TAIPEI 2013 [1]


[18 July – 20 July 2013]

Wellington >> Auckland >> [Hong Kong] >> Taipei >> Tainan >> Kaohsiung >> Penghu Islands >> [Kaohsiung] >> Taitung >> Hualien >> Ilan County >> TAIPEI >> [Hong Kong] >> Auckland >> Wellington

Two Years Ago…

The Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA) Electric Train which was chugging along 130km/hr would take us about 1 hour to go around North East Taiwan to Banqiao Station in Taipei City. We were staying close by the MRT Hotel down the line at Fuzhong Station on Line number 5 on the Taipei Rapid Transport subway line. Once we checked into our hotel we can relax knowing our luggage can be placed in a safe place where we can then explore the city. Having been to Taipei a year before, it is good to come back to Taiwan’s largest city where we would normally have no trouble finding things to do while we are here.

Tamsui River flowing out to the sea

Tamsui River flowing out to the sea

The first place Jessie takes me is to her university which she graduated a decade ago. To go to Tamkang University, you just need to take the MRT to the last stop on the Tamsui Line. When you come out of the Metro Station, there will be plenty of food stalls tempting us to try their street food. It must be to cater for the university students around here as they will be hungry after going to classes all day. On the way there we passed the wide Tamsui River which flows out to the Taiwan Strait. The late afternoon sun reflecting off the waters of the river and steering out to the west where the sun was going to set later on in the afternoon makes this area seems to be quite a pleasant place to be while we were in Taipei. Jessie is proud of her university as she says it is one of the largest private universities in the country. Even though it is not a tourist attraction, it would be nice to see the university my wife had studied during her days as a varsity student. As we walked around the Tamsui Campus, Jessie could bring up many of her memories such as the hostel that she stayed in with her friends, playing Basketball every day and the mischief she got herself up to from time to time. There was so many interesting things that I know about her and her earlier life before we met.

When night fell, it was time to go back for some rest. Having gone to the top of Taipei city, we went back to Banqiao Station and nearby we could start smelling food in the air. It must be another street market close by and we were hungry again as the snacks we had earlier were not enough to fill us up for the rest of the night. A few hundred metres away Nanya Night Market where we buy our dinner and take it back to the hotel to eat that night. Got to love the night markets around Taiwan and when night falls, we love to go out and eat.

Longshan Temple

Longshan Temple

Next morning we were up and visit a couple of sights which are major attractions in Taipei. We had already been up Taipei 101 so we were not going to do that again so we visit a few places that I either have not been to before or had not visit since my 2008 trip to Taipei. One of those places that I haven’t been to for a long time was Longshan Temple. Considered to be one of the oldest temples in all of Taiwan, it is a place which attracts a lot of worshipers and tourists alike. Although the entry to the temple is free entry, Jessie would donate to the three monks standing outside the temple asking for a donation to help their monastery or cause. Observing around the many people here, I could see people reading the sutras here on the steps on the temple. Everyday inside the temple would probably be thousands of visitors coming here to their temple to pay homage to Buddha for good luck, health, and fortune. While there are set places in the temple for students to pray for good grades and for single ladies to find a husband. Jessie tells me that there is a group of girls standing outside the Buddha figure saying prays for hope of finding a good guy to be with. I thought to myself that if I was a single guy then I would be coming here to find a girl if you know that the girls lining up here were waiting for a husband. Haha… that would be easy for a guy to look for a girl if they knew what they were wishing for. Anyway I have already found my lovely wife that I do not want to change for anyone else but it was fun to hear that girls here would come to see Buddha for a chance of marriage.

Just missed the Taipei MRT Train as it leaves the station

Just missed the Taipei MRT Train as it leaves the station

Catching the MRT is a necessity when we were in Taipei. I would like to stay above ground but when we could zip from one part of town to the other underground, it is convenient when you are trying to meet someone for lunch. Jessie was going to catch up with her good friend Tina close to where we staying at the Banqiao District. We had to hurry on the subway to meet up with her for lunch. The place we went to was an Italian Restaurant inside the mall. As it was lunch time it was pretty full because it seems like everyone has the same idea of going to lunch at the same time. Since it is rare for the two friends to meet after they have graduated from University, they tried to keep in contact as much as possible. I was happy to eat my pizza, creamy pasta and roast vegetables while they talked.

The National Palace Museum is the place to go for ancient Chinese history

The National Palace Museum is the place to go for ancient Chinese history

After lunch we said goodbye to Tina and we will be going to the National Palace Museum in Shilin District. The museum is considered to be one of the Top 5 Museums to visit in the World due to the huge collection of ancient Chinese history above its roof. Despite the ugly colour scheme of a Green-orange coloured roof, the museum’s artefacts inside is the main attraction. You may wonder why this collection of valuable historic objects is not located somewhere in Mainland China instead of Taiwan. Right?! Well this is because during the Communist-Nationalist China Civil war, about one-tenth of China’s national treasures were taken across the Strait to Taiwan by the Nationalists. Historic artefacts that date back couple of millennia that cannot be replaced are found here on display at the National Palace Museum in Taipei.

When we got there by bus we could tell that there were already many tourists coming here in their giant tour buses forming large lines to go in. There are so many Mainland China tourists in the queue who were here to see their ancient relics that were once in the mainland being displayed here in Taiwan. Haha… they have to come to Taiwan to see their own treasures. We saw items from ancient times that goes back to the Han Dynasty where China was expanding eastwards and some dated back before 0AD. The detail on some of the art work is incredibly amazing. Just spectacular to look at even if was made over 2000 years ago. The people who made the items did a really good job and even in modern times, I would say they are still really artistic in our standards. There were no cameras to be filming any of the work inside so my memories of the place inside will fade over time. If I ever go to Taipei a couple of decades later, the National Palace Museum is one of these places where you should not miss because of the cultural importance the museum is holding inside its walls. It would be good to come to the museum again as some of the items are rotate around in the exhibition halls.

Since we are in Shilin District, there is a really popular Shilin Night Market quite near. We took the crowded bus to the Night market which we originally passed yesterday when we were on the MRT on our way to Tamsui District where Jessie’s university was. From the subway station I could already see the market from above which covered a wide area. As it was not evening yet when we went, the crowds had not gather after they had finished work therefore it was not too crowded. When we got off the bus, I immediately saw something that I like. It was two small figurines which I wanted to buy straight away because it was President Chiang Kai Shek and Chairman Mao of China both holding a mug of beer with their country on the mug and both laughing together. Haha… I thought it was funny and wanted to buy them at the souvenir shop which was selling Taiwanese souvenirs. The price of the souvenirs was quite expensive and I wanted to buy both of them so I had to do a bit of haggling to get the price down from 600NTD to 500NTD for both of them. Luckily for me that they agreed because amazingly it was their opening day of their new business at the Shilin Night Market and they believe that their first sale will bring them good luck. As I became their first client, I am now happy to own a set of political figurines in my bedroom.

The Night Market had so many things on sale. We didn’t buy much apart from some tasty snacks. Oh boy, I have been eating so much since being in Taiwan for the past couple of weeks that I must have put on a bit of weight when I am not actively doing things. I have been to so many night markets now and I have eaten so much that my stomach is pretty large by the time I head home to New Zealand. Jessie my wonderful wife kept on keeping me full and the food was so tasty less the stinky tofu which I tend to stay away from now. That evening we would be going to Jessie’s little brother’s apartment for dinner so we may have to keep a bit of room for tonight. From Shilin Station we went to Sanchong Elementary School Station. Not far from the station we walked for a few hundred metres or so to another night market. Ha… we cannot avoid the Sanhe Night Market here. They live so close that they can get yummy food really easy if they do not want to cook after a hard day at work. We stayed for a few hours for dinner which was really good to provide us our last dinner before my flight tomorrow. After when the dishes were done, Jessie and I said goodbye and made our way back to the subway station back to our place in Fuzhong.   

Tomorrow would be our last day together for another two and a half months before we can see each other again. Even when we are married we still cannot be with one another until later on in the year where we would be travelling together outside of Taiwan and being with each other for the rest of our lives. It is always hard to come back to your hotel to pack your bags knowing that it will be my last day in Taiwan tomorrow and I really did not want to leave Jessie again. Neither of us wanted to leave the bed early the next morning and we would stay at the hotel till the last minutes before our 11am Check Out time.

Since my flight was at 16:20 in the afternoon, we still have a bit of time to be with one another before going to the airport for my flight. To have one last meal in Taipei, Jessie had in mind the vegetarian buffet restaurant a block away from where we are staying. What a great choice she made again because it was really popular and when it is popular, you know the food would be good. There were a lot of people waiting for seats even before the restaurant opened for lunch time service. The buffet restaurant served so much wonderful food that was all delicious like they were made of meat. With plenty of choices on offer, we even had dessert at the end of the service. Walking back to the hotel to pick up our luggage that we left behind at the lobby gave us some time to exercise after eating so much.

To get to Taoyuan International Airport, we caught a bus from Banqiao which takes an hour long. It seems so far away but it gives me a chance to see the city on the back of the bus looking outside at its many shops, people on scooters and a few sights of interest in between. The appeal of the city may not the most exciting of all the cities around Asia but if you get a chance to see some of the attractions here it is the worth the visit here. Having already visited most of the attractions already, there are still places that I have only read in the guidebooks but have not actually visited yet. There will be other opportunities for me to come back again to Taipei and hopefully more things to do next time. I now have an added bonus of having relatives from my marriage to my wife who can show me around the city and the attractions that I may not have heard of.

My trip to Taiwan began and will end in Taoyuan International Airport. Jessie and I would have a final coffee together at the Starbucks Café in the airport. It was time again to enjoy my last coffee with my wife as our 2 week holiday had finished. So many great things had happened on this trip and I did not want to leave Jessie again after tying the knot in marriage. The other good thing is that I will be coming back to Taiwan again later in October 2013 where Jessie will be waiting for me again at the airport ready to be reunited again. When it was time to leave, it was a kiss and a hug goodbye. Although it was not as emotional as the first time, I boarded my China Airlines flight not waiting to leave my wife. It was time to go back to New Zealand where my home is and plan the next part of our journey together when we will meet up in Taiwan again in October.

Taipei >> Hong Kong

Sitting on the plane in my allocated seat, it was time to think again of the things that had happened on my 2 week trip to Taiwan. It is getting hard to leave my wife in Taiwan while I have to come back to New Zealand for the next 10 weeks or so before flying back to Taiwan again with my parents in tow. For a moment, I thought I can go back to Jessie’s arms again since my China Airlines flight was delayed for 30 minutes. Our Flight CI617 was stuck on the tarmac and I was not able to return to Jessie’s arms during that time. If it only takes 90 minutes to fly from Taipei to Hong Kong and with the time already delayed I had really little time to check in from my flight back to New Zealand. When we did take off, in my mind I could miss my connecting flight to fly back to New Zealand which has never happened to me before. On all of my journeys to different cities around the world, I have been fortunate to take the same flight that I had pre-booked. Just before landing, the air stewardess did come up to me and ask me to take my hand carry luggage with me to be place further up the plane to seat 11F. Haha… It was still a seat upgrade of some sort. Although it was not business class, it did give me some extra time to get ready to rush out of the plane with the other premium economy passengers to try to catch my connecting flight due to the 30 minute delay to my flight. Surprisingly when I crossed from Economy to Premium Economy there were so many empty seats in this part of the plane while we were all squashed in together in Economy. I think they call it cattle class for economy class passengers while the passengers who can afford the extra spending on their airfares have a bit more leg room.

Hong Kong >> Auckland >> Wellington

As soon as they let us out of the plane, we had people at Hong Kong International Airport with signs with my name on a piece of paper telling me to follow the airport staff in red uniform. I had to rush to the Transit Area to pick up my flight tickets at the Air New Zealand counter and I had limited time to do so. A few of us who were affected by the delay takeoff who had other connecting flights to catch was on a footrace down the long airport corridors racing to catch our next flights. When I arrived I couldn’t see any of the Air New Zealand Transit Ticket counter anywhere. Oh I couldn’t hold on to the big lunch that I had in Taipei and had to go for a toilet stop before my really long flight back to New Zealand. You know the way it is with long international flights, I would rather go while I am still on land than holding it in until the seatbelt lights are turned off on the plane.

