October 14-23, 2002
Complete Photo Album (290 pictures!) - click here
"Taipei is just one giant toxic waste dump!" the fellow next to me in the cab commented as we were driving from meeting to meeting in the Taiwanese capital. I had to agree with him that it wasn't a particularly inviting place with open sewers, pothole roads and lots of rusted metal. That was sometime around 1993. So when Frank and Melissa decided to go to Taiwan to teach English (against my hopes that they would go to Thailand instead), I wasn't particularly keen on visiting them. But family living overseas is always an opportunity for a good trip with cheap accommodations so what the heck! When Melissa called to see if I would be interested in accompanying her mother, I said, "Sure!" As I was preparing to make the reservations, I called my parents just to see if I could nudge them into another international adventure-without much expectation that I could and Dad confirmed my hunch. "Would you like to go to Taiwan?" I asked. "Absolutely not!!" he replied. Mom's answer surprised me though. "Well, I think I might like to go," she said timidly.
I have been trying (without luck) for years to interest them in going to Thailand for an Asian experience. It's too far, too hot, to unknown. But it would be Frank's 29th birthday while we were there and Mom felt she should go. With a little bit of hesitation, I called Andie at AirConsolidators in L.A. and had him buy three tickets. Cost was $728 per person.
Mary, Melissa's sister-in-law, and her daughter Jane took us to the airport. Salt Lake Airport security has been increased with a new boarding process. We were two hours early and sailed right through ticketing and security, checking our bags all the way to Taipei. We only had an hour layover in San Francisco and when I asked if our bags would make the transfer the agent said, "Your bags will be on the flight much sooner than you will!"
Our flight to Taipei was on one of United Airlines' new Boeing 777s. It is not as large as the 747 but is becoming a standard for international transport. There was a large business section with comfortable seats but we were near the back of the plane in economy. I don't think they could possibly get those seats any closer together and the plane was completely full. Each seat has its own little TV mounted in the back of the seat ahead of you and they played movies the entire flight. When the fellow ahead of me leaned his seat back, the TV screen was so close that I almost needed reading glasses to make out the picture!
It was a long flight but everything went well. Projected flight time was 13 hours and 45 minutes but we arrived a little early. We left San Francisco at 1 p.m. on Monday, flew without it getting dark and landed in Taipei at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday evening.
As we stood up to disembark, I was paged. My first thought was that something bad had happened at home but then I thought that maybe Melissa was worried about us making the transfer to the other airport and had made arrangements for someone to meet us. When I checked in with the United customer service rep inside the terminal, he said that one of our three bags had been lost en route and that I needed to fill out some paperwork at baggage claim. I hoped that the lost bag was mine as I could get by with very little and I had carried my camera with me. Ray Noorda used to say, "There are two kinds of luggage-carry on and lost!" In all the times I have checked bags, this was only the second time something had been lost. The problem was that my bag had been left in San Francisco and wouldn't be sent until the next day and then it would require an additional day to get to Hualien.
We changed some money (exchange was about $34 Taiwan dollars-called kwai-to $1 US), cleared customs and found ourselves in a large crowded terminal area. This is where the adventure begins for me. I love the challenge of trying to get from one place to another-preferably with minimum requests for assistance. We knew we had to get to the domestic airport near downtown Taipei so went to the information booth to find out the best method of travel. (A young Swede fellow was complaining that all he had was Euros and all that they would take was US and Taiwan dollars. I thought the Euro was supposed to provide the near universal acceptability that the US dollar does!) Our best bet for transfer was a bus and it was located at the complete opposite end of the terminal. There were several booths to buy tickets and none of them had any English signs so I just picked one and we were soon escorted to a curbside bus with tickets in hand.
The air outside the terminal was humid and warm. The monsoon season is just about over but there had been showers and we hit intermittent rain going into the city. The bus was comfortable and cool for the hour and twenty minute ride from Cheng Kai Shek airport into Taipei. Traffic was thick and stop and go much of the way. As we had approached the airport it had been light enough to see the coastline and parts of the city but by now it was dark. Kathe asked why she couldn't see out of her tinted window while I could see out of mine. We discovered that there was a big dog logo across the side of the bus that had been stuck right to the glass and people couldn't see through it. The bus line was Free.go and their logo was a giant Dalmatian dog. Didn't quite get the connection.
Melissa had said that the last flight from Taipei to Hualien was at 8 p.m. and we arrived at the domestic airport at ten minutes to 8. We raced to the first counter we saw and asked about flights still available to Hualien. They didn't service Hualien but fortunately the airline across the isle, TransAsia, did and they had one last flight at 8:20 with lots of empty seats. We bought the tickets without even asking how much they were until after they were printed. They took VISA and it turned out they were about $42 per person.
