Pusan, a whirlwind tour

“Get rid of your politicians, then”, Jin, our tour guide commented while on a bus trip.This was her frank response to one tourmember’s comment about the dismal state of our roads compared to Busan’s , due to corruption in our government. Indeed, Pusan‘s infrastructures and road networks are world class, which made us ,Filipino tourists ,wept when reminded of the sorry state of our roads .

Our tour group were on a five day tour of Pusan, South Korea. We arrived  at Gimhae International airport after approximately 4 hours air travel from Manila. Our first stop on the first day of tour was the Busan Tower which sits atop Yongdusan Hill.The viewdeck at the top gives an idea about Busan’s landscape which is dotted by numerous buildings , set against  the rocky mountains. One could see from atop, the busy harbor, because Busan is  South Korea’s main port for international cargo.It  is very near Southern Japan, that  on a clear day, it is said one can even see Tsushima Island of Japan.

Busan Tower

Busan’s landscape

South Koreans must be a romantic lot.Padlocks brought by lovestruck couples adorned the fence outside the tower.

Lovelocks

Afterwards,we passed through the submarine or underground tunnel on the way to HALLYEO NATIONAL PARK which is composed of 400 islands and islets.Many tourists, local and foreign ,visit this scenic historical park. Admiral Yi, defeated the Japanese invaders in 1562 using turtle ships so called because the ironclad ships had protrusions like the shells of  turtles. We reached one the islands, Sinseondae ,via cablecar.It was the place of victory of Admiral Yi.We hiked to the top of Mt.Mireuk at 461 meters.

Path to the top of Mt.Mireuk

Mt.Mireuk at 461 meters

view from Sinseondae

Colorful blooms dotted the paths .The view was breathtaking—the islands and islets  set against the calm blue sea, were postcard pretty.This place is a must see when you visit Busan.

Postcard-pretty vista

As dusk fell, our bus made a hurried trip to the Goseong dinosaur Museum in SANGJOGAM COUNTRY PARK. Our tour guide told us to run because the museum was due to close for the day.She was going to show us  the spot where we can see  one of the fossilized dinosaur footprints, said to be over 100million years old.After  almost a kilometer of  hurriedly jogging ,and then climbing down slippery steps to the beach, she showed us the footprint. Our groupmates, huffing and puffing, were dismayed to undergo such hardship only to be shown some rocky indentation .

dinosaur footprint?

Goseong Dinosaur Museum

We were skeptical about our guide’s claim. Anyway, we just enjoyed the beautiful scenery and landscaped garden on our way back to the main building.The museum  had an interesting collection of real dinosaur fossils and footprints on exhibit. There were also a number of  giant dinosaur models.

We arrived at our hotel very late at night,because our bus driver, even with the aid of a GPS, was lost a number of times, once even almost ditching the bus into the water. We were very tired  because of the day’s activities but the luxury of our Hotel C Palace  resort in Geoje assured a restful sleep.Our room was very nice as it overlooks the sea with the mountain as backdrop.

view from our room at Hotel C Palace REsort

GYEONGJU -We had an early start the next day.We proceeded to Gyeongju ,the capital of the ancient kingdom of Silla , the ruling dynasty of  most of the Korean Peninsula between the 7th and 9th centuries. A vast number of archaeological sites and cultural properties from this period remain in the city. Gyeongju is often referred to as “the museum without walls” where several historical treasures can be found. The rain didn’t dampen our curiosity in making our first stop for the day– the SHILLA Millennium Park ,a theme park  which showcases the history and culture of the Shilla Period.It is also famous as the shooting place  for the  Korean show Queen Seondok .

Entrance to Shilla Millenium Park

on of the attractions at SHILLA Millennium Park

The park has entertainment sites where cultural shows were held . The park features structures that depicted how the Koreans lived during the Silla dynasty.Chinese influence was very evident in their architecture.

Our next stop was TUMULI Park (Cheonmachong), an ancient burial site of the Silla dynasty.

one of the tombs at Tumuli Park

This park (known as Daereungwon in Korean) has more than 20 large and small tombs, most of them mound shaped, and has been declared  a historic site. The tombs are presumed to be those of royalty and high court officials.

Nearby is ANAPJI POND, which was built in 674 as a recreation site by the Silla Royal family.