Once finished my minder who had lost pace with me during the long stride dash to the Transit Area had caught up with me and asked the counter to issue me with a boarding pass for my flight. There was no more time to lose as I follow him through security cutting in front of a row of people by showing his Airport ID Card. We had to get to our departure gate before the final boarding call which meant going up the service elevator that would lead us to different parts of the airport where normal passengers can not access. This is so awesome getting to cut through queues and going into back areas like a VIP passenger. At the back of mind I could miss my flight even with this express service. Ideally I would rather avoid the rush and check out Hong Kong International Airport at a more leisurely pace than go on a mad rush to catch my flight. The best thing was when we finally reached the Boarding Gate was that everyone was lining up to board the plane. Even with the half an hour delay, Hong Kong International Airport staff was able to board my last international flight back to New Zealand. They did an amazing job. Thank You.

I was able to depart for my 11 hour flight at 19:10 and being able to sit on my rightful seat on the Air New Zealand flight, I can let them fly me back to my home country. On that flight home I did not do much at all. Either it was some lousy movies on the flight or I just want to watch the flight show all night seeing myself flying further and further away from my wife. Just thinking of the long day where I had to leave my wife and going through the drama of nearly missing my flight. I would come back to New Zealand a changed man. Well… a married man who has a responsibility to look after his wife. When friends and workmates next see me when I go to work tomorrow and ask me whether I am single, I can proudly say that I am married to my beautiful wife Jessie.

Similar to my first flight from Auckland to Hong Kong, I had a spare seat between me and another passenger which made it easier to stretch my legs out. Also again I found it really hard to fall asleep with a couple of hours of rest here and there before they wake you up for breakfast. I always find it hard coming back from holiday on the plane ride back compare to when I first leave. There was a huge line of passengers starting to line up outside the toilet after breakfast and it is always funny to watch everyone trying to go before it is time to land which meant buckling into your seat for at least 30 minutes before the landing at Auckland International Airport. Looks like I am back in New Zealand on a cool winter’s day.  

After getting my bags from baggage claim and going through Customs declaring that I had food items such as the Taiwanese Tea leaves that I was carrying back, I walked to Auckland Domestic Airport for my flight to Wellington. It must have been school holidays when I came back because there were so many school children either at sports tournaments or with their parents travelling back home. After a couple of times trying to check myself in the self-serving kiosks, I had to manually check in and waited in a really long line to check my baggage in. Once my one hour flight was over and I took my bus ride back to Wellington City, I walked back to my house where I closed the door of my room and lie on my bed to end my wonderful trip. So much was achieved on this trip including the most important event of my life so far. I am married to my wife Yun-Shan (Jessie) on my 29th Birthday. I have become a married man.

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ILAN COUNTY 2013


[17 July – 18 July 2013]

Wellington >> Auckland >> [Hong Kong] >> Taipei >> Tainan >> Kaohsiung >> Penghu Islands >> [Kaohsiung] >> Taitung >> Hualien >> ILAN COUNTY >> Taipei >> [Hong Kong] >> Auckland >> Wellington

Two Years Ago…

Arrival to Luodong Train Station

Arrival to Luodong Train Station

Again, I have not got a clue about the new area we are heading to but I am sure Jessie has her reasons to staying here for a night on our trip around Taiwan. From Hualien Station we took the Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA) Taroko Express train to a city called Luodong in Ilan County. About half as slow as the High Speed Rail Trains on the Western side of the island, we are now heading out of the mountainous areas of Eastern Taiwan and onto an alluvial plain near the North East section of Taiwan. When we got to the city we walked around a bit since we had two hours to kill before we can check in to our accommodation and during that time I personally hated this town because there is nothing of interest that I enjoyed from being here from our wanderings around the city so far. Even the Lonely Planet guide had no mentioned of the things we could do while we are here and I may have nagged on a bit about what we could do here while we were hanging around Luodong. We have one day in Ilan County and so far my impressions of the town was not that exciting enough compare to all the other places we have been to in the past couple of weeks. Jessie has other ideas though as she had arranged for us to stay at a Bed & Breakfast further away from the city into the mountains overlooking the area.   

Our place to stay at Ying Yue Villa (櫻悅 Villa)

Our place to stay at Ying Yue Villa (櫻悅 Villa)

Going back to Luodong Train Station we caught a taxi outside the station to our accommodation some 45 minutes’ drive away to the edge of the Ilan Plain before going up a series of windy roads that even a Rally driver would find difficult navigating up to the top of the mountain. The taxi driver was so talented with all those hairpin turns and blind corners that we made it safely to our Bed and Breakfast at Yulan Road. The name of our Bed and Breakfast was called Ying Yue Villa (櫻悅 Villa) and it felt like a couples retreat without any interaction with any of the other couples that was staying there that night. The villa was amazing. Gone were my ill feelings of Ilan County because we were in such an amazing place with tea plantations located up in the mountains. Our room was similar to a honeymoon suite with a swing chair, paint aisle stand, outdoor bath tub with an outdoor garden looking over the tea plantations.

The view from the mountainside over Ilan County

The view from the mountainside over Ilan County

From when we first arrive here until we leave tomorrow morning we can enjoy the fresh mountain air and the fantastic views across the plain. We had a walk around the villa’s premises as well as seeing the gorgeous views from the observation platform located within their grounds. They even built a pavilion with seating so you can enjoy the views from the comfort of some shelter over your head. You can see the city of Luodong from up here and you realize that humans have created farms and constructed buildings across the land. There was plenty of human development down on the plain compare to the little involvement in changing the landscape from the mountain range we were on. Beyond the river separating us from them, the land had been developed. Also standing on the observation platform you can see the offshore island of Turtle Island. It is funny about the name of the island because it really does looks like a turtle with its large shell and head above the water.

Rather than staying within the grounds of our accommodation, we took a nice walk around the area to see what else is here to do. All around us are tea farms which the growers here plant as the higher altitude must be good for growing tea here. There are quite a lot of houses here that have also turned into guest houses and bed and breakfast accommodation either for secondary income or to take advantage of the wonderful views from up here. As the sun was setting in the late afternoon shadows started to appear in the valleys around us creating contrast to the mountainous valleys that the sun cannot reach anymore. Soon the East Coast of Taiwan will fall into darkness as the night is creeping closer and the shadows that are cast over the mountains are getting longer.

Ilan County with the lights turned on

Ilan County with the lights turned on

There was no place to go at night as we are here on the mountain in our accommodation. There are no activities with the other groups who are here which are mainly young families from the city probably wanting some relaxation and couples who wants to spend some time together in a natural setting. When it is dark, we went back to the viewing platform to see Ilan County with all its lights turned on. For a moderate sized county, the lights radiating out of the peoples’ homes and street lighting is pretty impressive. The Ilan plain below us looks like a power grid that us humans have transformed the land with artificial spackle of dotted lights. It even made the night sky glow a little orange as the lights are reflected on some cloud in the atmosphere. Luckily for us we were just a few who came here to see it as most of the others probably stayed inside and not want to be bothered by the cold. To warm ourselves up, the last thing we did before turning into bed was to use the outdoor rock bath tub. The bath took an age to fill up but once all the curtains are drawn around the bath we could relax in the warm waters and take any bad impressions away. Some candlelight for the outside and some music in the background from my tablet just makes you feel relax.

Watching the first rays of light over Ilan

Watching the first rays of light over Ilan

It looks like I was the only one brave enough to wake up at 5:30am in the morning to watch the sunrise. Jessie did kick me out of bed and asked me to take some photos as she wanted some more sleep. Haha… She made me go outside in the cold fresh morning air to watch the sun go up. No one wanted to wake up this early but since we are on the Eastern side of Taiwan, this is a great opportunity to watch the start of a new day of seeing the sun rise from the horizon of the Pacific Ocean. The skies glowed red however the clouds were heavy that morning and obstructed the sun rising out of the sea. After taking a few photos and not much opportunity to see the sun itself, I hurry back to our room and went back into our warm bed for more sleep.

Before check out we had some breakfast that was provided at the Villa’s dining area. The breakfast was pretty basic as we were expecting fine dining for our first meal of the day. Overall we enjoyed our experience staying at the Ying Yue Villa. The views from up here are fantastic and we enjoyed time away from the hustle of the city to be up here on the mountainside with the tea plantations out our window. The setting is really picturesque that the villa was once used for a Taiwanese television show in the past before. If you are in the North Eastern part of Taiwan, I would rather be in the mountains up here rather than the flat hinterland at Ilan County.

When it was time to leave it started to rain again on the mountain after a promising start earlier that maybe the rain clouds were not going to come over to us today. One of the staff at the Villa was nice enough to drive us back to town at the bottom of the valley for us to take the bus back into Luodong again. The sleepy little township felt isolated with the shopkeepers just sitting around swatting flies waiting for customers to purchase from there while we were waiting for the bus. I told Jessie that I do not want to be seen in this town as there is nothing to do but Jessie always puts a positive spin on things that we will only be here once and we should saviour the moment of standing in this little township that I do not know the name of waiting to catch the bus to the larger city of Luodong. Luckily we do not need to stay at the city much longer and we would be waiting at the Luodong Train Station ready to catch our TRA Electric Train to our final city on our itinerary, Taipei City.

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HUALIEN 2013


[15 July – 17 July 2013]

Wellington >> Auckland >> [Hong Kong] >> Taipei >> Tainan >> Kaohsiung >> Penghu Islands >> [Kaohsiung] >> Taitung >> HUALIEN >> Ilan County >> Taipei >> [Hong Kong] >> Auckland >> Wellington

Two Year Ago…

Hualien City is about halfway up the Eastern Coast of Taiwan and it will take just over 3 hours to get there by train. For the same amount for me to catch a bus and train to work each day, I can travel 140km from Taitung to Hualien. The price of 150NTD per ticket or the equivalent to around $8NZD in my country is a pretty cheap way to go to our next city. This will be my first time on the Eastern Coast of Taiwan and from what I have seen on the train journey, the East Rift Valley is pretty unpopulated with mountains on both sides of us. They say that only 20% of the people of Taiwan lives in the typhoon battered Eastern side of the island, while the vast majority lives on the sheltered Western side of Taiwan. With less people on this side of the island, most of the land is use for agriculture. We past many acres of water covered rice paddy fields and land used for crops grown by the farmers here on both sides of the railway tracks. I notice that on this side of the island when sitting on the train that most scooters here will have a giant windscreen shield on their scooter. Haha… maybe it is to protect the driver from the head winds from the strong winds here.

The train reached Hualien Station at 11:50pm which leaves us with plenty of time to check into our accommodation and explore the city. Again our prefer method of transport would be the scooter as it is convenient to get to the places we want to go. Jessie has several places which she wants to take me while visiting Hualien and I can not wait to see where she takes me. On our way from the train station to our hostel type accommodation, we went through the busy Zhong (middle) Shan (mountain) Road where it was a wide busy main road where my eyes were darting all around the road because the long street was full of shops and big neon signage that is custom to large recognised Asian Cities. The name of our hostel is called “Full House” which is a house where you hire the room to stay while we were in Hualien. Our room had a city theme with the feature wall had a cut out of the city landscape.   

