Friday, November 21, 2014

Naruwan Taiwan (Part 1): Exploring Burning-Hot Kaohsiung Before the Conference


- Before anything else, the word "naruwan" in the title is a term from the Amis group of people that serves as a salutation or welcoming word. It has been adopted by most indigenous groups of Taiwan, and is now used by these indigenous people as a common greeting to welcome foreigners. This word has also been used in the Taiwanese tourism advertisements.

- Now for the real deal. The only reason why I went to Taiwan was because my research paper got accepted in the 2014 International Conference on Asia-Pacific Studies, with the theme of "Migration and Transformation in the Asia-Pacific." This conference was jointly organized by the Institute of China and Asia-Pacific Studies of the National Sun Yat Sen University (NSYSU,) and the Department of Political Science of the University of the Philippines. The conference was held in NSYSU, and the campus was located in Kaohsiung, Southern Taiwan.

- I was very excited for the trip because it was my first time to go to Taiwan. This also meant a lot of headache in preparing for the trip, because I could not estimate distances and traffic situations, or the vibe of the society; I could only rely on photos, videos, blogs, and my friends who have gone to Taiwan in the past. This was also my first alone trip where I gave myself the need to move from one place to another, adding more work to my preparations; I realized that my alone-travels in the past only required me to stay within one city/hostel throughout my stay, and my trips in the past that needed me to move from one city/province to another were usually arranged by a travel agency (as in a package tour) or by the organizers of certain fora I attended. This time, I had to arrange everything by myself. It was a good challenge though, and the only reason I did this was because I wanted to go to out of Kaohsiung, explore Tainan (for a day trip,) go to the Sun Moon Lake in central Taiwan, and Taipei in northern Taiwan, before flying back home. I booked three different hostels, and had to make sure that I would absolutely not get lost while moving from one place to another. Since I am back home and writing this, I am very happy that I once again outdid myself, but with many thanks to all the people who helped me make this trip possible.

The trip:

- November 9-10, 2014, Sunday to Monday.

- I left Manila in the middle of the morning, and it did not take long before I arrived in Kaohsiung. The plane trip from Manila to Kaohsiung via China Air was only around an hour and a half minutes, even shorter than a typical flight to Hong Kong.We were served lunch inside the plane, which gave me a limited time to catch up on sleep. Just as I was able to get comfortable, the plane was about to land.

- Kaohsiung was hot -- burning to be exact. It was strange because Kaohsiung was supposed to be a bit fair because of autumn, but at least I was told beforehand that the temperature felt in Kaohsiung was significantly higher than the temperature that the weather reports say. Come of think of it, I had the same experience in Macau (click here to read about my Macau trip.)

- It took some time before I found the Kaohsiung Airport metro station, and off I went to my hostel in Sizihwan Station. In Kaohsiung, they use the I-Pass (yi ka tong/ 一卡通,) and is used similarly as Korea's T-Money Card, or Hong Kong's Octopus Card; the I-Pass can be used in the metro, in buses, and Family Marts, Hi-Life and OK Marts in Kaohsiung; the Easy Card (you you card/悠游卡) has less use in Kaohsiung, and is more widely used in the northern parts of Taiwan, particularly Taipei. I was told that apart from these two, there are other two smart cards in Taiwan, but I wasn't able to encounter or use them.

- It did not take long before I got to my hostel, which was located a few small blocks away from the metro station, and less than 5 minutes away from the pedestrian "tunnel entrance" of NSYSU. I settled in my tiny one-person room, and waited for my friend Peter to meet me in Sizihwan Station. Generally, I felt that Kaohsiung seemed to be a laid back city, and I usually compare Kaohsiung and Taipei as similar to Cebu and Manila, the former cities being more laid back versions of the latter ones.

- I met Peter around 2pm at the metro station, and off we wandered to the Pier 2 art center, which was walking distance from my hostel and the metro. The Pier 2 art center used to be an industrial hub, but after Kaohsiung became a service city, the warehouses were not used anymore, and local artists converted these warehouses as places to exhibit and sell their artworks. The art center had an indie and hipster vibe. Most artworks there were contemporary. The art center was also located beside the old Kaohsiung Harbor Train Station, which is currently called the "Takao Railway Museum" (see part 3 of this series.)

