’s not) before I leave. So to anyone thinking about travelling to Taiwan, don’t worry too much about the language barrier! You can get by with English. If you don’t speak Chinese or English you might run into some issues.
8. CLIMATE!! I suppose I should have listed this with clean air, but they’re fairly different. I’m visiting Taiwan in mid-February but it feels like mid-October to me. It’s also been cloudy and windy the entire time I’ve been here, which I also love. Were I here in July, the climate might be on my list of cons.
9. STARBUCKS!! They’re everywhere. I’m a regular now at the one closest to me. I’ve missed my quad grande americano in the worst way.
10. LINES!! That’s right, lines. Queues. People in China seem to find forming lines a cumbersome task and so they choose not to. This is not the case in Taiwan at all. On the escalators in the subway, everyone waits and lines up along the right side if they aren’t walking up the escalator. This way, those who want to move quicker can walk past on the left-hand side. While waiting for their train, people form lines on the subway platform and patiently wait for the train to arrive. When it does, they stand to the side and allow room for those exiting the vehicle. It’s truly a beautiful sight to see.

Well, that’s all for now. I’ve uploaded more photos of the Memorial for you to see, along with some random ones I’ve taken in the city. Enjoy!

Taiwan–Day 3

Hello all! 新年快乐!It is now the year of the Snake! I really have to be honest—I was let down by Taiwan’s celebration of the New Year. There were almost no fireworks that I could see, or hear. It’s very possible I was simply in the wrong place to see them, but I was let down nonetheless. I would recommend, therefore, those wishing to experience a Chinese New Year to go to mainland China.

Today we wandered around the city for a bit, along with visiting some famous places in Taipei. For lunch we stopped by the Modern Toilet restaurant. The food wasn’t outstanding, but let’s be honest—you go there for the experience. After that we went to the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial. It was pretty outstanding. The crowds weren’t terrible at all, particularly for this being a holiday in which many people seem to go sightseeing and such. It was a fairly exhausting day filled with much walking and photo-taking, my favorites included down below.

So far, I am absolutely loving Taipei. It’s not really as clean as Shanghai was, but it just seems much more…me. I can’t really describe it, but I just feel a sense of belonging here. I know I said the same for Shanghai, but this is true love, I think. I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings!

我们总算到了!

Hello all! Dannysha, myself, and all of our things officially made it to Taipei! We checked into our hostel a good while ago, dropped off our things and went exploring for a little bit. The location of our hostel is absolutely phenomenal–we are about a one minute walk away from a subway station. There’s also a convenience store attached to our building, so buying snacks and drinks will be very convenient. This is the first dorm style room I’ve stayed in. I’m not super impressed, though the man and woman who are operating it seem to be quite nice. We followed the directions from hostelworld.com (a fantastic site for finding hostels, highly recommend) and ended up in an apartment building of sorts. We rang the bell of a slightly shady looking place, and a women who spoke no English poked her head out of the doorway and asked us what we wanted. We explained the details, and then she took us back outside the building. Once she realized we weren’t some foreigners there to rob her, she became very friendly. I was a little wary, however, because we walked down the entire block to a different building with a woman we’d known for 5 minutes to a place whose address we didn’t know in an unfamiliar city. Were we in America I’d have said “Nope. I’ll just find another place to stay, thanks.” but we are in Asia, which is exponentially safer, so we just followed her. She took us to the 4th floor of this rather large building and showed us where we could sleep and the shower and so forth. My initial reaction was that it was a bit dirty, but that’s not the right word. The furnishings are a little bit old, but everything’s clean. The shower is nice and warm–sadly not hot–and the room is air conditioned! There are another 4 guys staying here besides us, but we haven’t met them. It seems as though everyone mostly keeps to themselves.

A bit of good luck concerning my camera–I didn’t forget it! It turns out it was merely hiding in my bag. Tomorrow begins a hopefully long day of walking around and exploring this exciting city. The Lunar New Year is almost upon us! I hope everyone has their fireworks ready!

