The First Meander

Trip Start Sep 17, 2011
Trip End Jul 19, 2013

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Flag of Taiwan  , Taiwan,
Wednesday, September 21, 2011

I still had a few hours to kill until the welcome dinner so I wandered out for a bit on foot.  My apartment was along the intersection of what were obviously the two widest roads in town, moderately busy but not crazy.  Like a good citizen I waited for the crosswalk signal to turn green and the flood of scooters rounding the corner to halt.  The walking man turned green, the automotive signal red... I stepped out onto the crosswalk.  Whoops.

The turning-lane scooters & blue pickups didn't stop or even weave aside.  I freaked out and bolted across the zebra stripes like a lunatic.  Back in Saigon a few years prior the traffic didn't stop either but they at least very consciously veered away from me, nor there were any traffic lights to create the expectation of normalcy in the first place.  First lesson learned: in exurban Taiwan, road rules are polite suggestions and red lights are treated as caution signals.

Walking up toward the main area I passed a FamilyMart (better known in LA as Famima!!), a dumpling house, a few other more deserted restaurants I had less hope of ordering food from, and a row of three large grey drug stores.  There was no sidewalk.  In the gutter in front of OneOn International Drug Chain Store was a lonely coin-operated kiddie ride playing a muffled Chinese lullaby. 

The core stretch of development began at the next light where I would pop into a 7/11 for a drink.  Convenience stores here are less oriented toward junk food than they are back home, they more kind of fill the niche of a supermarket albeit adapted for a place where land is premium and nearly every meal is eaten out.  Taiwanese 7/11s, FamilyMarts, etc sell literally everything and the kitchen sink, are open 24/7 in the middle of nowhere or a typhoon, even have little computer kiosks from which you can do everything from buy concert tickets to pay your electric bill. 

They also all have automatic sliding glass doors, doors that are timed differently than back home requiring a split second wait at point-blank range before they register & open.  Needless to say, I walked right into them & earned a giggle or two from the clerks.

Beyond the 7/11 an arcade-style sidewalk appeared and it was pleasant to walk again.  I passed rows and rows of little narrow shops, each one with its own scent and soundtrack of Mandarin & Korean pop hits pumping out the door.  There was a pet shop, an herb shop, a bike shop, a fan shop, a lingerie shop, a sports shop, a blanket shop... everything that would be bunched up into a big box store in the US was split apart here.  They looked like Mom & Pop businesses but could've just been local chains.  There were a few delicious-smelling food places too that I couldn't wait to try, though I didn't know where to began with them and none had picture menus. 

The traffic on the main road was intense... lots of scooters, blue pickup trucks, buses, probably too many for a street so narrow; a ton of noise too. After about 10min I got to the train station which was probably the biggest non-apt-highrise building in town.  Beyond the train station was a huge statue of some angry red Taoist god.  I'd have to check that out sometime soon.

Tired and numb from the sensory overload, I stopped by one of the noodle joints surrounding the station and tried to order something from the middle aged women manning it.  In SE Asia this was a simple process, you named a meat, then pointed to the type of noodles you wanted fried with that meat, usually there were three. 

(k they don't speak English, no surprise there)
In crappy Chinese that I tried to read out of the Lonely Planet book:

I just pointed to the steaming caulron of chicken parts next to the noodle kiosk. 

That must mean "what kind of noodles to you want with it?"
I just pointed to the noodles I wanted assuming that's what they even asked.   The fact that I had to point was the funniest thing they must've seen all day because they couldn't stop giggling

In a minute or two they produced a small bowl of brown herbal soup with the chicken and noodles inside.  I carried it over to the train station stairs, the only public place to sit down that I'd seen on the walk and chowed down staring at the street scene.  A stray dog found me and stared back, I guess he/she wanted my noodles. 

We shared a moment there, the dog and I.  I'd made my first friend.  Best of all, it didn't giggle at me.

/ end of the first day, pretty much.  gonna get more general from here out as the experiences start to blur
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