One of my favorite quotes involving travel comes from William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition, describing a character who has just arrived in London, after a transatlantic flight:
For me, this is the perfect way to to describe that empty and displaced feeling I get when I’ve just made a long flight, feeling very much out of my own time and space. Usually alone, often at night, and frequently in a city new to me, I just go for a walk. There’s never a particular plan to it. Just a wander around, trying to absorb the general sense of a place.
So that’s what I did when, having arrived late at night in Taipei and checked into the Howard, I found myself with the energy to move. I did this despite the fact that I’d not slept a bit on the plane, and – in a first for me – found I’d have some company on this walk. Niamh and Mark, also in Taiwan for the Cycling Festival, found themselves a bit restless, too. So off we went. And this is what we found:
It would be foolish, indeed, to think you know a city through a single late night walk. But it does start to sketch a map of sorts. Not just ordinal, but of expectations. Some things you get wrong – I’d soon learn that all those wide bike lanes were going to be filled with buzzing scooters in the morning, with barely a bike to be seen. But others turn out quite right – I felt incredibly safe, and there was an easiness to the people around me. That’s a theme that – while not particularly related to the purpose of my trip – certainly helped me focus on that purpose. Taiwan, despite the challenges of language (and weather), turned out to be a rather easy place.
What is rarely easy, in any place 12 time zones away from your own, is getting yourself keyed into the local rhythms. So it was with no small amount of effort that I hauled myself out of bed early the next morning for a second look at Taipei, this time in daylight:
Click here for same slideshow, but bigger and with captions.
After a lovely breakfast, it was off for a bit of quick sight-seeing before heading to the airport for a flight to Taitung (TTT). This included a stop at the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall (国立中正纪念堂):
I suppose that now is as good a time as any to introduce the cast. From left to right: Niamh (of Adventures Abroad), John (our guide/magician/miracle worker), Kate (of GlobalSoulAdventures), Mark (of Bikehugger.com), and Beverly (of Beverly Garrity Design). You’ll be seeing more of them later. For now, this is their best side.
Other reasons to check out the CKS Memorial:
It’s an interesting memorial, and undoubtedly could have been the kick-off of many an interesting political discussion (I find Taiwan’s political landscape fascinating, despite possessing just a glancing understanding of it), but this was not to be that kind of trip. Rather, it would be the kind of trip where we found things like this hilarious:
Yes, that’s a robot construction flag waver, and for the remainder of the trip, it never failed to excite and make us laugh. What can I say? We’re a simple people.
On the way to the airport, we saw an advertisement for one of the most useful pieces of Taiwan’s new push for improved cycletouring infrastructure – bike cars on trains:
To get to Taitung (TTT), however, we flew on Uni Air. We departed from Taipei’s domestic airport, Songshan (TSA). For domestic travel, this is far more convenient to downtown Taipei than TPE. The flight was short and uneventful, taking us from this:
Well, except for one thing. This fellow sat directly behind us:
I found it hilarious, though my seatmate was less sanguine. Alas, we all got along just fine, and now I’m sitting comfortably at home. And that fellow probably isn’t. And we were off!
Taitung County (the county/state/province surrounding Taitung, the city) was completely different than Taipei. Green, spacious, green, gorgeous, and green, we’d clearly arrived in a very different part of Taiwan, despite the sub-60 minute flight. From there, we headed north for another bit of tourism – an aboriginal demonstration site that offered traditional rafting. A picture of tranquility, I think:
And it looks simple enough:
So off we went, anticipating a bit of lazy time on the water:
Just look that. Beautiful, no?
Well. Just to the right of this photo? Is the rock I decided to land on, and make an ironic colonial claim. Joke was on me, though, as the rock tossed me off, camera in pocket, for a swim in the water. Which was really quite pleasant, until I’d been treading water for a minute or so and realized that the camera was, in fact, in pocket. So I’m a little short of photos for this day, after this. We ended up at the Hotel Royal Chihpen, where I obtained a magic bag of rice that made much of what follows possible . . .
Tomorrow: The 2010 Taiwan Cycling Festival kicks off! Also: Taitung International Triathlon, with a guest appearance from the Taiwan Air Force.