Sydney to Taipei

(20,000 steps)

Friday 23rd February

Sydney - Taipei

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Avoiding Chinese Zombies

We waited with a little trepidation for the taxi to arrive at 6pm.  It was a little early, but as it turned into the street, my heart fell - a 5-seater station wagon  was clearly not going to fit four bikes and four people. We had allowed enough time to arrive at the airport three hours early, and I had to remind myself that left plenty of time to drive Jonno and Georgia to the train station whilst Simon and the taxi driver squeezed the bikes and bags into the limited space available.  Hot tip: if you want a maxi taxi, then you need to note that you are travelling with 8 people and 8 bags.  The four person request meant that we were automatically downsized.

Still, we arrived in plenty of time and there was no queue, so check in was quick and the bikes were soon deposited at the oversized baggage and on their way.  The flight was only half full and there was plenty of room to spread out.  We were due to land at 4:20am but the flight made such good time that we were disembarking just after 3:30am.  The airport was empty as we quickly passed through security and customs.  As we emerged into the arrivals hall, we spotted a sign with our name on it and were advised that our taxi was arriving soon,  We took our chance at the Taiwan Lucky Draw, which is a three-year promotion with travel cards and accommodation vouchers as prizes for tourists.  It wasn’t our lucky day.  We also withdrew cash - and ade the unfortunate discover that Jonno’s card didn’t work in the ATM.

I had booked an early check in at our AirBnB but the access details hadn’t arrived.  I sent a message at 4:45 to say we were on our way and was pleasantly surprised to receive an immediate reply.  It was a super quick ride in and we were soon in our accommodation in the Wanhua district, less than 10 minutes walk from the bustling Ximendang area.  The photos had made it look comfortable but we knew from the comments that it was small. However, its main appeal was a small backyard area where Simon could put the bikes together and its quiet and convenient location.

With two double bed rooms and a sofa bed, there was room for everyone to have a quick nap before we emerged for showers and coffee around 8am. I had booked a Taipei Historic Walking tour with Like It Formosa which started at 10am, and we allowed 45 minutes for the 25 minute walk so we could pick up some pastries for breakfast on the way.  It was an interesting walk through the streets with lots of places to eat along the way.  We stocked up at Double Harmony bakery, taking advantage of their special of 4 pastries for $100 NTD (just under $5 AUD) and ate them in the park near the meeting place. 

The first stop was Longshan Temple, which combines Buddhism, Daoism and folk religion with multiple deities housed in the temple.  We learnt a little of its history then entered through the dragon gate, to the right of the Main entrance, as that is only used by the Gods and VIPs.  When praying to the gods, you need to state your name, birthday and other specific details and the things you want to ask for - they need to be realistic. Different deities can be asked for different things - the deity for Education can be asked for success in exams and the Deity for love (a short god with a long beard) to help find your partner. 

You can also ask the gods a specific question, and you can drop two moon blocks to determine their answer.  Jonno was sceptical of what he saw as a  probability approach to religion. 

Next stop was the Bopiliao Historical block that we had walked through on our way to the start of the tour.  Here we learnt that the roads were not straight so that people could avoid the Chinese zombies, those who die away from home and need to return to be laid to rest.  This story was demonstrated by the guide using four people, two carriers that historically would have used bamboo poles to support the bodies and then Jonno and Simon who were marked as zombies. They ably demonstrated the jumping movement of the bodies as they flexed on the bamboo whilst in transit.

The Xiamen Red house was originally constructed as a public market, and was later used as a theatre and a the area became a hub for the LGBTQ community in Taipei.  Now it held a collection of boutique stores and a coffee shop.  We had a little time to wander around before moving on to the Presidential Office which was an imposing building, and we heard a little of the political history of Taiwan. A little further down the road, we stopped at the 228 Peace Park named after the date of an incident with an unlicensed cigarette seller that led to civil unrest and ultimately, the deaths of over 30000 people.  At our final stop, the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall, our guide made it clear he was not a fan as he told us about the Taiwanese people’s disillusionment with the former President with most of his statues now located in a single park.

We ate lunch at a food court recommended by the guide.  I stopped at one of the stalls and got talking to a local who recommended the pork wonton soup with the less spicy sesame oil for me, and the double sauce (which included the spicy sauce) for Georgia. Simon had the same and Jonno found himself a Taiwanese-style ramen and some dumplings. 

Jonno and Georgia then headed off to the Taiwan National Museum (which turned out to be more flora and fauna than the political history I seen recommended). Simon and I purchased a bluetooth keyboard (as I’d left mine behind) before buying some Easypasses and returning to the flat to make up the bikes. We had to rouse Jonno from his sleep on the lounge as we headed out to dinner at one of the restaurants we had passed which our guide had recommended for good pork and rice.

Fortunately, there was only a short queue as we had been warned that we might need to wait.  We were soon seated and relying on google translate to fill in our order sheet. Despite the recommendation, we all settled on beef noodle soup as a warming way to end the day.  It was like a ramen and very tasty accompanied by a blanched spinach-like dish and a vegetable roll, which was served cold.

We finished just in time to walk to Ximen Square to see the lights of the dragon lantern, the main lantern on the Taipei Lantern Festival.  It was an amazing sight, with the brilliantly lit dragon surrounded by a base representing colourful clouds.  Across the road, an inflated fish blew bubbles towards the dragon, adding to the festive atmosphere. We wandered back through Ximending which was heaving with people strolling the streets, dining and shopping ready for an early night.

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