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Tuesday, August 27, 2013


I'm in TAIWANNN!!! It feels kind of surreal, in a way, since less than 24 hours ago, I was still in the States. Overall, the flight wasn't too bad - I watched three movies, took naps periodically, and met a wonderful girl (who was sitting next to me on my flight to Beijing) whom I conversed with until we split up to different connecting flights. She was on her way back home to 香港 (Hong Kong) after vacationing in LA and Florida for just over a month. It's interesting since normally when I take flights back to China, or even long flights in general, I usually keep quiet to myself and just do my own thing, but I feel the two of us got along quite well from the beginning. She was just a few years older than me, and just graduated with a degree in Publishing (I initially thought it was related to journalism, but I guess not...). Once we arrived in Beijing, she helped me through China Customs and Border Protection, as well as security. We then exchanged contact information and I got to take a quick picture with her before I sent her off onto her next flight (her flight was 30 minutes before mine). 

On the other hand, there was surprising and unusual thing that happened on my flight. Apparently, in the middle of the night, a passenger had a medical emergency (not too sure what happened exactly) and the cabin crew began announcing over the intercom (over and Over and OVER again), "We have a passenger who has a serious medical emergency. If you are a member of the medical health profession, we ask you to please contact your nearest flight representative so that we can obtain your assistance." I never did find out what happened or if everything was resolved, but that definitely is not a message you'd hear on most flights.

Meanwhile, since I arrived so early (around 5 am) at BCIA (Beijing Capital International Airport) Terminal 3, I got to take a few pictures of the sunrise with my phone. They aren't great quality, but I think it gets the point across. I also got myself a green tea frappe from Starbucks (星巴克) and enjoyed it while I waited for my flight to Taiwan. After the sun rose, it actually got so hot that I started sweating just by sitting down and waiting next to the gate. But in the end, once I got onto the plane, everything (at least temperature-wise :P) got better. I took a long nap on this flight and before I knew it, I could see the land mass of Taiwan out the window, accompanied by the "We are now preparing for landing. Please securely fasten your seatbelts..." speech) Haha.

Some photos of the sunrise! I tried to taking pictures from the same location to show the sun slowly lighting up the sky...

And can't forget my Starbucks! 

While I was waiting for my flight to Taiwan, I also got to use the wifi at BCIA. Apparently there are machines, where you need to scan you passport in order to obtain a username and password to log on. I didn't take a picture of one, but if you're ever there, you'll see them. Maybe it's for security reasons that they make passengers go through all the hassle?  Dunno, but I guess now they can track who's online. >.< 

Hahaha I saw this when I was logging on to the wifi. I laughed out loud when I saw "loginging" - I'm pretty sure they meant "logging in". Chinese translations are not always the best. But I gotta give them some credit, as I do like the clouds :P Anyways, that's enough about Beijing for now. I'll be back there in a week, so I'll be sure to post more then! 

Taiwan time!!! So... I arrived at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport around noon and quickly passed through immigration since I was visa-exempt! (hehe the coolness of having a US passport). Even though the lines were still long, they moved a lot faster than those in China. WAYYY faster.
YAYYY! I'm admitted into Taiwan! xD

After arriving, I did the basics first - exchanging some money to local NTD (New Taiwan Dollar), getting a SIM card for my phone (which I found out I couldn't do, since I was under 20 years old...), obtaining a Youth Travel Card, and purchasing my bus ticket to Taipei. I previously read online that 国光 (Kuo-Kuang) bus had some of the more comfortable buses, so I decided to give it a go. It only cost NT125 ($4.17) to travel around 40 km! Compare that to a taxi I later took to my hotel which cost me NT100 ($3.33) to travel only 1.4 km! Such a big difference! I didn't get to take a picture of the outside of my bus, but here's what it looked like inside - I would say it was pretty comfortable overall :)

Some pictures I took out the window along the way to 台北车站 (Taipei Main Station)...

It's sooo green! Kinda reminds me of when I was flying over North Carolina a few years ago.

A city of some sort in the distance.. not sure which one though, to be honest...

A temple that we passed by after getting off the expressway.

It's a school! Those gates really remind me of where my relatives live in Beijing. Haha

Some shops that we passed by in Taipei. I think this picture defines the streets of Taipei quite well (if you add more people, that is) :P

A wedding dress shop! There were so many on this street, but I only got to take one picture! I actually saw a formally-dressed couple (or at least, I think a couple) walk out of there and get into a car as we drove by.

There are sooooo many scooters/motocycles/whateveryouwannacallthem in the streets of Taipei! They look like they're all about to start a race lol. Vrooming down the street between the cars and past the people! 

