Sunday, June 21, 2009

Skyscrapers, Hiking, and Other Things

Daily highlights since my last update:

- Tuesday afternoon/evening: I moved into my cheap but not-so-shipshape apartment. In my first few days there I discovered that 1) my internet is dial-up (so that's what those characters before "internet" meant!), 2) I can't connect to it anyway, and 3) that hole in the wall next to my air conditioning is actually not screened in. The internet isn't a huge deal, but the hole in the wall probably accounted for the spiders, the large moth, and possibly the two dead cockroaches under the closet, so I bought some mosquito netting and tape and effected some very makeshift/removable repairs. It's fine now, though I use Raid around the premises every few days (the cockroaches live elsewhere in the basement too, it seems), and I think that in the end it was the right choice. After all, I'm building character and saving money at the same time! Also, I like living with lower-middle-class Taiwanese flatmates; the girl next door, Ya Ya, is my fave because 1) she only speaks Chinese, and 2) she bought (or made?) me delicious mushroom soup after I killed a cockroach for her.
[Apartment pictures forthcoming.]

- Wednesday: ICLP orientation. More importantly, I finally visited Taipei 101, the tallest functional building in the world. [Addendum 1/17/10: As of this month, 101 is no longer the tallest in the world, having recently been supplanted by the opening of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, UAE. Height measured by "architectural feature"; only occupied buildings included.]

The outside view, from a few blocks and then from 2 miles away:

I went at nearly the perfect time: a clear day (and, more rarely, a clear afternoon!), at around 6:00. Thus I saw Taipei during the day, and Taipei at twilight. I even had my camera with me, together with my newly bought SIM card! Needless to say, I went a little crazy with the photos.
Some selections:

Basically, it was gorgeous. Although I'd say that at least a quarter of the visitors were Taiwanese, the lower floors are made up of fancy restaurants and shops like Gucci and De Beers, exclusively targeting rich foreign tourists. There is a food court in the basement, though, where I found a somewhat overpriced but delicious dinner of shrimp, egg, pork, cabbage, some things I didn't quite recognize, and of course rice:

- Thursday: ICLP took us on a trip to Maokong, a Taipei mountain suburb well known for its beautiful scenery and especially its tea. There, I learned the right way to pour tea in a classy establishment and basically ate a meal's worth of "tea snacks" - green bean cake, almond cookies, dessert wafers, and tiny, tea-candied plums. Scenery and the traditional tea setting:

- Friday: Morgan, a friend from the hostel (you may remember her from my post about Fulong beach) and I hiked the mountainous Caoling Historic Trail - the long version, which amounted to about 18 km. The first half was beautiful (sweeping views, anybody?) and I hope to add photos as soon as she uploads them; the second half was mostly just full of mist and slippery stone steps until near the end. Both halves, though, were epic - not as intense as the Whites, but longer and with a more than respectable amount of mountain-summiting. The trail as we hiked it runs from Fulong on the northern coast to Dasi on the northeast coast, cutting through the mountains to get there. In retrospect it would have been smarter to end at the beach: the humidity can get oppressive, and parts of the trail look positively tropical. Besides the times when we saw - or reached - pavilions on mountain peaks, we also had this really cool experience at one point where we lost the barely visible trail on a hilltop and wandered through our own little world in the mist for a while, knowing that if we got lost we could just follow the cliff's edge back. We also saw plenty of water buffalo - four herds, I think - and passed some fellow travellers and picnickers.

- Saturday: I slept in, bought some necessaries, wandered around, and re-discovered the weekend version of the aforementioned Da'An Park and its accompanying weekend craft tent. It's like a flea market back home, but with a much higher percentage of worthwhile things for sale. A lot of the artwork has been handmade by the sellers, a surprising (though still low) proportion of whom happen to be deaf. I was particularly enthralled by a set of gorgeous scrolls, pictured below:

I was a little bit in love with the tiger; it's quite expensive, but if 1) it's still there, 2) I happen to end up with a bunch of extra money at the end of this, and 3) I don't find a scroll that's just as beautiful for cheaper in the interim (the glass here was definitely overpriced compared to what I bought at Shilin), I just might buy it.

- Sunday and Monday: a service at the Taiwanese version of the megachurch; hanging out with the Zhang family and friends; first day of real classes at ICLP. More description - and some photos - forthcoming; right now it's time to do some studying.

Oh, one final note... Where I'll be less than a month from now:

Until next time,

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