Lifestyle · Tourist · Travel

For Better or Worse, Changes Are Coming

Change is the only constant in life. —  Heraclitus

Things do not change; we change. — HENRY DAVID THOREAU

Change is inevitable in a progressive society. Change is constant. — BENJAMIN DISRAELI

Change is inevitable.  Thus I expected changes when we visited 九族文化村 (Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village).  Last time I was there, it was in 1988 when it was relatively a new attraction.   I remember that they had a lot of workers dressed up in native outfits and some native shows.  It wasn’t crowded perhaps during a weekday but it was educational to see their housing and see some of their rituals.   Now, almost 30 years later, I thought the place can be a great culture introduction for my kids to learn about the native Taiwanese.

Change #1:  Easier to get there from日月潭

img_4092

After arrived at 日月潭, I tried to figure out what bus we needed to take to go the village but discovered and was pleasantly surprised that there are gondolas that can go there directly from the lake now. I didn’t remember they were that close as last time I took a bus to 九族文化村 and it seemed to be perhaps a half hour to an hour away.

Early in the morning, we took a water shuttle from the main town of the lake where we were staying to the opposite side of the lake where we can walk to the gondolas along a path with many stores to shop and eat.  The ride did not open until 10:30 am, a little late from my perspective so we shopped for about an hour before boarding the gondolas.

img_4093The view from the gondolas was superb, reminded me the view from the top of Lake Anncey in France and the gondola ride reminded me of Peak-2-Peak ride in Whistler at Canada.  The ticket we got through our lodging was a boat ride plus the gondola ride plus the admission ticket to the village.  It was essentially a 3 for 1 deal as the cost was just slightly higher than buying the admission tickets for the village alone.  This seemed to be a theme in Taiwan that many people seem to be able to sell a great discount for some reasons.   I was glad for the convenience now.  I like this change as we can get there quicker and with a view.

Change #2: It is an amusement park now

img_4094

The Village is no longer just a Formosa Culture center; it is a full blown amusement park now with rides and water playground.  This was a Monday and surprisingly there were very few people there.  We were able to ride on a water roller coaster ride many times without needing to get off.  Unfortunately, Bryden didn’t want to ride for some reasons so Logan and I rode it 4 times in a row until we felt guilty and got off the ride.  Bryden and Logan enjoyed the water slide immensely and danced in the hot air full-body dryer.

I felt ambivalent about this change.  I know that they needed it to survive but it was like selling out your soul for money or bribing the kids to do homework with something.  It just didn’t feel right.  However, if they hadn’t made this change, the place may be closed down by now so perhaps it was a necessary evil, like a dessert to entice kids to eat vegetable.

 

 

Change #3: the quiet and desolate tribe village

img_1288

The original Village part for the 9 tribes was quiet and almost had a desolate air to it except a couple of place where they had shows going on.  The show on the left was in front of a wide open area with amphitheater type seating around the open area with a total capacity of perhaps a couple of thousands, seating and standing, but we were the only people there.  The dancers still faithfully went through their routine with just us watching.

img_1321

I felt a little sad for them and for this place.  Later on we saw a show with perhaps 40 people and finally as we got closer to the entry, there was a show with perhaps 80 people.  The show was wonderful with beautiful rhythmic songs and choreographic dances.  The outfits were colorful as well.  We liked the music and bought a CD.  The girl in the picture with my kids were a high school student from Ai-mei tribe.

I felt bad that there weren’t many people there.  I thought this was the interesting part of the park.   I know many folks of the tribes has been modernized–they had to, in order to survive.  I thought that perhaps they could do a better job of intermix the tribes with the amusement part of the park so each tribe becomes an area between different ride attraction where people can eat and watch shows while learning some culture stuff.  That would be a more unique experience and keep more people happy I hope.  I am hoping for this type of change the next time I visit.

 

Advertisements
health · Lifestyle · Travel

Taipei, the Largest Natural Sauna in the World

“A pint of sweat saves a gallon of blood” — Gen Patton

People pay to go to Sauna, to relax, to sweat off the toxins, to be healthier or just to be hip.  Well, then Taipei is the place to be.  The whole time I was in Taipei, I felt that I was in the world largest Sauna room.  I was sweating all the time, even when I was just sitting there in the shade.  Granted,  I have always been a sweating guy.  Even a short 5 minutes jog in 60 degrees weather would have me dripping sweat profusedly like someone just ran a marathon.  But at Taipei, it was awesome, a free Sauna every second of the day, no letup even at night.