Upstairs we found a phone and experimented with the coinage and numbers trying to get a hold of Melissa to tell her when we were coming in. The first number I called sounded like Frank and he kept saying "way, way". I finally realized it wasn't Frank and that we had the wrong number so hung up and dialed again (way is like hello in Chinese). This time Melissa answered excitedly and we told her we were on our way. The flight was a turbo prop plane and a little noisy on take off and landing but the flight went well and I added another obscure airline barf bag to my collection. Melissa was there to pick us up at the gate and we got so excited that we walked out without picking up our luggage which had come to the same area. We had to wait for another passenger to come through the automatic doors before we could get back in and retrieve it.
Yuling, the owner and administrator of the school, was waiting in the parking lot with her car and it was raining. As we got into the car, Melissa handed us each a fresh watermelon drink and a filled Chinese pastry. On the way to the school, the difference in traffic behavior was obvious to Mom and Kathe. Yuling explained that in Taiwan, there are two basic rules, "Don't kill somebody and don't be killed!" More about traffic later.
Here's an excerpt from the TaiwaNews as to what happened next: Melissa - On October 15th, we were expecting to pick up my mom and Pete...at least, that was what FRANK was expecting! His reaction was worth a million bucks! :) I'll let him tell the story. We were so excited to have them visit!
Frank - I wasn't able to go to the airport because of an adult English class that I had to teach. So just after it finished I expected them to pull up at any minute. Just as I shut the classroom lights out, I saw the car pull up with the lights off,, hmmm real sneaky-like and then Pete and Melissa's Mom came quickly to the front door to surprise me but I was watching from across the yard. I then spidermaned it in the shadows to finally bear hug Pete and welcome hug Kathe. After our "So good to see yous" they said, "We need to get the bags out of the car."
I walked to the trunk and then Melissa said with a big smile, "We need you to get something up here in the front." I opened the door and saw someone lying crouched in the front passenger seat, silver hair, approximately 115 lbs, looked an awful lot like my dear mother who was back home? It took a couple minutes for it to register, and I may have teared up (just a little). Needless to say it was an amazing Birthday surprise.
Thanks Mom, Pete, Kathe, and thanks Dad for encouraging Mom to come and everyone else for helping keep the secret. I still couldn't figure out why Melissa had to buy four pair of indoor shoes the night before. I just thought it was a retail therapy thing, but no sweat at a buck a pair. :)
It was great to see Frank and we visited a while before we made sleeping arrangements and bedded down for the night. Frank had constructed a screen that split their room in half and he and I slept in one half, Melissa and Kathe in the other and Mom on the couch in the office. It was hot and even with the fan on, there was no need for blankets.
In the morning, Yuling arrived on her scooter, laden with groceries. A cook comes to the school to prepare lunch for the 39 kids that are attending and Yuling shops the markets each morning. She also brought us 'Chinese breakfast' of bread rolls that had a yellow center that was baked with more butter. We went to the breakfast place that was near where Frank and Melissa had lived when they first arrived. The ladies knew Franks hand signals and made us a sort of egg crepe and toasted chocolate sandwiches-both were yummy.
Kids started arriving at 7:30 some of them in their pajamas and many rubbing sleep from their eyes. They dutifully walked to the center and stayed until classes began at 8:45. The Chinese children at the school are adorable! They are bright, have cute personalities and are generally well behaved. The all take off their shoes before entering the school room, all have a little locker where they stow their backpacks and water bottles, and all wash their hands before eating lunch. They gather around the tables with their chairs and sit orderly for the teachers.
Mom and I went with Frank and Kathe went with Melissa. Frank is really very good and whether he ever does this again or not, I think it worth noting that there is just a fun energy that is generated between him and the kids. He is very good with the kids and they love him-and we loved watching him.
The morning classes were used for learning English and he had them work through the alphabet with a chant and pictures that he had made up. The kids were so cute and animated going through it: ah ah alligator, bah bah ball, ca ca caterpillar, da da doll Afterwards they worked on specific letter sounds and objects that had those sounds. At 11 or so a Chinese lady arrived to teach them math and they all pulled out their little orange abacuses and worked numbers. One of the member's sons is a math whiz and they say that people good on an abacus are as fast as people on a calculator. I wonder how they work with net present value and internal rate of return?
The school provides lunch for the kids and the teacher's job is to help them get situated for lunch. A tray with a large bowl of rice and several side dishes was delivered to each classroom. I helped Frank, putting rice in each kid's bowl and then asking them if they wanted this? Or some of this? Or some of this? Today they liked the sliced sausage and cabbage chicken but not a lot of takers on the mixed tofu with soy sauce.
Once the kids are eating, they teachers have a break until 3 p.m. The kids play for a while after lunch and then take a two-hour nap-mandated by the government for all preschools. There are little stackable cots in each of the classrooms and each child has his own blanket and pillow that they leave on the cot. All of them sleeping are quite a site!
With the kids eating lunch, we piled in the car and headed to the dumpling café. Frank and Melissa had been there before and the proprietors knew them. They ordered three trays and a couple of different kinds. The dumplings are spread in a bamboo tray on a sort of cheese cloth and then steamed until cooked. Some are fluffy bread-like with meat and vegetables in the middle and others are just like steamed wontons, a noodle-like shell with meat in the center. They were very good and we sipped fresh watermelon and papaya drinks.