Tzu Chi Organisation Headquarters

Tzu Chi Organisation Headquarters

With some lunch in our stomachs we would go to the Tzu Chi Organisation Headquarters in Hualien. The founder of the Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation is an interesting lady named Cheng Yen who built one of the largest Non-Profit Organisations in Taiwan with thousands of volunteers, around 5 million followers and their own television channel. She was born into a wealthy family but left the riches all behind after the death of her father. She started to follow Buddhism to comfort her grief and started to study the Buddhist script thoroughly before two events changed her outlook on things to do more for the poor. One of those events was she was challenged by three Catholic nuns who said that Buddhism had done nothing for the people which Christianity had built schools and hospitals to help the needy. As she was based in Eastern Taiwan, she began helping the poor accumulating support to build her own school and hospital from donations from her followers. Today Jessie bought me to the headquarters of the organisation to have a walk around on their grounds. The building is huge and is made from marble blocks for walls with a beautiful 3 tier slopping roof that you normally see in Japanese temples. There was also a tea house built by bamboo that felt really tranquil when you go inside. Close by to the headquarters are the Tzu Chi University and Tzu Chi Hospital which is to help educate the young and help treat the underprivileged. I think the story behind the person of the organisation is more fascinating than the place itself. It is just amazing to see that one person can organise a movement such as the one seen here today.

Out on a paddle boat on Liyu Lake

Out on a paddle boat on Liyu Lake

Next we left the city for Liyu Lake which was 18 kilometres south of Hualien City. This is the first time I heard of this lake let alone know where it was. Jessie drove us on the scooter heading inland towards the towering mountain range and when we got there we arrived at a peaceful lake surrounded by green mountain peaks. The lake is of a dark colour as the green trees surrounding the lake is reflected on these peaceful waters. The rain clouds hanging around the mountains also made the waters darker than if we had come on a sunny blue day. Liyu Lake looked so calm that we wanted to go on the lake and paddle around in the rental paddle boats. We originally wanted to hire a bicycle and cycle around its parameters but the paddle boats looked so much fun. Thinking that we can hire the paddle boat for 1 hour and paddle a lap of the lake, we soon knew paddling these boats would be hard work and we would eventually see one side of the 1 km lake. At first it seems like we were paddling against the flow as we put much effort to paddle the boats around the lake. The sweat we put in was worth it because the scenery was so pretty from the middle of the lake in our whale paddle boat. Paddling back was much easier as we had to give the boat back to the owner after an hour. We were racing a dragon boat on the lake while we were paddling back to shore with no chance of winning with a group of 10 paddlers.  We got back just in time to park the boat on the wharf. Other things to see here would be the Visitor Centre where I picked up a few traditional handicrafts from the local peoples here and having a look of the lake at the watch tower near the carpark. Views are always better when you are looking from high above. 

Dinner that night would be a vegetarian buffet dinner with the all you can eat option. There was much food available including vegetable dumplings, sushi, vegetables and different varieties of vegetarian meat. There was much on offer and after the exercise that we done today at Liyu Lake, the food was good and tasty. They even have ice cream for dessert. The cost of the meal for two people was only 400NTD which is about $10NZD per person for all you can eat. Such a good deal! The night was still young and we rode to the City Centre of Hualien for a walk at the night markets. Similar to the night markets around the rest of Taiwan, I don’t think we purchased any more things unless it was uniquely different and would serve a great memento in visiting Hualien. Clothing on sale with the name of the city doesn’t do it for me anymore after visiting many different cities in the past few years.

We were woken up by Jet Fighter Planes early in the morning waking us up about 7:30am in the morning. I noticed in this city of Eastern Taiwan it seems like every couple of hours a whole squadron of Fighter Planes would roar across the skies above us. It is so awesome to hear the roars in the skies and seeing them dart from one horizon to another going at extraordinary speeds when they flew in pairs side by side in a close formation. Since New Zealand does not have an attack force in the skies anymore, they are a great sight to see. They must be going on training missions as they have a nearby base close by. We had somewhere special to go today so the early wakeup call was quite convenient.

Entering Taroko Gorge

Entering Taroko Gorge

The special place that we were going to is the Taroko National Park which is one of Taiwan’s natural treasures. Spanning 18km long, the Taroko Gorge in the National Park is a gorge made of marble rock with steep cliff faces on both sides of the river. As we were in this part of the island, we had to visit this place. It was predicted to rain that afternoon and it will take us a while to get there on the scooter. Jessie would be the driver and I would be the backseat navigator telling her the directions where to go on her iPhone. On our 16km journey there from the city centre when we were driving in the countryside, I am reminded that we are in a beautiful part of the country. We past the high mountain peaks that seemed to be shrouded with clouds on the top and some of these peaks were 3000m in height. Approaching the Taroko Gorge National Park Headquarters there is a beautiful scenic point that looks into the Gorge’s steep cliffs with a grey colour river coming out of its inner belly. Monkeys were also hanging around the area which always causes laughter for me.

Tunnels are carved out on the side of the cliffs

Tunnels are carved out on the side of the cliffs

Our scooter provided an excellent way to look at the beautiful scenery that is 360 degrees around us. There is always a possibility of falling rocks above us but that is a chance we will take with our helmets on tight. There is normally an overhang of rocks above as the road is engineered like an open tunnel into the cliff following the twisting and turning along with the river. Cascading waterfalls can be seen and exposed vertical rock faces that has been brought down by the elements. Trees can be seen clinging onto the gorge for dear life knowing one good storm can see them crashing down to the river bed below. There are many wonderful bridges constructed to get us over parts of the river to the other side of the marble gorge. We were driving along enjoying the views when suddenly we had to turn back due to a huge rock slide blocking the road that crosses Taiwan. We were only a few kilometres into the 18km route when we were turned around back to where we had come from.

Eternal Spring Shrine from afar

Eternal Spring Shrine from afar

There was still an attraction that we passed earlier which the Eternal Spring (Changchun) Shrine. We pulled up to the carpark along with the tourist buses and took a look at the Shrine from afar which was dedicated to the 212 workers who perished when building the first cross-island highway through the gorge. They say the water that flows under the footbridge and out into a waterfall is always flowing in their memory after the sacrifice they made to cut a road through the rugged interior of Taiwan. I said to Jessie that I wanted to go to the shrine for a closer look and should not be more than 15 minutes long. We saw people walking there and coming back again so it did not look far. Jessie wasn’t feeling so well so she waited behind while I went by myself. After crossing the Changchun Bridge passed the Liwu River, there were three Buddha Statues in a cave dwelling offering peace to the ones that passed away. From the platform, the Eternal Spring Shrine looked so close like a 5 minute walk but gosh was I wrong as I walked the wrong direction to a completely different path. I had missed the entrance to the walkway as there were people blocking the entrance at the time and I did not realize until after I came back that the entranceway to the shrine was just to the right of the three Buddha standing there.

Should I pull the rope to ring the bell?

Should I pull the rope to ring the bell?

Something so obvious of having no crowds around should have told me that I was already walking in the wrong direction but in my head I kept on telling myself that the shrine is only around the next corner. Every corner was leading to somewhere new and different and I wanted to keep on going. First was the fairly large Changchun Buddhist Monastery which is of quite a decent size hidden away from the public, then there was a suspension footbridge that was dangling by a few steel ropes with wooden floorboards that crossed the river again. At this point I knew I was going the wrong way but I kept going because I wanted to know what is next. I was getting higher and higher from following the narrow pathways up the mountain side and the views were getting better as well of the mountains in the distance. I reached the two-story Bell Tower with a bronze bell. I went up to the second floor and it would be the first time since leaving Jessie at the carpark that I could see the carpark area again and I was really high up that I thought about ringing the bell three times to let Jessie know that I had taken the wrong path and had gone up here. Second thought was that if I ring the bell then people might think I am in trouble and needed assistance or wake up the monastery close by so I thought better of it. There is a sign saying “the ringing of the bell comforts the spirits of the men killed building the Central Cross-Island highway and also arouses the people’s purist hopes”.   

The view from Taroko Tower where the first President of Tower overlooks the gorge

The view from Taroko Tower where the first President of Tower overlooks the gorge

The next sign pointed to me that the Taroko Tower was really close and even though I had checked my watch that 15 minutes had already past, I would make it my last stop before coming back to Jessie. The Taroko Tower was built 30 years after the completion of the Cross-Island Highway was completed in 1985. Inside the tower on the second floor was Chiang Kai Shek who was the First President of Taiwan sitting in his seat overlooking the gorge below. He saw this project of the road as a huge importance visiting the area four times to see how the construction was going as the new road would give their people access from the West Coast to the East Coast and vice versa. His place on the mountain side was directly over the river and it looks like only a few people would come up have to say hi to him each day as he is left by himself to see the completion of his national project. After taking a few photos from the viewing platform, it was time for me to come down the mountain as well. With no tourists in sight, I took off my sweat drenched polo shirt and ran down the mountain as fast as I can to get back to Jessie who had been waiting for me for all this time. In total, it took me 45 minutes to get to Taroko Tower and back to Jessie who was a bit worried after not showing up for the past 30 minutes and thought I got lost somewhere.

Now that we are back together and explained the situation that I somehow ended up to the towers up in the mountains above us, we went to the Eternal Spring Shrine together. It was only a 10 minute walk through a series of mountain caves to get to but I now knew that I had missed the entrance and went the wrong way. Jessie led the way to the Shrine and we saw the gusting flow of water that goes through a narrow gap of the shrine and out under the bridge to a waterfall back down to the Liwu River. After a few photos here we went back to the carpark and ride back to the city ending our visit to Taroko National Park. Even though the shrine is the major draw card in this section, I secretly preferred my hike up to the Bell Tower and Taroko Tower above the Eternal Spring Shrine. Maybe it was the adventure of exploring beyond the beaten track and discovering something new along the way. Anyway the Eternal Spring Shrine still looks beautiful from afar when you see this man-made shrine incorporating the beauty of nature at Taroko Gorge.  

Jessie and I at Qixingtan Scenic Area with the Pacific Ocean behind us

Jessie and I at Qixingtan Scenic Area with the Pacific Ocean behind us

On our way back from Taroko Gorge we stopped over at the Qixingtan Scenic Area where you can see the steep cliffs of the East Rift Valley meets the sea. Further northwards was the Qingshui Cliffs which we could see in the distance. Here the vertical mountains are lashed by the waves from the Pacific Ocean constantly and where the warm moisture storm clouds gather from the sea and make landfall bringing in the rain. Out here you can look out for thousands of miles and you will not see any land if you look eastwards. The next piece of land if you set sail from this shoreline would probably be the Mexican shoreline thousands and thousands of kilometres away across the Pacific Ocean. We could see dark clouds were starting to form along the coast as rain was coming and we did not have enough time to get back to the city on the scooter before the rain fell on us. When we did eventually get back we had some lunch and went back to our accommodation where a 5.3 earthquake shook us a little bit. Being so close to the mountains were the Eurasian and Pacific tectonic plates are pushing against one another, earthquakes are quite common here. Unfortunately the earthquakes followed me back home to Wellington after the trip as the day that I came back there was a reasonable jolt in my city too.

Jessie picks her prize at the Hualien Night Market after doing so well in popping balloons with darts

Jessie picks her prize at the Hualien Night Market after doing so well in popping balloons with darts

When night fell we wanted to have some more food and the best place to go is the busy night markets in Hualien. Even better they have two night markets in different parts of the town. Jessie and I had a lot of fun and thought it was our date night. The first night market we walked around the market finding different snacks to eat and the second night market we enjoyed the fun activities on offer. It felt like we were in a carnival and we were walking hand in hand as newlyweds playing like we were dating again. I never tried shooting an arrow in archery before. You got to keep your hand straight holding the bow and then pull the arrow back before releasing and try to hit the bull’s eye. Jessie was really good at throwing darts at the little round balloons. Her skills of popping those balloons were fantastic that she won a prize from the stall owner. The game that we played reminded me of the old Konami computer game Pooyan which the aim of the game is to shoot down the balloons with your darts. Other activities included throwing baseballs at the wall of 9 numbers as you have 12 balls to try and knock out the nine numbers. Finally we ended the night with a ride on the bumper cars acting like little children learning to have fun again.