I probably could live to 100 living in Taipei because I would have sweated out all the germs in my body and constantly replenished with clean water.  The only thing I have to avoid is the sugar drinks which are plentiful everywhere.  However, I may not exercise as much as I would be sweating all the time, thus not getting the benefits for my muscles and hearts.  Perhaps I would die of young ages instead.  Funny how nature works, for every upside, there is a downside.  But, nevertheless, every one, if you enjoy sauna, books your ticket to Taipei and sweats away.

 

Lifestyle · Tourist · transportation · Travel

台灣高鐵 – Taiwan high speed rail

“If time be of all things the most precious, wasting time must be the greatest prodigality.” — Benjamin Franklin

“I have so much that I want to do.  I hate wasting time.” — Stephen Hawking

I have always fantasized a technology that can transport people instantly anywhere like the Star Trek transporter.  Imagine that you can be anywhere you want instantaneously: you won’t have to worry about where you live, how far is that from work or school.   No time is wasted traveling.  However, just imagine that people popping up everywhere or being beamed away in the middle of a room–that’s unnerving.  Or the conversation of “what is with your elephant nose?  Oh, a teleporting accident.”  Not to mention that bad guys would have a field day every day or people would probably never die and clones everywhere.

Furthermore, it would blow my golden rule out of water.  I have this rule that I have to work with 10 mile radius of my house; thus, I would draw a circle on map centered on my house and only look for jobs within the 10 mile radius.  The reason being that I don’t want to waste my time commuting and also gives me the option of biking to work.  Now  we could live and work anywhere.  What a breakthrough!  But that’s hundreds of years away assuming it is even possible so my golden rule is safe, for now.

Back in the reality of 2017, in Taiwan, they have a highspeed rail.  The last time I was in Taiwan, it still took a couple of hours to travel from Taipei to Taichung at a minimal regardless the transportation choice (even flying as well, counting check-in.)  Since then they built the high speed rail and I was looking forward to ride it.  It can suppose traveling up to 186 mph, shorten the time from Taipei to Kaohsiung to just one and a half hour. from 5 hours.  It was one of the must do for me.  And I wonder what it would do to my golden rule.

I like to travel by train because they have a set schedule and one can just show up at the train station, buy a ticket then get on the train in just a few minutes.

IMG_1395

It is the choice for us, the last minute travelers.  The ticket vending machine did not like my credit card for some reason so I had to use cash.  Luckily it wasn’t too expensive, about 750 NT ( 25 dollars) for adult and 50% for child 12 and under.   They have reserved and non-reserved seats (only 25 NT cheaper).  We got the non-reserved seats and went down to the platform as a train just pulled in.

 

The orange/white pointing nose of the train right away gave the impression that it can go fast, with its nose knifing through the air, parting the invisible sea.  It is functional and aesthetic.  The ride was smooth and quiet 018f8ec3d6b9b1bb237d0eea3ea3ebe940a9bfa195AND it was fast but I didn’t feel it.   It was quiet enough that we could talk in normal voice.  It was smooth enough to write normally.  It was fast enough that if I saw something I wanted to take a picture, even with my iphone in hand, by the time I switched to camera, it was already too late.  I first tried to use Runkeeper to track its speed but soon realize that it was too fast for the Runkeeper.  I switched to use Strava and it was able to keep up with the speed and showed speed around 185 mph.  I was happy that I was at Taichung under an hour from the time we purchased the tickets. That was impressive and I love it.  I am proud of the fact that Taiwan has one.

There is the Marchetti’s constant which states the average time spent by a person commuting each day is one hour.  Anything longer can become an issue.  And it claims this was the reason how a community grow, from distance that can be covered on foot, to horse/bike, to car, to subway.   It is close to my golden rule as I base the distance on how long I willing to commute which is 30 minutes.   And now with high speed train, does this implies anything within 100 miles can be considered as a city?  Maybe to some extent but I still like my golden rule of 10 miles radius over 30 minutes commuting as commuting is not free and it is not like you can be there at any whim without a cost.  Not even hyperloop can change that.   High speed rail is great though, especially when you don’t have a choice and need to travel; and, it saves time.