Afterwards, we walked through one of the market areas of Hualien. It was just like many other parts of Asia with fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, fresh meat, fish, clothes and linens. I enjoyed watching Mom take it all in for the first time. Frank and Melissa seemed to be very much at home and that was kind of fun to contrast that view with our first day in Bangkok last year. The fly swatters over the meat are worth mentioning and consisted of little motor devices that spin above the meat with rods two sticking out and a piece of frayed rope or plastic on the ends. Mom bought a leather wallet. Prices for quality things were a little cheaper than in the states but there was a lot of inexpensive but junky stuff as well. After the markets we drove over to the seaport and climbed down to the water. Hualien has a harbor with a manmade break water and there are giant concrete structures that are inter-linked along the water to protect the coast. Frank called them jacks (like the game). There is a lot of mining in the area and much of the mining product is transported through Hualien.
Back to the school we observed the afternoon shift. Classes started at 3 p.m. and lasted for thirty minutes after which they rotated to the next class. In the morning classes, the kids are all the same age but in the afternoon, there are all ages in a class and they rotate together. The afternoons are more for fun learning and Frank's lesson was on magnets. Some of the photographs show the creative things they were doing. I particularly like the magnet dart earrings!
The kids call them 'Teacher Frank', 'Teacher Melissa' and 'Teacher Michelle'. Michelle is from Canada and teaches in the third classroom. All of the children have American names, many of them given by Frank and Melissa. One little girl teases Frank by calling him 'little, little Frank' and several times I heard 'wai, wai Frank' (naughty, naughty Frank) when he was teasing them. Bill, one who usually comes in pajamas, just sleeps through the afternoon. I have taken tons of pictures of the kids and do remember some names but need Frank and Melissa to go through and identify many. Mark and Bill were brothers and Mark was very bright and funny. You tell him something once and he has it down. It was very interesting to watch them put concepts together. Frank said 'hooray' about something and one of the little girls pointed to the little boy named Ray and said, 'He's Ray!'
On another day, Frank was singing with them and one little boy, Albert, said, "Stop! Teacher, Stop! I no like this song!" We started teaching them the 'ants go marching song' which he liked better. A couple of days later, he told Frank, "Teacher, I want to go home. You not funny no more. I want to sing ants go four by four!"
After classes were out at 4:30, we headed for the beach. Due to Taiwan's position in the time zone, it is completely dark by 5:30 p.m. so we hurried to a beach park that was near the airport. The water was beautiful with a light turquoise color surf close to the shore and then dark water several meters out. Frank said that the bottom drops off dramatically and there are strong currents. No one was swimming. The shore was not sand but marble like rocks made smooth from the pounding of the surf. Some are greenish color with jade, others white or black and many have rings and layers running through them. After a big storm, the Chinese come to collect rounded black stones that are used for stone pathways that exercise their feet. The stones are placed in mortar or concrete with varying distances between them. We watched an old woman in Taipei navigate the stone walkway with her shoes off, going from closely spaced rocks to further spaced. It's some sort of foot therapy and we saw these walkways in several locations. Just walking on the beach in bare feet was painful but afterwards produced a burning, tingling sensation that felt pretty good!
We also went to the stonecutters festival which had been going for a few weeks. It was like an open air fair with booths and people working on different works of art in stone. Of particular interest to me were what I think were tea tables. They were carved in flat stones, maybe three to six inches thick and two to four feet across. They had different scenes carved like water buffalo swimming in a rice paddy. What I couldn't figure out was why each was carved so that it could be a reservoir with raised edges. There was a drain cut through the stone that attached to a piece of rubber tubing. They may have been meant to be fountains with water running in and flowing out, or they may have just been there in case you spilled your tea! Anyway, they were cool looking. There were works of jade and jewelry and Mom liked the marble balls that spun on top of a water spout.
Next morning while Frank taught, I took the scooter to get gas and did a little exploring along the way. I rode up to the mouth of one of the nearby canyons and got off and walked around. The landscape is very rocky with large boulders in the river bottoms. The foliage is dense with a heavy layer of undergrowth and the mountains are steep and rugged. Not a lot of open spaces for hiking that I could see. On the way back to the school I got lost but drove around until I found a main road and the sign that said East Hawaii. It is a pseudo resort made up like Hawaii and the sign is a Chinese girl dressed in coconuts and a grass skirt. It became the marker that signaled where to turn for the school.
My luggage had arrived and so with confidence from my earlier ride, I set off on the scooter to the airport across town to retrieve it. The scooter is a 50 cc and has no gears but works like an ATV or snow mobile with some sort of automatic clutch. It doesn't move fast but 'it'll still kill ya' as Frank said. Traffic in Taiwan, while like other wild traffic countries, has some of its own peculiarities. I would say that successfully driving in Taiwan is more of an art form than a disciplined behavior. There are rules but the rules don't really apply all the time and they vary depending on the speed and size of the vehicle as well as the mental mindset of the operator. Trying to reduce traffic behavior to linear rules like here in America just doesn't work.