The two days in Hualien ended too quickly as we will be making our way up the Eastern Coast of Taiwan again to Ilan. What I love about Hualien is the city being so close to nature with our visits to the Liyu Lake, Takaro National Park and on the way back seeing the high cliffs next to the raging sea. The city is of a decent size and has plenty of things to do at night which kept us entertained. Another thing that I will remember our visit here will be the Jet Fighter planes that roars through the skies each day on training missions to defend their country if needs be. We had such a good time in Hualien that I didn’t mind staying another day or two here to see more natural things of beauty either near the mountains or along the coast.

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TAITUNG 2013


[13 July – 15 July 2013]

Wellington >> Auckland >> [Hong Kong] >> Taipei >> Tainan >> Kaohsiung >> Penghu Islands >> [Kaohsiung] >> TAITUNG >> Hualien >> Ilan County >> Taipei >> [Hong Kong] >> Auckland >> Wellington

Two Years Ago…

With the fun filled drama of catching the train to Taitung behind us, we arrived at Taitung at 19:40 in the evening. We did not have much daylight left when we got out of the train station as it was late in the day and we needed to check in to our accommodation before we could explore our first city in Eastern Taiwan. Located nearby from the train station was a local rent-a-scooter shop where we will be hiring a scooter for our transport needs while we are in the city. After choosing our helmets, we were off into the night trying to find our accommodation for the next couple of days. When driving, the city looked empty with no one around apart from the noticeable stray dogs that is roaming the streets without any owners. Compare to other cities on the populated Western side of Taiwan, I feel it is really convenient to drive around here since there is less traffic, wider streets and well planned cycle ways. We did get loss for quite a while until Jessie pulled over to ask a local resident for the place that we are staying. From afar the lady Jessie talked too looked quite like a New Zealander of Maori ancestry.

One thing when visiting this city help cleared up a legend that is told in my country in New Zealand that the local Maori people there are decedents from the local aboriginal Taiwanese living here in Eastern Taiwan long before the Han Chinese populated this island. It is said the aboriginal Taiwanese began migrating down South through the Philippines and then headed eastwards dispensing their DNA to the many groups of Pacific Islands scattered around the large Pacific Ocean. After many millenniums populating the far reaching islands around the large Pacific Ocean, it was New Zealand which was one of the last islands on Earth to be populated by humans. Since primary school we were taught that the Maori people reached New Zealand in their wooden carved wakas (canoes) around the 13th Century from the Cook Islands whose language is similar. Only in the past 15-20 years or so, there is evidence to show that the people of the Pacific have their origins from Taiwan. When Jessie got lost trying to find our hotel, she asked for instructions from a local resident living in a house close by. My first thought was… “Wow… I would have thought that was a person of Samoan or a Maori heritage living in New Zealand”. They looked so similar in their appearance. There are more and more studies now that prove the origins of the Pacific Peoples to Taiwan such as their appearance, DNA and language that they speak which makes this place so special. From Taiwan to New Zealand is a long way and it took many thousands of years to do so but in modern days you just need 24 hours on a plane and you are there to where it all began. Just an amazing story of where the native people of New Zealand originally came from and how far the native Taiwanese had travelled.  

Our accommodation at the Taitung Aboriginal Cultural Hotel

Our accommodation at the Taitung Aboriginal Cultural Hotel

During our time in this city we will be staying at the Taitung Aboriginal Cultural Hotel. When you go through the entrance way there were quite a lot of wooden carvings such as a large canoe and other large wooden aboriginal statues outside but other than that, the cultural characteristics of the hotel seems to be lacking. On the outside, our accommodation looked quite promising but apart from the main lobby there is nothing special about the hotel. It felt I was walking through the corridors of a hospital rather than a luxury hotel when we were staying there. With a place to stay for the two nights, Jessie and I want to explore the city almost immediately once we had checked in to our hotel. Some advice from Jessie’s sister Wen-Chen who had studied her Masters degree in the two years here was to go out and explore the night markets in the city.

Jessie showing me the Taitung Night Market

Jessie showing me the Taitung Night Market

Explore the Taitung Tourism Night market we did. Located at Zhengqi Road, the street is closed off for the night and the place is full of people, food stalls and entertainment. Taiwan as you now know is full of night markets and all the major cities will have one. It is such a good place to try some quick yummy food and try some activities while we are there. Got to practise my basketball shooting skills at one of the stalls there as I try to win a prize for Jessie however my free throw shots needs a lot more practise. We did not have dinner yet after such a long day travelling from Penghu to Taitung so luckily for us we can fill our stomachs with delicious food. At one store they had all sorts of vegetarian ingredients which you choose to be put in a little basket and then you give it to the owner and he will fry it for you. Our tofu and beans got the deep fried treatment. It was quick and easy. Jessie also wanted me to eat Stinky Tofu again which from my previous experience smelt fowl but just tastes bearable in your mouth. I was reluctant to try it again but Jessie loves the stinky tofu that we had to try it. Since we are at the market that there is always bubble tea available which I was able to wash the taste down with some bubble milk pearl tea otherwise I know the tofu will have a long lingering taste in the mouth. The rest of the evening we visited a newly opened shopping mall close by to the night market before going back to the accommodation for the night.

At the Taitung Forest Park

At the Taitung Forest Park

In the morning the rain fell which make us want to stay indoors. We had already missed the hot air balloon festival while we are here because of the typhoon that went passed. That would have been nice to see those massive balloons fill up and float in the sky with the mountains as the backdrop around here. It is an annual event and we were here at the right time but due to the weather we could not see any hot air balloons in the skies above Taitung. Once the weather cleared up a little bit we went to the Taitung Forest Park which was quite close to our hotel. The park is quite large. Covering 280 hectare park is full of walkways to different areas around the tree scattered park. The main feature of this place would be two large man-made lakes in the park. The lake that we went to was the Pipa Lake which is the smaller of the two oblong shape lakes with a viewing platform at the bottom end of the lake that provided some shelter from the hot humid day today. The waters are shallow and still which allows you to see the bottom of the lake. The lake is actually cut in half in the middle with a footbridge crossing the lake at this point so visitors can cross over to the other side of the park.

It was still early afternoon when we decided that we had enough of the heat and went for a little joy ride across the mouth of the Beinan River which exit out of Taitung City to the Pacific Ocean. The mouth of the river was awash with gravel that the river had brought down from the high mountains in Taiwan East Rift Valley. It gets a lot of rain on this side of the mountains and judging by the colour of the river, there has been a lot of rain lately. Going on State Highway 11 we only reached the township of Fugang which is a small fishing port and the place where you can catch ferries to the Eastern Outlying islands of Green Island and Lanyu Island. While reading the Lonely Planet guidebook these islands are tropical islands full of mystery as your everyday tourist will rarely come there. Maybe we will have a chance in the future now that Jessie has found the port that takes the ferries to these islands. We just saw the port full of fishing boats, stopped briefly for refreshments at 7-Eleven before turning back and coming across the bridge back to Taitung. We did contemplate whether or not to go to the nearby Jhihben Hot Springs about 14km away but decided to rest instead. The hot pools are a popular attraction here in Taiwan and can be done at most destinations.

When we finally to do something around 4pm that day it decided to pour down with rain again. We still had to eat therefore Jessie had a few places in mind on where she would like to go. First there was a factory shop that makes gluten rice balls that they sell all around Taiwan. There were many flavours to choose from and you can see the workers making them behind the glass wall behind the shop. That was more like a snack before dinner and we had our main meal at a local street stall which Jessie’s sister had recommended. After eating there I would recommend it too because their meals was really tasty. The vegetarian street stall located at the corner of Fujian Road and Paosang Road is your typical corner street eatery that serves delicious food. We enjoyed their rice and noodle dishes that they cook for us and wished we had more. Even after we had finished our meal, the rain was still pouring down. All we had to protect us from the heavy rain was our little red umbrella and our light plastic raincoat. It must have been funny to see two people riding in a scooter in the rain with a red umbrella protecting us from the elements. Finally before we went back home in our soaking clothes we stopped for a snack that we must try. It was a bag of hot chips that was covered in runny warm honey. Normally the original version of chips and tomato sauce would be a great combination but I must admit that their version here of chips and honey tastes even better.

On the train again from Taitung to Hualien

On the train again from Taitung to Hualien

That night we did nothing as there was nothing to do. The rain kept on coming and we stayed at the hotel to do our laundry and watching a television movie eating our snacks like a normal married couple would do on a raining night. At least we got up on time to go to check out of the hotel, return our scooter and catch the next train at 8:40am up the Eastern Coastline of Taiwan to our next city of Hualien. 

Taitung for me was alright. It has plenty of potential to be a great place to visit however the weather was not on our side and we spent a lot of time in the hotel sheltering from the rain. If I do get to come back and stay here longer, I would love to visit the mountains around the city. There may be some lovely walking tracks which will give views over the city and out to the sea and a chance to spend sometime in the wilderness. I would have loved to see hot air balloon festival while we were here especially when we were here at that time of the year and also I would like to soak in the natural hot springs around these parts. If it wasn’t so hard to go to bottom corner of the island, I think I would spend more time here.

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KAOHSIUNG 2013 [2]


[13 July 2013]

Wellington >> Auckland >> [Hong Kong] >> Taipei >> Tainan >> Kaohsiung >> Penghu Islands >> [KAOHSIUNG] >> Taitung >> Hualien >> Ilan County >> Taipei >> [Hong Kong] >> Auckland >> Wellington

Two Years Ago…

With a lucky break in the weather, we were able to fly out of the Penghu Islands back to the Taiwanese mainland and land in Kaohsiung. We were thankful that we were the only two flights leaving the Magong that afternoon but it has put us in a difficult position in catching our train to Taitung that afternoon. We weren’t staying for Kaohsiung for long and Jessie and I knew it that we were cutting it fine if were able to go to Taitung today. For the next few moments in Kaohsiung would be hectic and one of the most amazing acts that I would ever see from my wife Jessie. This is our quick tale of us rushing out of Kaohsiung Airport and only just catching our train at Kaohsiung Main Train Station. I like to stress the “only just” part because it was literary we only just made it. Not a minute to late otherwise we would had to rebook for another train when the train ticketing were also affected by the typhoon with other passengers having to rebook due to cancellation of some services.

When we landed at Kaohsiung International Airport we had to wait for our luggage to be offloaded from the plane and rushed out of the airport down to where the subway station is. The MRT was able to take us from Kaohsiung International Airport (R4) to Kaohsiung Station (R11) where the main Train Station is in the city. While sitting on the MRT and franticly looking at my watch I thought to myself that we did not have much time left at all for our 16:53 train and it is highly likely that we would missed the train. The subway train finally pulled over to the station at 16:48 which means we only had 5 minutes to get us from the subway platform to the Train Station above ground. Ha… it was harder than that sounds because the train station is located somewhere else. With my big backpack on my back and carrying Jessie’s large blue suitcase in my right hand, I ran up 3 flights of stairs up from the subway passing all the passengers already hogging the escalators. It was definitely much faster and we were going to put up a fight in trying to catch this train with all the effort we could muster. Once we were came up onto the surface it was to the next terminal where I could only see Kaohsiung City just for a really brief 5 seconds above ground before going back downstairs again. The Kaohsiung Train Station’s notice board was a bit confusing on which platform we had to go to for us to catch the train but I had Jessie with me leading the way to the right platform where the train is supposed to be waiting.  

We had to go to Platform 5A running around other passengers taking their time to catch their respective trains around the Train Station. Throughout the time we had left the airport I had been saying that we were not going to make it and when we finally reached the end of the platform our hopes were dashed. We got there and the train was not there. All that effort had come to nothing as the train had already left the station. However the next thing that happened could only describe as a miracle because when we turned our heads left, we saw our train about 10-20 metres away from where we are standing moving at a crawling pace. What?! That’s our train! Even though the train had left, it had only began to leave the station just when we arrived thinking that it had already gone to Taitung without us. Jessie saw the opportunity and leaped into the open luggage compartment at the back of the train which still had its wide doors opened. Jessie without any hesitation leapt from the platform and onto the moving train to go on board. She definitely was not going to miss this train. Seeing her go for it, I had a split second to decide whether to follow her or be left behind. I too started running and jumping for the gap in the back luggage compartment. Wherever Jessie goes, I will follow her. Another couple who was also late on the train followed us and they too leapt together to just catch the train. Wow… Jessie and I just could not believe our luck after being plagued with problems all day long. We had just caught the train with the typhoon delaying our flight out of Penghu, landing 90 minutes late and having to endure the mad rush from the airport to the main train station to catch this train just in time is amazing. Jessie and I couldn’t believe it as I started shouting things that I don’t normally show that much emotion in. We were High-Fiving wildly at one another and saying “Good Job” as the movie script writers could not have written this drama any better. We even had a warden shaking his fists at us as he had saw what had happened when we looked out the train carriage window moving at a slow steady pace going further and further away from the train station. We were not worried as we were finally on the train that we thought we could not catch. Not a minute too late and trains are always on time in Taiwan. Just incredible!