 

Festival · Lifestyle · Tourist · transportation · Travel

Types of Taxi Drivers

“If any civilization is to survive, it is the morality of altruism that men have to reject” — Ayn Rand

Along with lodging, transportation is a logistic part of any trips–airplane, car, bus, boat, train, subway, foot, to name a few.   We have mostly leveraged cars, either ours or rental, in the recent past.  It is a lot simpler when traveling with 4 kids.  If they get tired, they can always sleep in the car.

I have decided not to drive in Taiwan, thus not bothered to get an international driver license.  It made sense in Taipei where drivers were crazy and there were no places to park.  But, in retrospective, it might have been easier when we were at other parts of Taiwan. However, by not having a car, we were forced to navigate the labyrinth of public transportation choices.  This process surprisingly added another dimension to our travel plus the extra bonus of meeting more locals and tourists as well.

One type of transportation that we had not done much of in the past was taxi.  Given the scarcity of buses and without any subways in the cities on Taiwan’s east coast, we had to take taxi more often.  I have always heard of some stories of tourists being ripped off, thus avoiding it in the past; finally, here without a car, we had a front seat sampling this troubled industry, yet to be disrupted by uber at Taiwan due to some legal issues, to get a taste of its infamous glory.  The taxi drivers we encountered are

  • Informative – First up, we had to take a taxi to Yilan Internation Children Festival (宜蘭國際童玩藝術節).  I first checked with a hotel worker to get a sense of how much it would cost to get there just to make sure we would not get ripped off.  The first taxi driver we asked offered taking us there for about the price we learned and 6 of us squeezed into a taxi for 4.   The driver was friendly and told us a few things about the city–for example, how a few new houses spring up along the route was skirting the laws for profits.  He offered some advices on how to travel along Taiwan’s east coast.  He even gave us a business card to call him for anything, not necessarily to hail his taxi.  He took us to the side entry where he told us to buy adult festival tickets from a street vendor when the real ticket booth was only 10 yards away.  They weren’t cheaper but we got a few water bottles for free.  Then we bought the children tickets at the official booth; I didn’t understand that.

IMG_1850-ANIMATION

  • Friendly – A driver took us to the Luodong night market 羅東夜市.  He used the meter and chatted with me along the way, about his kids and city politics.  He would gesture a lot and touched me on the arm to make points sometimes.  That was a little unexpected.  He then explained there were a couple of entries to the night market and took us to where the food section without asking us.  He must have assumed everyone goes to night market for the food.  The price was within my estimate based on the distance on the map.  It was a convenient location where we were able to eat soon.
  • Air of Authority – While we were waiting for a bus to take us to 小野柳 at Taitung 台東, a taxi driver pulled up and offered a ride to the park.  Not knowing when the bus will come, we decided to take up her offer.  She then told us she would run the meter because it would be cheaper than the nominal rate for people going to the park.  She asked us how much we are paying to go to the balloon festival the next day and said that was fair price but said that was too early–we should do it at 5 am instead of 4 am, probably hoping us to change our mind to use her instead.  When we got to the park, she triumphantly told us that the meter cost was lower.  She then told us where to wait for the returned bus before departing.  Unfortunately she told us the wrong spot, leaving us stranded later.
  • Pragmatist – a taxi driver with a phone number on the web where I was able to call to schedule an early morning pick up to go to the International Hot-Air Balloon festival at Taitung.  Even with a 4 am pick up, we were too late to get tickets to ride the hot air balloon.  He was friendly as well and told us where to go to see what.
  • Realist – A taxi driver picked us up from a bus station back in town at the hot-air balloon festival. He would have gone back empty-cabbed otherwise so he offered to take us back at 1/3 of normal rate, cheaper than 6 of us would have to pay for bus fare.  Along the way, we passed by a place to honor the famous little league baseball team, a team which I got up at the middle of the night when I was little, watching them winning the Little League World League played in the United States.  He could have been played a tour guide and explained it for people who did not have the background but I think he just wanted to go back in town for a better business.
  • Tour Guide  – one driver took us to a city park (海濱公園) on the ocean at Taitung.  Along the way, he gave us some information about the city.  He pointed out to a place (米苔目) that he said it has the best noodle but the place was deserted.  This was around 4 pm and he said the place would open at 5 pm.  On the way home from the park, we went and checked out the noodle place–it was packed with people.  The menu was simple, mainly a noodle dish comes in large or small, dry or wet, with an egg or a fish ball.  It was good.  Later on I found out that it was a popular place that even my uncle at Taipei knew about it.
  • IMG_2617Opportunist – as we tried to go home after having the delicious noodle meal at Taitung, we saw a taxi cab parked in front of a store.  We asked the driver if he was available, to which he responded that he needed some times to clean up the cab to take us.  He explained to us that he was moving something and this taxi was his vehicle to run errands and he did not have to work regularly, just occasionally picked up passengers here and there when it was convenient for him, like us.
  • Secretive – One driver took us to our hostel to pick up our luggage then the train station.  We didn’t agree to what the price would be ahead of time and he didn’t run the meter either.  I could have said something but didn’t as I wanted to find out what he would do at the end.  When we got to the train station, he asked for a price that I thought was a little high so I countered with a price I thought would be fair based on the time and distance.  He took it.

