The day in brief: Woke up at 9; not jet lagged!; hearty and East-meets-West breakfast (turns out "cheese" and "bacon" sound very similar in Chinese); went back to TaiDa to fill out some forms for the program I'll be in (ICLP); set up a time for placement testing (Wednesday morning, 9:40-12:00. oi.); wandered; hit ShiDa night market again and found an excellent, cheap, sophisticated/trendy-looking restaurant and two great "everything stores"; got invited to a weekly hostel outing to Roxy's a club frequented by expats.
Wandering, in full:
When I finished at TaiDa, I decided I wanted to go to the Youth Hub, where they issue free "travel buddies" - which (at least, as best I can understand it...) a
re phones with 30 free minutes and some... information about Taiwan? I remembered when I was about halfway there that some government offices are closed on Mondays, but I figured I'd give it a try anyway - mostly because I often like to have a destination and feel that my walking is purposeful, even though the walking itself is the real purpose.
On the way, I passed through DaAn Senlin Gongyuan （大安森林公园) - Great Peace Forest Park. (DaAn is the name of the district of Taipei in which TaiDa is located.) It was beautiful: rubber trees, clusters of bamboo, hills, an "ecological lake" with turtles sunning themselves in rows along the pipes, a large statue (Buddhist, I think), and a handful of short, peculiar paths embedded with hundreds of rounded stones, each about 3x1.5" and 1-6" apart (depending on the path). One walks along them
with bare feet, and the result supposedly helps the body in some way: the paths are accompanied by detailed charts showing how each part of the foot corresponds to a gland, muscle, etc. I'm not sure whether the experience is more or less painful when the path is walked by someone who knows what they're doing, but let's just say that I gave up after about a dozen steps.
I then wound my way through several alleys, lanes, and main roads; discovered that the Youth Hub was indeed closed; saw the Shandao Buddhist temple (size was impressive, but nothing fascinating), walked down some more alleys, found a sweet fruit stand (out-of-the-way and cheap; a bunch of lizhi, a pineapple, or some large kiwis for $1.50 or less), tried lizhi (lychee) for the first time, and bumped into Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall, a pretty prominent cultural/aesthetic landmark. Funny story: the hall is screened by trees, and I SWEAR the "You
are Here" sign was in the wrong place on the (English) map, so I couldn't find it at first. So after some fruitless searching, I accidentally came upon the gate on my way down the road - and burst out laughing, because I had basically been right next to it and the thing's HUGE. It's basically like an Eastern version of the Lincoln Memorial, except perhaps slightly bigger and with a kind of cool changing of the guard (sweet rifle moves). The grounds are gorgeous, with sculpted trees and hand-trimmed flowers (I saw a group of older women wearing traditional hats snipping away), a long shaded walkway around the perimeter, and a lake with turtles and some gorgeous fish. Intrigued by a large vending machine shaped like a fish but not really knowing what I was doing, I paid 10NT and bought - you probably guessed it, but I didn't - fish food, which afforded much more than 10NT's worth of fun. There's this ongoing controversy about the place, though: a lot of the statue taken down and the hall renamed after someone who wasn't a brutal dictator. Chiang is still sitting there on his throne with his kind of creepy, self-satisfied smile, though, getting saluted by five guards every hour.
On the way back, I discovered some well-priced brunch and a street vendor who sold simple but amazingly priced lunch: 30NT - less than a dollar - for two round, dense hunks of bread with a handful of raisins and grains baked in. Then back home to the hostel, where on the advice of a Taiwanese worker I tried another phone store about two blocks away to see if they would give me a SIM card despite the fact that I'm not 20 yet. They did - and I completed the entire transaction myself! (In the interest of full disclosure, I was given a sheet of paper with rates listed in English, but that was the easy part anyway.) I still need an unlock code from T-mobile to use the foreign SIM card in my phone; obtaining it and sending it to me could take "up to 3 days," they say (can you say "ridiculous"?). I'm going to visit the Youth Hub again to try to get one of those "travel buddies" first thing tomorrow, because I really need to call to get in touch with people about visiting apartments, hostels, etc.
Good news: I'm meeting Language Exchange Partner #1 tomorrow at a nearby train station at 12:30! I hypothetically have three: another is a guy in his 20s who wants to meet a couple times a week, and the third is a nurse, also in her 20s, who wants to meet once a week and discuss international affairs when we speak in English. #1, "Raphael," is a senior in high school who wants to meet 3-4 times a week for the next month, and more afterwards; his English is also at a lower level than that of the other two, and in his web site listing he said he'd like to take his LEP (language exchange partner) hiking, city sight-seeing, etc, which sounds fantastic.
I fear I'll be blogging every day. It can't be helped; I'm too excited! Photos will make it shorter, though, I promise.