Watched people fly colorful kites on a hot Sunday afternoon.
Old trains being exhibited at the Takao Railway Museum.
Peter treating me to traditional ice cream. It tasted more like a sorbet, but we desperately needed some cold treats. It was perfect.
Giant Bumblebee.
Old coin-maker.
Old warehouses used as galleries and art stores today.
- We had some cold douhua (tofu/taohue) in one of the shops in the art center, and recalled how Peter and I haven't seen each other since he went back to Taiwan around a year ago. He's a friend of a friend who soon became my friend too. He used to live nearby when he was still in Manila. He's currently doing his mandatory military service, but will be done in a few weeks. Fortunately, those in the service are allowed a few leaves per month, and so he was able to meet me for a day.

Yay for taohue.
Original Gong Cha.
- Peter showed me the "Dome of Light" inside the Formosa Boulevard Station on the way to Central Park. The Dome of Light is the largest glass work in the world. The Formosa Boulevard Station is also, so far, the only station where the two lines of the Kaohsiung MRTs meet. Plenty of plans in extending and adding MRT lines are being made at the moment.

Dome of Light.

Found some illusion art in the train station.
- We arrived in Central Park and walked around before riding the MRT to Kaisyuan station to go to the Kaisyuan Night Market, and the adjacent Jinzuan Night Market for dinner. These two new night markets boast their title as the largest night market/s in Kaohsiung. Kaisyuan Night Market is closed on Tuesdays and Thursdays, while Jinzuan Night Market is closed on Mondays and Wednesdays. Since we went on a Sunday, both of them were open.

Central Park. (The 85 Sky Tower can be seen at the left side of the statue's head.)
The Kaohsiung tram. It's scheduled to be operational by 2015.
Kaisyuan Night Market.
Jinzuan Night Market.
A Thai pagoda inside the night market.
Fried squid. It was yummy.
- Peter was kind enough to treat me since we met, including our stinky tofu dinner (the dish is called "stinky tofu," and it's not me being judgmental. Haha.) The taste was just like regular tofu, only that the tofu was submerged in a rather foul-smelling mixture being being deep-fried, and served with soy sauce, chili sauce, and "Taiwanese kimchi." Since I was grateful for Peter's hospitality, especially after knowing that he spent one of his break-days on me, I told him that I wanted to treat him to Taiwan's famous papaya milk. I normally hate papaya, but I thought that perhaps papaya milk would taste nice.

- I found the papaya milk store in the night market after asking around, and had to wait behind a certain group of tourists (they can easily be spotted in any country as they always travel in LARGE groups EVERYWHERE.) I had to wait longer because some of them came back complaining that they wanted warm milk, and refused to drink anything cold. The vendor was quite surprised because they never sold warm milk before, and she explained that the the papaya might spoil easily if they served the milk hot; they can only make the milk colder, but not warmer. They now complained to the tour guide, and their Taiwanese tour guide said the same thing as the vendor. The tour guide wanted to waste no time, and just told his clients that they can just drink the milk after they get back at the hotel, because by that time the milk might have settled in room temperature. I found the whole situation funny more than it was annoying, and seeing it is ten times better than reading or writing about it, because it had something to do with the intonation, expressions, and the manner of speaking.

- I finally got my papaya milk and gave the other cup to Peter. Peter thought I got lost because it took me a long time to get back to the stinky tofu stall. I sipped my papaya milk, and somehow I half-regretted buying it. I didn't like it too much because of the fresh papaya taste. Again, this is just me, because I am not a fan of papaya in general. The other part of me that doesn't regret buying it tell me that at least I was able to satisfy my curiosity.

With stinky tofu and papaya milk.
- Peter and I went around the two night markets. Honestly, I did not feel that they were quite big, although I must say that there were really a lot of stalls there, most of them selling food, as with most if not all night markets in Taiwan. The non-food stalls sold usual items like clothes, bags, and accessories, or offered games with prizes (i.e. dart balloon, crane/claw machine, etc.) There were no souvenirs in both Kaisyuan and Jinzuan.

- Peter and I parted ways just as I got to the Formosa Boulevard Station to change MRT lines and go back to my hostel, while he headed back to the military base. I had a short walk at the banks of the Love River before going back to my hostel. There are some gondola ride services available for those who want.

Love River at night.
- I returned to my hostel at almost 9 in the evening. By the way, my hostel is Lukot Inn, and is really affordable, although my only concern was that the hostel only had one restroom located at the ground floor, and my room was at the third floor. The stairs with big steps were quite steep too. However, the hostel does provide some amenities, has free wifi, and the owner was always quick in responding to e-mails. Since I stayed for seven nights, I also got to pay for only 6 nights, with one night free!!

