Monday, November 24, 2014

Naruwan Taiwan (Part 5): The Big Finale and the Ultimate Alumni Challenge - Taipei!!

- November 18-19, 2014, Tuesday to Wednesday.

- The big finale to my Taiwan adventures brings me to where else but the capital - Taipei. I was calmly excited for my Taipei trip because I could finally go through some of the popular places that most tourists have gone to, although my heart still stays with the indigenous spirit of Sun Moon Lake.

- Taking off from my previous post (click here,) I left Sun Moon Lake riding the first bus to Taichung HSR, and had an hour and a half train ride to Taipei. I went to my hostel (Homey Hostel,) conveniently located a 5-minute walk from the Taipei Main Station, where the HSR, TRA, MRT, and the main bus station(s) meet in a rather confusing manner (I shall expound on this gradually.) Taipei was a lot colder (but not frigid) and cloudier than Sun Moon Lake, although I was more than thankful that it wasn't raining anymore when I arrived in Taipei; several weeks prior, it rained heavily almost everyday in Taipei. Also, the rain and almost-winter cold weather would be a bad combination; I didn't want to get sick!! As a bonus by the heavens, the sun peaks once in a while too, giving me hope that I will enjoy my short stay in Taipei.

- After leaving my things in the hostel, I got lost looking for the MRT entrance, and found another entrance to the large underground mall that connects to the train stations. It took me a good 5 to 10 minutes before finding for the MRT station. Oh, and Taipei uses the Easy Card (aka Yoyo Card,) so I had to remember to keep away my Kaohsiung I-Pass to prevent mixing them up. As explained in my first post (click here,) the Easy Card can be used in MRTs, public buses, purchases in some convenience stores, bike rentals, and other services. While talking about travelling, I'd like to mention as early as now that most tourists would usually only need the blue and red MRT lines, both of which are currently the only ones that intersect at the Taipei Main Station. The red line goes north to south, and the blue line goes east to west.

- My plan for the day was to visit places from south to north, since my supposed last stop for the day was the Shilin market at the north of the city. However, I realized that most museums and shrines that had opening and closing times were mostly located in the northern areas, so I decided to shift my route from north to south, visiting the museums and shrines first while the day was young, and then go back up north.

- The northernmost place I visited was the Ketagalan Culture Center in Xinbeitou, accessible by walking from the Xinbeitou MRT Station. The culture center was made in remembrance of the Ketagalan people that used to live in that part of Taiwan. This group has now been scattered and their language is now, sadly, extinct. The small three-story museum is home to some exhibits that showcase the different Taiwanese indigenous groups. There is no entrance fee by the way. As for Beitou, although I decided not to explore much of Beitou, the place is famous for its hot springs.

Ketagalan Culture Center.
Different indigenous groups.
Found a friend to the cow statue in the Hindu Temple in Manila.
Ami people.
- I left after ten to fifteen minutes of visiting the museum, and since I had a background knowledge of the indigenous groups from my visit to the Sun Moon Lake, I was able to easily skim and scan through the exhibit and understand them as well.

- I later went to visit the Grand Hotel just to take a photo of its facade. This building, completed in the 1970s, is a rare tall building using Chinese classical architectural styles. It is located a good 15 to 20 minute walk from the Jiantian MRT Station.

Grand Hotel.

- The next on my itinerary was the Martys' Shrine of Taipei, located beside the hotel in all maps I have, but in actuality is another 20- to 30-minute walk from the Grand Hotel. While still "traumatized" from the Martys' Shrine "martyr hike" in Kaohsiung (click here,) I wanted to shout "hallelujah" when I found out that the Martys' Shrine in Taipei was located on flat ground!!

Gate of the Martys' Shrine.
Steady, steady.

The shrine itself.
- Similar to the one in Kaohsiung, this grander Martyrs' Shrine was built in the 1960s to commemorate those who have perished in the different wars that Taiwan was involved in. The architecture of this shrine resembles Beijing's Forbidden City. People who visit this shrine can witness the changing or guards, although it can be time-consuming and a bit formal, unlike the theatrical ones seen in Gyeonbokgung or Deoksugung in South Korea (click here or here.) This shrine also doesn't require an entrance fee.

March march march march.
The lines on the floor show the marching route of the guards; the lines appeared through decades of friction from the guards' shoes.
Enter the guards.

