Thursday, November 14, 2013

Back in Taipei/Pre New Zealand

(Really behind in transcriptions, but I really am keeping up with the writing.)

11/7/13 Taipei

Currently sitting in yet another cafe, writing up what's happened in the last three days.

Monday was literally just me lazing about at home. There wasn't much to do, what with the heavy rains outside.

Tuesday, I spent in various places. Notably, I went to the Xingmending shopping district, the Taipei 101, and Taipei Station Underground Mall.

Xingmending is known to have a hopping nightlift, though I've personally never enjoyed it, as I need to be home before my self-imposed curfew of 2000hrs, as my grandmother can't go to bed until I return. I'm also not really into hopping nightlife type activities anyhow. I was only in Xingmending to accompany Nancy why she shopped around. Didn't end up buying anything, besides food to eat on the spot.

Taipei 101 had changed some since I last explored it. Notably, in the mall, the 4th floor, which used to contain a cafe, some food, and a PAGEONE bookstore, had been taken over by some well known luxury brands. Having checked the directory, I knew that the PAGEONE still existed, but kept missing it. It's original entrance had been converted to a Burberry store. Eventually managed to find it, spotting its tiny new entrance at what used to be a small service door, obviously jury rigged to serve as a new entrance to the large bookstore behind Burberry. Talk about bad faith.

Metro mall was just for shits and giggles.

Wednesday, I made the long metro trip to the last stop of the system, Danshui. It took me a little more than an hour to get there from Muzha, as Muzha was one station off from being the other end of the system. Walked along the beaches and explored the oldtown. I met up with Nick in the evening. He attends university close by, and was somewhat knowledgeable about the area. We proceeded to ride bikes along the banks of the river, followed by dinner at an American style vegetarian restaurant. The original restaurant I had wanted to eat at was closed, and this was the restaurant next to it. Wasn't all that enjoyable, but food is food, and I shouldn't complain. Caught the MRT home afterwards and made it back before 2000hrs, though it was a near thing.

11/3/13 Taipei

Woke up late today, but had to disappoint my grandmother. She had be wanting to go out for breakfast, but had to settle for home food when I informed her that her daughter, my aunt, had arranged to have lunch with me. My aunt's daughter, Silvian, who had just gotten married, and it was apparently some kinda of tradition for the two newly united families to have a meal together after the wedding or something. I am unsure how these traditions work, or even what these traditions are. Either way, I was invited. Lunch was at the buffet at the Ambassador Hotel in Taipei. My grandmother would have been invited herself, but for some reason, she disliked the family of the groom. The meal wasn't awkward, the food was fine, enough said.

After lunch, Silvian, her brother Arthur, and her new husband, had me come along with them to Taiwan's version of Home Depot. Pretty much the same as Home Depot at home. Major differences included the name, the building, and the general uselessness of the staff. Major similarities include the products sold, the layout of the store, and the orange aprons the staff wear. Spent a bunch of time looking for a roll of real duct tape for ducts, which I later used to repair the range hood vent in Silvian's new apartment.

Played boardgames after.

Not the most eventful day.

11/2/13 Yilan

Spent most of yesterday lazing about, with the exception of an evening outing to a newlywed relative's place. Silvian moved into a small flat about 40 mins away with her new husband, and not having left on their honeymoon as of yet(they're going to the Maldives via Singapore), they invited me over with Cousin Nancy to play boardgames and drink beer. Interestingly enough, the beer was from Le Ble Dior, and if you buy two growlers, they give you a hard foam case to carry it in. I thought it a good deal. Boardgames ended up being Portable Catan(which I had brought with me from Los Angeles) and Carcasonne. Having never played Carcasonne before, I thought the scoring system slightly confusing, and not really worth the money for what you get. Then again, most boardgames aren't really worth the money.

Currrently sitting on a tour bus, on the way home from Yilan. Woke up early to hump it to Taipei Station, to meet up with my one day tour group, some 25 people, plus guide and Samsung representatives. Samsung representatives? Yes, this was a photography tour half sponsored by Samsung, who was pushing their new mirror-less cameras on we ignorant masses. They had loaners available for all of us, but I figured today would be a good opportunity for me to test the limitations of my Fuji X100, and did not opt for a loaner. Result? I miss my DSLR, but at least my back don't hurt from humping a bunch of camera equipment around.

For serious photography, a DSLR can't be beat, even by a mirror-less. I missed a lot of shots today, and some shots that took a lot of effort would have been the work of mere-seconds on my D7000. Still, for a pure walk-about travel camera, the Fuji X1000 seems almost purpose built.