And, at last I arrive at 台北车站!

Before I left on my trip, I initially planned to walk to my hotel, since I knew it wasn't too far from the station. As soon as I stepped outside though, the combination of the hot temperature, and given that I had no idea where I was, led me to reconsider my option of walking. I did take a few laps around the station to try to familiarize myself with the surroundings, but that basically failed. In the end, a taxi ended up stopping in front of me asking if I needed directions (I guess I looked too lost). At that point, I just gave up and asked the driver to take me to my hotel. Fortunately, he was really nice, and told me a lot about Taiwan, from politics to places worth visiting. He dropped me off right in front of my hotel (城美大饭店 - Chair Man Hotel), and even though the cost was not cheap, it was nice to be where I wanted to be without much hassle. I didn't get to take a picture of the outside of the hotel (I'll be sure to sometime before I leave), but here's a picture of my room!
In all honesty, it was really, really small, but surprisingly comfortable, and cozy. I ended up really enjoying my stay. 

Upon arriving in my room, I put my stuff down and got to take a break and chat with a friend from Taiwan, before deciding to venture out and explore the streets of Taipei. It was around 4 pm, so I decided to make a trip to Xinyi District, where shops of all the fancy European brands as well as the Taipei 101 are located. When I left my hotel, I turned right and began walking, with not idea where I was heading. I wanted to get to the MRT station, but after walking around 40 minutes in circles, I decided to take a cab. While I was trying to get a cab, I happened to encounter the entrance to the MRT (the subway system in Taipei). Therefore, I got a EasyCard, which can be used for public transport in most Taiwanese cities (kinda similar to a Washington, DC SmarTrip card), and then was off on my way! I got off at 市政府 station and made a mental note to myself where the MRT entrance was located so I would be able to find my way back. 

Some pictures I took as I was walking in Xinyi District:

Look! It's LOVE! x3


I ended up having "dinner" (I put that in quotes since I don't know how many meals I ate that day - too many plane meals haha) at the one-michelin starred restaurant in Xinyi District, Din Tai Fung.  I actually went to visit my first Din Tai Fung a couple weeks ago in Arcadia, but nonetheless, I still had to try the original and authentic Din Tai Fung in Taiwan. I expected it to be very busy (I went around 5:30 pm), but I got seated immediately (I guess it was probably because I was by myself). I ordered the most famous 小笼包 (Juicy Pork Dumplings) and a 虾肉红油抄手 (Shrimp Pork Dumplings with Spicy Sauce) along with two small dishes. The service there exceeded my expectations as the servers helped my pour the "correct" ratio of vinegar to soy sauce (apparently it's 3:1) into my bowl, and helped me promptly refill tea multiple times. As for the food, I thought that the 小笼包 were quite diffferent from the ones I had in LA. They had a thin layer of I'm not sure what around the pork, which was good, but in the end, I think I still prefer the ones from LA (probably my American taste buds haha). The 红油抄手 was quite particular as well, as the spicy sauce had a strong sweetness to it, which I really enjoyed. At first I thought it would be very spicy, but I ended up finding that the sweetness brings out the other flavors (ginger, onion, shrimp, etc.) really well. Of course I wouldn't forget the pictures I took of my food!

When I just sat down - the tea was poured just as I was sitting down :)

One of the appetizers (the specialty one, I think)

小笼包 and the other appetizer (bean sprouts!)

红油抄手 and the remaning of my 小笼包 haha :P

By the time I finished dinner, the sun had set! I was surprised that it set so early! I took my leftover food and I handed my money to the server, only to have it returned to me since, apparently in Taiwan, people walk up the the front counter to pay the bill. It wasn't a cheap meal to say, but it was definitely quite an experience. After leaving satisfied and full, I did a little bit more of exploring the area before I went up to the observation deck of the Taipei 101 (it took me a while to find the entrance lol). For those of you going to Taipei, the individual entrance is on the 5th floor, which you have to get to from the 4th floor... because the elevator to the 5th floor doesnt access the observatory entrance. >.<

So I found the entrance at last!

Tickets are not the cheapest for the observatory deck. It is comparable to those for the Empire State Building, at least when I went there. Since I had the Youth Travel Card, it was NT450 ($15). It was only NT50 off the regular adult price, but I guess savings is savings, especially when NT50 can get you a lot of other things here in Taiwan. ;) The elevators that go up to the 89th floor are apparently one of the fastest elevators, so before I even got the chance to take a picture inside the elevator, we arrived at the observatory deck. I spent over an hour on the 89th floor, the first half taking pictures out the windows from each direction; the second half just sitting down and reflecting on life, and watching the brightly lit streets of Taipei. 