Guards have been posted.
- I rode a cab to the Longshan MRT Station, since the Martyrs' Shrine was nearer to Yuanshan MRT than Jiantian MRT. Thankfully, my next stop was going to be Yuanshan MRT anyway. I had a small international lunch at an international food court at the Yuanshan  Park's exhibition center. At the MRT Station, I also saw some signs and posters about the Yuanshan Archeological Site located within the vicinity of the Yuanshan MRT, but I was not sure how long it would take for me to go there, and I could not afford to get lost because I only had an Amazing-Rac-like limited time in Taipei. I sacrificed going to the archeological site for the meantime, although I read later on that the site museum contains unearthed Yuanshan-culture artifacts mostly from the Neolithic age. The site was discovered by the Japanese during the colonial era, but the site currently struggles for protection amid urban development.

- My real plan for being in the vicinity of Yuanshan MRT was to visit the Taipei Confucius Temple, originally built in the 1600s, and the Baoan Temple, a folk temple built in the 1800s.

Taipei Confucian Temple. It's the third Confucian Temple I've visited in Taiwan.

Baoan Temple.

Inside the temple.
I am amazed at the little people carved on the roofs and walls of the temple.

They even have tiny trees!!
Where the walls meet.
- I left the temples after brief visits, and proceeded to Shuanglian MRT Station, walked a bit more than a kilometer to visit Dadaocheng's Dihua Street. The street is not only famous as a shopping street (mostly food souvenirs,) but I was after the Japanese colonial buildings that are still being used in that narrow street.

Architecture in Dihua Street.
Japanese colonial architecture.
- Next, I went down south to have a photo taken in front of the Presidential Palace, built in the early 1900s, and currently the office of Taiwan's president. I think palace visits can be made, but should be booked way ahead of time.

Presidential Palace.

No one deserves to have a car like this. Ever.
Judicial Hall I think.
Another memorial hall, I suspect for Sun Yat Sen.
- From the palace, I got lost finding my way to the Red House, but instead found myself closer to the Mengjia Longshan Temple. The temple is located near the Longshan MRT, but is walkable from the Presidential Palace. On the way to the temple, I passed through the Bo-Pi-Liao Historic Street. This old street has buildings that still stand from the Qing Dynasty to the Japanese colonial period. Many of the buildings are still empty, but carpenters are currently working on some of them, and I assume they will be turned into souvenir shops.

Saw this gem while being lost.
Zhongximen, also known as Xiaonanmen (Little South Gate.)
Also found this on the way to the temple.
Old street.

- The Mengjia Longshan Temple was originally built by Fujianese settlers in the 1700s. Through time, it was bombed and affected by natural calamities, but it has since been rebuilt and preserved. The temple shows both Taiwanese and Southern-Chinese architecture, and as with many Chinese temples, the temple has a mix of Taoist and Buddhist influences.

One of Taiwan's more unique temples.

More little people!!

Such effort was given to these temples.
They even have color!!
- While finding the MRT Station, I saw a sign that says "Costume Street" but I had to force myself to walk away (rolling on the floor and crying buckets deep inside) because I had bought a few vests from Sun Moon Lake, and I had bought another Chinese vest in the Longshan underground market (which I initially thought was the MRT Station.) I couldn't afford to spend my remaining NTDs all in one place, and more importantly, my luggage was running out of space!!

- I rode the train to Ximen MRT Station, and visited the Red House Theater, a market-turned theater originally built in the early 1900s, but was used as a theater by mid-1900s. The main building has a distinct octagonal shape, but is joined by a cross-shaped building (when seen from above) at the back. The theater has a small museum inside at the ground floor, and the second floor with the theater is still being used as well for special performances. It also has some shops that sell some functional artworks by local artists (i.e. t-shirts, school supplies, bags, accessories, etc.)

Red House.

One of the headdresses used for a performance in the past.
Other headdresses.
- I went back to my hostel to have a brief rest, and fix my things for the day after. On the way to my hostel, I, as well as some others who needed to use the same exit, could not find the directions to my exit inside the MRT Station, because the signs to my exit were extremely small and hidden, as compared to the signs to the nearer exits (i.e. exits M3 to 7 had clear arrow signs, while directions to exits M1 and M2 were almost nowhere to be seen.) A few larger signs wouldn't hurt.

- I left my hostel after an hour's rest and went up north to visit the Shilin market, accessible via walking from the Jiantian MRT Station. At the exit, there is an underground walkway that leads to a street corner with some stalls. People can walk along this sidewalk for a minute or two, and the big night market can be seen.

A big crowd.
- Going around the market can be confusing, and has everyone a tourist may want. In my case, I wanted to look for the Shilin branch of the Modern Toilet restaurant. Needless to say, I got lost finding the restaurant, but the Taiwanese store-owners and vendors were there to help me.

