Taiwan: Typhoon Day #2, Losing Elephant Mt. Trail

LOSING ELEPHANT MOUNTAIN TRAIL
(Xiang Shan Trail)

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Despite the typhoon rain raging outside our front door, in true Black Family style, we’re embracing nature and heading out to find one of Taipei’s mountain trails: Elephant Mountain Trail. We’ve been warned, berated, and ridiculed, and yet when we set out the door there is a bewildered sense of surprise when we are almost immediately soaked to the skin… Fancy that!

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We rush to OK! Mart to buy 39NT plastic rain-proof onsies and gingerly pull them jerkily up over sticky skin; the coats immediately fill with steam off our sopping clothes, it feels like a small, localised sauna, we look ridiculous and the wetness is both inside and out. Excellent. Thoroughly wetted, we squelch towards the bus stop to catch a No. 1 to Wuxing Elementary School stop – many strange looks as we sniff onto the bus and swipe our metro cards. After being chilled nearly to the bone in the fierce No. 1 bus air-con, we decide to stay on just one more stop to avoid the rain. Good idea?

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As we step of the bus, we wander around and generally, upwards, looking for obviously signs of paths – and we find some concrete paths by allotments! Onwards and upwards. It’s very slippy, the path is swamped with leaves and debris, and more interestingly, there seems to be a small downwards stream flowing over our shoes. Nevertheless, we continue some twenty minutes upwards, wandering past small temples, traversing steep concrete steps, and skippity hopping past angry guard dogs wondering why Taipei’s dogs all seem to be either incredibly angry or ridiculously small. And then…

We hit a dead end.
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We’re wet, puffing, and hot – and quite frankly, while I’m sad to have reached the peak of Elephant mountain after our rainy day troubles, my thighs are happy to turn around and go downhill. Dad and one brother are determined to find the real trail; my youngest brother and I are determined to catch a ride home, and as we head down towards the main road we catch a glimpse of this sign….

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And the embarressing news is, there are lots more of these lining the walkway from the Wuxing Elementary School stop.

Ah well! The good news is I managed to get these amazing shots of the residential areas of Taipei; they’re so completely alien to the two-storey, detached-houses-with-garden set-up of Ireland.

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Despite our difficulties, the rain and the warnings it’s a fun day out in the rain!

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Taiwan: 烏石港 WuShiGang Surf Spot!

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烏石港 (Wū shí gǎng)
Technology Building MRT Station
Bus No. 1915
Bus No. 131

極酷衝浪 – G-Cool Surf Shop
No.93-2, Gon-ko-lee Rd.
Toucheng city, Yilan County
Zip: 261 Taiwan, R.O.C
(宜蘭縣頭城鎮港口里(路)93-2號)

Tel:886-3-9770266


Haggle!
G-Cool’s deal should include, surf lesson, full-day board rental (with option to switch to body board), wet shirt hire, umbrella and table on the beach and shower facilities.

In spring I paid 300NT for the package in a group of five; in summer I paid 400NT in a group of three.

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Last week, pre-typhoon appearance, we took a trip down to 烏石港 (Wū shí gǎng) Beach where I went surfing some two years ago with housemates and friends. It’s a great surf beach for beginners; as you head down from the road towards the beach (past car-parking spots if you’re driving) the beach is chock packed of sun-umbrellas and students playing volleyball across the curious light grey sand, unique to the area. Best of all, out in the sea sits the super-cute Turtle Island! Keeping with old and familiar, I head to G-Cool to rent boards, where we always go: the instructors are mostly twenty-something university students (all male, if you’re interested) and after just one full morning of surfing I’m bruised, battered and sun-burnt.

Top Tips:

# Bring your own rucksacks with water, food and snacks – you’ll burn lots of energy surfing.
# Take the time to find a waterproof sunscreen, even if it’s overcast at the beach, and cover your hands and any other exposed areas.
(I’m currently sporting some interesting burn lines)
# Bring savlon for board burns and after sun lotion.
# Do not forget flip flops!! The sand gets very, very hot!

It’s hard work taking the bus back on the way home, but luckily for me, family holidays mean we can rent a car for the five of us and I can snooze in the back seat on the way home.

Definitely worth visiting if you’re in Taiwan!