Finally after that frantic rush to get on the train, we took our allocated seats and thought we are crazy. Buddha must have been looking out for us that day because we could not believe what had just happened. We had about 3 hours to wait for the sweat to dry and let the train take us from Kaohsiung to Taitung. There was not as much to see apart from a swelled up river that could easily sweep the bridge underneath us due to the heavy rain over the past few days. The mountains looks steep and high and the low hanging rain clouds still hovers around the peaks. We are crossing from one side of Taiwan to the other.

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PENGHU ISLANDS 2013 [1]


[08 July – 13 July 2013]

Wellington >> Auckland >> [Hong Kong] >> Taipei >> Tainan >> Kaohsiung >> PENGHU ISLANDS >> [Kaohsiung] >> Taitung >> Hualien >> Ilan County >> Taipei >> [Hong Kong] >> Auckland >> Wellington

Two Years Ago…

Coming back to the Penghu Islands has been wonderful. Last time when I first came we did so many things here that I feel Penghu Islands are one of the best kept secrets in Taiwan accessible easily by taking a short flight from one of the major cities there. Once you arrive you will feel the relaxing atmosphere first hand in how this group of islands is a place that all you need to do is relax and enjoy the fun. You can relax in their many beautiful beaches, see volcanic landscapes shaped by the natural elements and not to mention mingling with the local people here who are some of the kindest people that you will ever meet on your travels. Having been very lucky to meet a special girl from here, I would be enjoying this trip for the next 5 days to celebrate a really special moment in both of our lives. Hopefully over the many decades to come, I will be coming here again and again as this is a special place in the middle of the Taiwan Strait where the Taiwanese residents comes here to holiday. As this is my second time coming back to Penghu Islands, I can reassure you that my experience here is as good as the first. Before the trip had even started, my girlfriend had sent me this Youtube video which is similar to the experience I had in my trip when I went to Penghu this time. Have a watch and let the video take you to the many special places the island has to offer. The story following this video will be my experience on what had happened during my time there and the experiences I had that I can share with my family and friends when I come back home to New Zealand.

Taking off from Kaohsiung City on Trans-Asian Airlines it is not long before our 45 minute flight to the Penghu Islands will land. The plane ride from Kaohsiung is really a skip, jump and hop across a small piece of water to Penghu. I am going back to Penghu with Jessie to meet her father to ask for permission to marry his eldest daughter and if successful will be married by the end of my trip to Penghu. On the flight I started to get the butterflies in the stomach about meeting her father and a little worried about what I was going to say to him when we do finally meet for the first time. Jessie and I practised some sentences while we were on the plane over as I kept going over the lines over and over in my head. Finally the time has arrived when her father was waiting to meet us at the arrival hall of the airport ready to pick us up. “Ní hǎo, Lán bàbà” would have been my official words to him as he shook my hand. He could speak a few words in English due to his previous job as an aircraft engineer but he now seldom uses the language anymore since there is now no use for it until meeting his soon to be son-in-law. There was no mucking around as we headed out of the airport and into the car with our luggage driving through the city back to his house in Guangfu Road.

When entering Jessie’s house for the first time, you will be immediately be staring at her dad’s basketball and bowling trophies like I was. That really threw me back as I too love playing basketball when I was at high school and still play a little bit now. Maybe we have a few things in common. He must have been a fantastic athlete back in his day with all those accolades displayed pride of place in his living room mantel piece above the television set. It also explains why Jessie and most of her family members loves playing basketball too due to her dad’s influence. Once he dropped us off, he headed off to play Table Tennis with his childhood friend that he grew up with. We would join him a little bit later after we moved our stuff into Jessie’s room. Jessie drove us to the community centre close to her house where the two childhood friends were playing their game. When I got a chance to play I played poorly. Let’s say the score was something like 20-1 in favour of Jessie’s dad. I could not find the end of the table as the ball bounces out of bounds way too far. I let them continue on with their game with my tail between my legs as this is embarrassing to let your girlfriend’s father wallop you.

First day in Penghu and it is really a meet and greet of Jessie’s family members since the first time I came here, I did not meet her family at all. Now that they know I am coming, they all wanted to know who this guy is that has been kept a secret until now. Next place we went to was Jessie’s aunty’s place. She owns a little shop by the road side servicing the neighbouring area with mainly groceries and drinks. It is fair to say Jessie did most of the talking here since my Chinese is really poor. Jessie treats her mum’s sister really well and her aunt has helped a lot for her family when Jessie’s mother has passed away. Just when we were about to leave, we met Jessie’s brother Wei-Guang who was working at his second job in cleaning the scooters for their cousin’s successful local travel specialist business which caters for independent travellers and groups coming to Penghu for their holiday. In the daytime he works for a large popular hotel in Magong City which we will be staying in a few days’ time and after work he helps his cousin’s travel business for a bit of extra cash. He does work hard and long hours. First impression was that he was really tall and much taller than I am. We let him be as he had quite a lot of scooters to clean especially when they are in use every single day during the busy tourist season.

With most of the day meeting Jessie’s family members, later in the afternoon we made some time for ourselves and took a trip to some of Penghu Islands’ most picturesque beaches. Jessie even lets me drive her scooter on the open road on our way to the Southern tip of the main island of Penghu which was fun with no traffic in my way for a kilometre or two. It was a bit scary to drive at first even at 30-50km per hour as I was not use to the steering of the little scooter and no knowledge of their road rules. After handing the steering back to Jessie that I was able to relax and enjoying seeing the many beautiful Taoist temples built around here near the end of the Highway 201. Located at the Southern tip of the island is Fungguei Cave which when translated means “Wind cabinet cave” because the wind is said to be stored in the eroded volcanic rock cave. When the wind and waves enters the cave, you can hear the strange wind whistling noise coming out of the rocks. We didn’t actually went exploring around the rocks to hear the wind whistling from the rocks below but came to this part of the island for the view of the sunset of a beautiful day. There is a strange two story viewing platform there in a shape of a round spaceship that offers wonderful views out to the sea and the coastline.

Jessie and Ivan at Shili Beach

Jessie and Ivan at Shili Beach

Coming back from the southern tip of the peninsula, Jessie took me to a beautiful beach where she enjoyed going to when she was a child. The beach is located at the Southern end of the Penghu’s main island called Shili Beach. It was the perfect location to sit down on the golden yellow sand looking out to the Southern horizon with the sun setting and eating a cup of ice cream together. A couple islands of Tongpanyu and Hujing can be seen in the distance off the coast here which you can reach by the daily boats that go there every day. At that moment there was no person that I want to be with other then Jessie who I was sitting next to closely. Being such a nice spot we had a lot of sand to ourselves with no one to disturb us from talking. With the small amount of swimmers on the beach starting to leave, it was time for us to go back home before there was no light left.

Going back to Jessie’s home, I have an important thing to do when I next see her father. Being a traditional type of guy, I need to ask my girlfriend’s father permission for approval whether or not I can marry his daughter. Frighteningly it is only our first day of meeting one another and I am already asking him for one of the biggest questions he will come across as a dad. Even before I had asked, Jessie and I had already chosen an engagement and wedding ring when she came to New Zealand in February, I had to get the marriage documents ready from the New Zealand Department of Internal Affairs including a visit to the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Wellington and also we were full steam ahead preparing our wedding reception dinners and honeymoon before I even ask Jessie’s father for his permission to married his daughter. What happens if he says no? There was a lot of pressure on me to get it right and make a good impression on him that he can trust me to look after his eldest daughter for the rest of our lives together.

As soon as we got home, Jessie’s father was already sitting on his red couch and it was time to tell him how I feel about his daughter and the reason why I came here to Penghu. With Jessie beside me, we sat down face to face asking my message first in English and then the final message in Chinese. “Wǒ xiǎng yào, qǔ nǐ de nǚ’ér Yun-Shan”. It translates to “I want to marry your daughter, Yun-Shan”. This was the line I kept on practising on the plane over here making sure I get this line perfect so it is understandable. His reply was swift and immediate. He said to me with a smile, “Yes, No Problem”. With that response, all the pressure was off, I was a relieved man. “Xièxiè, Lán bàbà”. Oh Thank You, Thank You Jessie’s Father. He even joked that both of our families has 4 kids each and none of them are married yet. He was happy that we will both get married to one another and that we eldest children will also be the first to be wed.

After the blessing from Jessie’s father, Jessie and I headed out to meet Jessie’s friend Tina who has come from Taipei to spend a few days with Jessie. Tina is here for a holiday for a few days and will be joining us in some of the activities when she is here. We walked around the place drinking bubble tea until we finally sat down at Guanyinting Park while I was running around taking photos of the best constructed bridge in Penghu which is the Siying Rainbow Bridge. The colour lights at night makes the bridge shine like a rainbow and reflects of the water that it is mesmerising when sitting on the embankment on the shoreline looking at the bridge that crosses a really narrow opening to the bay.

The next morning we are out the door as quick as possible because we were late catching a boat down to Qimei Island (Chimei Island) and later stopping in another island too. We were supposed to be at the South Sea Visitor Centre by 10am. From here we would catch a 1 hour boat ride to Qimei. The place we are going to is one of the most marketed places when coming to Penghu and a big reason why tourists come here to see this man made gem hidden on a little island in the Taiwan Strait. The island of Qimei is a small island full of wonderful places to see and do. One of the places that you will see quite often is the Stone Weirs which makes Penghu famous. There are many hundreds of these stone dams found all over Penghu little islands however there is only one famous one located in Qimei which we will be going to. The stone dams are unique to this part of the world as the locals catch fish in the dams when the fish comes in to seek shelter from a heavy swell or rough weather. When the tide goes out, the fish are trapped there and can’t swim out due to the force of the water coming in to the heart shaped weir. We couldn’t come to this island at the South Sea Recreation Area the last time we were here but it is a place that I would like to see at least once in my lifetime.

That 1 hour boat ride was bumpy and I nearly have the case of seasickness. The boat went over wave after wave similar to a car going over the judder bars in a supermarket carpark. After a while it can make your stomach turn. If it had been a little bit longer than maybe I would have trouble holding it in. We arrived at the little port in Qimei along with the other tourists ready to pick up our hired scooter to ride all around the island. The island’s name means Seven Beauties after the 7 ladies who sacrifice their lives in a well rather than being captured by the Japanese pirates who were harassing the island village. I think everyone is going straight to the twin hearts stone weir while we were taking a different leisurely route stopping at different areas on the way to the main interest on the island. The place we went first was Wufu Temple. I thought the temples in Magong City were good but this temple is just as impressive and beautifully designed too. Good thing that no one else was here and we could be by ourselves with the temple. We did get lost on our way a bit with a detour to the Qimei Airport which was on the other side of the island but once we got our bearings we would be going to the tourist spot.

Twin Heart Stone Weir -Penghu Island's most famous landmark.

Twin Heart Stone Weir -Penghu Island’s most famous landmark.