Anapji Pond

It was a luxurious garden with a large man-made pond. Rare animals were said to have been added originally.

Next day, our tour guide joked that she was treating us to a hearty breakfast because we will need the energy for the day’s activities, and reminded us to wear our walking shoes.Our bus climbed up the winding road which was made interesting by the wild blooms and rich foliage of the mountain. We were on the way to SEOKUGRAM GROTTO. Seokguram is located near the summit of Mt. Tohamsan, east of the historic city of Gyeongju.

view from Mt. Tohamsan

It was a long walk/jog  along the mountain ridge,to the grotto but I enjoyed it because the weather was cool ,the air smells pure and fresh, and the scenery was calming. The eight century cave temple is a classic example of Buddhist sculpture.Unlike those in India, the grotto was not carved from the rocky mountain but instead an artificial cave was made from granite. Buddhism which originated from India, reached Korea in the fourth century through China . During the reign of  Silla dynasty, it was officially recognized as the state religion. The grotto was built not only as a site for worship but also for supernatural protection from invaders as the early rulers believed .

Our next stop- the BULGUKSA TEMPLE , literal meaning Buddha Land, which was built in year 528. In 1593 the Japanese invaders destroyed it. In 1970 ,it was completely reconstructed and  it was recognized as an international cultural property in 1995 by UNESCO. A large crowd was starting a beeline to the entrance when we arrived. However, even with the big number of tourists, the place did not feel jampacked because the temple compound  is vast.

one of the temple pagodas at Bulguksa

Pilgrims drinking from the natural springwater

Before reaching the temple pagodas, we passed by a number of  small bridges, said to be national treasures. The compound was also home to numerous old trees, and flowering plants. Outside the temple is a beautiful park where cherry blossoms bloomed profusely. Hawkers were nearby selling  snacks that looked like insects.

Exotic snacks

Onwards our bus sped to Busan.To give us a break from the series of Korean meals,we had lunch at Outback restaurant where the steak servings were huge. We strolled along the boardwalk of Pusan’s famous beach, Hyundai beach which was near the restaurant.

Hyundai Beach

The sun was unbearably hot despite the cold wind so we decided to head towards  Busan Aquarium, the biggest aquarium in South Korea which houses thousands of  marine animals belonging to hundreds of species.

Scubadiver at the Busan Aquarium

a water-tight car aquarium

Our last stop was  Dongbaek Island, to see the NURIMARU APEC House, noted for the meeting of APEC’s 21 member nation in 2005. Local and foreign tourists abound in this area not only because of the historical importance but also because of the beautifully landscaped grounds overlooking the sea. Security was tight in the sprawling compound and vehicles were not allowed . The Apec House looks like a spaceship with its dome shaped roof.

NURIMARU APEC House

Inside,we were given a tour of the modern designed building where we saw the huge round table where the leaders conducted their meeting. The Apec House compound is a great place for jogging or even walking. The roads are well-paved, the garden aesthetically planned and the sea breeze is refreshing.

On our last night, we were treated to a sumptuous dinner– the seafood buffet at Oase Seafood Restaurant located at Jagalchi Market Building . Each table was equipped by a griller to cook one’s choice of fresh oysters, prawns, different kinds of fish, or even marinated meat .

Unlimited food at Oase Seafood REstaurant

The variety was overhelming. For those who were too hungry to do the grilling, there were cooked food choices like tempura,japchae,soup,dimsum,salad,sushi,kimchi ,etc. Their dessert choices are also plentiful—assorted cakes,pastries,fresh fruits,ice cream-if one still have a place for those.

Although tiring and fast-paced ,which was usual for packaged tours, we enjoyed this brief tour in Busan. This second visit  to South Korea increased my admiration for  its people  ,whose workers are known for putting in the longest hours in the capitalist workplace.Their discipline and industry are evident in how they made the most of their meager natural resources .

Taiwan, one more time!

“You’ll keep coming back for more!” , quipped  one commercial.That’s exactly how my daughter & I felt about Taiwan. Red eye flights didn’t deter us from our trip because the discounted airfares were enough to satisfy our travel bugs.

We spent our first day getting our EZ cards, train tickets, and shopping . Taipei has numerous shopping malls. They have lots of local products which although a bit pricier , are of high quality.For bargain hunters, there were numerous stalls at the Underground Mall which is beneath the Taipei Main Station.