- I was warned that the food can be a bit expensive, so I decided to order some shaved ice dessert instead of a meal, planning to have dessert first before my actual dinner. I just wanted to order something so I had a reason to visit the toilet-themed restaurant. I got myself some kiwi shaved ice treat with a poo-shaped chocolate ice cream, served in a urinal. This particular Modern Toilet branch in Shilin Night Market is currently located above a papaya-milk store (again, I hate papaya milk, and papayas in general.)

Hmm, my hair seems nice here.
Poo head.
My food.
The temple in Shilin Night Market.
- Seeing that the night was a bit young, I rushed off to the MRT station and went out of my way to visit Taipei 101 at the eastern side of the city. Needless to say, I forgot to eat a proper dinner that night.

- I took some photos a block or two away from Taipei 101. I made it a point to go in the evening so the building will have pretty lights. I took some photos until my camera died. Taipei 101 used to be the world's tallest skyscraper until the Burj Khalifa was built in Dubai. In Taiwan, Taipei 101 remains the tallest, bumping Kaohsiung's 85 Sky Tower (aka Tuntex Sky Tower, click here) after Taipei 101 was completed. Taipei 101 has a mall, some office spaces, an observatory, and some restaurants, to name a few.

Taipei 101.
Wearing my vest from Sun Moon Lake.
- I returned to my hostel feeling the most tired I've been since I arrived in Taiwan a week and a half earlier. I think I even slept accidentally in the middle of chatting with someone. I think my cozy room in Homey Hostel made me want to sleep more. Homey Hostel has a really homey feel, and is located on the 7th and 8th floors of a building. The hostel has some spacious common bathrooms shared by both men and women. The reception area is being managed by young Taiwanese and some foreigners (when I was there, there was a Japanese employee and a Korean employee.) They serve free a simple breakfast but I had plans of skipping that due to my itinerary the next day. They common area also has some computers, free of us. For those interested, free walking tours are available too. However, for a wild soul like me with the added time pressure, I usually like doing my own detailed itinerary and going my own way.

My things exploded. Whoops.
- The following morning, I left at almost 7 in the morning to go to the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall wearing a familiar outfit that I haven't worn in over seven years. It was awkward wearing it again, but it was fun(ny) seeing myself in the mirror sporting it like things haven't changed. I can't believe that it still fit, despite being a tiny bit chubbier through the years. I was wearing my high school uniform. Why? I grew up, from pre-nursery to senior high school, in a known Chinese school in Manila with the name and logo of Chiang Kai Shek. I felt that it was the ultimate alumni challenge to wear my uniform in front of the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall and have a photo taken. I even brought some flags with my school logo that I have collected from a certain school event in the almost distant past, although I can't recall which event that was. I also thought that this extra mile would make my Taipei trip a little more interesting, personal, and nostalgic, than the usual Taipei photos or narratives I've seen or heard elsewhere.

- The Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall is currently located near the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial MRT Station. Although the shrine itself opens at around 9am, the open areas are forever open, and many people use this open space to do their morning exercise. As for me, I went there early and use the open space for my pictorial. The CKS Memorial Hall was built in the 1970s to honor former president Chiang Kai Shek. Former president/Generalissimo Chiang Kai Shek pushed for the nationalist movement, and pushed for traditional Chinese culture.

CKS Memorial Hall.
Mission accomplished!!
Can't believe that....I still look the same as I did in high school.

Formal shoot.
- I stopped my pictorial session after I saw tour-guide flags from afar. It was almost 9am, and so I went to the main hall, together with the other tourists. The giant doors slid open, and the guards were already positioned, ready to do their routine for the guard placement ceremony. I marveled at the giant seated statue of Chiang Kai Shek as the minute guards (in comparison to Chiang Kai Shek's statue) were doing their precise choreography.

Up the stairs; still wearing my uniform.
View of the National Theater Hall, the gate, and the National Concert Hall from the Memorial Hall.
Avengers assemble!!

There he is, Chiang Kai Shek.

With a guard.
- After taking some photos, I changed to casual street clothes (conveniently in blue and white as well, like the building,) and prepared to leave, when I suddenly remembered that the Memorial Hall had some galleries and exhibition halls. I turned back and went to the Memorial Hall, and entered one of the side gates that led to the exhibition rooms. The main exhibition rooms showed some of Chiang Kai Shek's possessions, like old cars, clothes, and furniture. The other galleries were being used by other artists and exhibitors. I also decided to have brunch in one of the small cafes located in the Memorial Hall. At least it had air-conditioning.