We arrived at the Twin Hearts Stone Weirs [Co-ordinates 23o13’11.40”N, 119o26’50.42”E] with many scooters already parked there along with a couple of tour buses. Most of them are just leaving now which makes room for us to see the wonderful hearts that looks just as good as on the postcards on sale. Two love hearts made from stone stack upon stone by the local Penghu people to originally catch fish by the tide coming into shore but the old methods is not as useful anymore that the Twin Hearts stone weirs now catches the hearts of many people who would like to see this famous attraction. We perched on the high ledge of the cliffs on the North-Western side of the island creating the magical loving feeling inside you when you see the symbol of love. You don’t see one heart; you get to see two interlocked to one another.

Marriage proposal accepted at Qimei Twin Hearts Stone Weir

Marriage proposal accepted at Qimei Twin Hearts Stone Weir

Having thought where I can get down on one knee and propose to my girlfriend while we are together, I thought this amazing location in Qimei is a great place to propose to Jessie. For future records to anyone of my family members reading this, I proposed to Jessie here. If you go about 100-200 metres away from the main car park there is a dragon statue with a steep rocky path leading to the bottom of the cliff below. Not much people will know about this path as the tourists just want the photos of the twin shaped hearts from above. At the bottom of the track you can have a closer view of the stone weirs. Well you can mark an “X” next to the lifebuoy there as this is the spot where I propose to Jessie. Today was our 13th month anniversary together as boyfriend-girlfriend. We have been together for exactly 1 year and 1 month since I first came to Penghu on the 9th of June 2012. Today on the 9th of July 2013, I would go one knee and ask the question to Yun-Shan (Jessie)… “Would you marry me”?… “nǐ qǔ wǒ la ma”? Jessie’s reply was a “YES” and I put the engagement ring on Jessie’s finger. I am so happy she said yes even if we knew it would eventually happen. We held hand-in-hand walking back those steps again as each other’s fiancé. No one had seen us when I proposed. It was our secret on the whereabouts of the proposal until now.

Little Taiwan

Little Taiwan

Hugging my wife to be on the scooter we headed away from the scene down the Western side of the island. Our next stop was Little Taiwan. Imagine a large piece of rock in the shape of your country in your own country. Well it exists in Taiwan and you can only find it here in Qimei. A natural piece of rock that is just visible in the surf that looks like Taiwan itself. Before we left the viewing deck back to the port again I purchased a tiny jar of pebble rock from a local lady there. It is such a cool little treasure to bring it back to New Zealand with me when the trip is over. The Penghu Islands are so amazing that all around the islands you can see examples of the eroded terrain creating weird shapes on the cliffs that we are standing. Close by there was plenty of eroded terrain here as well as we saw a cliff called Nioumuping cut in half like someone had a butcher knife and cut a wedge into it. We went back to the port through Qimei Island’s interior roads. Eat your heart out Manx TT Circuit. This is much better with its views of the seas over the humps and the close volcanic basalt rock next to you. It is a good drive back to the port where we are going to the island of Wang’an. Other places of interest we did not visit were the Nanyu Castle and the Tomb of the Seven Beauties which the island was named.

Island hopping around the Penghu Islands

Island hopping around the Penghu Islands

The tour boat left Qimei with all its passengers for Wang’an Island on a boat that we came to the island on. The name of the island means “Hope and Safety” after a Ming Dynasty General stopping here on his way to Taiwan. It was fun being up on the top deck by myself getting all the fresh sea air and seeing out in the distance the little small inlets and islands that are scattered around this archipelago. Sometimes I cannot believe that there are settlements living on these islands that seem to be isolated by a giant sea. I lost my boarding tag while up in the deck as we were speeding around on a powerful boat that had a huge backwash as it powers us to the next destination. It was still much better than sitting in the cabin where Jessie was. We get to have two hours on Wang’an Island to explore the tiny townships and attractions that this island has to offer. While everyone rushed to explore the whole island we sat down to eat an ice cream first. There is no need to rush.

We visited the  Green Turtle Conservation Centre on Wang'an Island

We visited the Green Turtle Conservation Centre on Wang’an Island

The first attraction Jessie took me to the Green Turtle Tourism and Conservation Centre. The island is a breeding ground for the endangered Green Turtle and the Conservation Centre was a good way to learn about these special animals. Each year during the Chinese New Year Lantern festival, the local people in Penghu celebrates the turtle in a turtle offering ceremony. The whole community is involved in making replicas of turtles as a traditional symbol of peace, longevity and good fortune. They have a parade with fireworks in the ceremony which everyone can enjoy. In the Conservation Centre there were quite a few exhibits and activities you can do inside and the captions were in English too which makes it easier to understand the exhibits on display. It is probably the most modern building built on the island and it is not too far away from the port. Just follow the signs. Another area that we went to was the Yuanyang Caves which was an area where the Japanese used the local people during war time to carve out rock tunnels to hide their suicide boats which will ram into enemy ships for a surprise attack if the enemy were close by however the war was coming to an end and the Japanese based here did not see any action. It is not that great of an attraction when we went there because the caves are not maintained, some have collapsed and covered with vegetation but this place would have been an important part of the island’s recent history when the Japanese occupied the island.  

Going further around the island to the Northern end is Tiantai Hill which has a special place in Chinese Taoist folklore. Jessie let me go up to the top all by myself as she waited at the bottom of the hill for me. The track up the 58m hill is all stairs that has been constructed to help the tourists up to the site. When you get to the top not only will you see the open sea and the green windswept grassland of the island on top of the highest point but one of the 8 Immortals had set foot there. Not until I saw the sign that says footprint of Lu Dongbin one of the 8 Immortals who crossed the sea here that I wanted to know more on who these Immortals are. Originally I thought they were giants because I only saw one footprint and maybe their other footprint was on another part of the island. Further research to this particular immortal Lu Dongbin who stood on the highest point on the little island of Wang’an was a scholar that gained immortality by completing 10 tasks which he passed by not tempted into corruption. In return he became a legend that followers of the Taoist faith should immortalize. In many cases, I still do not know the full story about them and only increase my curiosity. Apparently this is the same drunken old man character Jackie Chan played in the movie “The Forbidden Kingdom”. Despite seeing the actual footprint on stone, I couldn’t get a photo of the spot as there were too many tourists there standing on the footprint that I could not get a good photo. Oh well it is back down the hill for me and back onto the scooter to go back to the port to hand in the keys to the scooter.

There were two boats to choose from when we got back to the port. One will be going to the next island on the tour while the other one will be going straight back to Magong City. After such a long day we chose the smaller boat going back to Magong. We can go to Hujing Island another time as we already spent quite a lot of day travelling around the islands in the Southern Recreational Area. Coming into the harbour after the boat ride was beautiful with so many fishing boats parked on the wharf and the beautifully painted “Hi Penghu” on the silos in the port. They made the harbour a beautiful place.

With my proposal completed, the next day we woke up at 4am before the sun even came out ready for our full day with the wedding photographer. This is one of Jessie’s friends that she knew from her days in the local cycling team. Amazingly Jessie and I will be his first clients as they are starting their own photography business. Last time I heard about them is that they are doing really well in their business and we are glad that we were their first couple using his services as a wedding photographer. His wedding photography is amazing for a guy who is just starting.

Jessie’s aunty picked us up to take us the makeup artist’s place ready to apply her skills to glam us up. The preparation time for Jessie was more than 2 hours when she finally finished however it was worth it to see my beautiful girlfriend transformed to a stunning princess. The hair was wonderfully fashioned and the makeup made her flawless. By the time the sun came up at 6am Jessie was just about ready and absolutely remarkable in the white wedding dress that she picked in Tainan. For those who want to know, the time for my makeup only took 10 minutes. It was just a bit of hairspray to spike up my hair, put on my white suit and we were done. The wedding photographer and his wife were waiting for us to take us to our first spot for our wedding photos.

Trans-Ocean Bridge (by wedding photographer 菊島雙魚)

Trans-Ocean Bridge (by wedding photographer 菊島雙魚)

Having started really early in the morning already, it was going to be a full on day with plenty of photos around many places in Penghu. I will go through some of them as we were taken around quite a lot of places from one end of the island to the other. The first place we went to was the Trans-Ocean Bridge which makes this place quite appropriate because this landmark was one of the first locations Jessie and I had our first photo together. The start of the bridge is this wonderful arch which traffic will go under on the Baisha Island side of the bridge. This is a 2.5km bridge which connects the islands of Baisha and Xiyu making it easier to travel to all three major islands of Penghu. The western island of Xiyu is also where we will be spending majority of our time in.

Xiyu Lighthouse (by wedding photographer 菊島雙魚)

Xiyu Lighthouse (by wedding photographer 菊島雙魚)

When we arrive at Yuwengdao (Xiyu) Lighthouse, we were immediately mobbed by tourists when we got out of the car at the carpark. A group of 7 most likely from Taiwan came over to us and immediately wanted to have photos with Jessie and me. This is a different experience getting people coming over to us, wanting to take photos with us and congratulating us just because we were wearing our wedding dress and suit. If we were wearing our normal clothes we probably have been left alone. We are here to take advantage of the beautiful views of the lighthouse that was built in 1778. The weather was perfect with blue skies, a few patches of clouds and the white paint from the surrounding buildings and lighthouse was shining as bright as my white suit. It was a really nice backdrop to take photos in. We even have blue and pink balloons as props which added extra dynamics to our wedding photos. Jessie and I finally let go of the colourful balloons and let it drift off wherever the wind decides to take it. Last time I saw it, the balloons were drifting westward over the Taiwan Strait and going westward to China about 200km away.

Overlooking Wai'an Village (by wedding photographer 菊島雙魚)

Overlooking Wai’an Village (by wedding photographer 菊島雙魚)

There were a few more photos taken outside of the Xiyu Lighthouse carpark area away from a military post stationed there. The carpark where we originally got mobbed when coming here has a really nice outlook over the sea stretched out in front of you. We had some fun sitting on the fence and teasing each other with the bouquet of roses with the blue sea and blue skies as our background. Further down the road we pulled over the side of the road for a view of Wai’an Village from our elevated position on Xiyu Island down to the harbour below. This was a great view too seeing overlooking the fishing village as the photographer focus the camera on us with the township blurred in the background. Throughout our trip to Penghu there are many temples built all over the island and it sorts of a key feature that when visiting Penghu you will see many temples built here even on the smaller outer islands. I wanted to take a photo with Jessie at a temple and Wai’an Village Temple near the harbour was the closest one. Although this temple was smaller than the others that I have seen previously, the designs of the temples are still amazing with its beautifully decorated roofs.

Purple flowers on the beach (by wedding photographer 菊島雙魚)

Purple flowers on the beach (by wedding photographer 菊島雙魚)

Still staying on Xiyu Island we headed around the Eastern coast line on highway number 5 until the photographer stopped on the side of the road with a fishing harbour to the right of us. Originally it was not a special place of interest but the photographer had an idea on what photos he wanted from here. We got out of the car and had a few photos of the green hill behind us. I really like the colours he was able to achieve with the hills covered in green vegetation along with a cut of blue skies in the photos. Furthermore we even crossed over the barrier on the side of the road to the bay below at low tide and took some photos on the little strip of beach there. If it was high tide then surely this beach would have been covered in water. Purple flowers inches their way forward from the safety of the land towards the beach which created a carpet of green and purple for our photos as well. Just seeing his photos afterwards makes you go awe because of the skill he used to turn this place into something magical.

Daguoye Columnar Basalt (by wedding photographer 菊島雙魚)

Daguoye Columnar Basalt (by wedding photographer 菊島雙魚)

Penghu being Penghu, we have to take a few photos of its famous basalt rock formations which the island is made up of. Having erupted out of the sea many millions of years ago, the volcanic rock which the islands are made up of has been weather away into magnificent basalt columns stripping the earth around it to form these fantastic looking rock waterfalls. The most accessible ones on the island are the Daguoye Columnar Basalt. They are incredible because these hexagonal shape columns are so tall that forms a natural barrier quite a few metres wide. There is a small pond under this one however it looks like the water had drained away otherwise the reflections on the water would make the columns of basalt rocks look twice as tall.