Later in the day, we were able to catch the flag ceremony at CKS. We were supposed to meet our friend, Vivien, at one of the exits, but due to some miscommunication, we ended up crisscrossing the CKS mrt exits. The MRT personnel were kind enough to let us through four times without using the EZ card (which is why we love Taiwan—almost everybody was nice).

Vivien, our Taiwanese friend, treated us to a delicious dimsum dinner.We threw caution to the wind and ate with gusto.Everything was so good which explained the long queue. I agreed with her that the xia long bao here is tastier than at Din Tai fung.But then it was a matter of personal taste.The restaurant is popular with the locals.I don’t speak/read Chinese so I don’t know the name.The restaurant is walking distance to CKS.

We retired early in preparation for next day’s early trip to Hualien via TRA train.The train trip lasted two and a half hours.We stayed for one night at Bayview Hotel in Hualien . I fully recommend this hotel because it was clean, the front office was helpful and they had free pick up service from Hualien train station .We got a room with balcony overlooking the Qixing Tan scenic area .They also contacted an English speaking driver to tour us around Hualien.They advised that since we arrived at noon already, there was litte time to explore more of the famous Taroko National Park.So we decided to go around Hualien instead—its seaside and mountainside.

Hotel Bayview

Andy was our very friendly and patient driver.We asked him to bring us to a not very pricey restaurant.He did not disappoint.We ate delicious wonton soup at the famous Zhou Jia  Restaurant (No.4-20 Gonzheng St., Hualien) where its celebrity customers’photos are prominently displayed on the wall. Andy, can’t believe how big our appetite were. But we made him bring us to another food shop.  

Zhou Jia Restaurant’s best wonton soup

 Here was one of the tastiest xia long bao we had– at only TWD5 each.One should eat them while hot,though.

Mochi factory

To assuage our hunger pangs, Andy said “No problem.You’ll have your free fill of mochi at the factory”.The shop was huge.This would be paradise for mochi lovers.  They had a wide array of fillings.One can have an unlimited free taste of mochis and different flavors of dried fish. After stuffing ourselves we ended  buying not only mochis , but also shrimp and fish snacks.

Afterwards we drove to these scenic places;

Farglory Hotel

Farglory Ocean Park

Buddhist Temple

Huting is the place to refresh  and rest for awhile while inhaling the cool seabreeze. The place displays their creative works made out of old wood.

Huting

Shitiping potholes

Shitiping –Along the rocky sea shore of Shitiping , numerous potholes formed by the seawater and wind can be found.In these pools, various kinds of fish, seaweed,  and shellfish live.

Tropic of Cancer marker

Tropic of Cancer Marker-the separating line between the tropical and subtropical zones. On a certain day during summer, a unique astronomical phenomenon takes place–when the sun is directly over the Tropic of Cancer a shadowless effect takes place..

For a  quick snack and food shopping, we stopped by the Guangfu Sugar Factory , a small amusement park, more famous for their delicious ice cream.

As if our driver was still not exhausted, he brought us to Ziqiang  night market. It was small compared to Taipei’s but the stalls offered delicious food.We ate fresh fruits, takuyaki,oyster omelette,calamares, sugared strawberries—many others I can’t remember. They also have this popular coffin bread- which looked tasty but our stomach had no room for them anymore. Before calling it a day, Andy brought us to a fruit market where I was so ecstatic upon seeing the wide variety of fruits at low prices.

The next day we started early for the Taroko trip. Taroko National Park is huge as it lies in three administrative areas-Hualien, Taichung and Nantou. Taroko means magnificent and beautiful, both of which descriptions are true. A day is not enough to explore the park. The numerous trails offered different sceneries; the marble walled gorges are majestic ,and when you go higher up the mountain, the air so pure and energizing.

These were the stops we made:

the Pacific ocean viewed from Qingshui cliifs

the bridge photographed from Shakadang Trail

Eternal Spring Shrine

Changchun Shrine(Eternal Spring) was built in honor of the workers who lost their lives while manually constructing the Central Cross Island highway.

