Journals from Yonsei University, Korea
2009-11-18 Taiwan: 10/23/09
Backpacking in the hills of Nantou
So all went well on the train. I fell asleep for most of it and didn't have to give up my seat. It seems that the further out the train went the fewer people were on, and most people didn't have tickets. What didn't go so well is getting stuck in Taichung, an hour and a half away from Puli, where I was supposed to take another 1.5 hour bus to the hostel. Luckily I had the cellphone and was able to call the Hostel Hotline. I called the Taichung Youth Hostel and was happy to hear they had a vacancy. So another hour bus ride and 390 NTD (roughly $13) later I had a place to stay for the night.
The hostel was about a 15-minute walk to the nearest food, and I experienced my first feelings of sketchness walking down the deserted streets at night. I finally made it to the little turnabout where there was a shrine with windmills at the center. It seemed set up as if they were going to have a festival.
I went into what looked like the first open stall, or at least one that had an old lady watching soaps. She tried to motion through what was available, but I ordered without really caring what it was. So for 100NTD ($3ish) out came rice, a ghastly sweet tea, and a large metal bowl that she put over a little kero-gel light. Inside was a rather bland broth, beef, 3 different types of tofu (one with a pink cartoon on it), lettuce, some unidentified sea food, and glass noodles. It wasn't bad, and at that point anything hot was amazing.
There I was also able to get my first real picture with me in it on the trip. It was nice exchanging pleasantries during the commercial break as well. I got the typical nice comment from the old lady that I was beautiful. I think truthfully, though, that they see white and automatically think pretty.
On the way back to the hostel I stopped at 7-11. They had peanut M&Ms and gum that wasn't Xylitol! I didn't see Big Red, though, and am hoping to find it before leaving. Right before coming I finished the last of my M&Ms and gum, so the chance to restock for a bit more into the semester is a welcome surprise!
I think I was the only person staying at the hostel, or at least the only girl. There were 3 sets of bunk beds so I had my pick. I was really hoping to meet other travelers, but I guess a Wednesday night in a random through city wasn't the best bet.
I went to bed early and got up and out by 8:30 the next morning. Breakfast of Snicker's on the bus back to the station would end up being the only food I would have until dinner at 7 that night. I tried finding the Sum Moon Lake bus near the main bus station, but no such luck. A guide there gave me directions and wrote in Chinese for me to take a taxi. By the looks for his map it was only 6 blocks away. So I tried to walk. The road turned/curved in a way that didn't match the map, so I just took a taxi. Lesson learned-when they try to put you in a taxi take it. It was a good 12-minute drive across huge intersections later that I was dropped off at a tour bus stop.
For 75NTD (about $2) I bought a ticket for the 1.5/2 hour trip. Once there I went to the tourism office and was ecstatic to hear that they would hold my bag while I went around. I checked the bus times and decided I would give myself about 3 hours there, not sure how late the shuttle ran to the hostel. I started to walk around a bit and saw one of the temples on my own, but realized I wouldn't rally be able to catch that many sights on foot.
I took a 1.5 hour boat tour around the lake. It stopped at a small island in the middle, a temple, and a tribal market street where I tried the most famous tea of the area. The added bonus was that there were plenty of people I could hand my camera to take pictures for me.
As I was leaving the temple I asked an older gentleman to take a picture for me. He did, but then two women ran over and insisted that he take a picture with me. I of course said yes and handed my camera back over for another picture (kinda like my travels in China, but I wanted evidence this time). Well all of a sudden the attention had shifted to us and everyone in his tour group started cheering and laughing. This only got louder as I went over close to him and kind of put my hand up to touch his back. This is common protocol in American picture posing, but I forget that in the rest of the world it isn't always so. It turns out they were from China, so that explains a lot of the novelty of it for them.
After the boat tour I decided to catch an earlier bus to Puli, where I would take a bus to my hostel in the hills of Nantou. The Lake was nice and all, but it was just ok and I didn't feel too inspired to stay and look much further. Truthfully, I was hoping to make it to the hostel while it was still light outside. There's really just something comforting about having made it in the daylight to the place where you will be sleeping.