Erkan Village (by wedding photographer 菊島雙魚)

Erkan Village (by wedding photographer 菊島雙魚)

Erkan Village is about a kilometre up the road from the Daguoye Columnar Basalt rocks and we would spend a lot of time here to get some photos of one of Penghu’s oldest settlements. Majority of the villagers here would have come from the Chen family lineage going back to the 1600s who Chen Yan-Yi started the migration from Imperial China to the settlement of Erkan Village in Xiyu, Penghu Islands back in the 1600s. The village residents may have moved out but it is restored for tourists to go back in time to see what the village life was like back in the early days of settlement for Chinese coming to live in Penghu. We had enjoyed the experience of coming to Erkan Village the year before and walked around its narrow walkways passing fences and the houses made from solidified coral rocks as their base. Just that we did not thought about having our wedding photos here in such a traditional setting until we came here again. The old village with its old charm makes for fantastic photos. Our photographer was great in finding unique filming locations to take his photos next to the textured walls of the village. It created a good theme like we were transported back in time. There were some rooms that we can go in and see what the living quarters had been like if we were living there all those years ago like a married couple. Even when the wonderfully crafted windows may have lost their ceramic colours, the roof tiles on the slope roofs may be a bit wobbly these days and the red doors’ paint is slowly fading; the beauty of the traditional village still remains.

The cafe scene (by wedding photographer 菊島雙魚)

The cafe scene (by wedding photographer 菊島雙魚)

While spending most of the morning outside in the hot summer sun, the heat was starting to take a toll on me during the hottest part of the day. I felt the redness in my face from being outside for long periods of time. My energy was starting to get low and everybody around me could feel that I could not handle the heat that much longer. Having low energy ruins the photos so for our next scene we took a few photos in a Café setting.  The photographer asked the café owner if we can use their upstairs for some wedding photos which they agreed. No one was up there anyway and we had the whole top section to ourselves. The green walls inside was a bit unusual but at least we were away from the midday sun with a few refreshments. We were lovers in a café sitting opposite each other, holding hands and eating sorbet ice-cream. There was a few individual photos taken here as well and Jessie looks great in all of them. This was the end of the morning session as the Photographer will take us back to the make-up artist’s home to freshen us up with a bit more make-up and a dress change for Jessie.

Penghu Recreational Area Park (by wedding photographer 菊島雙魚)

Penghu Recreational Area Park (by wedding photographer 菊島雙魚)

After the break for lunch we were off again in the photographer’s car. We wonder where they would take us. I can say that I have not recovered fully from the full on morning of taking photos in the sun and without me knowing, I took a nap at the back of the car when coming back from Xiyu Island back to the main island in Penghu. When we got there I didn’t even know where we were. All I know was the photographer has found another wonderful location for our photos. Apparently we went to the newly created Penghu Recreation Area Park which was quite close to the Penghu Tourism Promotion Centre. If you are coming from the airport to Magong City then you will pass it on a side road. When we pulled up to the park we saw a circular grass hill which had some landscaping done. The hill consists of three tiers with picket fences around them and it looked similar to a fort with a wide staircase going up the middle. Once up the staircase these tall wooden poles concaved around us leaving us to twirl away for the photos up on the hill. The Recreational Area Park is quite a lovely little park for the locals to enjoy and there are other features to the park close by which will add to the enjoyment. 

Among the flowers (by wedding photographer 菊島雙魚)

Among the flowers (by wedding photographer 菊島雙魚)

The next place we went to was another park that I had never set eyes upon. It upsets me that I do not know the place that we went to but Jessie says it was somewhere really close to the Penghu Recreation Area Park. We believe it could be Tian ren hu  (天人湖). The photographer brought us to a place where there are fields of flowers fenced in by a row of palm trees. Our white wedding dress and suit sure stand out in the field of pink and purples flowers around us. As well as flowers, it seems that this place has a lot of big trees compare to other parts of the island. It may also be a nursery as well since there were a lot of workers in gardening clothes just starting to finishing their work and going back home. Inside this area had a little lake and a grass roof pavilion where we enjoy some shade away from the sun with many trees and plants around us.

Carrying my beautiful bride on Shanshui Beach (by wedding photographer 菊島雙魚)

Carrying my beautiful bride on Shanshui Beach (by wedding photographer 菊島雙魚)

Finally to end our wonderful day of photography we would go to one of my now favourite Shanshui Beach. The beach stretches for a long way on the southern end of Penghu’s main island and since it was getting dark most people had already left for the day and we had plenty of space to ourselves for the photographs taken at the beautiful beach. We did not mind the other people looking at us getting our white wedding gown and suit wet and dirty for the run along the beach, picking Jessie up like rescuing her from the sea and splashing water at one another. This beach was beautiful and I love the gentle waves lapping over our feet on the soft sand. The bouquet of red roses that we had since the start of the day had done its job and it was fitting that the last use of these roses was to give it a flying send off by throwing it into the sea drifting off slowly further away from the shore. With not much light left and the skies were turning purple rather than pink we took the last remaining set of photos with artificial light from the camera flash before calling it a day. It really capped off a fantastic day from sunrise to sunset, we went to a lot of different places taking some fantastic photos. We took off our wedding clothes and changed into our relaxing day clothes at Shanshui Township where a lot of tourists were staying for dinner. Our photographer would drive us back to Jessie’s place for a well-deserved rest ready for another half day of photos tomorrow.  

Our second day of photos we woke up at 3:30am, tipped toe downstairs ready for aunty to pick us up early at 4am. This time Jessie’s little sister Wan-Chen will be coming with us like a personal assistant for Jessie during our photo shoot today. Again the make-up and hair gets done with Jessie looking really beautiful again by the time the sun comes up. Jessie today was wearing a beautiful pink dress while I will be wearing my dress clothes that I brought from home. Yesterday we took photos on the land; today we will have 3 hours of photos on the sea with help of Jessie’s uncle on her mother’s side letting us use his yacht for our wedding photos. Wow, so good getting to spend time on a beautiful catamaran yacht with functioning mainsail and a foresail that can roll itself up while sailing from the South Sea Wharf in Magong City to Xiyu across the enclosed harbour on another blue sky day in the Penghu Islands. Joining us will be Jessie’s little sister and little brother who invited a few of his friends and Jessie’s university friend, Tina who all will be joining us for the adventure.

Taking our wedding photos on the boat trip (by wedding photographer 菊島雙魚)

Taking our wedding photos on the boat trip (by wedding photographer 菊島雙魚)

With Jessie’s 2 uncles taking us out in the Penghu inner sea we were in safe hands as we enjoy the cruise in the gentle breeze. We were lucky that the skies were blue and the sea behave itself and not rock the boat too much otherwise a few of the photos may be a bit blurry. We posed for photos on different parts of the boat once we set anchor in the middle of the sea with sight of the Daguoye Columnar Basalt on Xiyu Island in range. All I could do is smile naturally without much effort when holding Jessie in my arms because I never have thought that we would have our photos taken on a boat. The boat trip was a major highlight on this trip to Penghu. My wife-to-be had such a pretty one sleeve pink dress on that when the breeze catches the dress it drifts in the air in contrast to our blue surroundings makes her dress selection so amazing.

Thank you for Jessie's family and friends for making our wedding photos so memorable. (by wedding photographer 菊島雙魚)

Thank you for Jessie’s family and friends for making our wedding photos so memorable. (by wedding photographer 菊島雙魚)

We had a lot of photos on the boat and the wedding photographer even went out in the inflatable dinghy with an outboard motor at the back. He would go about 30-50 metres out taking photos of us like we were the only ones on the yacht from afar as we sat at the front right bow of the catamaran. For full effect, Jessie’s uncle let both sails set like a proper sailing yacht.  The photographer had taken so many photos over the past two days that our wedding album was full of fantastic photos after his final touches has been made to it. When we were not taking photos I took a chance to sit on the driver’s seat to helm the boat and pretended to be the Captain for just a little while. Just to feel what it feels like to have a lifestyle millionaires spend their weekends on the water then it is a lifestyle that I do envy. A quick change of my dress pants to something more comfortable such as the white shorts that I brought with me made me turn from someone who was on business to someone who is relaxing with the girl that he loves on holiday. Finally we took a group photo of all of us on the boat showing us all having a great time before we hoist the anchor and return back to land. I feel so glad that we had the opportunity to spend the morning on the yacht in Penghu and it is all thanks to Jessie and her extended family. So brilliant!   

For the rest of the day I didn’t really want to do anything else apart from rest after such a fun start but somehow we manage to fill in the day with things to do. Since Jessie’s friend Tina was in town we had lunch at a Japanese themed restaurant where the seating is low on the ground with the food served on a low lying table Japanese style. One thing I like about the lunch was the winter melon ice tea served in an ice cold jam jar which when drunk tasted so refreshing on a warm summer’s day. There was quite a lot of food ordered on the table for the three of us and even though I finished early, the girls had their talk while I lie down on the cushions for a little nap. For the past two days we had an early start and while I couldn’t speak their language I might as well do with some sleep. When I woke up from my slumber they were still talking. Haha… I guess they had a lot to talk about. Lunch started at 12pm and we didn’t leave until 3pm. That little nap was useful as Jessie got a call to clean the Buddha Centre that night which I happily obliged to go with her. After such a good day we went back to see one of Jessie’s uncles who was on the boat to say thanks for their services today. I called him the “accommodation uncle” because he owns a hotel near the harbour while his brother sells and charters yachts for any interested buyers at the lobby. Jessie did the talking as it was really nice of them to let us use their boat for the photos. Jessie had also helped teach their daughter Winnie some English as I tried to talk to her in a basic conservation to see how much she knew. She even thought I looked 23 which surprised Jessie when in fact I am now in my late 20s with my birthday being tomorrow. Since they were family they were happy to see us get married and for us to create some wonderful wedding photos for the many years ahead. 

On the day of my 29th Birthday, it will be a special day for Jessie and me. After asking her dad for his permission, getting on one knee to propose and the pre-wedding photos taken for our wedding photo albums in the past three days in Penghu, it is time to register our marriage at the Magong City Household Registration Office in Penghu County. Honestly the day where we became husband and wife under the law is not like most other couples would experience with their glitzy wedding party reception being held on their wedding day. There were no exchange of vowels and no wedding rings were put on our hands as we will be doing the festivities later on in the month of October in front of our friends and family. Jessie and I sat in front of a lady at the counter and presented her the documents that were needed for the marriage to take place. I could remember having to get my parents to sign a no impediment to marriage document and then going to the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Wellington to get it verified before the document is legal. When we came out of the Magong City Household Registration Office at midday, we came out as husband and wife. Jessie now has my name on the back of her National ID card as her husband. As most men will forget their wedding anniversary from time to time, by having the special date on my birthday I am sure I will never forget to give something special to my wife on my birthday as well.

A special dinner with the Lan family and friends

A special dinner with the Lan family and friends

Even though we are now married, we continued the day as normal until later that night when we would all be meeting with other family members as Jessie’s little brother Chun-Kai would be organizing a special dinner for his girlfriend Vicky’s parents and their friends who came to Penghu for something special he had planned. After a quick trip to the hotel that we would be staying in that night we were off to the restaurant for a dinner hosted by Jessie’s little brother. Only time I knew something was up when we would have to pick up his suit and ukulele and bring it to their aunty’s shop before going to the restaurant. Looks like the dinner was not to celebrate our wedding but Chun-Kai would be using this opportunity with friends and family there for a special proposal later on in the night. Jessie and I sat at the no alcohol, children and mummy’s table while the heavy drinkers sat on the other table. The table next to us was loud and rowdy all night as they were having a great time in Penghu so far. Plates of food came out of the kitchen again and again and each time a plate of lobster or a red crab came out I wonder to myself whether or not I made the right decision to go vegetarian whenever I am eating with my wife. Deep down I know I made the right decision being with her and not touching the seafood which is a delicacy when visiting Penghu. We had our own yummy vegetarian food that was cooked for us so we did not feel left out.