Overall, the experience was positive.  Truth to be told, I didn’t expect any altruism from taxi driver but in general, they were helpful.  Although, there was one driver may want to take slight advantage of us, but it was not outrageous.  I would have been suspicious if everyone had offered to take us for free.  I would rather pay for a fair price.

 

Lifestyle · Tourist · Travel

AirBNB at Taiwan

“A man’s house is his castle.” — James Otis

In any travels, one logistic everyone has to conquer is lodging.  The last few years, we have gradually shifted to use other’s houses for our primary lodging consideration as our family grew to a size of 6 and we like to find a place where kids can run around freely and we can do some light cooking when needed–we rely on VRBO and AirBNB, the latter we used for the Taiwan’s trip.

We have used AirBNB in the United States, Europe and now Taiwan.  I learned a few things but generally we are happy that we have this choice now when we travel.  I believe that it has saved us money and given us more closer to a home experience plus the bonus of meeting some locals. Overall, it has been great.

I have friends who either swear by AirBNB or tell us just wait, “you will run into someplace bad.”  Actually we had.  Last year we had this horrific experience at Indian Wells for BNP Paribas Open Tennis where the owner shoveled us to an unfinished home the last minute, citing his own house was burned down and followed up with a string of, what we believed, lies and finally, with the over-the-top threat of kicking us out if we didn’t pay something out of our pocket–because AirBNB had frozen all his assets and not paid him anymore.  Luckily we had documented all the evidence and took a couple of learning weeks for us to get a complete refund from AirBNB.  It added to a unique experience to that trip and made it more memorable.  What else could we ask?  A mundane hotel stay?

At Europe, we learned that it was not a good idea to get an AirBNB in an apartment type of house where we were told to keep our kids quiet.  How was that possible?  They were kids and would not tip-toe around the house.  In any cases, it was difficult to get a standalone whole house in Taiwan, especially in Taipei which was actually expected but nevertheless, a little concerning for me.

Besides staying with my aunt, we stayed at 4 apartment style and one hostel style AirBNB places.   All the apartment style stays were small single rooms, barely have enough room to put a bunch of beds, some just on the floor, jammed together.  My kids enjoyed it though, jumping from one bed to another.  Luckily for us, it appeared that houses there were made of concrete walls, thus we never heard anyone else, up or down, left or right. Many places seem to be a convert from a larger house, originally, where the owners remodeled and partitioned off to many smaller rooms for rent, no kitchen and only one had a tiny refrigerator.   It must be lucrative for them to do so.

 

 

It worked for us, especially in big cities where we can just go out and get food easily.  The didn’t stay in the room much.  The exceptions were at Taitung 台東 and Hualien 花蓮.  At the outskirt of Hualien, we had to walk about a mile just to go the a Seven/11 to have something to eat (luckily my kids liked seven and the owner gave us a ride to the train station when we left) and I already blogged about eating at Taitung (see here).  At Taitung, we actually stayed at a hostel where we were the only guests for one of the two nights.  It was situated right behind a Seven/11 store (the owner actually told us to use Seven/11 wifi, not sure it was legit or not) and my kids love it as they can just go and get some snacks all the time.  It was their favorite place.

img_2376

It was said “A man’s house is his castle.”  For whatever the duration we stayed, it was true.  They were my castles then.

