Trip Start Apr 08, 2009
Trip End Aug 12, 2009

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Flag of Taiwan  ,
Thursday, April 9, 2009

First, a little rant about Tokyo(Narita International). Boo to their free wifi sign when not actually offering free wifi. "Free" wifi for 500 Yen a day, close to free, but not worth it, especially since I was just stopping for 1 hour. Also boo for making people who are transferring go through security again, even though we never left the "sterile" area. Triple boo for making me run my laptop through the x ray machine twice and asking me what my laptop stand thingy was and also asking me what my granola bars were(no joke). Only positive is that I was able to put some of those two years of Japanese in college to use.

Okay on to the adventures in Taiwan. My horoscope said I would have adventures if I traveled this week, and indeed that is the case. So some background first, I have an overnight (14 hour layover) here in Taiwan. This is because I didn't want to shell out the extra $250 for the direct non-overnight layover ticket. I am also saving money by staying in the airport rather than renting a hotel. (Especially since I would have to check out at around 5AM to make the 8:30 flight) Not worth it if you ask me. So to kill time, I decided to take the bus into the city. My parents warned me against it, which made it more appealing. Although, I'm glad everything worked out otherwise I would not be a happy camper right now.

I'll start at the beginning, landed in Taiwan at 5:00PM local time. I took about five minutes to debate whether or not I wanted to kill time by going into the city. Positives were that I would not die of boredom at the airport and that I would actually leave the airport this time. I was here in '99 and just stayed in the airport on the layover, although that one wasn't 14 hours. Negative being the last bus coming back was at 11 and if I didn't make that, I would have either a very expensive taxi ride back to the airport, or worst case scenario, a very bad night on the streets of Taipei.

After the short debate, I decided to go for the self guided "tour" of Taipei. I first went to exchange money at the counter in front of immigration. If people visit here, go see Mr.Chen at the money exchange counter. He was super nice and gave me a lot of advice about how much money I would need, how much the buses cost, etc. I ended up trading 400 of my old Taiwan dollars, into New Taiwan Dollars(NTD). (They had made a switch in the last ten years). I also exchanged 50 US dollars into 16,000 NTD. Mr.Chen assured me this was more than enough to get in and out of the city, take the subway, and get a good meal. He even said I would have enough to bring along a date, which is exactly what I did. Hehe jk! (Hope I don't get into too much trouble for that one). Anyway, immigration was a total mess. I spent about 1.5 hours in line. The longest immigration line ever! I should not complain though, Taiwan has a visa exempt policy with the US and so all US citizens don't need visas to enter the country. (Not to mention there is no fee to enter). This is in stark contrast to the Chinese visa which is 3x more expensive for US citizens than citizens of the rest of the world. Oh yah, drama played out in the immigration line that added to the long wait. There was a problem with a woman's visa or documents and the immigration officer told her to call out to her husband who was apparently waiting for her just outside of immigration. Then all of a sudden the immigration officer shouts pretty loudly in Mandarin "he's your husband, you don't know his name?" Apparently the woman didn't know her husband's name? Her excuse was that she always uses a nickname for him (lame).Then the immigration officer says to his coworker; loudly enough for everyone else who understood Mandarin to hear, "it must be a fake marriage." Meanwhile, the lady is in another visa/immigration area accompanied by an immigration officer and trying to explain her situation. The weirdest part is that there was no guy out there who seemed to be the woman's husband. This leads me to believe that either the woman had an imaginary husband, which would explain why she didn't know his name. Or, the woman really was in a fake marriage and the fake husband decided to split when problems arouse. Either way, very funny. When I finally got to my immigration officer, I spoke in English to answer her questions. She made an offhand remark about me being American but keeping my Chinese name, I replied "Yeah, never got an English name." Her response was a somewhat embarrassed, "oh you understand Chinese."

So out of immigration, grabbed two maps of Taipei and the bus schedule and I was off. Purchased my ticket at the bus station. Had a long bus ride into the city itself, another 1 hour or so. This puts me at around 8PM when I finally arrive in Taipei proper. This got me kind of nervous because I still needed to find a place to eat, then catch the bus back. I had decided on the bus ride over to visit the Shilin night market. It is about 4 metro stops away from Taipei Main Station where the bus drops you off. Oh yah, forgot to mention that the bus tickets were really cheap. 230NTD round trip, a little under 12 dollars. Anyhow, got to the main station, looked up how to get to Shilin market; counterintutive because you do not get off at Shilin stop. You get off at Jiantan, the stop before. (Take notes for those who plan to visit Taipei). On the way to the platform, I discovered lockers that were cheap, 20NTD for 3 hours. Decided to throw my laptop case (my carryon) in there. This would prove to be a problem later.