I had to wait about 40 minutes for the next bus, and didn't really see anywhere nearby to grab something to eat. The bus was packed with students and people heading home, but luckily I caught one of the last seats. The girls behind me were switching between Chinese Pop and American music. I got to hum along to the Fray, but then they played some music I hadn't heard before. I must admit, being in Korea where Pandora is blocked and I only hear K-Pop or American dance hits from the summer, the only way I've really kept in touch with what's popular in the US is through Glee. When I get back to Seoul I will be YouTube-ing some of the latest hits.
The hostel was supposed to be near Chinjing Farm, so I pulled up farm on the cellphone dictionary and showed it to the driver. This led him to tell me to get off at a spot in the middle of nowhere in a rather dark curve of the highway. I'm not going to lie, after he pulled away I had my first FML moment. So I did the only thing I could-walk towards the only light at the top of the hill. So 15 minutes, many scary movies flash-backs, and some wishes that I had a boy with me, I made it to what turned out to be a hostel. A guy there looked up directions on Google and drove me the 10 minutes there. As I've written out the story I can't help but think of how many red flag "I would never have done that in the US!" moments there were. Terrible "What Ifs" aside, I finally made it with the amazing help of yet another stranger's kindness.
It turns out I wasn't staying at a youth hostel, but instead a resort that gave me a discount. This very kind lady checked me in and gave me some information about dinner. At that point I was very hungry and rather unwilling to go in search of cheaper food. So I paid the $20 (only $10 cheaper than the room itself) for a steak dinner that came with a salad bar and champagne. I've never been fond of champagne, but it tasted absolutely fabulous at the end of the crazy adventure.
The room turned out to be a private double hotel room. I turned in early and was ecstatic to find that I would be sleeping on the most comfortable bed that I have had in the past two months. Oh, how I miss having regular access to beds with mattress pads...
After breakfast I packed and headed off to find the bus stop. I was standing looking at a sign when a guy in a van offered me a ride to Puli for 100NTD, 7 cheaper than the bus (which I still wasn't sure where to catch). He gave me a business card and I hopped in. I spent the next 5 minutes feeling sketch when I couldn't see where the door handle was (turns out it was on the upper side of the door) until another family got in. Yes, another "You did WHAT?!?!" moments, but it turned out all right.
I was in time to catch the noon bus after a 40-minute wait. I had paid for an unlimited rail pass, but at the moment spending $12 on a direct bus ticket sounded great. As it was, I was trying to get back to Taipei to meet Angel, one of my roommate's friends. Plus, I wanted to check into my hostel.
My hostel probably has the best location in Taipei. It is across the street from the Taipei Main station, which is the transportation center for bus, metro, train and high speed rail. It is on the 13th floor of a major shopping tower and has a really nice common room. I'm on the top bunk in one of the 4 beds. There are at least 4 other people staying in the room, but it isn't limited to young people as I had thought. It is costing about $13 to stay here for a night and includes breakfast, so I can't really complain.
I went to meet Angel around 5 and was greeted by both of my roommate's friends. Instead of the famous night market they took me to a student one that they said was cheaper with better food. After a Boba Tea (Delicious!), a Hong Kong style hot biscuit with frozen butter on the inside, chicken and rice dinner, and a popular sweet peanut w/ mochi soup for dessert, I was stuffed! I also tried their desserts-mango and pineapple over ice w/ cream. Soo good! Fruit is cheap and popular here, so I will be eating quite a bit of it before returning to Korea, where it is expensive and hard to come by.
We went walking for a bit when it started to rain, the first byproducts of Typhoon/Tropical Storm Lupit I had seen. We went to Taiwan University's palm tree-lined campus and Chiang Kai-shek Plaza. It was the first time they had seen it lit up at night. It was gorgeous!
So there, all caught up for the past 2 days. Its off to bed now after another long day of traveling. I get to sleep in a bit tomorrow before meeting Angel and Kiki at 11. They are taking me to their hometown to look around.
Yonsei, Fall 2009