Generation Z. Cruising in an RV.: OLA: Getting Enchanted in Taiwan!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

OLA: Getting Enchanted in Taiwan!


Juoifen, The City of Sadness, in northern Taiwan

Here are some synonyms of the verb enchant: bewitch, delight, fascinate, charm, captivate, enrapture.

a Taiwanese fair by the sea
We got enchanted in Taiwan for 10 days in 2009 when Bill finally sold his business to plunge into retirement.  We had more time to get enraptured by its charm (the trip to HK was too short). And, although we started our visit with a goal of joining Bill’s friend Alan (with gracious Taiwanese wife Li Hua) and the many expats  teaching English in Taiwan (we even went to a Bluegrass Pub with them), that is where we slowly drifted to a fascination with traveling as a lifestyle!  

the majestic Marble Gorge
Taiwan lies off the southeastern coast of China and the northeastern tip of the Philippines.  The eastern part of the country is made up of five rugged mountain ranges (making it the world's fourth-highest island) and the western plains is home to most of Taiwan's 7M. The Taroko National Park in the rugged region is home to the Marble Gorge, carved by the erosive power of the Liwu River, began 200M years ago as sediment on the ocean’s bottom, still being uplifted by plates about 0.5cm per year. 

large jade market
The area supplies the Taipei Jianguo Jade Market with the kind of jade found only in Taiwan. The market lies underneath the elevated Jianguo Road, stretching for over a kilometer, one of the largest jade markets in all of Asia. Pinglin, on the other hand, is the most famous place for producing tea, with 80% of residents being tea growers. The hills all around are filled with neatly growing tea plants and the Pinglin Tea Industry Museum is the world's largest.

downtown in the city of Sadness
 On the northernmost tip lies Juifen where gold was discovered in 1893. The resulting gold rush hastened its development, but the mines shut down in 1971, and the town forgotten. In 1989, Hou Hsiao-hsien's movie, A City of Sadness, became a big hit. Soon retro-Chinese style caf├ęs, tea houses, and souvenir stores bearing the name "City of Sadness" were built. In 2001, the city again became famous when its downtown was used as a model in the anime movie Spirited Away.

a temple for nine turtles in Tainan
In the south is Tainan City, the fifth largest and regarded as one of the oldest cities in Taiwan. The first Confucian school–temple was built there in 1665. The city claims more Buddhist and Taoist temples than any other city in Taiwan. But it was a trip to the nearby Salt Museum and Salt Mountain Resort that gave us a most memorable experience with a Taiwanese taxi driver. He stopped the car, got out of his cab, took something out of his trunk, and gave crackers to Bill when he saw that he had a cup of coffee!

first Confucian temple in Tainan
the Bitan Bridge and its pedal boats
Taipei metropolitan area is the political, economic, and cultural center of Taiwan.  Just a short MRT ride away is Bitan in the Xindian District, New Taipei City. It literally means Green Lake, referring to where the Xindian River widens to form the lake. There is a long suspension bridge used only for people on foot and the area is alive with restaurants, carnival activities, and pedal boats.  You will find many interesting scenes on the ride around the lake. 

don't know how they got there but they did!
a mixture of Dutch and Spanish
At the other end of the MRT line is Danshui, originally settled by the Ketagalan aborigines. The Spanish established the mission of Santo Domingo there in the 17th century. In 1641, they were expelled from Taiwan by the Dutch who built Fort Anthonio, now the main building of the Fort San Domingo museum complex. The Dutch left Taiwan in 1661 following their defeat by Koxinga whose descendants were later defeated by the Qing Dynasty. A very enchanting history is part of Taiwan’s mystique.

National Palace Museum
The Japanese acquired Taiwan in 1895 after the First Sino-Japanese War. Following the Japanese surrender in 1945, the Republic of China took over the island. After losing Mainland China to the Chinese Communist Party in a Civil War, the ruling Kuomintang resettled the government to Taiwan with Taipei as the capital in 1949, carrying with them an amazing collection of Chinese artifacts. Thus, Taipei’s National Palace Museum is considered one of the world’s best museums! 

Shilin Night Market
Taipei is also famous for its many night markets, the busiest of which is the Shilin Night Market in the Shilin District.  Most night markets open around 4 PM and crowds reach their peak during the late evening hours, operating well past midnight. Bill and I visited a new night market each night. They are meccas for excellent, cheap street food (except for the stinky tofu) and some really nice shopping! You will be amazed with the size of succulent Taiwanese mangoes (like big papayas).

Taiwan's bullet train
We covered most of the island in easy day trips with the world’s most efficient MRT, regular and high speed rail, good highways and lots of bus lines and taxis, and airports from a small hotel near an MRT station! There we were treated to sunny-side eggs cooked to perfection just for the two of us every morning at the breakfast buffet of congee and condiments!

Taipei 101
Taipei 101 is a landmark skyscraper located in Xinyi District, ranked officially as the world's tallest from 2004 until the opening of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai in 2010.  Comprising 101 floors above ground and 5 floors, it is a symbol of modern technology and Asian tradition. Thus, it remains the biggest and most visible indicator of our enchantment with Taiwan!

large Taiwan mangoes
Next Stop: Reliving WWII (Bataan and Corregidor)

another scene in Bitan