With chibi Chiang Kai Shek.
This has to be the cutest version of Chiang Kai Shek I've seen. Blush on for the win.
Inside the exhibition hall.
Wanna have his clothes.

I like his style.
- I finally left the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall with one last dramatic look before going to the MRT Station. I got lost finding the MRT Station, and the security guard pointed me the opposite direction (where the farther exit was, so he was technically correct,) but thankfully, I trusted my guts and found the same nearer exit that I used earlier that day.

- I went east and visited the Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall, a good complement to visiting the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall; Sun Yat Sen was a good friend and ally of Chiang Kai Shek. The Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall is located beside the Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall a few stations away from Taipei Main Station. Obviously, it was built, also in the 1970s, to honor Sun Yat Sen, the first president of Taiwan, and one of the key figures in the democratic movement. Come to think of it, Sun Yat Sen and Chiang Kai Shek's partnership and mindsets are comparable (though not exactly equivalents) to India's Jawaharlal Nehru, and Mahatma Gandhi, with Sun Yat Sen, who was more open to foreign influences and thoughts, being Nehru's counterpart, and Chiang Kai Shek, who was more traditional, being Gandhi's counterpart.

Taipei 101 from the Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall.

Hard to capture the whole building.
Sun Yat Sen.
- The memorial hall (free entrance) had a few galleries up to the third floor, with some permanent exhibits showing Sun Yat Sen's life and his milieu, and other galleries exhibiting artworks by other artists. Souvenir shops can be found in the memorial hall too. I was also fortunate to catch the changing of guards being done in front of the giant seated Sun Yat Sen, almost similar to the Chiang Kai Shek statue in the CKS Memorial Hall.

Large painting of Sun Yat Sen.
Changing of guards.

I went outside for a whilel; there were a lot of people inside.
Another attempt to capture the whole building.
Sun Yat Sen.
With the guard.
From the second floor.
- I departed after going through the galleries, and headed up north to Shilin Station to visit the National Palace Museum (entrance fee required, no photos allowed inside.) Since I could not find the bus stop, I just rode the cab to the museum, which was 10 minutes away by car. One of the things I liked about the museum was that it had a designated transportation stop for cabs and buses, so it would not be difficult for me to look for the commuter bus that would take me back to the MRT station.

- The palace-like museum was built in the mid-1960s as an offshoot of Beijing's Palace Museum after Taiwan separated from China. Taiwan's National Palace Museum houses a vast collection of artifacts from prehistoric China onwards. The exhibit halls in each of the three floors are themed based on period (ex. Tang Dynasty, Ming Dynasty,) or other miscellaneous themes like religion (ex. Confucian or Buddhist,) or type of artifact (ex. exhibit on pottery, calligraphy, or bronze works.)

At the courtyard. of the National Palace Museum.
- A 2-minute walk away from the National Palace Museum is the Shung Ye Museum of Aboriginal Cultures (entrance fee required, no photos allowed inside.) It was another small museum, built in the early 1990s, to exhibit the different indigenous cultures of Taiwan. I preferred the exhibits here more than the ones in Ketagalan Culture Center, because Shung Ye Museum of Aboriginal Cultures had more exhibit pieces; it also had a 3D theater which showed an interesting child-friendly narrative on the indigenous history of Taiwan until the Dutch colonial period, fast-forwarding to contemporary times. Since I was the only visitor when I went there, watching the 3D theater alone was a bit scary.

It was nice inside. Too bad no photos were allowed.
- I visited the small museum shop afterwards, before going back to the National Palace Museum to take the commuter bus back to Shilin MRT Station; it was definitely a cheaper option. I discovered that the bus stop near the station was a five-minute walk away around a corner, which makes it hard to find by people who are not used to the area (again, there was a lack of arrows that point to the bus stop.) This is why I am usually averse to taking public buses anywhere (unless I have no option) - either because waiting for the buses may take a long time, or because the bus stations are hard to find, or because the bus routes just may seem overwhelming, especially for people who are in a hurry. (Trains lines are easier to study.)

- I rode the train back to Taipei Main Station, and had a late lunch (or heavy snack?) at the nearby KFC on the way to my hostel, because I was weirdly craving for fried chicken. (Come to think of it, any time can be fried chicken time. Haha.) By the way, Taiwan's KFC had egg tarts instead of chocolate brownies. After eating, I went to my hostel and spent the next five and a half hours repacking my bag, and giving myself the long rest that I needed at the hostel's lobby.