Right of way for instance is yielded to the person that has the biggest vehicle. This I learned on the way to the airport as I was following a scooter on the main road when a truck approached from a side road. Even though I was on the main road, moving quickly and he had stopped, he still pulled out in front (his truck was bigger than my scooter). I braked and swerved to avoid the scooter ahead of me that was slowing and the truck coming up behind me didn't (he was bigger too). Fortunately, he just clipped off my left mirror and there was only shattered glass flying to the pavement and not me!
Another oddity is turning left across oncoming traffic. Just BEFORE the light turns green, vehicles turning left will gun across the intersection in front of oncoming traffic. This game of chicken continues until a collision is almost evident and then right if way is yielded to 1) the largest vehicle, 2) the vehicle with the most speed, or 3) the most determined driver. And, it's never consistently the same ordered criteria. Frank seemed to have it all down subconsciously and motored his way around, beeping his horn and never flinching. It was interesting to see that you shared the road with large trailer trucks full of metal or ore as well as little old ladies timidly pedaling on bicycles. What was a hoot to watch were the old senior citizens cruising around on these electric contraptions that were a cross between a wheel chair and a go-cart. One old fellow, all hunched over with age, cruised right past me and through a busy intersection with enough determination that he gained the right of way!
At the airport, no one quite knew where my bag had come in as it was sent via a shipping company rather than just as baggage on a flight. After walking around and showing the instructions that Yuling had written in Chinese to several people, I followed one lady's directions to 'go past airport and turn left' (even though she was pointing right) and was walking along outside when I glanced over to see my bag just sitting on a dock. I found someone and signed for it but anyone could have walked off with it easily.
During the nap break, we all went to the hill park in the center of Hualien and climbed the exercise trail. It had several stations along the way (similar to those we found in Europe) with different exercises like chinning bars, sit up benches and hula hoops. We got some pictures of that!
In the afternoon, Kathe suggested that she and I teach the classes while Frank and Melissa had a break. I had no idea what to do so Frank took the first of each class and then handed them over to me to read and sing a story, Farmer in the Dell. It turned out to be a riot. The kids were very responsive and fun and would pick up on new words and phrases very quickly. I wondered how Frank had so much energy when he was teaching but after trying it, I found most of it came from them. At one point, I had them decide between two books to read and had them repeating 'democracy' as they voted. Kathe had brought her props from the storytelling festival and Mom taught some new songs. Afterwards, we adjourned to the cement play area where I mounted one of the Twist-n-Turn cars for a friendly demolition derby.
The Twist-n-Turn cars are something that needs to be imported. See the pictures but they are designed so that they can be propelled by turning the steering wheel back and forth. It's like pumping a swing-as you get momentum, turning in a rhythm will propel the car ahead. I got on and so did several of the boys and we chased and rammed each other to squeals of delight. One little boy, seeing that it took more to get keep my car moving because of the heavy load, insisted on pushing me all over. He pushed until he was wringing wet with sweat.
That afternoon, we got to see the kids' parents as they came to pick them up. Many of them were very friendly and spoke to us in English. Frank said that a lot of them have visited or studied in the United States or England and are doctors or prominent people in the community. The kids, after rollicking on the Twist-n-Turns weren't too excited about going home. Willy's dad, who brought the teachers vases, patiently waited for him for almost half an hour before he would leave. Another little boy's grandfather came to pick him up and he was upset that the little boy didn't want to go and he pretended to go away mad about three times before I got the kid to go with him.
That day we ate lunch at the 'curry place'. They didn't really serve curry but when Frank and Melissa had asked Yuling if there was a place that served curry, she had taken them there. We had corn soup and a mixture of Chinese dishes and rice that were all very tasty. That evening I can't remember what we ate!
Yuling gave Frank and Melissa Friday off to spend with us and we visited Toroka Gorge National Park, the entrance of which is located about thirty minutes north of Hualien on the coast. From my first trip to Taiwan, I had no idea that the island was so rugged. There are mountains that actually get snow on them and the highest peak is over 13,000 feet high (Jade Mountain). The Taroka Gorge is a gateway of sorts to the highlands and begins in a boulder strewn canyon that empties into the ocean. Near the mouth of the canyon is a visitor's center where we stopped just long enough to get a map. The gorge is a series of narrow canyons with steep, foliage covered mountains. Rock outcroppings appear to be marble (that would explain why the sidewalks of Taiwan are all of marble slate). There are lime deposits and the water runs clear and turquoise blue. The road is narrow, often only wide enough for a single car but is paved and winds ever upward. Much of the road is tunnels-some through mountains, some along cliffs with one side open, and others with side tunnels running out to shafts of light. Riding through the tunnels was a major act of courage for Melissa and Kathe who both have a fear of enclosed places.
