Hi, Michelle here! While Paul was working last week at home in Bangkok I was exploring two new Asian cities. Though I prefer to travel with Paul, it was nice to get out and about on my own. There is something special about traveling solo - something you don't get when traveling with a partner. Locals and fellow travelers are more likely to strike up conversation so you get great local insight, and it's way easier to play the damsel in distress card when needed ;).
My first stop was Taipei, Taiwan. The weather was incredibly hot and humid, rivaling the weather in Bangkok. I found the people friendly and welcoming, proud to show off what Taipei has to offer. Taiwan, officially the R.O.C. or the Republic of China (China is officially the People's Republic of China - PRC), is a small island nation to the east of China and is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. Their political status is a major cause for contention in Taiwanese politics. Mainland China claims that Taiwan is one of the many provinces of China, denying the status of a sovereign state to Taiwan. Many Taiwanese, of course, would disagree. Needless to say learning about Taiwan's politics, experiencing modern culture, and seeing the main sites around the city was a blast and a great way to kick off the first part of my summer break. Enjoy the pictures!
Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall commemorates Chiang Kai-Shek (1887-1975), the president of Taiwan for 30 years and ruler of Mainland China for 22 years. On the right, the changing of the guards ceremony at the memorial.
On the right is the beautiful National Theatre - shows included ballets, cultural dances and traditional music performances.
People preparing for bwa-bwei in the Longshan Temple
Bwa-Bwei is a ritual in the temples meant to guide prayer. It is one of the ways the Taiwanese communicate with and ask for guidance from the gods. Here is a brief summary on how it works: First you go to the temple with a specific question for which you would like guidance. You go to the temple several days before you plan to Bwa-Bwei at the temple and write down your question on a red piece of paper along with your name, home address and date of birth. This is to help the gods locate you and do some research on your question before hand. A few days later, you go back to the temple and you choose a wooden stick (featured in the picture above). You should mix up the sticks before choosing and then choose the stick that sticks out to you (so to speak). Place it on the alter.
Now you take the two half moon wooden pieces (featured above) in your hands. Bring them to your shoulders and let them fall to the ground. If one of the half moon wooden pieces lands face up and one down the answer is 'yes,' you have the correct stick. If your half moons both fall on the curved side, it means you have asked an odd question or the gods are not sure what the answer is - you need to choose another stick or change your question. If they both end up faced on the flat side, it means you have not chosen the right stick and you need to choose another. Your blocks must land the same way three times in a row for the answer to be valid. You must continue throwing until you get a clear answer.
Once you have the correct stick, you must take your stick to one of the clerks in the temple and they will write the answer that corresponds to the number on your stick on a piece of paper for you to take home. Each fortune falls into one of nine degrees of fortune ranging from good, middle, and bad. If you got a good-good fortune, your question would result in something super desirable and if the result was bad-bad, the result is awful and is likely to end in serious injury or death.
The older buildings and temples are surrounded by modern buildings creating an old-meets-new contrast in the cityscape.
View of the city from Maokong Mountain
Tea-roasted hard boiled eggs are a common snack - you can find them in 7-11 stores to eat on the go.
Because it looked like a storm was coming in, the gondola ride to the bottom of the mountain was shut down temporarily. This Taiwanese family adopted me for a short time after finding out I was traveling alone. They invited me along to hike with them. The Mom, Kathleen, is a high school English teacher in the city and was enjoying her summer vacation.
A Taiwanese cemetery - Kathleen told me not to take a picture of it (after I already had) because the spirits might be present in my photo. Fortunately none made it in.
Taiwan is a very mountainous country and the city center is a short ride away from great hiking in Yangmingshan National Park. Though Taipei sees many summer tourists, this trail was almost completely empty.
A hospital in downtown Taipei
Children playing a carnival game, fishing for crayfish and scooping them into a bucket to take home
A night food market in downtown Taipei
Taipei's public transport system was surprisingly good. Biking is also a big deal in the downtown area with lots of biking lanes on the sidewalks and roads.
The National Palace Museum in the Shilin District
The Confucius Temple
To the left is the building that you might recognize from Taipei's cityscape called Taipei 101, formally the Taipei World Financial Center. It was the world's largest building until Buri Khalifa in Dubai came around. It is a LEED platinum building making it the tallest and largest "green" building in the world.