Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Day 8: Way Up North

On the cards for the day was a tour of the North coast with Mr Meeky Yang, a tourist taxi driver who had come highly recommended, courtesy of the kind folks at Tripadvisor's forum on Taiwan. I started the day somewhat apprehensive. HM had opted out of the day's proceedings, preferring to indulge in a little light shopping. Would I survive the day in the company of a total stranger? Would my limited Chinese language skills stand up to the test?

As it turned out, I needn't have worried. Mr Yang put me at ease from the get go - he was very prompt indeed. He was there in the lobby waiting when I went donwstairs at 8 a.m. And by the time we reached the verdant hills liningTaiwan's north coast, he had proven himself to be genial and softspoken, even complimenting me on my spoken Mandarin and managing to sound sincere while doing so! He was also interesting to talk to. Of all things he claimed to be a big admirer of Singapore. I would be too - or at least profess to be - if a large proportion of my clientele base came from Singapore! He seemed genuinely impressed though, talking knowledgeably about Singapore's compulsory savings scheme, CPF. At least I think that's what we were talking about...

Our first stop was Yeliu Geological Park.

the weather was all gloom and doom at first

more gloomy weather

Fortunately the weather cleared up a little.

the place was overrun with tourists but...

.... the landscape was undoubtedly striking

Yeliu's specialty was rocks shaped by wind and water into interesting shapes...

Queen Nefertiti

the top of a teapot

spot the sandal

a submerged pachyderm

a giant's checkerboard

I heart Taipei

I was surprised to find that it was very birdy.

woah birds!

At first there didn't seem to be many birds; perhaps it was relatively late in the morning, I thought.

ok, an egret, no big deal

Then I spotted some bazooka-wielding birders who looked like they meant business (don't they always!) and decided to tag along. Using some meal worms and recorded bird calls, they lured some unsuspecting birds into a photoshoot.

a juvenile pale thrush

a siberian rubythroat

I was pretty pleased - both birds were lifers for me.

er, is that garbage?

Outside the park, I waited for Mr Yang to pick me up ("Call me and let the phone ring twice!") Meanwhile, I grabbed a quick breakfast at the 7-11, a hotdog (32NT/S$1.60) and a bottle of milk tea.

Back in the car, the first thing Mr Yang asked me was whether I had stayed behind the yellow line, the safety line that reminded visitors to stand well clear of the edge of the cliff. He recounted an incident that had happened several years before, when five tourists from mainland China had ignored their tour guide's pleas to mind the yellow line and had fallen into the choppy water when a huge gust of wind suddenly toppled them over the edge. In the end, he said, shaking his head, only two of them had been saved. That was apparently not the end of the story - the tour guide who had tried his best to keep his clients safe had had his licence suspended while investigations were ongoing. Although he was later judged to have discharged his duties responsibly, the poor unfortunate man lost months of income in the meantime.

I took the opportunity to ask Mr Yang what the Taiwanese thought of their mainland counterparts. Without any rancour in his voice, he cited a number of examples where mainlanders "did not fit in", whether as tourists or migrant workers. He spoke of Chinese tourists who wore their pyjamas to breakfast at their hotels, spat everywhere, even indoors, and spoke loudly and brashly, and Chinese migrant workers who refused to work overtime (although consequently they could always be counted on to find a faster, more efficient way of doing things!) He diplomatically explained all this as manifestation of the "cultural differences" between the two. Nevertheless, he said there was some friction. One Taiwanese hotel chain had created a bit of controversy by deciding not to accept any bookings from Chinese tour groups. The hotel chain had decided to aim for the higher end of the market and had argued that the presence of Chinese tour groups was a big turn-off for their well-heeled and more sophisticated Japanese and Korean guests.

Time passed quickly. We arrived at Teresa Teng's grave. Not being a fan per se, it was not on my itinerary but Mr Yang said we might as well "drop by", since it was enroute to my next stop, the Ju Ming Museum. As we drove up, a Japanese tour bus pulled away, leading Mr Yang to remark in a most pleased tone that I would now have the place to myself. It was not often so, given the hoards of Japanese fans who visited every year.