We stopped several times to take pictures and enjoy the view. At one point there was major construction going on to build the road and with the pavement gone, it provided an exposed (a little eerie) view of how structurally safe the roads were. The end of one tunnel appeared to terminate in mid air with traffic being routed in from the side. There was either a bridge there at one time or a major road wash out had occurred. We noticed that many of the guardrails were twisted and bent and tried to determine whether this was from traffic hitting them or falling rock. My guess was falling rock!
At one rest area, we stopped and walked across a suspension bridge and then climbed the steps a pagoda and Buddhist temple that had been built on the mountainside. The view from the top of the pagoda was quite spectacular and we tried to get Mom and Kathe's attention as they waited on the bridge far below. We also explored the temple area with its Buddha statues and images of other deities. A woman monk gave us some complimentary videos on classical Chinese stories. She was very friendly and spoke good English. I found it interesting that there were really very few monks in Taiwan compared to other places I had been and all but one that we saw were women. The only male monk I saw was making a pilgrimage and walking up the canyon road through the gorge. The sign on the way down from the temple said that a woman was the head of this temple and that she had made pilgrimages to all of the sacred temples in Taiwan, had managed other monasteries and now had the honor of managing this one because of her dedication and holiness. Looking at her picture on the sign, I recognized that it was the woman that gave us the videos.
We drove on up further, thinking that we were near the top and turned around. As it turned out, we were only about one third of the way through the park but the road had been windy and we were weary of narrow roads. We stopped to look at some natural hot pots in the bottom of the gorge and then went back to the park entrance and the visitor's center. There was a multimedia presentation about the park that Frank and Melissa had seen and they wanted us to see it. We were settled in the theater watching a panoramic slide show of the geology and plant and animal life when the room started to shake and there was a noise like a ground compactor going off. It subsided a little and then started again even stronger and louder. Mom was the first one up and for the door. We were the only ones in the theater except for another girl who looked Filipino and we all ran. About halfway up the stairs, I realized I had forgot my camera and went back for it but the earthquake had quit by the time I reached the top of the stairs. It was a pretty good shaker.
The little Chinese lady who had helped us get situated for the show came running. "It's O.K." she said. "This happens all the time here. I am from this area and it is a very common thing." Someone asked her if this earthquake was stronger and she said, "Yes, it is strong." It was a little unsettling and we were all glad that we weren't still in the gorge somewhere in one of those tunnels or at the bottom of a steep incline where a marble boulder could wipe us out like it probably had many of those guard rails!
That night and the next day, we viewed the earthquake report on a special Taiwan Web page. They have earthquake reports right along side weather reports. As it turns out, there are many earthquakes a month in Taiwan in the 3 to 4 Richter scale range. This one had been a 4.9 with the epicenter located just a few miles from the park entrance. There were four more that day that were less severe. The day before we left, there were five or six in the same area (right along our train route-that was through tunnels) which compared to earlier in the month was quite an increase. I didn't mention that to Kathe or Melissa!
For dinner, we dined at one of the most international of places - Pizza Hut. The Pizza was o.k. but the root beer wasn't anything familiar. It tasted like a cross between ginger and kerosene.
Saturday morning, we headed out to Jichi Beach. It was about an hour down the coast from Hualien, past the new Disneylike Resort that is to open in January. The road was windy and the area was unpopulated and it was a beautiful drive, even though it was raining a little. When we got to the beach, we had it all to ourselves. It is a park and there was an entrance fee but we were practically the only ones there. It may have been because of the rain or because it was cold to the Taiwanese but we enjoyed it. The black sand was like tiny beads of marble or granite. The water was warm but currents and waves made it difficult to use the surf and boogie boards that we rented. We played and swam for a while and then I jogged down the beach to see what was where a helicopter landed. It turned out to be a soccer field but there were military officials marking something off inside and someone standing guard.
When it started to rain steadily, we headed back to town stopping at a large monastery that is located right on the coast. Yuling has a childhood friend that lost her parents and then decided to become a monk there. We had talked about staying as you can rent a room but hadn't gotten her friends name. We hiked up to the large Buddha statue that was on the hill. Again, the only monks we saw were women. Melissa was in the mood for Italian food so stopped at a place called Charlotte's that they had discovered on their honeymoon. It was very good and not too expensive.
That evening, there was a ward party at the school center. It was a combination get together and celebration of Frank's birthday. A good crowd came and all brought food and they sang "Happy Birthday" in English and Chinese to Frank and another ward member. There were all kinds of food and then cake. The sister missionaries were there and many of the members spoke English. They were very friendly and made us feel most welcome.
After the party, we drove across town stopping again at the stone cutter festival and then going on to find the Saturday night market. It's a market that only sets up on Saturday night and is a half mile of closed off street that sells all kinds of things. We didn't find too much of interest that wasn't just junk but I did find some light cloth gloves that I like to wear and they were only $50 ($1.50 US) for 12 pair. Frank got a switchblade that was sharp enough to cut the hair on his arm for $3. The night markets are a carnival like atmosphere with people, adults and kids, wandering around, looking and eating.
