I am still Jet lagged from the vacation to Taiwan. It was a 17 hour flight to Taipei from New York and we were delayed for about 5 hours in Anchorage because of the Typhoon on Friday. By the time we had got there, most of the island was wet and humid with cloudy weather for the rest of the week. We stayed around Taipei for the first three days at the Grand Hyatt Taipei Hotel.
Most of the first 3 days of the tour involved eating at popular restaurants in the city that were also popular with Japanese tourists. It was actually surprising to see so many Japanese tourists in Taipei to the point where there was a dedicated staff that can accommodate them. I had heard news reports of Japanese viewing Taiwan as just a cheap tourist destination filled with locals who had an unhealthy sense of Japanophilism, but part of these assumptions were reaffirmed in my vacation.
Most of the tourists were mostly the elderly who had planned to use part of the savings just to travel abroad for some relaxation and were sometimes accompanied by their children or grandchildren. Others were simply young professionals who had saved up money to travel to Taiwan for shopping sprees and friendship in the company of friends. In any event, it didn’t hurt to see some nice Japanese girls on top of the already large numbers of nice local girls in the island.
After settling in the Grand Hyatt, our tour brought us first to Sun Moon Lake and the nearby Guan Yu temple.
During these bus trips to various tourist attractions, I always noticed there were a large number of stray dogs running around the island. Although Taiwan prides itself on being a developed island with modern technology and health care, they really don’t tell people about the large numbers of stray dogs. Originally, during these long and unpleasant bus trips I would take time to count the number of banana trees I spotted on the countryside, which became pointless as they were literally everywhere.
Taiwan’s locals really do have a knack for planting cash crops on every piece of land they find whether it is bananas, lychees, oranges, peanuts, yams or taro. This was when I decided to count the number of stray dogs running around. Apparently, Taiwan’s stray dog problem was a result of Madame Chiang Kai-Shek’s reforms on Taiwan, which partly involved the ban on using dogs for consumption. In response to these new reforms the locals either 1. ate their remaining dogs or 2. set them loose on the island. Because Taiwan is relatively large and filled with edible fruits and vegetables many dogs were able to thrive once they returned to their state of nature.
The next day after staying over in Taoyuan, we went to a hot spring located in Yangmingshan and visited Yehliu before returning to Taipei to attend the government’s Double Ten concert held on the 9th of October. Part of the vacation’s expense was subsidised by the government on Taiwan with the condition we would attend their Double Ten concert held the night before the 10/10 holiday along with direct access to the celebrations.
The Double Ten concert wasn’t that good I am told by other members of the tour group who watched each concert in the past. We were seated on the top tiers alongside the other overseas tour groups who had participated in the government programme, while the hardcore government supporters were seated in the lower levels. The concert was being held in the Taipei Police Academy’s auditorium and there were no references to the Republic of China other than the flag and a small symbol on our ID badges. The rest of the concert was littered with the “UN for Taiwan” ad campaign that failed 3 weeks earlier and slogans saying “Taiwan is Forever”.
One Taiwanese person from our tour group was annoyed that the concert opened up with two Japanese songs from an obscure J-pop group and wondered what statement the government was making especially since his father (who had a bad experience during the Japanese colonial era) was there on a father-son trip with him. I was having an argument with another tour group member on whether those guys were singing in Minnan or Japanese (it was Japanese). The second act was from a singer who decided to speak nothing but Minnan which alienated about half of the overseas groups as many of them are disconnected from the recent developments in the island or could not understand it for various reasons. It would be safe to say that I and a few others fell asleep until someone woke me up saying Annette Lu had come to speak at the concert.
During her speech she was surrounded by a team of about 20 bodyguards with 6 of them in a perimeter around her carrying automatics in their suitcases. In her speech Annette Lu talked about how she delayed a meeting with the Paraguayan President to come speak to overseas and local supporters. Her speech kept talking about the island’s achievements in getting to the UN before claiming that the Republic of China ceased to exist in 1996 when Bill Clinton supported Taiwan during the First Taiwan Straits Crisis. Suddenly, some overseas concert attendees became disgusted with one person screaming obscenities to Annette Lu while another kept shouting “Long Live the Republic of China” in Mandarin.
The more vocal heckler was eventually escorted out of the concert hall with the local media interviewing him, while the second guy (who was from our tour group) kept shouting the ROC slogans before security silenced him. Other overseas members were actually cheering the two guys who were making just enough noise to get covered on the local news channels. After that was over, we noticed that some groups seated on our area were leaving the concert early, which we later followed suit. As we were leaving to the auditorium there were discussions about the protests and the concert itself.
Part of it involved how crappy this year’s performers were compared to the past with the J-Pop group getting the most criticism, but most of it was general disgust among attendees over Annette Lu’s remarks. One person said that the Republic of China is Taiwan and Taiwan is the Republic of China and that Lu’s remarks were done in poor taste on an occasion to celebrate a good thing and to get away from local politics. Another was just disgusted that Lu’s remarks were creating needless divisions in the tour group while others were just wondering what was the point of coming to a Double Ten concert that doesn’t celebrate the ROC. While it is true that our tour group had DPP and KMT followers, many of them were moderates and generally disgusted with the sequence of events in that concert itself.
