I have been planning to go away during the PSLE 4-day marking period since Aaron was in primary one – that’s 5 years ago. It’s the best time to see the red foliage of the autumn scene and to enjoy the cool weather. The best bet for this to happen is to visit either Korea, Japan or China. This brief window period we had would be too short for US or Europe trip. I had imagined myself walking along boulevards framed by flaming trees. My friend, S, whose son is the same age as Aaron, told me to take her along where ever I go. I agreed.
Then all my plans went awry. S has been to Korea and Japan so it’s a no-no for her. She wants to go to US and let the boys miss another few days of school. I disagreed. (Aaron was scheduled for sexuality education in school and I didn’t want him to miss that.) China’s Jiuzhaigou, our orignal compromised plans, was fully booked. Egypt was too risky, Bhutan too expensive. In the end, my dream of a romantic week indulging in autumn bliss went poof. S found a 8-days Taiwan trip that was cheap and would cover nearly the whole of Taiwan. Mike declined to join in what he imagined would be a ‘rat race’. He has enough of that at work. I agreed to go along even though S had originally disagreed with Taiwan when I first suggested it.
It was 24deg C in Autumn Taiwan…and green. The EVA flight was smooth and we were greeted by our jolly, short and plump guide Denny, whom we called Ying Wu (sounds like parrot) when we landed at Taipei airport. Denny, in his self-deprecating humour, calls himself ‘Everyday’ which in Taiwanese sounds like short and fat. Throughout our trip, he never stopped talking, unless it was DVD time. We would sleep while he rattled on and on by himself. The tour group of 24 included some Malaysians and two girls, Angel who had also just completed her PSLE and Jasmine, who had completed her N’levels.
The first stop that night upon arrival was to visit a temple and a night market. Both were crowded with people. It was a Saturday night, and also the birthday of the Goddess Guan Yin. At one point, I got lost as I couldn’t recognise anyone yet from the group.
HuaXi night market was the first amongst many I visited throughout my trip to Taiwan. The vibrant atmosphere, the cheap stuff, and the street food were a nice contrast to the sterile malls ubiquitous in Singapore.
Our 1.5 decker bus was captained by Liao Monitor 廖班长(a respectful term for coach drivers), a man whom S’s son thought was suffering from mouth cancer as he revealed his red-stained and rotten teeth, obtained through the constant chewing of betel nuts to keep awake.
The next few days were mostly touch-and-go.
On the first morning, we visited the Taipei Zoo to see the pandas Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan. It felt different visiting the zoo on a cool 24 deg. Just so refreshing, unlike walking in the Singapore Zoo in 33 deg C and 90% humidity. The next visit was to the Miniature Museum, with quirky display of dolls’ houses.
I would never have thought to visit this museum on paper but thoroughly enjoyed it. (In the photo, the TV is actually working.)
We stopped by Taipei 101, the second tallest building in the world for lunch, then it’s off to Jiaoxi Hotspring Town. Our resort, Evergreen Resort Hotel was truly heavenly. There was a welcomed drink stand offering a choice of grass-jelly or lemon jelly drinks. Dinner was on our own that night so as to let us have time to enjoy the hot spring spa.
Wake-up calls were at 6.30am or 7am daily and the coach left the hotel promptly at 8.30am every morning. Day three saw us travelling along the Pacific Ocean Scenic Road, visiting the Cingshui Cliff and Hualian Taroko Gorge. The gloomy sky and hazy weather did not do justice, and I didn’t particularly find anything spectacular about these places.
Visits to factories or specialty shops are obligatory on most tours to subsidize the tour fee and we visited a marble factory.
We reached Taitung in time for dinner. Guilty of over-eating, S and I decided to take a night swim in the hot spring pool.
Day four. We spent the morning travelling along mountainous route and reached a small town for lunch. The menu included lobster salad. Unbelievable for tour group meals – thoroughly enjoyable. Then it’s off to Kaoshiung E-da World Theme Park. Ying Wu took us to two attractions he felt we should not missed before dismissing us. One was a haunted mansion walk, and another was a parachute simulated ride over Taiwan. That day was really tiring. After rushing through the theme park, we hardly had any time, nor energy left for the Outlet Shopping Mall, but we persevered. I almost collapsed.
The next morning, we travelled to Nantou to visit Sun Moon Lake. We took a lake cruise on an expensive looking yacht, re-living the historic sites where President Chiang Kai Sek and Song Mei Ling spent their vacation. The Sun-Moon Lake tour also included the newly rebuilt Wen-Wu temple, destroyed during the 921 earthquake, where I said a prayer for Ivan’s A’levels in front of Confucious. The visit to the peacock garden was more a toilet break and quite forgettable.
I can’t believe it’s Day 6 and my vacation almost over. It’s a visit to an Aboriginal Centre where we met the three Aboriginal Princesses, who tried to sell us Lingzhi and the placenta of deer. We left, many in relief after the strong sales pitch, and continued our journey to Chiufen, a town made famous and became commercialised from the movie ‘Sad City’, starring Tony Leung Chiu Wah. The thing about Taiwan is that there is nothing really old about it, unlike China.
If China tours have medical visits to Chinese sinsehs, then Taiwan tours have fengshui visits. After the free fengshui consultation, I ended purchasing 5 jade tianlus(mythical animal) for protection since my fengshui master was quite accurate and had diagnosed me to be lacking of earth element.
The visit to Wu Fen Pu, a ladies’ street wholesale market left me with a running nose from the dust. Night was spent at Ximenting西門町, a shopping street popular with the young.
Our ‘almost final’ morning in Taipei was spent visiting the iconic Grand Hotel圓山大飯店.
It was once a top hotel in the world until Taipei constructed two tall buildings and a flyover spoilt its fengshui. After that, we continued to Tamshui Fisherman’s Wharf and Tamshui Old Street. Our last night was spent at the Shiling Night Market, due for demolition at the end of October.
The next morning, our eighth day in Taiwan, we flew off for Singapore at 7.40am, thereby completing our 8-day whirlwind tour. Phew! Tiring, right?