30 October, 2013

Wanderings continue...

It's a strange moment when you realise you have explored various areas of the country you're living in without having explored all (in even a great deal of) the city in which you live. I had a similar experience when I visited China in December-January of 2003-2004. Travelling with a friend and based in Shanghai, though we travelled all over, Shanghai was the last place we properly looked around.

My girlfriend and I have decided to rectify this situation. Occasionally, usually Saturdays, we travel around a new part of the city. Here's the map of the MRT (Mass Rapid Transport, or something).

Despite living near the south end of the brown line, I had never travelled to its northern and eastern extremities. Where the blue and brown lines meet in the middle of the map is roughly the city's centre, with Taipei 101 being a little east of that. The south ends of the green and blue lines are their own mini-cities which have grown into Taibei.
By contrast the top arc of the brown line is fairly new to development. It looks like it's being developed into a new commercial hub, but what struck us was how empty the streets were.

Full of brand new commercial buildings (maybe still going up) and elite residential blocks, the place feels deserted. The Taiwanese tradition of building convenience stores periodically a stone's throw from the next one seems to have been overlooked here, too.

We did come across one interesting building. At first we thought it was a building dedicated to the arts, expecting to find it full of studios and galleries, but on closer inspection (from the roadside, peering through windows) we saw the interior set up with many tables and chairs in the manner of a restaurant.
We are still unsure as to what the building is.

As always, I made a concerted effort to track down public artworks scattered around the district, almost reminiscent of a scavenger hunt. Here are what I saw.

A head postured for thought while a branch protrudes from one ear with a bird sitting on it.

A rather odd bear with tiny wings who appears to be accepting a hug.

A letter box trying desperately to appear old-fashioned.

This rather garish row of statues cluttering up the pavement outside some shop or other in the vain hope of drawing customers.

Some satyrs and the artist's name.

A self-titled woman on a horse.

This was a delightful find. The jury of my mind is still out on whether words are missing from the sign or whether there has been a communication error.
(That or the society's name is really written like that.)

They are attached to quite a fancy new residential building. It's possible (though unlikely) that it's simply the name of the block of flats.

One new discovery for me was this sport. I do not know it's name, but it appears to be a combination of golf and croquet. The participants hold what appear to be croquet mallets, but swing them in a decidedly golf manner. It was quite unusual.

Across the grassy stretch on which they played was another group hitting in the opposite direction. Perhaps there is an aspect of bowls in this game as well.

Our trip culminated in an escape from towering buildings of glass and steel, and the enjoying of Da Hu Park. The MRT leaves the city area to skirt the outside of the park, giving passengers a calm and pleasing view. We alighted and took a stroll.

As I am me, I couldn't help but climb a tree.

What I discovered is that some spiders coat the surface of branches with their webbing. It's not a practice I was previously familiar with, but whole branches are covered. It may also have been only this particular species of tree.

Many people in Taibei enjoy taking time off in parks. Something about looking at the greenery present in a park brings a calm that nothing else in the city can synthesize.

This bridge separates the park with a small area of land at the base of a small mountain. There are often hiking trails going up into the mountains around Taibei, and it's most likely that this one does, too.

View from the bridge

On the far side of the bridge were people fishing. There were also a number of these birds (herons?) which allowed us to get quite close for wild animals. Obviously they're used to being fed tidbits by the fishermen.

All in all, a pleasant Sunday afternoon's walk.

18 October, 2013

Wanderings in Town

Travelling up Zhongshan N. Road you'll find an extremely western-centred area of Taibei. There's a restaurant there which models itself on the one in the movie Pulp Fiction. (You know the one - tables designed to look like cars).

To be fair their food is rather good, but their service is terrible and their music is quite distasteful. They come across as desperate to appeal to foreigners, so they play anything with an English name on it. Completely inappropriate for the family atmosphere they're trying to cultivate.

Another curiosity was this shop which crossed our path. Don't let the plants on sale outside the door fool you, nor the name of the shop.

At least they're honest.

We stopped for a cup of coffee at a place called 8 oz. They sell coffee, but their main play is to tempt customers to buy home-made cheese cake to eat with it. 

We avoided the temptation, but were quite perplexed by their furniture.

The radio disguised as an old gramophone was delightful, but their baby chairs were an oddity.

They really were quite small.
(On a separate note, please forgive the low quality of the pictures. I forgot my camera on this particular occasion and so had to resort to my girlfriend's phone camera.)

On the plus side, there's always taking the piss on the MRT. Watching people's reactions to "crazy foreigners" is always entertaining.

01 October, 2013


Situated north of Taibei City is Baishawan (or Baisha Bay). It is one of the few beaches in Taiwan to feature white sand, most others sporting their versions of black and golden sands. It's considered a great destination spot by people wanting to get away from the crowds and spend a peaceful day out of the city.

Step 1: Getting to Baishawan

This part is relatively simple. Get yourself to an MRT station, work your way onto the red line and head north to Danshui (or Tamsui), the last stop on the northern end.
Exit the station and turn right. At the station there is a bus terminal. The bus you need (either 862 or 863 if I remember correctly) begins its route there. You may want to double check those numbers when you get there. To make this simple there is a tourist information section between the MRT exit and the bus terminal. Their English is fantastic!

You'll travel for a fair amount of time. Depending on traffic it can be as long as an hour and a half. There'll come a time when you see the coastline and think you're close, but then you'll deviate away through a small town for another twenty minutes. Don't panic - you're on the right track. Just keep your ears open and your eyes on the screen displaying for Baishawan to appear.

When you alight you'll be confronted by this. Simply cross the road and manœuvre around the buildings. You'll emerge alongside these shops on the far side.

Though usually less crowded, we arrived on the day they were having a kite competition. So we encountered a few interesting diversions.

There's a reason this is such a popular kite-flying area.
Now, that was that reason again? I forget...

A little tired of carrying the cooler box, I decided setting up camp would be our priority. We found a few rocks to hold down our picnic rug and set to work.

Chicken from yesterday's braai (BBQ) and a cold drink were the perfect appetisers, especially after carrying them the whole way there.
A word of advice - don't pack more liquids than are reasonably comfortable to carry. They weigh a lot.

Also keep an eye out. Occasionally the sea will offer up a painful obstacle.

Exploration further down the beach turned up two things. The first is a second entrance access to the beach via a staircase, the top of which offers a spectacular view of the beach. It ends by the road, offering another way out for those with cars.

The second thing I discovered was a pathway winding itself along the coastline. Between a hill and a great, dark rock a path meandered in and out of sight.

(The pillars flanking the top of the stairs. They can be seen in the previous picture.)

Being me, my first action was to climb the rock. As an afterthought, I drew my camera and took pictures of the beach I had just come from.
This was followed up by a picture of my new course.

Enough driftwood to shake a stick at.... sort of. Well, enough to find a decent walking stick. I hope I'm not the only one who played with driftwood on rocks at the beach as a child.

For those of you who would be put off by the idea of scrambling across rocks, there is the easier, tamer course in the form of a pathway. It's not as exciting, but it'll still get you there.

Baisha Bay also has its quirks. There's the swing sitting atop a mini waterfall.

Odd, personal artworks left by previous rock-scamps.

Squatting in shelters left by others.

It's enough to inspire you to exercise your own levels of creativity (or potential lack there of.)

(The two Chinese symbols on my shirt together mean "natural". They can also be used to stand for "science" or "biology" at school, though not for chemistry.)

What do you leave behind you?