Friday, April 1, 2016

Jim and August's Big Adventure in Taiwan

Following our long winter break trip to Thailand the plan for Spring Break had been to stay in Korea and start getting ready for the big move to China.  There is so much that needs to be packed up or sold.  Irish and I had talked about me taking all the kids somewhere to give her a day or two to complete a lot of the work. Then that plan evolved. I am very very bad at organizing and packing, prone to hording and wanting to keep everything. Augustine is also a disaster when it comes to any kind of cleaning.  So the new plan was for the two of us to go away on a guys Spring Break trip. Within a few hours I had found cheap flights to Taipei and the trip was planned.

We left early Sunday morning, took the bus to Incheon at 6:30am.  August was so excited, so cooperative as he walked around carrying my far too big backpack.

excited and ready to go

Independent Augustine walking around the airport

a boy and his ipad

Star Wars made for the best flight ever.

I lived in Taiwan for a few years in the late 90s just after college. It was a formative time in my life.  I remember a lot of it incredibly fondly, some less fondly, and some of it is a blur. Surprisingly though I have not been back since the day I left 16 years ago, and I was anxious to see a place I had thought a lot about since.

After landing everything went incredibly efficiently, we moved through immigration to the bus stop and quickly got on a bus into Taipei. Arriving at the Taipei Main Station we switched over to a subway and 15 minutes later we were at our hotel next to Daan Park.

Seeing Taipei 101 was at the top of August's list of things to do. This was because he had seen a lego version of the building in a toy store in Bangkok, which I guess is as good a reason as any. Turns out you can see the building from almost everywhere in Taipei. We would go up to the observation deck on Monday but for Sunday night the plan was just a walk in the park, then playground, and then a night market.

Travel is exhausting. On the bus from the airport into Taipei

Taipei Main Station

Taipei 101 in the distance. This looks like an album cover to me.

Daan Park

King of the playground. With no fear 
Taipei 101 is everywhere

I'm pretty sure this flag was not there when we first checked in. Housekeeping brought it, along with some snacks.

The view from our hotel window. 

August happy to be in a room where he won't have to sleep alone

Taipei 101 again. It's a huge building, hard to miss

Waiting for corn, one of the few things he was willing to eat in the night market. 

Blending in, like a local. 

Continuing to enjoy the corn. 

The night market was a mixed experience for August. There is a lot going on, big crowds. He looked interested, and a little freaked out. Stinky tofu was a surprise for him, when I first encountered it I really did not believe it was a food smell, it is powerful, and everywhere in the market. We settled on some grilled corn, and a steak with an egg, and then we called it a night.

Monday morning we ate breakfast at the hotel. Picked out familiar items, avoided the "braised meat jelly" that was in the middle of the fruit table for some reason. And then we got to Taipei 101 just after it opened at 9am. With no lines at all we were able to get on the world's fastest elevator and less than 30 seconds later we were up on the 90th floor.

This elevator took us up 90 stories faster than our elevator at home gets us to our 15th floor apartment!

The view was everything he thought it would be

Massive pendulum, counters the movement of the building in a storm.  

a giant building. 

Coming down from the observation deck we went through a very fancy and at the time entirely empty mall to get to a food court in the basement. We got some lunch, beef noodles for me, McDonalds for him, and then back on to the subway to visit my old neighborhood.

My second year in Taiwan I had moved to a big apartment just north of the city shared by a rotating group of people, a few of whom I still stay in touch with.  Getting off the train I had the strangest sense of stepping into perfectly vivid memories. There were some changes, a few new buildings, but the changes were surprisingly limited given how much time had passed.  Honestly it was a little disorienting, like incredibly clear deja vu.

Back in the old neighborhood. Like nothing ever changed. Except I have this six year old with me now.

A bar we used to spend too much time in. Used to be called the Post Home, now it has a better classier name "Alleycats"

Ruby's third grade teacher, Mr. Barry, used to live in Taipei too, and his brother still does. Mr. Barry's brother owns a burger place called KGB for "Kiwi Gourmet Burgers" in the Shida neighborhood. Shifan Daxue (shortened to Shi-da) is a university. The neighborhood around it is filled with bars and restaurants. It is another place I spent a lot of time around in the 90s. So Monday night we went down to KGB for dinner.  Mr. Barry's brother turned out to be as friendly as Mr. Barry. I think it's a New Zealand thing, almost every kiwi I've met has been incredibly friendly.  I know it's not great to make generalizations about an entire country, but I'm going to stand behind that one.  August loved his dinner, he loved his dessert even more.  