We also went to Buluowan, Swallow Grotto(Yanzikou),Fuji Cliff & Jhuliu,Liufang Bridge and Cimu archway where two rivers meet. I wasn’t able to take photos at these sites because I ran out of battery. I regretted not having a spare battery because the scenery at  Cimu bridge was astounding.

We walked along the Lushui trail-an unforgettable experience! We noticed that there were no other hikers aside from my daughter and I .That the ground was covered with old fallen leaves strengthened our suspicion that this was not a busy trail. We opted to  singing very  loudly ,believing that such loud noise would scare snakes away.However, on the way down, the opposite happened.A small  snake appeared in one of the steps! Was our singing music to its ears?  Anyway , it was frightened by our shrieks that it disappeared fast.

Afterwards, we passed by Yehuang( Hanging bridge) and Yianxiang Scenic Area.

Andy wanted to take us to other scenic spots, but we were mindful that we might miss our train back to Taipei. I noted that it took about an hour from our last stop in Taroko to downtown Hualien . Before going to the train station ,we dropped by another mochi shop to buy the newlycooked mochi. Our friend said this shop sells the best moachi in Taiwan..As usual, we had our free taste samples. They were so soft and delicious. Too bad we can’t take it back to the Philippines because we were told to consume it within three days or it would turn like a rock. I don’t know the English name but here it is:

freshly made Mochi

We regretted having to spend only one night in Hualien. I think two nights should be the minimum because there were many beautiful places to explore and experience, delicious food to taste and the very friendly people to meet.

The next day we rode from Taipei the THSR to Taichung , got tickets at the basement of Taichung station for the Sun MoonL Lake pass  package (TWD660) which included Taichung roundtrip shuttle to SML which is in Nantou county, one way lake boat ride , one cable car ride, free shuttle within SML. The visitor’s Center at Sun Moon Lake were very helpful in answering queries.There were a number of attractions at SML. Plan ahead on where to start first. Since ours was only a day tour and we had to be on time for the THSR train back to Taipei , here was the order of our stops:

1.boat ride from Shuishe Pier to Ita thao Pier

Shuishe Pier

2.Walked Ita Thao lakeside trail to the Cable car

view from Ita thao lakeside trail

3. We took photos from the cable car and , at  11 am the view  was mesmerizing.

Cable Car at Sun Moon Lake

4. Lunch at cable car station was good and not expensive

5.Xuanzang temple

6.Xuanguang Temple

7. Ita Thao village, shopping street

There were some small shops selling souvenir items. Bargaining is a must here. I bought some keychains to add to my collection and cedar wood massager.

7. Wenwu  Temple-one of the biggest temple in Sun Moon Lake.

Tip:Don’t rely on the shuttle timetable printed on their brochure. The bus is always late. On our last stop, the bus was late for one hour.

We returned to Taipei at past 10 in the evening.We were so tired we didn’t have the energy to visit the two night markets near our hotel, Li Yuan.Luckily, the restaurant nearby which was about to close, agreed to take our orders as long as they were for take outs.

The next day was gloriously relaxing and therapeutic—because it was shopping day! We headed to the Underground Mall again while waiting for the big shopping malls to open.For lunch break Vivien brought us to a hot pot restaurant along Nanjing Road.They have endless various kind of meat, seafood, tofus,hotpot balls ,vegetables to dip in two kinds of broth-one spicy and the other the classic one.I noticed various kinds of herbs in the pot which made the broth tasty. Cakes , some fresh fruits and drinks were also included in the price. The service was very good.They also had different kinds and brand of ice cream. Vivien told us to try the Movenpick brand because a scoop usually costs TWD100. I chose the chocolate with nuts .The taste was so smooth , not too sweet ,on par with Haagen Daz ,and  very delicious.

HOT POT RESTAURANT

Seafood galore, my favorite!

We were so stuffed we could hardly walk. But since we will be leaving the next day, we opted not to squander time.Besides , the big SALE sign on the windows of the shops lured us everytime. We were exhilarated to find bargains from the shops along Nanjing Road . By nighttime, non-stop shopping had caused our stomach to growl.Luckily the food court was conveniently located at the basement 3 of Q Mall. We had dinner at Ramen Makotoya where the service and food was excellent .

dinner at Ramen Makotoya

Our last day at the Li Yuan hotel left a sour note.The front office clerk’s attitude turned from being nice to nasty. This was after we didn’t take their taxi service to the airport for our midnight flight. She told us she can keep our luggages until 6PM only .We told her we could not be back by 6 since we have to go to Danshui. She gave us all sorts of reasons like she will be very busy if we come back at 10pm. So we asked her why  no smirks from her when came back past 10 PM from an overnight in Hualien? When we  reminded her their website promoted free luggage service,she  grumpily relented but till 9PM only. So travelers beware. Be sure to clarify this service before you choose your abode. So far this was the only unpleasant incident we encountered during our stay.