During the evening there was a series of speeches and toasts to the table members. Although it was not a dinner for us most have heard about our marriage today and it was time for us to make a speech. Despite the years at Toastmasters I still get a bit scared on what I will say when put on the spot so after Jessie had finished her speech I just thanked everyone that is here tonight. However for this crowd, they wanted to hear more from me so therefore I uttered a couple of lines in English which didn’t sounded like two complete sentences that made much sense. It went something similar to… “Thank You for the meal tonight and thank you for celebrating our marriage along with this dinner which is supposed to be for Chun-Kai and friends. Even if I do not know you but if Chun-Kai is my friend, then we are all friends”. By saying these few words, it caused a huge cheer to go up probably because they understand the word “friend”. 

My 29th Birthday with my wife

My 29th Birthday with my wife

Later on in the evening where the food had nearly all been eaten and the beer from the other table had nearly been drunk, a little boy from the group of Chun-Kai’s friends came from behind me to present to me a surprise birthday cake. Wow… where that the cake came from?! Suddenly the attention was gathered around our table and I didn’t know what was going on. Jessie had planned something special all this time to celebrate my 29th Birthday with her in Taiwan. Jessie had given me a surprised birthday cake when all night I had given up hope that anyone will remember my birthday and I am just enjoying the dinner with others. Now thinking about it, she did ask me whether I like chocolate or vanilla ice-cream a day before which felt strange at first. I liked both but I said I like vanilla ice-cream more and the vanilla ice-cream birthday cake I got. Then everyone joined in to sing happy birthday to me on my actual birthday and have a bit of dessert to finish their lovely dinner. That is twice Jessie had surprised me with a birthday cake. The birthday cake from the previous year, she collaborated with my friends Lawrence and Lisa to get sent to me at work without me knowing while she was in Taiwan. That made me teared up at work and now this one is in front of so many friends and family that I just inherited by marriage today. She is such a wonderful wife.   

There was still more to come on this extraordinary day. After dinner Chun-Kai and his friends were about to set up the best wedding proposal that I have ever seen. That suit and his ukulele that we picked up earlier will be used to propose to his girlfriend. Chun-Kai would use the excuse to leave early first to drop one of his friends off at the accommodation before picking up Vicky. Our job as the family members were to keep Vicky occupied so she did not expect a thing on what was going on. We sat outside of Jessie’s aunty’s shop talking under the refreshing night sky until she was taken to their accommodation. All their best friends had flown to Penghu with them to help him out in proposing to his long-time girlfriend Vicky to be his wife. Since we were the support crew we didn’t witness the actual proposal but will be joining her parents coming over a little bit later once the proposal has been completed. As soon as the magic words of “Yes” was spoken, a text message would be sent to Jessie to bring her parents over for the surprise. When we got there, they were both in tears of happiness when the answer was a Yes. Everyone there had placards saying Vicky’s Chinese name and “Will you marry me?” written on it. Vicky had no option but to say “Yes”. Vicky’s parents gave them their blessings to wed and would say some good words about the couple for the wedding to take place. It was a special moment in their lives and we were glad to be a part of the celebrations all on a special day for the Lan Family.

That unexpected marriage proposal by Jessie’s little brother capped off a great day. I wonder how Jessie’s father felt by having his daughter legally married today and having his youngest son planning to get married at a later date. I am guessing he must have felt over the moon seeing his children getting married. My special day of the year was coming to an end with completion of my Birthday, our Marriage registration and being part of a wedding engagement. Rather than spending our last night in Penghu at Jessie’s home tonight, we would go back to our accommodation to spend our first night together in a luxury hotel as a married couple at the best hotel in Penghu Islands. We have to thank Jessie’s brother Wei-Guang who works at the luxury Pescadores Hotel who was able to get a room for us during the peak Summer holiday season to help celebrate our new marriage. Our Room 517 was spacious with a big comfortable bed, a large television, one of those Japanese tickle up my butt sprinkle toilets which I only ever seen on television and a wonderful hot spa where we can lie in to unwind and think about our wonderful few days while in Penghu. If you are planning a trip to Penghu, this hotel is the best.    

Overnight Typhoon Soulik passed over Northern Taiwan bringing in strong winds and rain all over the country. Even though Penghu was further south, the islands were still affected by the bad weather as it kept on heading towards China at a lesser force. There were no damage to Penghu but it will be affect our travel plans later on in the day. After breakfast at the hotel we checked out of the part of the hotel where Jessie’s brother was working to see the rooms my parents will be staying in when they come to stay here in a few months’ time and the venue where our wedding party will be held. Located on the top floor of the Pescadores Hotel is two large function rooms and we would be using the larger one that can sit around 250 people There will be plenty of room however as Jessie is capping the attendance of our wedding party to 150 people. Out the large windows which seem like an observation deck has a wonderful view of Magong city below. Jessie is happy with the venue and will have a few months to prepare for our ceremony taking place in this hotel.

After the viewing, it is off back home to pick up our luggage for the next part of our journey for a mini-Honeymoon to the Eastern part of Taiwan. I said see you later to Jessie’s dad as we will be coming back in a few months’ time with my parents in tow. Chun-Kai kindly offered to drive us to the airport for our flight to Kaohsiung. When we got there, the airport was full of misplaced passengers who had their flights cancelled earlier in the morning due to the passing typhoon. One of the passengers included one of Chun-Kai’s friends who were going back to Taipei however her flight was cancelled and is on standby on another flight later on in the day. Our flight to Kaohsiung was originally going to take-off at 14:00 however with the heavy rain still lingering into the afternoon there was going to be a delay to our flight and a possibility that our flight was going to be cancelled like the ones before us. Amazingly only two planes was able to land in Magong Airport in the afternoon with one UNI Air flight and the other one was our Trans-Asia flight that will be able to take us to our destination in Kaohsiung despite being 90 minutes late from its scheduled take-off time. I have never missed a flight during my years of travelling and luckily I still have got this good luck streak going. Jessie and I are heading back to Kaohsiung to try desperately to catch a train from the Kaohsiung Train Station when we land.

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KAOHSIUNG 2013 [1]


[07 July – 08 July 2013]

Wellington >> Auckland >> [Hong Kong] >> Taipei >> Tainan >> KAOHSIUNG >> Penghu Islands >> [Kaohsiung] >>Taitung >> Hualien >> Ilan County >> Taipei >> [Hong Kong] >> Auckland >> Wellington

Two Years Ago… 

Vicky drops us off at the Tainan Train Station so we can catch the slower local train to the next city of Kaohsiung. Previously we would have caught the comfortable High Speed Rail Trains but due to the cities being in close proximity to each other, it made economic sense to take the local trains instead. The train ride would take around 40 minutes long but for some reason, there were a lot of people on the trains today that we did not have a seat so we stood in the aisle for the journey. The reason on why the trains were quite full that day was probably due to the fact that it was a weekend and the parents were taking their children on day trips during the school holidays. 

Jessie’s purpose for visiting the second biggest city in Taiwan was to get professional haircuts for our wedding photos. We already got the dresses in Tainan and now we are going to Kaohsiung to make us look pretty. Once we arrived in Kaohsiung, we took their underground metro to Central Park where Jessie got a recommendation from her friend that the hairdressers around there is quite good. As we have not checked in to our hotel yet, we took our luggage with us to the hairdressers who store it away for us. For me a good haircut would just be 3 on top and 2 on the sides at the barbers. Due to the importance of this trip, Jessie says that I should have a professional haircut. Not being able to tell the hairdresser/stylist on what hair style I want she let me choose a haircut from a few magazines. Okay, I found a picture to model a haircut off. My style would be shorter on the sides and more spiky hair on the top so I would look a little bit younger.

The time to cut my hair is around about an hour which is value for money compare to if I had an haircut in New Zealand. The prices of a haircut are so much cheaper than if I had one at home. If it was at a barber shop then it would probably be a quick job on the seat before leaving in 10-15 minutes. By the time I had washed my hair, Jessie was ready to be put under the perming machine to make her hair curl. It was going to take a while so with her agreement I decided to take a walk around the neighbourhood. As we are only staying in Kaohsiung for 1 day, I would not see much of the city if I am stuck at the hairdressers.

After walking around a few streets, I could spot the Tuntex 85 Sky Tower which we went to last time. The tower dominates the Kaohsiung sky line where ever you go in the city centre however the area that I was in did not have many attractions that I want to do. While I was wondering around without a map of where to go, a monk dressed in traditional brown cloths stopped me and asked me if I want to make a donation. Even when I said that I do not speak any Chinese in English he insisted that I still donate. He says that I should wish for world peace which seems like a generic answer in his limited English. Ahh… I gave him a 500 Taiwanese Dollar bank note and sign my name with my wish of world peace on his tally. He gave me a couple of cards with Buddha on them and says it is good luck. Something in my head said do not trust him as there are overseas scams that I might not know about but I still gave him the money anyway which equates to about $20NZD. Since Buddhism is a major religion in Taiwan, I gave him some funds for his temple whether it was true or not and carried on walking around the city thinking what a fool I had been.

While walking around like a fool, I did go and checked out Mega Mall located at the Sanduo Shopping District to have a look at anything that interests me however nothing did. There are other malls in Kaohsiung which are much bigger such as Dream Mall which is the biggest in Taiwan which we went to last time. This particular mall was only 17 stories high full of clothes, accessories and other buyable things there but nothing was worth buying that I left without any money being exchanged. Gone are the days where I would instantly pull out my wallet and buy plenty of clothing and souvenirs from overseas destinations. It was such a nice sunny day compare to the previous time that we were here that I enjoyed walking around the streets through the parks back to the hairdresser. I didn’t want to go far on the MRT to another part of Kaohsiung just in case I could not find the hairdresser which was hidden away in a secondary street.

When I came back, Jessie was still sitting there waiting for her curls to be set. Funny thing when Jessie’s hairdresser did not realize that we were a couple until I gave Jessie some water to drink. It was probably because I went for a long walk outside while Jessie was inside waiting for her haircut to be completed. That wasn’t boyfriend material wasn’t it? Leaving your girlfriend in the hair salon and going out for a walk leaving her there. She says rather than looking like boyfriend and girlfriend, we actually look like brother and sister instead. Actually we get that a lot while we are together but we always laugh about it since we live miles apart and could no possibility be related. Jessie’s haircut finally finished after 4 hours and Jessie looked absolutely beautiful with her new hair style. She had beautiful long brown hair with curls at the end. Mmm… I am the luckiest guy in Taiwan at the moment to be with her.

With our sexy haircuts it was time to find some food. We were both really hungry after not eating for a while. Lucky enough, we stumble across a night market close by when we were walking to the Kaohsiung Central Park Station. There we were lured by a brightly lit street with so many food and beverage stalls selling to the people finishing work. There were plenty of choices of street food available such as fries with melted cheese on top, fried potato balls and washed down with a cup of QQ bubble tea.  

Once we finished our dinner, we would be picked up by the hotel operator at the Kaohsiung Train/Bus Station to be taken to our hotel. We stayed at the River Hotel and Motel near Kaohsiung Arena. It’s good to lie down on a large comfy bed for a rest. Tomorrow we will have a few hours to look around the city before catching a plane to Penghu Islands to meet Jessie’s dad for the first time.

In the morning we went to get a document verified before going back to our hotel to check out but leaving our baggage there until after we come back from doing some shopping in the shopping malls around Kaohsiung Arena. We went wild. Jessie insisted we buy some nice shoes for me and I ended up purchasing 3 pairs of shoes. Well one nice looking pair of black dress shoes will be for the wedding and two other smart looking casual shoes. One pair of shoes I should have purchase was a pair of white shoes because on the day of the wedding photography, my white suit had no matching shoes apart from my white street shoes. That was carelessness on my part. I chose a white suit in Tainan but no dress shoes to match. When we got back to the hotel, it was straight to the MRT to Kaohsiung Airport for our flight to Penghu at 2:20pm. Jessie had an earlier flight on standby but decided to waive it because there was only 1 seat available otherwise we would have left earlier for Penghu Islands. That worked out conveniently since we used that time to do some shopping.

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