Homey Hostel had streamers with different flags. India and Philippines were placed beside each other, coincidentally.
- I left the hostel around half past eight in the evening, half an hour earlier than originally planned. Based on my experiences in the last 11 days in Taiwan, I had a feeling I would get lost looking for Taipei West Bus Station, which had the airport-bound buses. True enough, I got lost yet again. While the mistake on my part was misreading the map, I went to the underground mall that initially had arrows to the bus stop. The arrows then disappeared, but took me to a bigger underground mall. I found the (small) arrows to the bus stop, and after arriving, I saw the bus company "Guo Guang," but could not find the airport-bound buses. The lady at the counter informed me that the company was right ("Guo Guang,") but the bus stop I was looking for was located at another area. She showed me the directions, and pointed out that the bus station (Taipei West Bus Station) I was looking for was at the other side of the Taipei Main Station building. I walked through the halls and streets like a model doing an intense runway walk. A random man on the street helped me show the way too, and I arrived at the bus station sweaty. I bought my bus ticket, and headed to Terminal 1 of the airport; the airport has 2 terminals, and while there is a list of airlines for each terminal available in the station, it's still better to know which terminal your airline is to a few seconds of your life. (I overlooked this piece of information, so I had to look for Cebu Pacific in the list.)

- I cooled off in the bus that took us to Taoyuan International Airport. It was a good 40- to 45-minute bus drive because there was less traffic that night. With traffic, the trip from Taipei to Taoyuan International Airport could reach to an hour or a few minutes past an hour. Since I somehow predicted that I would get lost and left the hostel early, I arrived at the airport on time (well, actually, 10 minutes earlier than expected.)

- I was deadbeat tired in the airport while waiting for my flight. That trip to the airport was an adventure in itself. Despite this, the past 11 days had been great, with plenty of new experiences and realizations. I outdid myself by organizing a cross-country itinerary, which was something I have never done before, and speaking Mandarin from day-break to day-end day by day, which was something I never did my whole life (yes we learned Mandarin in school, but we only used Mandarin in our afternoon Chinese classes, and spoke Hokkien at home or with most of our Chinese teachers outside the classroom.) I also realized that because it was my first time in Taiwan, and I got lost almost half the time I was there, my favorite phrase there was "請問/请问...." (may I ask....) There was also a soothing and satisfactory pleasure in seeing traditional written Chinese, which is still being widely-used in Taiwan, unlike mainland China and many overseas Chinese communities where the simplified style has been adapted; I grew up learning the traditional style, and only learned the simplified style when I was in junior year high school when my high school alma mater's Chinese curriculum made a transition to learning both traditional and simplified characters in all levels, and not just the traditional style. (Needless to say I have some difficulty reading a few "common" simplified characters whenever I visit China or read mainland-Chinese written works, since I do not have a deep background in reading/writing simplified Chinese characters.) Apart from linguistic concerns, I was also relieved that I was able to finish my itinerary - even with a few additional destinations - because my friends who have seen my itinerary prior to the trip have warned me that I might not have enough time to finish everything, especially my Taipei itinerary. Of course, the highlight was still to check some items off my life's bucket list, like eating snake (and enjoying it!!) dancing with indigenous people in Sun Moon Lake, and wearing my high school uniform in front of the CKS Memorial Hall. Overall, despite my sore legs, I could say that I definitely had fulfilling trip to Taiwan.

Cooled off with Japanese Ramune at the airport.


- I am back in Manila, and the first two things I did were sleep, and have a haircut. My hairstylist could not make my bangs really short like before, because he wanted to cover the uneven color of my face; I got sunburnt in Taiwan (I am blaming Kaohsiung and Tainan for this haha,) and most of my face and arms are darker than usual, with the not too exposed spots remaining fairer.

- I also told my mom that I ate snake, and while she reminded me in her sharp Hokkien tone that she told me not to eat snake, she was VERY curious to know what snake tasted like. Again, it tasted like chicken with the texture of squid.

- Some friends have asked where my next destination would be, and to be honest I still have no idea, and I am not scheduling any trips abroad since I need to deal with my thesis, and so I can get over with it and graduate.

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


  1. Hello Gilbert! I'll join one of your trips sometime, if you don't mind. :D - Emy

    See you around, AC! :DD

    1. Hihi!! Thanks for reading!!

      If ever that happens, I hope you and your legs won't curse me, since mine did. :)) :)) :)) :))

  2. You're so adventurous, Ahya Gilbert!
    And kudos to wearing the CKSC uniform at the Chiang Kai Shek Hall! Ultimate Alumni challenge nga haha


    1. Ikaw din kaya. Hahahaha. I was reading your blog the other day. Hahahaha.