[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.
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.
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.
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.
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.