I later climbed stairs up to the 91st floor (I'm surprised they didn't install escalators like the ones I've found in other tall buildings), to the outside deck. The walls were quite high, but I got to feel the breeze blowing across my face as I stood there in wonder - just staring into the far distance.

I tried taking some pictures of myself, but they didn't come out to be so good, as I'm not very experienced in selfshots, as I'd prefer to take pictures for other people. I ended up purchasing the photos that they offer, just to create a keepsake that I've been to the top of Taipei 101.

In order to get back down, I had to walk down to the 88th floor first, where the great ball was located (muahahahahaha). 

Okay, enough of my craziness... By the time I descended the tower, I was getting really tired, so I started on my way back to my hotel. I took a few final pictures as I was walking back to the station (I remembered where it was!).

One of the entrances to the Taipei 101 Mall.

The Taipei 101 at night! So different than during the day! :P

The streets of Xinyi District at night! 

After I got back to the MRT station from where I started (that is, the one closest to my hotel, I think), I began my journey trying to find where my hotel was. Fortunately for me, it didn't take as long for me to find my hotel, as it took for me to find the MRT station earlier in the afternoon. Upon arriving back in my room, I got to talk to my Taiwanese friend for the first time through VOIP (for those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, don't worry about it :P), before collapsing onto my bed. By now, jetlag was kicking in, and I felt really tired, even though it was only around 9 pm. I initially wanted to go visit 西门町 (Ximending), but since I was falling asleep, I left that on my list for my next day. 

I think that's all for the day. Have a good night everyone! Zzzzzzz...

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

12 Days Until Departure

You know, time flies by rather quickly when you're not paying attention. Sometimes, I still can't believe that I'll be departing on my first solo trip in less than 2 weeks. I'll be heading to a country I've never been to, one that I've always wanted to see, but never got the chance. A lot of my friends are from there and I've previously asked several of them to take me with them when they went back, but so far, that has never worked out (Reason: I usually don't fit in their suitcase :P). But yes, I will be traveling to Taiwan, the Republic of China, Chinese Taipei, whatever you want to call it (I like the IOC name though... haha).

My trip is quite unexpected, to be honest. At first, I didn't plan on leaving the United States this summer, but last minute plans (and plan cancellations!) allowed me to take off some time from work and take a journey that I'll probably remember for a long, long time. My flight will leave Los Angeles the early morning of Sunday, August 25, 2013, and I'll be making a stop in Beijing, China for just a few hours, before I catch another flight to Taipei. I'll be staying in Taiwan for a total of 7 days and 6 nights, and since I don't have concrete travel itineraries yet, I plan to just wander around and discover what the island has to offer!

Needless to say, I have done a little research on what I should do, but I'm still open to suggestions! I think I'll probably make my final trip schedule while I'm on the plane since one of my friends suggested that I do that. I think it'll be a good use of my time (when I'm not napping of course!) I will be staying in Taipei for 2 nights, then traveling south to Taichung for another 2 nights, but beyond that is cloudy since who knows where I'll go next. I do plan on doing some shopping at all the nice malls in Taipei, as well as visit the famous tourist landmarks (Taipei 101, NTU, National Palace Museum, CKS Memorial, etc.), and of course, I cannot forget to visit the most famous night markets! I can't wait to try all the food that my friends have been boasting to me about cause everything they describe just sounds soooo delish! Oh! I have to go to Din Tai Fung too! I've heard so much about that place, so I believe it's time I try it firsthand! On the other hand, I also want to see if I can go check out a KTV, as I've never been to one of those, but I'm not sure - can you go solo to a KTV? Even though it might seem a bit lonely to go alone, but I think I just want to get the feel of the environment :).

Aside from everything prior, I will also be traveling back to Beijing, China after I finish up my journey in Taiwan. I plan to visit some of my relatives (grandparents, uncles, aunts, etc.) and wish them well while I'm still in the area. Some of my relatives aren't in perfect health at the current moment, so I hope that they can effectively conquer their sicknesses soon. But essentially, I will just be relaxing and enjoying my time with my family (whom I have not seen in two years) while I'm in Beijing. If I have friends who are still in Beijing when I visit, I might go out and hang with them for an afternoon, or something along those lines. But we'll see as the time gets closer.

Even though I'm super excited about going back to China and visiting Taiwan, I'm also a bit worried because I'll be alone and I'm afraid I'll run out of things to do. I really do want to try to get to know more people, so I think I might go out and make some new friends! I hope the people there are hospitable and outgoing though! Or else it'll be awkward...

Anyhoo - I think thats enough for the evening! I'll be sure to post more updates as my departure date nears! Until next time!