My tiny tiny room. I was outside the door when I took this photo..
My hostel's gate.
- I started my second day really early because I wanted to do a photoshoot at the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist complex. At around 7 in the morning, I rode the MRT to Zuoying Station got off, and initially wanted to hop on board the E-Da bus going to Fo Guang Shan, but waiting for the bus in the bus terminal (which by the way is located right in front of the MRT and Zuoying High Speed Rail stations) would take too long, so I took a cab to Fo Guang Shan. It was a rather expensive taxi ride; taxis in Taiwan are a bit pricey and have different base fares depending on the county/city/province.

- I arrived at the massive and so-far tranquil Fo Guang Shan Buddha Memorial Hall around half-past seven, and I was delighted to see almost no one in the area, except for the temple staff, and a few early visitors. The shops and museums in the temple open at 8:30 in the morning, but the area is open way before 8:30. I also decided to wear my mustard-yellow gyerang hanbok set (shirt and pants) since most Buddhist monks wear this color, as well as other colors like maroon, saffron, gray, or black, depending on which country and sector of Buddhism the monks come from. As for me, I only wore the red cloth during the photoshoot, and removed it afterwards. By the way, the Fo Guang Shan Memorial Hall and the monastery do not require entrance fees, and all activities (except for food) do not require fees as well.

"Fo Guang Shan Memorial Hall."

The main hall.
I feel enlightened.

Trying to dress up like a Tibetan monk; disclaimer - none of the things I wore were authentic Buddhist clothes, except for the shoes.
View of the main entrance from the main hall.
The golden Buddha just looked perfect.
- Inside the main hall, there are museums on Buddhist relics and Buddhist holidays. There was even a theater where people can watch the life of Siddhartha Gautama, although it was only in Mandarin without subtitles, and can be a problem for non-speakers of Mandarin. Taiwan, in general, was one of the places where knowing Mandarin can go a long way, since finding English speakers can be quite difficult. I am glad I can still converse in decent Mandarin, or else I will bring shame to my whole family tree (half-joking here.)

The main hall up close.
Biography of monk Hsinyun, founder of the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist order.

One of the most important mudras.
Monk Hsin Yun's wax statue.

The face is a projected on the statue, and so the Buddha can talk.

Maitreya's birthday.

Avalokiteshvara or Kwanima. She sprays mists of water upon triggering a sensor.


Flow of Buddhistm in Asia.
Reclining Buddha.
- After watching the film, I decided to visit the monastery part (usually named "Fo Guang Shan" or "Fo Guang Shan Monastery" in the signs) of the complex. It is located on a separate part of the complex, and it would take around 5-10 minutes of uphill walking from the Buddhist complex. I am very thankful that my friend Gail, who used to be an exchange student in Taiwan (coincidentally at NSYSU,) could not stop stressing and reminding me to visit the monastery, since it was equally majestic as the memorial hall. Since not a lot of people know about the monastery area, or many might not want to hike up, the monastery is less visited and more peaceful than the memorial hall. I went to the bus stop near the exit and followed the arrow up the slope to the monastery, but somehow I found myself at the wrong end of the monastery, and I had to ask some gardeners how to enter the monastery compound. The security guard who showed me the proper entrance thought I was  a monastery staff because of my mustard yellow attire. Once I thanked him, I realized that one thing Taiwan has to improve on is clarity of the signs that point directions, because a lot of them can be incomplete, vague, or non-existent. By this time, this was not the only time I got lost in a place because of these kinds of signs, and I encountered more situations like these in my 11 days in Taiwan. I know I am not alone when I say this because I have encountered blogs that have made this remark, and other tourists I've seen who seemed to be confused with some of these signs as well as I was. Despite this, Taiwan impressed me with its hospitable and helpful citizens. All the Taiwanese I asked help from were able to help me, and patiently pointed directions to me in great detail.

Outside the visitor's center.
An elephant family standing opposite the lion family.
- I found my way in the monastery compound, and found my way to the great hall where giant golden Buddhas were placed, surrounded by plenty of tiny Buddhas. There were also some galleries and some restaurants. Most of the restaurants in Fo Guang Shan are vegetarian buffet, and the payment was by donation. Other than these, places, there are also several gardens and a dormitory and some classrooms for the monks.

Monks just walkin' by.
Central hall in the monastery.
No photoshop here.

All the lamp posts are "supported" by flying apsaras. 

Golden Buddha Pagoda.
Jade Buddha Pagoda.
This somehow gave me the impression of "Sister Act," Buddhist style.
- Before I left the monastery part, I passed through a long hall that had plenty of life-sized moving mannequins of Buddhist monks, saints, and other magical beings. They moved when hidden laser sensors sense motion, and since I was alone in this series of halls, I was generally freaked out when the mannequins would suddenly move or chant. I found this special attraction unique and magical, as long as I won't be alone if ever I get to visit it again.

They move!!