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Taiwan: NanShan Second Chance Cinema, 湳山戲院

湳山戲院
(Nǎn shān xìyuàn)

台北市通化街24巷1號
No. 1, Lane 24, Tōnghuà Street, Daan District, Taipei City, Taiwan 106

All Day Ticket, Any Showing 140NT

Show Times

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It’s been pretty rainy here in Taipei for the past couple of days as Typhoon Trami heads our way, but here in the capital there’s tonnes to do – even if it’s bucketing down water outside.

Yesterday the family and I went to Nanshan Second Chance Cinema, a cinema which shows films that are out of main cinemas but not on DVD yet. Not only that, but the tickets are only £3/140NT for a full day of films. You can see any of the eight films being screened, bring in your own food and drink, and there’s even a disgruntled woman at the door who gives you a stamp to go out, dine and return again! Pretty neat.

Nanshan’s a bit grotty outside, and the seats aren’t as plush as a normal cinema, but the screen definition and sound in the theatres is good; the larger theatres are the upstairs ones, and as long as you don’t mind perhaps more rustling than usual, it’s a fab rainy day retreat. The cinema itself sells the usual popcorn and sweet treats, the nearby restaurants are cheap (of course, there’s a 7 Eleven on TongAn Jie) and don’t be shy about take a steaming pot of noodles into the theatre!

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star trek

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We went for the one showing, and saw Star Trek: Into the Darkness, as we’ve all been indoctrinated as Treky fans in our house. I recommend to plan ahead if you want to make a day of it – the later showings and blockbusters are more popular, so be prepared to queue. Top tip: watch the film prior to your blockbuster in the big screen upstairs!

Air-con’s fairly chilly, so bring your cardi, your food and of course, your own loo roll (it is Taiwan, after all).

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Taiwan: Typhoon Trami

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Wahoo!

It’s the week of the 19th in Taipei, and there’s a Typhoon/Tropical Storm headed this way. By today, the 21st the epicentre is hovering over the capital giving an exciting torrential downpour to the streets and flats. It’s muggy, and the streets seem to steam with the intense humidity, and the bullets of water drum relentlessly on the corrugated sheets of awnings and roofs. Traffic turns to a frantic window-sweeping confusion of taxis and buses, and pastel sheeted motorcyclists in their head-to-toe raincoats swerve between blurry car lights; pedestrians play umbrella battles on the sidewalk; foreigners are unfortunately heighted for umbrella-spoke attackage.

Schools, hospitals, services are closed. Mudslides, minor floods and accidents. Living in sub-topical climate is no joke. We dash out between streets to get lunch and eat it in the safety of our flat, under the constant drone of rain. Rain like this doesn’t occur in UK.

On a positive note, yesterday nights run was wet but pleasant, with the temperature dropping from 30 degrees to a cool 26.

I’m quite enjoying this typhoon malarkey!

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Taiwan: Cultural Boo-Boos

A gift bag for a good friend!

Despite being half-Taiwanese, and having spent a fair amount of time here observing what are very foreign customs, I still struggle to express myself sometimes. Not only linguistically, although that also happens more often than I’d like, but rather importantly, in terms of gestures. This gift bag is something I fretted over for weeks; a very good girl friend of mine helped me out a lot in the past, and I wanted to find some way to repay her that she would appreciate, and wouldn’t be accidentally offended by. I settled on some beauty products and a top of Western labels (harder/more expensive here in Taipei) and making some passive Origami goldfish (six, with my mother’s suggestion, staying well away from the unlucky number four).

Pish, how can you possibly accidentally offend someone, you ask?
Believe me, it’s happened in the past.

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Two years ago I made a big boo boo offering to pay a Taiwanese friend petrol money for a three hour round trip out to the beach; there were five of us in the car, and he paid for petrol and toll booths along the way, so of course we should offer, right? As the strange look passed that his face quickly told, it was very wrong.

I later asked a girl friend what I did wrong, and she suggested that I should have taken him out to dinner instead. I didn’t see the difference between her suggestion and my action at the time, and it wasn’t until later till I realised that that in itself was was a subtle indicator that I had committed a cultural faux-pas; it wasn’t till later I thought that perhaps the custom I was used to, that of ‘Let’s go Dutch’ – each person being accountable for their own finances and it being expected of the recipients to split the costs – wasn’t something that was expectable a third of the way across the planet. In a conversation with another Chinese friend, she put it in a rather succinct analogy, where the cultural barrier could be transcended in one blunt description: what I did was the equivalent of treating him like a taxi driver.