Anyway, onwards to Danshui or Tamshui ( they sound almost the same). I noticed that the cold misty weather did not deter tourists from travelling to Danshui.Inside the packed train one could hear a cacophony of different languages. My daughter & I treated ourselves to a guessing game of what Nationality is that? Vivien was already waiting for us at the exit of Danshui mrt .The weather at 9’ C was so cold even with our thick jackets.We rode the bus to Fort San Domingo. This fortress was built of stone and brick by the Spanish in 1628, and ,served as military fort and office.

Fort San Domingo

Despite the chilly, windy weather, we just walked to the nearby historical attractions:

*Former British consular residence-This victorian house give us a peek on how the former British occupants lived in the late 19th century.

Residence of former British Consul

The living room of the Consular House

*Tamsui church- constructed in honor of George Mackay , a Canadian Presbyterian missionary who arrived in Tamsui in 1872. Nearby, people were having fun feeding the friendly doves.

birdfeeding

*Tamsui Customs Officers Residence-Little white house-built originally during the Qing dynasty (1866) for the foreign customs officers who took charge of tariff collecting duties

*A quick lunch at a packed and popular eatery

Packed eatery near Custom Officer’s House

*Danshui old street- There were plenty of food choices to eat and to take home.

Still piping hot,my favorite snack !

Soft and melt-in -your mouth pancake with different flavored filling

We also bought souvenir items at Taiwan Ocarina. The shop sells creatively designed small goose- shaped flute made of ceramic.I was amazed that the small instrument can produce beautiful tones.

Taiwan Ocarina

Our final stop-the Fisherman’s Wharf.We can hardly move and we were not able to take good pictures because the very cold wind was beating hard.

Fisherman’s Wharf

LOvers Bridge at Tamsui.

A fitting end to our sojourn- I was looking for the tasty crispy shrimp snack which was gifted to me on my last visit  here .I found it  at one of the stalls in Fisherman’s Wharf.

Delicacies at fisherman’s wharf

Tired but pleased , we boarded our plane back to our home, bringing with us another dose of lovely memories.

Just Passing Through

Woke to hush hush sounds,

Felt the unfamiliar light,

Wailed my might, I am here.

 

Ogle,giggle, cuddle,

Lots to see , hear, taste, touch,

Retired to safe bosom of my mother.

 

Grass carpet caresses,

I run, jump and fell,

Soft ground catches still.

 

Aghast,perturbed, excited,

Too many roads before me,

Tried, failed, learned, succeeded.

 

Tears of joy, of sorrow,

Tears of laughter, tears of anger,

Am human after all.

EAT, PRAY, LOVE IN CEBU

A television drama depicting a man suffering from the unbearable pain of cancer, reminded me of the similar agony my loved ones endured—my father Jose, my best friend Nina, and lately my cousin Ate Fely.While lying down in my bed, I was thinking why God has let man go through this excruciating torment.I did not know if I dreamt but I remembered hearing a very clear answer to my question—God did not cause our physical misfortune –man did—the hard truth that we continuously  ignore. Aside from our polluted environment, we are unmindful of what we eat– like over-processed, chemical laden food ; thus wrecking our bodies.

After a year of dillydallying,I finally decided to go the healthy path. I searched the internet for an affordable wellness center and I stumbled on the Ananda Marga Wellness Center in Cebu.

The Center is a simple dome shaped structure in a quiet neighborhood of Barangay  Pagsabungan,Mandaue Cebu.It is ran by members of the Ananda Marga, a worldwide spiritual and social service organization founded in India.As I learned later, the Center  which offers instruction in meditation, yoga and other self-development practices is operated on a non-commercial basis, which explained why their rates were reasonable. Upon arrival, I was instructed to fill up my medical history and any ailment.After some consultation with Chinchinati, the staff nurse, I was given the diet and exercise regimen best suited for me.