The status in front are as tall as I am or probably taller.
- On the way back to the memorial hall, I passed by a standing golden Buddha lined with smaller golden Buddhas, and the slope to the exit/entrance was densely decorated with stupas. I went inside a gift shop to look around and cool off, before finally finding my way back to the memorial hall.

Plenty of golden Buddhas.

 -  I took some photographs back at the memorial hall, and went to the visitor's center to cool off once again. The visitor's center was a small shopping arcade with a 7 Eleven, a Starbucks, and some fine-dining restuarants (I still prefer eating in the vegetarian buffet places though.) The second floor had some lecture halls, the biggest dining hall for the vegetarian buffet, and an outdoor area. Thankfully, I was able to catch a free puppet theater. The puppet theater featured four presentations. The first one was about a boy with a magic pot that could multiply things, and some greedy palace officials accidentally multiplied one of them. The second one showed the story of a crane that wanted to eat a turtle, but in the end the turtle bit the neck of the crane instead. The third and fourth numbers were dance numbers, and the puppets danced just as gracefully as the puppeteers who handled them.

A better image of the gate's view from the main hall.
Reminded me of the pyramids.
Puppet show with the actual golden Buddha in the background.
The old man is actually a real man wearing a puppet mask.

Plenty of greedy officials.
I love the design on the turtle's shell.

Flying crane.
Turtle's victory.
One of my favorite numbers.
It's difficult to make the cloth flow gracefully when people do it, and even more difficult when a person makes a puppet do it.

Final pose.
The finale dance.

- Finally, I rode the E-Da bus back to the the bus terminal in front of Zuoying High Speed Rail (HSR) and Zuoying Metro, and went to Nanhua Night Market and Liuhe Night Market, both located within the vicinity of the Formosa Boulevard Station. Nanhua Market was a small alley that mostly sold modern clothes. I was not too interested in the things being sold there, so I quickly went to Liuhe Night Market for dinner. Liuhe Night Market is ranked as the best night market for tourists and is open every night. I was warned by friends about the tourist prices in Liuhe, but because it was the only night market in Kaohsiung that sold Taiwan souvenirs, I bought a few souvenirs from the stores there. Take note it only had three stores selling souvenirs (i.e. keychains, magnets, etc.) and around two to three selling Taiwan t-shirts (ex. I ♥ Taiwan shirts,) so there were not a lot of choices. Most stalls still sold food, toys, or had games like the other night markets.

Just normal clothes.
Ah,, the tourist night market!!
Literally a street market.
- For dinner, I ate in Jin Ri She Yuan (Today Snake Restaurant) in Liuhe Night Market. I read about this in other blogs before I left for Taiwan and felt a bit adventurous. My mom told me not to eat snake in fear of my tummy not settling well with snake meat, but I did anyway (sorry mom, YOLO.) For those interested, it's hard to miss this restaurant, especially after being the only snake restaurant in the whole night market. It also has a large cobra picture on above the restaurant's name. The restaurant has been featured in many newspaper articles (as displayed in their restaurant.) The restaurant boasts its fresh snakes that are caged and easily seen by customers. All their dishes have snake by the way. Aside from the dishes, they also have snake wine similar to the ones sold in other parts of Asia like Vietnam or Cambodia. As for me, I ordered stir-fried snake skin and tendon with herbs, stir-fried snake meat with herbs, and snake with gravy on white rice. As I took my first bite, I realized that snake meat tasted like chicken with squid-like texture. I enjoyed my meal, although it was rather pricey (around 250 NTD per dish.) I just couldn't give up the chance to taste something like this; who knows when I'll be able to in the future? Well, my tummy enjoyed the meal, and I really want to go back and taste their other dishes. I have no regrets at all (I'm looking at you, papaya milk.)

Snake with gravy on white rice and stir-fried snake skin and tendon with herbs.
Chewy snake skin,
Stir-fried snake meat with herbs.
-  I went around Liuhe Night Market after dinner, which was around a two-block long street market. It had a lot of interesting street food too, mostly seafood, since Kaohsiung is near the sea. If I had not stuffed myself with snake that night, and if I wanted to get messy, I would've bought myself some lobster!!

- I had to return to my hostel afterwards, and have an early shuteye for my out-of-Kaohsiung day trip the next day; I shall explore more of Kaohsiung in part 3 of this series. So far, Taiwan has given me good impressions, except for the Kaohsiung heat, the vague directions, and the papaya milk, but if I had enjoyed my stay during my first two days, who knew what else Taiwan had in store for me?  

**** For more information on Taiwan, please also visit Go! Taiwan. Just click on the photo below!!

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