Ah.

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I think half the the pain of being a foreigner is insulting people when you mean well.

I’m still not sure that there’s a set in stone guideline for how these things work, but I suspect that there are a whole set of cultural mistakes I make every day without noticing. Do share any similar experiences if you have them; I’m still carrying a long back-log of cultural misunderstandings, waiting to be deciphered…

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Taiwan: A Return

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Welcome back to Taipei!

I’m here in the capital city of Taiwan at the start of an exciting trip that is soon to be revealed… (keep yourself posted for the big news!) But while I’m preparing, for the month of July, I’m hunkered down a fourth floor Japanese-style flat for the month for a family holiday!

It’s great to be back in Taipei, and despite living unluckily on the fourth floor, although more because of the lack of elevator than superstition (as in Chinese the number four 四 (sì) sounds cheerily like death 死 (sǐ) – with only a minimal tonal difference between the two), the little flat in the Da’an student district is a great find. We’re renting from a British couple who’ve gone home to get married; the house is cute and minimalist, they’ve left lots of notes about the area and the flat, and, best of all, the book shelf is full and has dozens of wedding magazines. I’d like to think the cuteness cancels out any bad luck.

A small upgrade from tatami that I’m eternally grateful, my siblings and I are sleeping on thin mattresses on the slick-lacquered floor; there’s only a sliding door divider for privacy in our five-person family. But, foreigners we are, and unacclimatised to the muggy 30ºC day-time heat – it’s far too hot to even close the swishy doors.
Goodbye privacy, hello family!

It’s hard to sit down and seclude yourself (seclude in the metaphysical sense) on a family holiday to write blog posts, but I’ll keep you updated with our trips around the island when I can. If you’ve any tips for trips, let us know!

Try out my twitter @charlottejblack for 130 character snapshots of Taipei life if you get lonely

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As always,

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China: LeShan Buddha

The Leshan Buddha.

Incredibly hot day. Sweated my socks off, much to the disgust of the locals. Ended up putting a towel over my head as we queued in the blistering afternoon sun to go down the pilgrims steps to the foot of the big man himself.

By that time, no one was particulaily savouring the sacred stairs experience. We just wanted the sticky, people-herded-down-small-stairs experience to end.

The biggest Buddha in the world though? Pretty fabulous!

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China: 798 Art District, Beijing

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“That is a nice black sculpture.”

Finally, I’m back in Beijing for my last free day in China before I hop on a flight back home for the remainder of summer. I decide to spend it getting my fill of modern art at the 798 Art District, Beijing. Unfortunately, my love for adventuring on Chinese buses (marvelling at their cheapness) means that I spend an hour getting there, while my backpacking partner takes ten in a taxi… However, I adore walking around the art district complex, it’s a very cool, relaxed space, dotted here and there with gargantuan outdoor exhibits and the odd, painted-up alley, and it certainly makes up for the time-consuming task of travelling there. Although you have to dodge the kitsch and tourist-orientated gift-shops, there are some great exhibitions on offer in the free galleries here – even the various print shops have a wealth of classical Asian reproductions on offer. It’s not as wacky as a media art gallery in Chengdu were we watched a woman vomit water, cook sushi with it and feed it to her friends – all on video, of course, so it’s art, not a nasty trick –  but if there’s one gallery not to miss in 789, it’s Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art. With free entry for students, and for everyone on lucky Thursdays, it’s a gallery where you can easily spend an entire afternoon. Open Tues – Sun, 10AM-7PM (last entry 630PM).

Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art
4 Jiuxianqiao Rd.
Chaoyang District
Beijing, China
+86 10 5780 0200

Check out my guest post Artist Profiles (2 in 1) for ‘Razz My Berries Online Magazine for a few more words on the artists featured at Ullens, Sanrath Banerjee and Wang Mai!

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I’m relieved I didn’t miss this last check off my China trip; as I head back on home with my (quite dirty) rucksack, it’s gained weight from its original 5kg to 10 and it’s filled with mementos, presents, clothes, and odd bits and bobs from around my travels.

I’m finally headed home.

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