Checking in from Taipei, the schnazzy capital of Taiwan!
After a whopping 3 hours of sleep (as per usual on travel days) we tied up our affairs at our beloved At Home guesthouse, took a picture with the awesome ladies that work there, and piled into a Bangkok taxi for the last time for a long time. Caught some zzz’s on the flight and breezed through Immigration – god I love countries with visa exemptions – then set about the task of figuring out, ok, sooooo…wtf now and where and how?
We always work together of course but Ray’s spearheading the primary planning and detail-organizing of this next round of travel and exploration, and it was really nice to not have been the one to have to think about all the little things this time: Do we need a visa, do we need to start taking our malaria pills again, how do you say hello and thank you and no I don’t want a happy ending, No I REALLY DON’T want a happy ending, etc.
They’re all fun little bits and pieces to put together when you travel and I do enjoy tending to those details (and actually teaching Ray how to say “When do I get my happy ending?” instead, mwahaha…), but it’s nice to have a break too, and get to see how Ray works and what he can do. It feels like a very refreshing and appropriate change to kick off our Year 2 on the road. And he did GREAT!
Thanks to Ray’s research, he knew that although a taxi is the best bet in Bangkok to get into the city, in Taipei the bus is the way to go. We had terrible visions of having to somehow fit all of us (we may or may not have gained 7 lbs. in our last two-month combination of jeep tour and island time) and all our bags (we’re traveling with one extra each thanks to Mom’s VERY generous 35-POUND CARE PACKAGE, lol…), on a bus packed like sardines and trying to figure out where we get off and how to charade to the driver to PLEASE STOP THAT WAS OUR STOP TEN MILES AGO from underneath 3 bags each. But hey, 5 bucks vs 50 bucks, it’s not really a question.
In fact – go Ray!, you get a cookie – the airport-to-city bus was remarkably smooth, effortless, and efficient. Even the luggage stowed underneath was sorted into “Open at X stop”, “Open at Main Station stop” compartments. Impressive! That we not only moved before we had people crammed in all seats, luggage racks, aisleways and rooftops was strange enough (oh India and SE Asia, what have you done to our understandings of normality?), but to move seamlessly from an effortless ride to an effortless navigation of the subway system to take us almost the rest of the way was almost too awesome. The last two-block trek with bags hanging everywhere loomed difficult, until a nice local on a scooter noticed our look of befuddlement when we came to the first big intersection and took the initiative to kindly guide us in the right direction before his light turned green. Really!? We love Taiwanese people already!
As we trekked through the streets, despite wrestling with two bags too many, I couldn’t help but be blown away by the awesomeness of the scene: brightly-lit Chinese-charactered signs illuminating the night, huge flashing digital screens on the sides of buildings, people milling about as though it were a Friday night not the Monday it was, and a sense of jovial buzz in the air.
The eyes took in more than the mind could as we passed by stores lined with those ridiculous, random only-in-Asia toys and trinkets that you see in movies, the mysterious foods, the curiosity as to how Taiwanese 7-Elevens will differ from our old faves in Manila or Bangkok, and what unexpected things we should expect in this new country.
Thanks to the help from our scooter friend, we found our spot and made it up the staircase and got a nice warm welcome – by name, even! – from the hostel’s reception and an escorted tour to our dorm room. We dropped our stuff off (with maybe a little malice) and headed out into the night to find some grub. I’d seen what looked to be perhaps like Korean BBQ where you cook it yourself on our trudge to the hostel, which seemed appropriately new and different so we headed back there.
For the next hour or so we puzzled over what to do with this plate of veggies and thin-sliced raw meat, and had a grand old time makin a bubbly brew right there on our table (with the help of the little old Japanese man who deciphered what the things were and how to make use of the sauce-creation bar). Soft drinks and even real ICE CREAM (in a waffle cone!) included!! All for…6 bucks each!
So now it’s 5:09am and I am looking forward to getting my new-country feet under me tomorrow (…afternoon. ;) It’s Jet Lag, I swear!), and gearing up our plans for another fun and fairly random rendezvous: I found an old friend and classmate on Facebook a couple months ago, hailing from my old Doyle Elementary days in San Diego, ca. 1990 in 3rd grade. I hadn’t even thought of it (we were a very multi-cultural class so his nationality hadn’t even crossed my mind then as a kid or even now as an adult), but it turns out he’s actually Taiwanese and moved back to Taiwan sometime after our shared grade school days (I moved to Arizona in 4th grade) and is living here in Taipei now. Well I just think that means a meet-up is in order! We hadn’t seen or had any contact with each other for 20 years, mind. But psh…details. He’s been absolutely fantastic in answering our questions as to what to see and do and how, and if all works out, we’re even going to get the chance to tour around with his mom!
Lesson?: It can be a small world and a big life, if you want it to be. I do.
Bring on Taiwan!!