I hop onto the metro, and as I'm riding, it pops into my mind that I do not know when the Metro closes. This is bad because I need the Metro to get back to the bus that takes me to the airport, and my laptop/carry on is now in the metro stop. This lead to a "it's a small world" moment. On came a mother and daughter who were speaking English, I decided to ask them if they knew. They didn't, but she was able to find out by asking someone, which is what I was going to do if they didn't know. The small world part comes in when I asked where they were from. You guessed it, Hawaii. So we talked a bit about what we were doing in Taiwan, they were somewhat surprised I was traveling by myself and venturing into the city on an overnight layover. We didn't get to talk much because my stop came up.

I get off and cross the street to an obvious outdoor night market. The guide/map said it was the best in Taiwan, with the most people, shops, and food. Well I was pretty upset because for the first 15minutes or so of walking, I saw absolutely no food. Just tons of shopkeepers yelling really loudly and a lot of people walking around. But turns out I just had to walk a bit more to hit the food stands. At the food stands I decided to go with the Advice of Tony Bourdain. Go where the locals are lining up. They were lined up at this fried egg dough thing place. So I stood in line and got one. 35NTD, for delicious fried goodness. I would describe the taste as a fried egg in a doughnut. More walking lead to more food stands. I also go this mixed cold vegetable dish that was not quite as tasty as the fried egg thing, but definitely better for me. (And also more expensive).

Did a bit more walking and realized I should be getting back if I didn't want to spend the nights on the streets of Taipei. Found my way back to Jiantan station and hopped back onto the metro.

Before I forget, I should mention that Taiwan has a huge amount of 7-11s, like one at every corner. It is like the ABC stores back home. I bought a bottle of water named PH9.0 at one. Not sure if drinking basic water is good for me, at least it wasn't PH5.0? I didn't know enough Chinese to understand if that is really what the PH stood for. Also, the motor scooter is ubiquitous in Taiwan, I would say they rival the amount of cars on the road. They also ride as crazy as the scooter riders in Beijing. Although, they all wear helmets. I wonder if there is a law that says they have to wear the helmets, I would hope so because they ride like they are on a suicide mission.

Anyway, I get back to the Main Taipei station and although managing to get to the city from the airport, and getting around the city fine, I get lost in the darn station. Taiwan station is kind of like Tokyo station. Multiple exits, multiple levels, multiple people. I exit on the wrong exit and can't find my locker. This ends up causing a bit of distress because it's already almost 10 by this time. I end up having to buy another ticket just to get back into the station, and then asking the information guy how to get to the level/exit with my locker in it. I thought I was pretty good with directions, but I wasn't even close with this one. Thank god I was able to find someone who knew, otherwise, I would probably still be looking for that darn locker.

After getting my laptop from the locker, I exit the station and attempt to find where my bus stop is. I walk towards the east where there is a bunch of bus stops but can't find my bus. This gets me really worried because it's about 10:30 at this point and the possibility of me spending the night on the streets of Taipei is becoming more and more apparent. A double check of my map told me that I was walking in the right direction, just not far enough. I get to the bus stop at about 10:40 and the bus comes a little after that. I was pretty relieved.

A quick nap on the ride back to the airport and here I am in the lobby of terminal two blogging about the whole experience. Taipei is a neat city and I wouldn't mind paying it a visit when I have more time to spare. It reminds me of Hong Kong because the streets are narrow and there are lots of neon/hanging signs. It also amazed me how many people speak Cantonese here, although I was in a tourist area. I have a shorter 8 hour layover on my way back through Taipei. I think I'll make a stop at Taipei 101 next time. It'll be pretty neat to see a 101 story building up close. I still have a lot of NTDs left over so it's an excuse to use them.

Well pretty tired right now, but am scared to fall asleep since I may miss my plane. Some lady just came up to me and looked at my computer screen, weird. Sorry lady, I don't speak Taiwanese, I'm just going to reply to you in English. :-)

Pictures are attached. Sorry if they are random, don't feel like picking out the good ones. Oh yah, Narita has cherry blossom trees lining the perimeter of their airport. Really nice because they are in full bloom now. (Had to find something nice to say about Narita after attacking it right off the bat.)
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