Sunday was a very good day. Church started at 9 a.m. and there are two branches that share the same location. The church is a rented building that is three stories high with the chapel on the third floor. One branch going in while the other comes out, up and down a narrow stairway is quite a feat. Priesthood and Sunday School were held in a building across the street at ground level. Elder Wong, an un-Oriental looking Australian, translated for us. During Sunday School and Sacrament meeting, we used a new headset system that the ward had bought. He was able to sit in the back and talk quietly into a microphone placed near his throat and we could sit anywhere and hear him well. Both the priesthood and SS lessons happened to be on chastity which sounds like it's a universal challenge for members of the church.
Yuling was the main speaker for Sacrament Meeting and as part of the end of her talk, she asked the three of us visiting to come up and bear our testimonies. Mother said something about the importance of her family and I could tell that Yuling said aside that she had 10 children which produced a reaction from the congregation. Many of the women afterwards came up and shook her hand. As we were leaving, everyone in the branch stopped and sang Happy Birthday to Frank.
The afternoon and evening were spent just relaxing and visiting. I don't know when I have had a more enjoyable Sunday afternoon. We ate a good meal of stir fry that Kathe had cooked up from vegetables I gathered from the market on the scooter. I also bought one of each fruit that I could find and we tried them all. I still don't know what many of them are called even though I ate them in Thailand. One looks like a red and green pear but tastes like a cross between an apple and rhubarb. Dragon fruit looks like a red potato with pointy ears all over on the outside and like chocolate chip ice cream on the inside. Dragons eyes are round balls that have a clear gelatin-like fruit on the inside with a big seed. Of course there were papaya, bananas, pomelo (large juicy grapefruit) oranges, and tangerines. All very good. We sat and talked about all kinds of things and Frank had us laughing so hard that it hurt. All in all it was a very enjoyable day.
Monday it was raining some but I went exploring on the scooter. I rode around town looking for places to get a Chinese coat and the Twist-n-Turn cars but had no luck. I also explored the soldier memorial that looks like a large temple and just walked around looking at interesting things. Kathe needed to go to the bank so we went on the scooter - our ATM cards worked fine at the Bank of Taiwan and produced 1000 kwai notes. Then we decided to go to CarreFour and buy some wax so we could wash and wax Yuling's dad's car which he had been so gracious to let us use while we were there. We washed and started waxing but only got the horizontal surfaces done before it started raining so much that the wax wouldn't dry.
CarreFour is an international version of Walmart. It is a western style department store that sells everything from DVDs to live fish. It was interesting to walk around and see what types of food were packaged; note the many types of large rice cookers; observe that their washing machines and fridges don't look like ours and see that most things are about the same price as we would pay here. Carrefour is located right across from the Hualien airport which also is home to one of Taiwan's airforce bases. From the upper levels of CarreFour, you can see the US made F16s in concrete bunkers lining the runways. A couple of times a day we would see them coming in across the city for landing after maneuvers.
At 4:15 all the classes came together at the center to have a birthday party for Frank and Anslee, one of the little boys. They both had to wear the birthday hats and there was a cake for each. The cakes are very elaborate and tasty with multiple layers and fresh fruit. Mom thought the chocolate was especially tasty. All of the children had worked to make a big birthday card for Frank with each of them making a small card to attach to it and writing it in English. They really enjoy him.
In the evening, Frank took Kathe and I to a Chinese cemetery. It was interesting in that all the memorials were different and included small sanctuaries with walls and the tombs were mostly above ground. We never did figure out they might get adult size bodies in some of those tiny vaults or why so many of them had crosses on top. From what I remember, Chinese bury their dead and don't cremate but I don't know the specifics of the burial process.
I slept out on the porch on one of the mats. The night was still and the moon was out and it was very beautiful. I awoke with several mosquito bites however and then in Taipei's English paper read an article on an outbreak of dengue fever in the south of Taiwan that was carried by mosquitoes.
Tuesday morning we arose early and drove to the train station to catch the 6:35 express train for Taipei. Frank just left the car in a paid parking lot and we already had tickets. The train was nice, had assigned seats and was very comfortable. It rained off and on but the countryside was beautiful. A lot of mountains, tunnels and beach for a while but we also passed rice paddies, orchards, small villages and several ornate temples. Closer to Hualien there were many processing plants and lots of railroad cars with ore in them. Most of these plants were located at the mouths of canyons like the gorge and a couple of them had seaports where materials were mined, processed and put on ships. The ore looked like it could have been iron but the plants weren't producing any pollution leading me to believe they weren't steel plants. Need to do some homework on what they actually were I guess.
Nearing Taipei, the rain was steady as it had been for the last several days according to Dennis, a friend of Yuling's that reserved us a hotel. The fields and rice paddies were all completely full and there was water in all directions, sectioned off by little earthen dikes. It reminded me of Thailand in the monsoons.