I remembered my daughter teasing me before my flight to Cebu that I was going to EAT,PRAY, LOVE in Cebu. I just laughed her off because my goal was only to fast in order to get rid of bodily toxins ,shed pounds, and also to learn how to cook healthy.But she was right….

Mealtime was not only about food but also conversation. The vegetarian buffet was delicious. I was not that fond of vegetables but the meals served at the Center , although simply prepared, tasted much better than what we cook at home.Even if I ate a lot, I felt lighter not bloated, maybe because vegetables were usually steamed and not loaded with oil.It was also nice to have Dada  Dharma Vedananda  , the head of the Center ,having meal with us because he regaled us not only about his experiences at Ananda Marga but also about his spiritual and social philosophies which were enlightening.

The Center followed a daily time schedule.  The students, as  we the patients were called, wake up at 6 a.m. to prepare for a bustling day.We begin with yoga, instructing us with the correct way to do the postures or asanas. This activity not only relieves stress but through proper breathing , is therapeutic and increases flexibility. Sometime during the day we also had schedules for  light cardio exercises, with the choice of either treadmill, playing badminton , or following the aerobics or belly dancing videos. Of course, we had time for pampering too. I enjoyed best having mudpacks for the whole body while letting it dry in the sun.I considered it the best facial I have had because I felt my skin tighten hard with the resulting pinkish glow.We also had a daily regimen of  either infra red bath, steam bath, hip bath, or whirlpool bath. It was like being in a spa resort without denting your pocket.That’s not all– before bedtime, we were given warm cider vinegar bath, which I discovered was sleep inducing.

For the prayer part,thrice daily, we did the Kirtan or the repeated chanting of a simple mantra .At first I had a culture shock, asking myself what have I gotten into! But as days went by, I discovered that repeated chanting of BABA NAM KEVALAM ,(a Sanskrit word which means infinite Love feeling only,  or personally, I translate it as “God’s infinite love”) helped to quiet the mind ,to relax  and have peace, and prepare for the next activity which was meditation. We sat in a relaxed lotus position in total silence listening only to the guided meditation of Dada . During this time when the mind was still ,did I finally experience  a sense of connectedness with myself, with the people around me,  and the One most High.For me, mental silence where daily chatter was tossed away,facilitated an intimate conversation with God, more powerful than robotic prayers.

While staying at the Center, I felt right at home.The staff who were all Margis, o members of Ananda Marga, was friendly, caring and very helpful.There was no dull moment here .The talented staff  taught us not only cooking the healthy way but also the basics of playing the kulintang and the African drum.We also made dreamcatcher decors and friendship bracelets. I admire how they live  healthily and simply .They told me dishonesty is a ground for expulsion. No chance of having a politician as member then? I was also fortunate to have as classmates Pritilata, a yoga teacher from Germany who gave me helpful advice, Edna from Cebu, whose blog is also a wealth of  delicious recipes, and Mary Anne from Dumaguete who related her quests for well-being.

Where was the Love part? Well, during meditation , when I felt a sort of connectedness with those around me  and the universe as a whole, I caught a glimpse of what the various religions espouse, that is–,all created beings are His children, so we are all one family. Remember Jesus said to Love one another?And I believe we must begin with loving ourselves. We must start with the body entrusted to us by taking care of it.We were taught since our schooldays how to be healthy—eat mostly fruits and vegetables, exercise ,drink eight or more glasses of water,  sleep well,etc. We know all of that at the outset. So the choice is really ours. Don’t blame our afflictions on God.

Delightful Taiwan

February 3,2011–Taking advantage of Cebu Pacific’s flight deals, my daughter & I booked a Taiwan flight choosing a date randomly.Alas, after finalizing the reservation, we found out the dates fall on Lunar New Year,exactly when Taiwan celebrates for five days, and most of the shops,except the big department stores close. We were also warned of the humongous traffic because the locals use the long holiday for outings .
Undaunted, we proceeded to our DIY adventure .We arrived at half past midnight, exactly when some fireworks lightened up the sky.After a short sleep, first on my daughter’s list is the popular Din Taifung restaurant for our lunch.We went to their original shop but unluckily it was closed. Our grumbling stomach was very much disaapointed but we had to hurriedly catch our 1pm appointment so we went to Jiantan exit to meet our guide for the free mountain tour offered by the city government during the duration of the Flora Expo .

http://www.travelintaipei.com.tw/EN/intro.asp

The charming,down to earth Vivien Liu was our guide.She spoke Spanish and English and was amazed by the fact that some Spanish words have found their way to Philippine vocabulary.We hit it off instantly as if we were long lost friends.Unfortunately, Yangmingshan is not as cooperative. Fog was thick and we weren’t able to see the mountains.