 

Festival · Outdoors · Tourist · Travel

臺灣國際熱氣球嘉年華 – Hot Air Balloon at Taitung

“Expectation is the root of all heartache.” — William Shakspeare

“Expect Nothing and Appreciate Everything.” — Unknown

As usual, as we arrived at Taitung, we learned that the Taiwan International Balloon Festival is happening there.  Right away, it brought up the images of New Mexico Albuquerque hot air balloons over a desert, Turkey’s Cappadocia hot air balloons over the eerie landscape and France’s Lorraine Mondial hot air balloon festival over a country side.  I have never been to any of them but have always wanted to.  And here, without knowing, we ran into an international balloon festival, as in “INTERNATIONAL”.  It has to be big because it is INTERNATIONAL. I counted my lucky star and rejoiced over our lack of planning again.

We were told that we needed to be there early, like leaving our place at 4 am and festival started around .  That posted a problem as we did not have a car and it was about 40 minutes ride away so we had to figure out how to get there.  When I checked for public transportation, it appeared that earliest one to get there would be around 8 am which would be too late, as the festival would end around 7 am (which I learned later was incorrect as they had other transportation arrangement which can get there around 5 am).  My uncle suggested to hire a private driver for the day who can also take us to other places.  I called and was told it would be around 5,000 NT for 8 hours, a little steep for my blood.  The owner of hostel we stayed at suggested that we called a taxi which I did and it would cost 600 NT one way then catch a public bus on the way down.  We reserved the cab and went to bed early that day.

The next morning, dragging my kids up at 3:45 was difficult.  We got into the taxi at 4  am and arrived to the hot air balloon place around 4:35 am.  It was still dark.  There were a lot of people there already, waiting in line to get tickets to get on to the balloons (500 NT for 5 minutes attached balloon ride).  We joined the

 

crowd in hope of doing so as well.  img_2440-1They had 150 tickets and we were in around chair 145-150, basically the last spots.  When they started giving out tickets, they said that every person can get a maximum of 2 tickets, I knew that there would be no chances for us.  We ended up getting backup tickets #16-#19 in case of good weather that they could take more people (at the end, we didn’t get to ride.)

 

We found a spot on the hill looking over the balloon launch ground and watched them started to pump up balloons.  I have seen some pictures of balloons on the pamphlets and knowing there would be some character balloons such as Darth Vader so I was looking forward to this.  The setting was beautiful as there were mountains around.

Slowly, a couple of standard balloons rose and further fueling the excitement of hundreds of balloons would be flying soon.  Next came a seahorse, a couple of heart-shaped balloons, an octopus, etc.  I really loved those character balloons; they were adorable.  A few balloons (including the octopus and a heart shaped one) were released and flew overhead but the rest of them were still attached to the ground by ropes.

I was looking forward to the Darth Vader but it didn’t show–turned out that it has left already a few days prior and there were other balloons instead that day.   We saw a rooster which we thought it was a turtle when it was laying on the ground, a castle, a car and a ladybug.  It was comical to see them in the air, although they did not really fly off the ground.

Soon, around 7:15 am, it was over.  There were only like 15 balloons, a little bit of letdown.  It was a good thing that we didn’t go to Taitung solely for this.  We were happy to be a part of it.  We strolled around the premises to soak in as much as we could before heading to the bus stop, only found out that we missed the last dedicated bus by a few minutes.  We would have to wait for public buses which wouldn’t arrive for another two hours, the downside of not planning enough.

But, never fear, soon we found out they had some grass sled ride that my kids happily did down the slope that we laid on earlier watching the balloons.  As we stood around waiting for a bus, a taxi picked us up for very minimal fee (less than we would have paid together on a bus) as it otherwise would return to the city alone.  Yes, it was a little hassle without a car, but we nevertheless enjoyed the festival and learned some things along the way.

img_2478

Now I am afraid to go to other hot air balloon festivals I mentioned above: I have too much expectation for them.