We arrived underground at the Main Taipei station and emerged to find a taxi. It was pouring rain and by the time that I showed both cab drivers the directions and Chinese instructions to the hotel, my map was wet. I like to collect maps that I have used to navigate unfamiliar cities and I was glad this one didn't get soaked. Both cabs stayed close together and we were soon at the hotel Rido (Lee Tu is how it sounded in Chinese) spending about $140 kwai per car (a little over $4 US).
Dennis had picked us out a nice hotel that was near the temple. Across the street was a large park with walking trails and a little lake. We stashed our stuff and started on the itinerary that Yuling thought would be good for first time, one dayers in Taipei. We started walking for the nearest subway station (Taipei calls it the MRT) but it was raining and we were hungry so we stopped at a 7-11 equivalent and bought some crackers and disposable raincoats. A couple of stores later we passed a Chinese fast food joint and decided to stop for a hot breakfast. I tried a rice burger which turned out to be a sandwich with the buns being made of sticky rice instead of bread. It was good but greasy like fast food anywhere else.
The trek to the subway was several blocks and as we crossed a main street we noticed one traffic pleasantry - countdown clocks on the crosswalks. The streets were large and as the light turned, a little green man flashed like he was walking. Underneath him was a clock that started counting down the seconds left until the light turned red. You knew how fast you had to hurry to get across. I didn't mention the scooter traffic privileges. When cars stop for a red light, all the scooters weave their way to the front and congregate in masses right at the line. There is even a scooter setback area which cars can't pull into that scooters fill at a stoplight. Again, just BEFORE the light turns green, they are off in a full throttle attack. It is interesting to note the efficiency of moving many people with all sizes of vehicles.
MRT was the first subway experience for Mom, Kathe and Melissa. We figured out on our own how to determine where we were, what the cost would be to where we wanted to go, how to get tickets and go through the turnstiles to find the right platform. It was pretty similar to other modern subways and was very nice. We had to stop at Taipei Main and switch lines which was much more complex as trains were coming and going from different levels and it was very crowded. A nice Chinese fellow asked us in English where we were going and since we were on the same train, he led us right to the platform. When I told him we were from Utah, he said he had been there. I immediately wondered if he was a member of the Church but when I asked him what he had been there for, he said, "I sold NuSkin for a while." He now lives in Vancouver and was just visiting. We bid him goodbye at his stop and when he got off struck up a conversation with another young fellow. He too was from Vancouver and was going to pick up his grandfather at the hospital. Interesting coincidence.
Our destination was the Palace Museum and in order to get there we had to catch a bus at the subway station. The information lady wrote the bus numbers down and just as we got to the bus stop, one of the busses pulled up. We had no idea how much they cost and the bus driver briskly motioned us to get on board and out of the way. People on the bus told us it was thirty cents and they also helped us know when to get off.
The Palace Museum is a world class exhibition of art. It is a series of Chinese old style buildings situated on a beautiful hillside. Apparently, with the cultural revolution in China and the campaign by the Gang of Four to eliminate history, culture, religion and art many of these works were spirited out of mainland China and preserved in Taiwan until this facility was built to house them. It was very interesting and a lot of time could be spent there.
One room depicted the chronology of Chinese civilization with the different periods and dynasties. Their history is fairly detailed and complex. Of particular note was one fellow (didn't get his name) who established civil law and 'invented' marriage. Another interesting pair were Meng Tzu who advocated that man's basic nature was good and Hsun Tzu who postulated that it was evil-the first democrat and republican. A large section was devoted to calligraphy and writings and writing tool holders. There were beautiful scroll paintings and it was interesting to note that paintings were originally classified into one of four types which proliferated and then were consolidated into ten or twelve types. Landscape, birds and flowers, deities, were a few categories. There was also a section of miniature ivory carvings that were so precise and delicately small that they had to be viewed under a magnifying glass. Pi discs (round flat discs with holes in the center) were popular items but I haven't been able to find what they were used for. There was also a special selection of Tibetan religious ceremonial instruments which were gold and very interesting. Not to mention all the flowered and colored vases and urns from different dynasties.
We ran out of legs and stopped at the gift shop before catching another bus back to the subway. We caught a couple more cabs from the Main station back to the hotel and the women rested while Frank and I went in search of the Mormon Temple. According to Yuling's map (which she drew while talking on the phone to Dennis), the temple should have been across the street and down a block. Frank and I walked and walked and never found it. I stopped and asked at one place and she directed me down the street to the Chinese Muslim Association Church which looked like something out of Istanbul. I asked another fellow in front of a dumpling restaurant if he knew where the Mormon temple was. He thought for a minute and said, "Yes! Salt Lake City." We were also trying to locate a restaurant that was supposed to be "very famous restaurant in all Taipei where Tom Cruise go". We asked directions and were pointed in opposite directions multiple times until one fellow walked us next door. We had passed it several times and it looked like a takeout bakery shop.