My Journey to Taiwan–Pit Stop in Xiamen

I am now comfortably settled into a small, nice hostel for the night in the rather large city of Xiamen. It was no easy trip getting here, though. In preparations for the trip, I purchased a large travel book bag from taobao to act as a second piece of luggage. I over-packed it and had some issues with straps–mainly that they unwound themselves from the small plastic device that held them together. Because we only had an hour and a half to catch the train, I decided to bother with the straps later. On our way out of the dorm, a wheel fell off my carry-on. I checked to see if would be fixable, but it seemed irreparable and we now had about one hour and twenty minutes to get to the train station. So instead of wheeling one bag and carrying another on my shoulders, I ended up carrying them both to the station. Fortunately, I had a 26 hour train ride to rest my weary muscles.

When I woke up this morning on the train, we were in Southern China and the view outside the window had changed drastically. It looked sort of like Jurassic Park out there. I grabbed my bag to find my camera and take a few photos, but could not find it. I apparently left it in my dorm, along with my beard trimmers. By this point, I was fed up with this trip. When we got to the Xiamen station, we grabbed a taxi and gave him the directions for the hostel we wanted. He took us to the correct street but not to the hostel itself. We asked shop vendors in the area where it was, but no one seemed to know. We opted for hostel number two then, but our “hostel” according to Google turned out to be an apartment complex. At that particular point in time, I just wanted to rip my beard off my face. My luggage was broken so I was carrying everything around a few large streets in a large city I didn’t know, and we couldn’t find a hostel for the evening. I was ready to call it quits and traipse my way to the nearest McDonald’s (they’re open 24/7) and camp out there for the evening when Dannysha miraculously got the address for a different hostel on her phone. When we finally hailed a cab, I told him the street and he took us to the hostel. I didn’t even mention the name of the place or the address besides the street name–I guess being foreign travelers is enough sometimes.

We got a place to stay for the evening at a decent price, and I found a new carry-on that seems of decent quality for a decent price, so I’d say things are looking up right now. As for forgetting my camera, I brought my iPhone so I plan to just use the camera on that. The photos won’t be as good, but they’ll suffice. Wish us luck for leg two of the journey!

My Journey to Taiwan

Hello all! I’ve been absent on here for a while, and I must apologize for that. I’ve become quite lethargic over winter break and have sincerely neglected my blog. Not much has been happening here in Kaifeng. Almost all of the students have left, so campus is incredibly quiet and empty. Because the school’s student body is the main source of business for the shops and restaurants surrounding campus, many of them have closed until the spring semester begins. Thankfully, my journey to Taiwan begins tomorrow which means a plethora of tantalizing food stuffs will soon begin their journey through my stomach. I’ve already done my research–Taipei has more than a handful of Mexican restaurants. I cannot put into words my elation at this discovery.

 

Even though the promise of Taiwan shimmers with the foods of the world and a thriving metropolis, the journey to this promised land will be long and arduous. No, really. My train from Kaifeng will leave tomorrow around 2pm and will arrive in Xiamen around 4pm the next day. Yes, that is a 26 hour train ride. China has these wonderful sleeper trains where they have bunk beds stacked three high instead of seats, but I was not lucky enough to get one of those. I only found out a few days ago that there’s a Chinese site where one can reserve tickets and then pick them up at designated location, so by the time I was able to buy tickets at the office due to the time restraints (refer to an earlier entry about this) the sleeper train was completely booked. Before hand, the only site I’d been able to find concerning train tickets in China charged an outlandish service fee and could not guarantee the actual tickets. Obviously, I elected not to purchase anything from that site.

After arriving in Xiamen, I’ll be staying in a hostel for one night. The next morning I’ll be taking a ferry to Kinmen Island and will then be taking a plane to Taiwan. Total travel time: about 48 hours from point A to point B. The reason I’m not simply flying with a commercial airline to Taiwan from mainland China is because a one-way ticket with one of those would have been more than my tickets to and from Taiwan.

 

Well, I should get back to packing. I may have dropped the ball on my train tickets, but I’ll be damned if I leave my lucky socks in Kaifeng. Look forward to some great photos from Taiwan, and possibly a check-in in Xiamen! Until next time.