After visiting the hot spring, we decided to leave.We squeezed ourselves inside a jampacked bus to Shilin night market.We let Vivien choose the food from various stalls and agreed to share each piece so we can taste more.All her choices were delicious—fried chicken,sticky rice with sausage,oyster omellete,beef noodles,and others which name I cant recall.

We finish them off with equally refreshing aiyu jelly.This drink can be bought from the booths that have giant silver vats with limes on top ,or look for the sign “WOW frog eggs.” These are not actual frog eggs, but are similar to tapioca balls. The jelly is made from the gel in the seeds of the fig fruit, ficus pumila .Although tired and sleepy because we only had 4 hours of sleep,Vivien convinced us to drop by Miramar Entertainment Park.The shopping complex houses well known brands,an IMAX theater and a 230foot ferris wheel on its rooftop.


We went back to the hotel for our much needed sleep and Vivien promised to take us to Taipei 101 the day after.

My daughter ,an amateur photographer booked online HSR (Taiwan High Speed Rail) tickets to Tainan ,so she can capture the cultural sights.We had an early start the next day because our ticket was at 6:30 in the morning.The mass transport is clean,orderly,efficient,friendly and on time.As expected the train left and arrived on the dot.
Upon arrival in Tainan , we hailed the free shuttle bus.We were dropped off at Koxinga shrine,built in honor of Koxinga and his family, who were worshipped by the local people as a national hero.The shrine is very clean and well maintained.
We also went to Great South Gate, Confucius Temple, Eternal Golden Castle,Fort Provintia,An-Ping Fort and, An-Ping Tree house .We went to some places by walking, and to the farther ones by hailing Bus88 or 99 @$18 a ride.I had a pleasant experience of being treated generously by a group of students who gave us $5 as we were about to board the bus when they saw that I’m short of coins( the policy here is to pay the exact fee or the driver would not give change).Unforgettable!during one of our walks,we chanced upon the village square a New Year’s day celebration ,where there was a band playing and lots of food stalls.

We decided to have our quick lunch there of beef noodles, sticky rice with sausage,and sweet tofu for dessert.My favorites among those we visited were the Koxinga shrine because of the nice architecture ,elaborate ceiling carvings and very clean garden.


I also liked Ang Ping tree house, which has old banyan trees with their aerial roots and trunks taking over the walls ,doors,roof and floor of an old warehouse for over 200 hundred years—felt creepy but it was unusual .


Time quickly passed and it was time for our train ride back to Taipei.We had the famous MOS  rice burger for quick dinner at the rail station.

We were both tired after our Tainan trip but when we emerged from Ximen MRT, we saw a crowd hovering in front of the Red House complex—the Creative Bazaar.Soon we forgot our exhaustion. We had a hard time deciding what to buy because there were arrays of quality innovative products by the talented young designers .One of our notable purchases were the designs by Sophie Library.

February 4—We were again late by a few minutes for our 8A.M. University tour. Flora ,our guide , along with her children Geoffrey and Janice,and their two dogs, were already waiting for us near the information booth of MRT Gongguan Exit 3.She told us she let her children tag along so they can practise their English—and they get paid for doing so.The kids’ behavior showed how Flora had taught them the right values.I admire her for being able to juggle motherhood with career and with 10 dogs to take care of!While touring the huge grounds of National University of Taiwan, she discussed not only the history and architecture of some of the buildings, but also about her family,how they live, their favorite pastimes.What struck me was the beautiful lesson she imparts to her kids which is to be kind and know how to share, and not to aim only for material things.We were not able to look inside the buildings because the school was on a holiday,and the buildings were closed .