We went back to the hotel and got the clerk to circle the general temple area on a Chinese Taipei map and then transferred it to the English version to figure out where it was in relation to the hotel. It was just beyond the restaurant. We all walked to the restaurant and they escorted us through the kitchen and directed us upstairs to a dining room. As it turns out, there are four floors of dining room and it is a pretty happening place. I was expecting something like the Russian Tea Room in New York that is very ornate; this wasn't much different than the upstairs to the Kentucky Fried Chicken that we had eaten at the night before in Hualien. But, the food was incredible! We read an English magazine review and selected a couple of the reviewers favorites. We about foundered on the shrimp and pork dumplings and ordered another bamboo tray full.
Afterwards, I walked on around the block until I found the temple. It was only a couple of blocks from where Frank and I had asked but no one knew about it. It was very impressive even though it was tucked off the main road behind a gas station. The lighting, landscaping and beauty of the architecture made it look like it was something heavenly that was just materializing in an urban landscape.
I went back, arriving at the hotel before the rest as they had stopped and Frank bought a nice long sleeve Tommy shirt for about $10 US. We put on our nice clothes, borrowed some umbrellas from the front desk and walked the kilometer or so to the temple. There was a construction project going on right next door and the din of scooters and traffic was almost deafening but once we stepped inside, it was completely quiet. In this setting, entering the temple really is an escape from the world.
The temple president was from Michigan. He and his wife had been mission presidents here in 1973 and this temple had been completed in 1984. Those who helped us were very friendly and wanted to know where we were from and what was our business in Taiwan. The session room was nearly full and probably held 35 or 40 people. There were several of us wearing the translation earphones and I talked afterwards to a girl from Chicago who had sat by Mother. She was in Taiwan and going to China as part of a mutual aid agency for refugees and was here to learn about governments and economy. She said her "Chinglish" (Chinese English) put her on about a 3rd grade level and she was frustrated at trying to communicate, especially when everyone thought she should be able to because she looked Chinese.
We planned to visit the Snake Alley market but after the walk back, most of us were ready for bed. We bought some chocolate cake and ice cream and ate it in the hotel room while we visited. Mom went right to sleep and Frank and I stayed up and talked for a little while. The wakeup call came pretty early as Frank and Melissa needed to be on the 7:15 train out of Taipei Main. We walked them down to the curb, said our good byes and watched them drive away in the taxi.
We couldn't go back to sleep so we walked around the park to get some exercise. People were walking, jogging and at several stations were doing Tai Chi and walking on rocks. The morning was misty with occasional light rain but we enjoyed the walk. Our flight was at 12:30 p.m. so we checked out and caught a cab around 9:45. We had stayed in rooms 504 and 505 of the Rido.
Our cab driver was a young girl in a brand new Toyota taxi and she didn't speak a word of English. She kept holding up her finger "1" and I thought she was confirming that we wanted to go to terminal one at the international airport. I handed her a piece of paper and she wrote "$1000". She wanted a set fare rather than going by the meter. I had read somewhere that taxi fee to the airport was $1500 so I said, "OK" (universally understood). The ride out was not as long as the bus ride in had been and Mom only jumped a couple of times at the wild traffic.
Security check, ticketing and customs were a breeze and we soon found ourselves browsing the duty free shop looking for something to spend our leftover kwai on. Not much of interest or at a reasonable price but I did find an English map of Taiwan to add to my collection. Our flight to San Francisco was about 11 hours and thirty minutes and consisted of a very short night with hardly any sleep. We were to have a five hour layover in San Francisco but there was another flight leaving for Salt Lake 15 minutes after we cleared customs. We ran all they way from customs to the far end of United's terminal and arrived just as they were getting ready to close the doors. They weren't going to let us go because our bags were checked on another flight and that is a security risk but since I had the claim tickets in mine, they let Mom and Kathe go. I thought it would be easier for them to get home earlier, even if they had to wait a while in Salt Lake for a ride.
I walked around the airport, read, slept and ate while I waited for my flight which ended up being delayed anyway. It's times like those that make me question whether I really would like a job again that required travel. The flight to Salt Lake was lightly loaded and I had a window seat to watch the forming thunder clouds and occasional landscape. I took a bunch of pictures but though the plastic glass they just don't turn out. In Salt Lake, I caught the shuttle for Utah Valley which just happened to be leaving as I collected the three bags and had a nice ride to Provo with a couple of missionaries who were entering the MTC and a girl from California that was coming to visit her sister at BYU.
After a travelogue like this, I always find it hard to think of an ending that caps it off. All in all we had a wonderful trip. Things just couldn't have gone any smoother. I had been worried about Mom and she was able to eat all kinds of things without it bothering her stomach and she walked all over the place. Dad was fine while we were gone. Yuling was so good to us and we really had a wonderful time with Frank and Melissa. They had considered coming home a little early, partially due to the fact that they are going to be parents soon and would feel more comfortable at home. We hoped that things would work out for the best for both them and the school and I think it will. Frank said that when they arrived back at the school from Taipei, the students thought they would be gone for another day. One of them saw them come in and the whole school emptied to greet them. He said they were mobbing them chanting, 'Teacher Frank, Teacher Melissa' and were so glad to see them return. The latest TaiwaNews announced they will be staying till the end of the semester!