Teresa's hits emanated from this giant music box

a focus of pilgramage

prime property

As we drove off, I noted the size of the plots and the beautiful view. Clearly Jinshan was for the rich and wealthy.

The Ju Ming Museum was equally expansive. A sprawling space, it was part park, part gallery.

the view from the museum

No doubt this was necessary - the artist's ouevre spanned the range of forms, from murals...

... to sculptures. Everything was larger than life! My favourites were the ones in stone and metal, not so much the ones in wood. The running themes seemed to be:

people and relationships

people and relationships

people and relationships

people and relationships

or just people


Mother, I think this was called:



Oddly enough, the military featured a lot:








The rather clever Zipper series:

the Zipper series

the Zipper series

the Zipper series

The Taiji Series - amazing how something as immovable as stone can be made to depict movement and force:




And then there were those just depicting a slice of life really:

a slice of life

a slice of life

a slice of life

a slice of life

Of course, as with any other artist, there was the autobiographical:

Ju Ming as a young goatherd

Some galleries featured the works of other artists:


as well as an entire path with murals, by young and upcoming artists, on both sides:

mural by other artist

mural by other artist

mural by other artist

mural by other artist

mural by other artist

The little ones were not forgotten:

Children Art Centre (sic)

outside the Children Art Centre

Children as artists

Let's not forget Nature as artist:

Chinese bulbul



Part of the attraction of Taiwan, I was discovering, was the great outdoors and, in winter, the lovely weather. To be able to enjoy hours of art and nature's beauty was a pleasure indeed. In the end, I spent a pleasant two hours there. It was past lunchtime and I was hungry. Hopefully there would be something to eat Jiufen.

Unfortunately, it being a Saturday, Jiufen was very crowded. Our car inched up the narrow mountainside road, behind umpteen tour buses and family cars. Apparently, everyone was out to savour the delights of this "old town".

When we finally arrived at our destination, the first item on my agenda was food. I found a small eatery:

looked popular enough

and had my first taste of fishballs Taiwanese style - not bad at all!

lu rou fan and fishball soup

Thus fortified, I went out in search of nan gua bing aka pumpkin biscuits which I had been tasked to buy.

Jiufen was all narrow staircases, even narrower lanes, all higgledy piggledy, lined by conserved old houses.

steep narrow staircases

Its main claim to fame was as the set for the movie, "City of Sadness".

famous movie set

more City of Sadness

a look back in time

Other than being picturesque, the town was obviously renowned for its traditional products (I found the nan gua bing which was flying off the shelves) and its rather pretty views.

Amidst the madness, I chanced upon a small shop that was clearly popular.

long queue at Ah Yi's QQ Tapioca Balls

I wasn't sure if it was the views that Ah Yi was famous for - down in the basement where we sat, you could gaze at the sea while eating - or if it was the eponymous tapioca balls. I had me a bowl of tapioca (taro) balls in red bean soup - it was tasty but more HM's cup of tea than mine.

Anyway, after two hours of jostling with the crowds, I had had enough. I bade goodbye to Jiufen - perhaps a return visit one day, on a weekday, might be a good idea.

eeeee so cute

I was worn out and asked to return to Taipei City. Mr Yang was concerned - was I sure I didn't want to proceed to Keelung Miaokou Night Market as originally planned. I assured him that I had had a wonderful day and was done for the day. We drove back to Taipei City in companionable silence (I must have dozed off at some point) and it was with great pleasure that I paid Mr Yang his fee of 3000NT for the day.

Back at TS Hotel, HM complained that the room had been cold. To warm up, we returned to Taoyuan Jie for more ribsticking beef noodles.

We then adjourned to Meetfresh, a Taipei City dessert chain.

I had hot chin chow - an acquired taste HM insisted - and ginger soup, with mixed beans

HM had, what else, taro balls with red bean soup!

The hot desserts were just what we needed on a cool night in Taipei.


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