After strolling by the pond and the agriculture section , we left the campus and crossed the street towards Gongguan market.I wonder how these stalls make money because they are so numerous .We bought some mochi balls and egg tart in Target bakery , and they were delicious.At the end of the tour, we felt like old friends and promised to exchange emails.Flora gave me a bag of dried shrimp snacks which my family & I devoured in half an hour.Yummy!

If only our feet had wings! Hurriedly we went to City Hall MRT to meet Vivien. We had lunch at one of her favorites-Fung shan Ya Shan at the basement of Bellavita.The food was delicious and we kidded her that she should conduct a food tour because she knows the best places to eat.We asked her to show us how to eat rice and shrimp with chopsticks.Rice-she said-just bring the cup to your mouth and plow them in.With shrimp, peel with your fingers—it’s easier.hmm.As we walk towards Taipei 101, massive merrymakers compete with the many stalls , and street performances around the Mitsukoshi area.We didn’t go up the Taipei 101 tower, as we can already envision the long queue-and contented ourselves to taking photos from afar.

When we were tired,we decided to have foot massage in Ximending.The massage was good but not as hard as the one I had a year ago in Huaxi.The owner of the shop later had her photo taken with us.

Afterwards, its chowtime at Modern Toilet, where the line is long and were told we have to wait for 45 minutes.Though our stomach were groaning, we thought it was worth the wait. We were right–the food was delicious,the price was very reasonable and the service was efficient.

Bidding Vivien goodnight, Jazz & I hit the bed early for our long trip the next day to Jingtong.
February 6-Met Vivien at Yongchun MRT and we had a long walk to Songsan rail station to catch the train to Jingtong.My daughter and I were almost left behind by the train since it was jammed full, but upon prodding, we were able to squeeze in. I was uneasy because these scene reminds me of the movie Schindler’s list where the Jews were stuffed inside a train.

After some time, we were able to crawl towards the toilet.At least, we were inside the comfort of the comfort room(pardon the pun) ,we were less cramped even with five people inside , and it was air-conditioned.(Note Vivien was wearing her Eskimo coat.).

After the grueling three hours, we reached Jingtong to partake in the celebration of New Year Sky Lantern festival .Revelers were already roaming the village.

I learned that every New Year, groups of families and friends come here to release lanterns as a form of prayer for good luck and blessings. We bought a lantern (which works by trapping hot air produced by burning oiled papers in the center ), and painted our wishes on each side.

We were so relieved and happy when we saw our lantern successfully soar towards the sky. Which means our wishes will come true? Others were not as lucky because their lanterns failed to launch. We went to the school square to witness the simultaneous release of lanterns. It was a breathtaking sight .My small camera failed to capture the real beauty of the event.

Tired but happy, we joined the long line of passengers of the free shuttle bus back to Taipei Zoo mrt. We capped our day with a hearty dinner at Din Tai Fung Sogo Branch.

February 7-Today was the only day we were able to sleep late since we arrived in Taiwan. I am perky because today is shopping day!We bought some socks at the Underground Mall then proceeded to Uniqlo. Lost precious minutes because of going out the wrong exit at Taipei City Hall MRT—should have been exit 2 Hankyu department store.At Uniqlo, there were lots of reasonably priced clothes attested by the ever growing number of shoppers .Afterwards, we went to Sogo and fortunately, many items were on sale.I was able to buy a bag at 60% discount and a pair of comfortable square toed shoes. We could have shopped more but due to limited time, we proceeded to CKS Memorial, after unloading our shopping bags.My daughter wanted to get night shots of the place and the nearby Iluminaire .

Finally, we had to pack and get ready for our return trip. At Fei Tien Hot Pot , we had our last delicious, filling meal with Vivien—all one can eat hot pot of tender meat,seafoods,veggies ,fruits plus delicious cakes, Haagen dazs ice cream and various drinks!

Vivien unabashedly cried as we bid her goodbye . We hold back our tears and felt so blessed to have had new friends and a wonderful vacation in beautiful Taiwan. Surely, we will go back .

More info:
Our Hotel-TS Hotel-
Pros; very nice location near Ximen MRT,friendly helpful efficient staff
Cons; breakfast was not good, the room was so cold( even if the aircon was turned off-no heater), the toilet although clean had a putrid smell .
Thanks to Vivien for some of the photos used here.