We visited a small botanical garden this morning, but due to poor weather conditions(rain), I didn't get the shots I wanted. We had a model along for the trip, possibly good looking, but with the Fuji's focal length, I'd have to get too close to the model for good shots, and would be in the way of other photographers, and opted to take other shots instead.

Second stop was a cultural park commemorating the logging camp that used to be in it's place. Apparently, said logging camp was instrumental in the area's development throughout most of the 20th Century. I took a long walk around the park and the lake contained within it, and again, the rain was unhelpful.

Final stop was an contemporary art museum. We weren't there to admire the art. We didn't even go inside. We were there to admire the tilted structure of the museum, which was probably a nightmare for the contractor to build, slanted as it was.

Lesson of the day? Bring DLSRs for serious photography.

10/31/13 Taipei

It's been a few days since I last wrote, but only because, really, it's taken me this long to gather enough material to write about. On Tuesday(day before yesterday), I went out with my grandmother again, to Shenkeng. But before I get into that, I must relay at quick story about the bus stop in front of my grandmother's. Every day, buses labeled with “666” in big red LED letters pass by, with me always wondering where they went. Someone in the bus service must have a sense of humor, be cause they go to Shenkeng, which literally means “Deep Hole.” Yeah.

So my grandmother hears that a restaurant in Shenekeng serves good chicken, and decides that we should go, because, lets face it, what else do we have to do? We caught the bus there late morning, deciding to lunch there. Chicken wasn't all that spectacular, but was particularly fat for an Asian chicken. My grandmother loves to walk around looking at stuff, and since I do love my grandmother, off we went. Most exciting thing she saw were the fish in the semi-clear stream. I didn't think it special, but it made her happy. I was actually pretty happy about it too. They say you can't choose your family, but I like to think I lucked out on this end.

Wednesday, (yesterday) my grandmother decides she wants to go to the market. Being a dutiful, loving, grandson, I told her I would accompany her and carry the bags. Now when she says market, we ain't talking about no shiny, well-lit, one-stop supermarket. No, my grandmother does it old-school. Imagine a farmer's market, but in the dirty, smelly alleys of South-East Asia. Add the smell of rot and mold, stains upon stains, and don't forget that even if it's in an alley, the sun doesn't penetrate the dense canopy of umbrellas, tarps, plastic panels, and aluminum siding built into a common, hodgepodge structure I hesitate to call a roof. Stalls of vegetables, fish(maybe on ice, maybe on the plywood board it was chopped on) meat(probably pork, most definitely on the board it was chopped on. A typical upper-middle suburban American would freak at this place. One because of the smell, two because of the general lack of hygiene, and three they don't take no VISA, cash only. I will note that after foodstuffs, the most common stall is actually women's underwear, usually lacy, usually displayed on armless, headless, legless mannequins; sometimes lit from inside, sometimes not.

(Of course, I've been here many times and am quite at home with the sights and the smells, having lived at, eaten from, and slept in much worse. The above is only for reference, and only for any readers that stumble across this post that don't have any idea what a farmer's market in Asia is like.)

After finishing our shopping, we proceeded home, where I did some laying about until late afternoon, where I joined my cousin Arthur on a hike down the Taiwan Cultural University mountain. I don't actually know the name of the mountain, I just know that the University sits on the peak. We went our separate ways after the hike, me going to join another cousin, Nick, for dinner, and Arthur to parts unknown, hopefully for a date.

Today,(Thursday) I was somewhat more productive. I did little in the morning, but went out in the afternoon for a pre-trip prep meeting for upcoming tour of New Zealand. Basic info, but did hear that there would be optional skydiving. Will decide on that when the time comes. It ain't cheap, but I really didn't expect it to be.

Went to specialty pen shop afterward, and purchased a new matte black Pilot Vanishing Point(they call it a Capless here). I'm writing with it now, and I'm loving it. It's no Mont Blanc, but it's much more practical, and I wouldn't hurt if I beat it up some, as I'm wont to do with all my gear.

Had Halloween dinner at Le Ble Dior, where Halloween is apparently a big thing, even if noone else in Taiwan celebrates it. Tankards of beer with my cousins(female cousins, because it seems like my male cousins don't drink much, if at all), paper cat ears, and giant inflatable Jack-o-Lanterns was my theme for the night. Didn't get drunk, but caught the MRT home, since I wasn't driving anyhow.

So goddamn convenient, that MRT.

10/28/13 Taipei

I lazed about today, eating breakfast at Starbucks with my grandmother. I concluded that Starbucks has possibly the worst food of all the chain coffee shops in Taiwan. Escorted her to the doctor's office in the afternoon for a checkup, after which we walked home via river bank levy footpath. Dinner was Asian-ized pizza(not as bad as you'd think). I then spent the rest of the evening doing online things.

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