Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Everything's Strange When You're A Stranger

24 June 2015

Life is something between a Jim Morrison song title, and a book by Robert Heinlein.  

Not that Taiwan is strange.

Just that it is strange to us.  We're the strangers.  Who don't know the language, can't read the alphabet, and are just permanently confused.

Our second hotel in Tapei was really in the center of the city - all lit up at night with wonderful colors and saying - well, that's the point.  We have no idea.  Sometimes the Chinese characters look like numbers, or pictograms - I see little houses in the letters all the time.  Or jumping fish.  Probably doesn't relate to what the word is.

But I've gotten better at copying down words in Chinese, which helps with taxi drivers.  We haven't ended up on the wrong side of the city since I've started writing things in Chinese.

We missed the end of the Dragon Boat Festival.  Sunday was pouring rain, and while the races were exciting, we just couldn't get enthusiastic about standing in the rain to watch the final competition.  We went to a movie instead.  (If you haven't seen "Woman In Gold," definitely go see it - great movie.)

We finally made it to the National Palace Museum, and it was amazing!  It's a huge complex housing much of the treasures of ancient China, more than are in mainland China.  Jade, bronze, ceramics, calligraphy, paintings, jewelry, all going back over 1000 years!!!  All housed in a gorgeous building with green tile roofs and ornate eaves, bright orange ornaments, and beautiful grounds surrounding the buildings.

We didn't see the whole place, it's that large.  We should have planned an entire day here, instead of just the afternoon.  There are several restaurants, so that you can have lunch and probably a snack - my brain got full after a few hours, sort of visual overload, so a snack in the teahouse on the top floor made a nice break, and has an amazing view of the entire complex.  The gift shop on the ground floor is really nice too!

The museum doesn't allow photography in the exhibit areas, but the ladies' bathroom had copies of some of the paintings inside each stall.  Really, how nice is that?  Art in the bathroom!  Absolutely my kind of museum!  (Yes, I went into a few empty stalls just to check out the artwork.)

Here's the website, and definitely go:

Richard and I put together a list of where each of us wanted to go during our next few weeks in Taiwan.  "I'd like to go to these two national parks."  "Oh, that sounds good.  I'd like to visit that village of kitties."  "Okay.  And there's an old historic train line."  "What about these waterfalls?"  "Yeah, that's good.  And the gorges on the east coast."  "Oh, oh, and Sun Moon Lake.  We have to visit that, it's such a cool name."

Something like that.

We mapped out both our ideas so that we wouldn't need to backtrack, and booked a train for today, Wednesday, to Hualien, the second largest city in Taiwan.  Hualien (pronounced hwah-LIN) is on the east coast, and takes about 2 or 3 hours by train from Taipei.  The scenery is gorgeous, with rolling green hills, rivers full of rocks and boulders, temples dotting the hills all to the east of the train tracks.  To the west, hills and mountains and valleys and gorges shrouded in mist and rain.  Just beautiful!  And with the rain we've been having, everything is bright green and lush, especially the rice fields!

The hills run down almost to the coast, so there are tunnels so long our ears were popping.  Then suddenly the ocean!  The Pacific, blue and white sea spray hitting the rocky coast.  When we finally saw sand, it was dark grey or black - I'm guessing volcanic rock eroding into sand, rather than the light coral and shell debris sand of southern Taiwan.

We'll spend a few days in Hualien, exploring the city and we hope to get out to the national parks in the gorges.  Today ended in a spectacular display of repetitive lightning and wondrous thunder, complete with pouring rain.  

We opted to have dinner at the Chinese restaurant in our hotel.  Had to be one of the funniest meals we've ever had.  The menu was only in Chinese, no other language.  The staff tried showing us the dim sum items, but we couldn't understand what was in any of the dumplings or buns.  So, a nice man who got up from his meal to translate for us.  One can either pay a set fee ($400 Taiwan dollars, about $13 American per person) and order pretty much anything on the menu; or one can order a la carte and eat less.  All of this was explained to us by our helpful new friend.  (Taiwanese are extremely friendly and helpful - we really appreciate the assistance we get all the time!)  So Richard said he'd like fried rice with pork - "pork" was a little difficult to translate, so I had to do my little charade of a pig (pushing up my nose and giving a little oink) - okay, so it gets a big laugh every time, but people understand it.  Universally.  I thought I'd make things easy, and said I'd like fried rice with chicken (making little flapping wing motions).  Our friendly guy explained this, asked if we want more, we said we're okay with just the fried rice.  We thanked him, he went back to his meal.  And we received one large platter with fried rice.  NO idea what kind of meat was in there.  We shared that, and then were given a few slices of watermelon for dessert.  (Oh, at lunch, Richard pointed to the picture of what he wanted.  The waitress said, "juice."  He asked for watermelon juice.  She was confused.  I drew a picture of a watermelon slice.  Richard never got any juice, but we ended up with a plate of fruit.  With sliced watermelon.)

We're so off the beaten path, we're not even sure where we are.  Or if there's a path.  Or something like that.

We'll continue to muddle our way through, doing the best we can with pictures, charades, and helpful strangers.

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