After eating we found a store that specialized only in socks, which was great because Augusts shoes are gross, and the one pair of socks he had worn were smelling terrible. So we bought three new pairs of socks and then got in a cab and called it a night. 

excited about the burger he just ate, and the brownie and milkshake to come.
Tuesday morning we got up early to catch a 7:20 train for a town on the east coast of Taiwan called Hualien.  We actually left too early, I was afraid we would get lost on our way, but everything went very smoothly and we were on the platform with around 45 minutes to kill.  We found seats next to a Buddhist monk who was watching a variety show on his cell phone. August watched over his shoulder as the monk ignored him. 

When I had bought the train tickets the lady said apologetically that only "table seats" were available. I wasn't sure why this was bad.  Getting on the train I saw that we would be sitting at a small table facing strangers, two girls who were not Chinese, and who did not seem friendly.  After around 20 minutes of trying not to bump knees I asked where they were from. Turns out I was wrong, they were very friendly. One from Poland, the other from New York, they had gone to NYU together. We talked for the entire rest of the train ride. The girl from New York works in production for reality TV shows which I knew Irish would want to hear about so I kept asking questions. It sounded as terrible as I imagined it to be.  

having juice for breakfast because I didn't plan that part of the morning as well as I could have. 

Arriving in Hualien we said goodbye to the girls and bought bus tickets to the Taroko Gorge. This is a place I went several times in the past to get away from the city for a weekend. It is incredibly pretty. A lot of Taiwan outside of Taipei is pretty spectacular.  The road through the Taroko gorge is at times terrifying, carved into cliff faces. Because of road closures, and some confusion on our part, August and I rode through a large part of the park without getting off the bus, and then ended up back at the visitor center.  The driver was a little reckless and we were tired of being on a bus, so we just got off there and started walking up a trail. 

There were stairs up most of the trail, and warnings about venomous snakes and hornets. I didn't tell August about the warnings, it was already hard enough without being scared of snakes. At one point he got a rash on his ankle, maybe from poison ivy? Augustine was so tough about it though, he kept pushing on. Using my fitbit we kept track of how many flights of stairs we had climbed and decided to go up to 101, as if we had walked up Taipei 101.  Once we got there we high fived, took some pictures, and then worked our way back down.

August in the jungle

looking less enthusiastic because of a rash on his leg,  he powered through and the itching went away

In Hualien Tuesday night we stayed at a surprisingly nice hotel with the underwhelming name of "Just Sleep Hotel".  Went out to another night market where we got more grilled corn and a pepperoni pizza. Nothing authentic, or culturally relevant about pizza in Taiwan, but August was hungry and he wanted pizza, so that's what we had.

hanging out in the street

waiting on our grilled corn 

Wednesday we slept in for a while recovering from all our exercise and late nights. We took a mid day train back to Taipei.  That afternoon we visited the Chiang Kai Shek memorial.  For some reason a large part of the open area was filled with a tent that had something to do with the movie Frozen, which August told me he no longer likes. Turns out he is more a fan of Jack Frost from the movie Rise of the Guardians.

With a lot of time to talk I learned a few things  from August.  He told me that if the shape of your belly button changes that means you are going to die. He also said the lower age limit for going to jail is 5 years old, and if you go to jail they will feed you food you don't like. So we agreed to avoid jail, and to monitor our belly buttons.

Chiang Kai Shek memorial.  We can discuss the legacy of the Nationalist government another time. 

Thursday morning we packed up our room and went back to a playground for a little while. I watched August run and jump and  climb fearlessly to the top of the jungle gym.  At one point I was sitting close to where he was swinging with another kid around the same age. It seemed like the other kid was being mean but I didn't want to jump in. I watched them swinging higher and higher, competing. Then they got to talking about Star Wars and Minecraft.  I asked August about it later, if the boy had been mean,and he said "no, he was just issuing a challenge, to see who could swing higher. I went higher. And he knew a lot about Star Wars" I was so impressed with my socially adept son, making friends everywhere he goes.

Discussing important issues while they swing

And with that we were out of time. We worked our way back by train and by bus to the airport, took off in the evening, watched the new Star Wars again, lost an hour shifting time zones and got back home late late at night.  A great trip, father-son bonding achieved.

lugging around my oversized backpack

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