By the time we got to the hotel, nearly everyone on our bus except for a PRC national with a US passport decided not to attend the Double Ten celebrations on-site. There was already uncertainty as the tour guide wanted us to get back on the bus at 11:30 for our bus ride to Hualien and that we needed to get our own transportation to get back to the hotel from the Presidential Building. The absurdity of the Double Ten concert made it clear that the Double Ten celebrations were not worth attending.
The next day we watched the Double Ten celebrations from the hotel room. Across the street we can see from our windows that Ma Yingjiu was holding a counter Double Ten celebration near the Taipei City Hall while much of the news was focused on Shi Mingde’s attempts to gain access to the official Double Ten celebrations. The official highlights for the military parade involve showing off some new cruise missiles, which I am told are just modified navy destroyer missiles, and their new batch of American F-16s. This official parade was overshadowed by Shi surprising Chen Shuibian with his presence and later with snipers being trigger happy with speculation they were ordered to aim at Shi Mingde himself.
With that out of the way, we took the long road trip to Hualien. The road trip involved traveling around tough mountain passes with narrow roads and sharp turns. There were times when I thought I was going to vomit. By the time we got to Hualien it was dark and raining to see a commercialised tribal dance by the indigenous Ami people. I say that the dance was commercialised because the Ami village and its surrounding area where the tribe once lived has been converted into a marble factory with a dedicated auditorium for part-timers to perform Ami dances for tourists. Plus I find it questionable that all Ami dances would last for around 2 hours, the announcer was intentionally speaking bad Mandarin like a stereotypical Aborigine while the rest of the performers were fluent and most of the performers don’t look like they are from the same indigenous groups.
It also didn’t help that at the end of the performance the head of the group and the performers themselves were aggressively getting the audience to buy the souvenirs. The tour guide later pointed out that all performances were arranged by reservation and they only catered to large groups such as a tour group or related organisations. Not surprisingly, our souvenirs were given in bags from the same marble factory we visited the next day, which was staffed by indigenous peoples. After the factory tour, we visited the Hualien Science Museum, which was campy as hell. They had one science exhibit showing Pandas, dancing robots, and Ufos, an Eskimo exhibit which involved walking into a refrigerated room with igloos, and a dinosaur exhibit that featured Godzilla.
Then, it was long bus ride off to Kaohsiung. Again while on the road trip, it seems like most of the countryside is stuck in a time warp where it resembled Japan’s countryside in the 1970s with it’s squat toilets, decaying infrastructure obsolete technology, and stray dogs running about. It seemed like most of the places we visited were heavily commercialised with local shop vendors able to hawk goods in Japanese, Cantonese, Minnan, Mandarin but not in English, which reflects their regular tourist traffic. They also offered to accept the Chinese Yuan, the US Dollar and the HK Dollar for sales.
The stray dogs were becoming a problem although I did feed a fuzzy stray puppy I saw at a rest area. The hotels I stayed in Taoyuan, Hualien, Taichung, and Kaohsiung were all modeled on Japanese hotels in that the guest had to stick their hotel keychains into a slot near the entrance to turn on power for the entire room or else the rooms will only get lit for 30 seconds at a time. Plus each room was equipped with a doorbell so visitors can ring in. Only the Grand Hyatt at Taipei had a modern hotel that used keycards for entry and did not require slotting in keychains to activate the lights.
At Kaohsiung we visited the Fuguangshan temple, the largest Buddhist temple in Taiwan, before heading to Alishan in Chiayi. Our trip later finished with a stop at the Taipei Grand Hotel, and a brief visit to the National Palace Museum, which was populated by Chinese, Korean and Japanese tourists. The Korean tourists were mostly interested in pre-Han dynasty artifacts with the guide giving a Koreanised version of history to fit these relics, while the Japanese tourists were mostly focused on everything since they were genuinely interested in the culture. I found it cute that some of the Japanese girls in those groups were trying to read the Japanese out of the Chinese descriptions for the various exhibits because they don’t know English as Chinese and English are the two working languages for most of the exhibits. I bought a souvenir book from the museum.
And that is the end of the first half of my vacation. The second week involved spending time with relatives and staying in my relatives’ apartment. The second week started off with a visit with relatives to Taipei 101 with a worthwhile experience getting a lift from the world’s fastest elevator, which actually put pressure on my ears as it went up and down the observation floor. While on top of 101, I noticed that there really isn’t much to photograph in Taipei since with the exception of City Hall, and Sun Yat-sen’s memorial, the area surrounding 101 was mostly obscure low-rise buildings.
After 101, we took a visit to the Taiwan Storyland which was a recreation of 1965 Taiwan to cater to the nostalgic and the youth. Most of the people there were children with their grandparents, kids who wanted to go for fun, couples, and amateur photographers.
The next day, it was a bus ride to meet with my dad’s friends at Keelung for a day around the Jioufen Old Street and the local night market for some local cuisine and souvenirs before heading back by bus to Taipei. The day after Keelung, was a visit to the KMT headquarters and a visit to a relative’s office before a night of karaoke and hot springs in New Beitou.
Then, it was a 2 day trip to the South (Tainan, Kaohsiung) on the new Taiwan High-Speed rail to visit relatives before heading back to meet up with Dave from Rutgers. Sadly, the vacation ended with a trip back to America.
There were gifts purchased for friends and colleagues at work. Some gifts were a Taiwan Bullet Train t-shirt, a comic t-shirt, and an unlocked LG Shine.